It began with a bang—the aforementioned explosion that rattled my place like an earthquake. Then came ten inches of snow, hushing the city save for some eerily low, rumbling snow thunder. The roads cleared; we went out on Friday night for dinner and a show. On the way home, we pulled forward at a green light while another driver ran a red light. She hit us hard, and she hit us head on. I didn’t see her coming. I looked over at him, bewildered and bleeding from the nose.
We’re ok, and so is the other driver, thankfully. The days since the smoking air bags and glittering glass have been a blur, with my work deadline, more snow, delayed-onset whiplash, an appointment with an ENT. There have been long laughs and lots of food, my first symphony experience and drinks at my friends’ backyard speakeasy. Life is good and we’re no worse for the wear. Speaking of which, do you ever stretch out your limbs and look them over, wondering what kinds of stories they will later have to tell? I do.
With the cold weather and the trauma, I’ve been craving comfort foods. Pasta with marinara sauce has been a favorite since childhood, though in adult years I’ve added loads of veggies and, oddly enough, lentils to the mix. I have never been a traditional meatball eater and probably never will, but this lentil “meatballs” recipe appeals to me as a hearty vegetarian alternative.
Whenever I take a hiatus from blogging, I tend to over-think the recipe that announces my return. I take that back, I over-think every recipe (from the accessibility of the ingredients, to the practicality of the steps, all while struggling with my compulsive drive to try every possible variation), but this one was particularly fueled by perfectionism and procrastination. I liked the idea of lentil meatballs with lots of mushrooms, and a relatively small proportion of gluten-free oats instead of the standard bread crumbs. I almost gave up on the concept after my first try, but my handsome [and alive] fellow’s enthusiasm for the second batch kept me going.
I’ve made three batches of these meatballs so far; the first was a little bland and fell apart too easily on the plate for my liking. The second batch stuck together much better thanks to the addition of eggs, which act as a binder. I also added more lentils (because if you’re going to go to the effort of making these, you might as well end up with leftovers) and spice. The third batch further amplifies the flavor and simplifies the steps. Believe me, if I’m going to suggest a recipe that requires the food processor, the stove and the oven, it has to be great. I think this one is a winner.
These meatballs are great with marinara sauce (jarred organic marinara with fresh tomato flavor is good) or homemade pesto (arugula-walnut pesto is perfect this time of year), with pasta or without. They are plenty hearty on their own. I think I’ll finish off the leftovers on a bed of arugula with lots of parmesan and a light vinaigrette for lunch.
- 1 cup dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups vegetable broth (or water)
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms (or white mushrooms), sliced
- ½ cup old-fashioned oats
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried terragon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce (optional)
- 2 eggs
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine lentils, bay leaf, and vegetable broth/water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. (Don't worry, you want the lentils to be a little undercooked.) Remove from heat, drain and let cool for a few minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
- In a food processor, combine the mushrooms, oats, lentils, parsley and spices (oregano, red pepper flakes, thyme and tarragon). Pulse/blend until the mixture is pretty well pulverized but not mush (see photos).
- In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil, then add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until onions are translucent and turning golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Stir in lentil-mushroom mixture and cook until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add red wine and soy sauce to skillet. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and, if you're using a pan that retains heat like cast iron, transfer the mixture to a heat-safe bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to cool until it is comfortable to handle.
- In a small bowl, whisk together two eggs, then thoroughly mix the eggs into the lentil and mushroom mixture. Use your hands to scoop up one small handful of the mixture at a time, shaping it into a golf-ball sized ball (about 1½-inch diameter). Place each "meatball" onto the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space around each one (you should end up with 15 or more meatballs). Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Adapted from Oh My Veggies and The Meatball Shop, via The New York Times.
- Vegans: You can omit the eggs here, but they act as a binder, so the meatballs will fall apart once you break them with a fork.
- Gluten-free eaters: Make sure your oats are certified gluten free. Tamari is typically wheat/gluten free; other soy sauces are not.