Lentil “Meatballs” With Lemon Basil Pesto

February 17, 2012


One of my favorite things to make before becoming a vegetarian was turkey meatballs. Sadly, now that I no longer eat meat, I haven’t had a meatball in something like five years. It’s crazy to think how much my diet has changed over the years. I no longer have a taste for meat. In fact, the smell of cooked meat often turns my stomach. But I still like meatballs- at least the idea of them. So, when I found a recipe for veggie meatballs (that seemed somehow different from veggie burgers), I had to give it a whirl. So glad I did.


You can serve these meatballs in a variety of ways, over pasta or rice, or in a sandwich. You could also serve them on their own with a dipping sauce. This lemony pesto has a ton of flavor, but you could stick with a traditional spicy marinara. I caution you that these meatballs are not a substitute for the “real thing” and if you take your first bite with that mindset, you will be sorely disappointed. This is simply another delicious vegetarian recipe to add to your repertoire.

Ingredients: (Makes about 2 dozen meatballs)

Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

1.5 cups cooked French lentils

3/4 cup ricotta

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed

2 cloves garlic, minced

a handful of finely chopped parsley

salt and pepper (a dash of each)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

For the Sauce:

1 bunch basil, rough chopped

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice and zest of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

1/4 cup grated parmesan

splash of water to thin

Directions:  In a food processor, blend the lentils until they become mushy. Put them in a large mixing bowl. Add the beaten eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, fennel seed, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. Stir in the breadcrumbs and let the mix sit for 20 minutes.


For the pesto sauce, put the garlic, nuts, lemon zest and juice, parmesan, and salt in a food processor or blender and run until smooth. Add in the basil leaves and olive oil until you get a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Add water, oil or lemon juice to thin as desired.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the lentil mixture into 1 inch balls. If the mixture is too wet and falls apart, stir in a bit more breadcrumbs. Roll the mix into balls and line them up on a baking sheet.


Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.


Serve over a bed of your favorite noodles.


Drizzle with the lemony basil pesto.


Garnish with parsley and a bit more parmesan. Dig in.


The lentil meatballs make easy leftovers and are delicious hot or cold.

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Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Lentil and Spinach Parmesan Bake
  2. Lentil, Quinoa, and Mushroom Sliders
  3. Easy Skillet Lasagna with Mushrooms and Basil
  4. Feta Pesto and Onion Pizza
  5. Greek Lentil Salad


Lauren at Keep It Sweet February 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I need to get this on my dinner menu immediately!

Ranjani February 19, 2012 at 11:06 pm

This looks awesome! I’ve never made vegetarian meatballs before – can’t wait to try this

Katrina (gluten free gidget) February 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I just pinned these on my Pinterest board. They sound delicious!

Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods February 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Thank you!

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I make a version of lentil meatballs regularly – I love them as a meat alternative! I find adding a little liquid smoke makes them a bit more “authentic.”

Great idea adding the fennel seed – I’ll be incorporating that the next time I do them!

Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods February 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Oooh, liquid smoke sounds dreamy.

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