Lentil and Mushroom Meatballs

Lentil and Mushroom Meatballs

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.

lentils and mushrooms in food processor

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.

cremini mushrooms

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 lentil “meatballs” appeal to me as a hearty vegetarian alternative.

mushroom mixture

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.

lentils and parsleyLentil mushroom meatball recipe

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.

Vegetarian meatballs with pesto

Vegetarian Lentil and Mushroom Meatballs
4.3 from 7 reviews
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Hearty vegetarian "meatballs" with just the right amount of spice. Serve with ample marinara sauce or pesto, on their own or on a bed of pasta. These make great leftovers (they taste even better a few hours later).
  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  1. says

    I’ve only recently discovered how wonderful lentil burgers taste so I’m sure I will love these “meatballs”. I’ve pinned it and will hopefully try them soon :) Your photography is gorgeous, by the way!!

  2. says

    Oh no! I hope you’re ok! I mean, it sounds like you are… but still…

    I love everything about these, I’ve never had great veggie meatballs so I can’t wait to try!

  3. says

    So glad that you are okay- but what a crazy experience!

    Your photos for this post are just lovely and these meatballs look perfect (I’ve had that meatball recipe bookmarked for awhile now and I think it’s time to hunker down and actually make it!)

  4. says

    wow! what a week(or two) it has been for you! glad to know everyone is ok regarding the car accident.

    these meatballs look fabulous! i love that you paired lentils and mushrooms together, they go together so well. can’t wait to give them a try!

  5. says

    So, I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but today I can’t help but say: WOW. I want those on my plate. Now. They look fantastic!

  6. says

    I am SO excited to try these out. I am currently hooked on Sprouted Kitchen’s lentil meatballs from their cookbook. Your first photo sold me! Sorry to hear about the accident but am glad to hear you two are doing okay. Rest up!

  7. says

    Oh my goodness – how scary! I’m glad that you’re okay, and hope that whiplash doesn’t keep nagging you.

    I adore vegetarian meatballs and the flavors in these ones sound fantastic!

    • says

      Thank you, Dara! My neck is feeling much better, but my nose is not quite right. Hope you’ll give these meatballs a try! I saw your cannellini bean meatballs in my search results, they look great.

  8. says

    Oh my goodness girl. Glad you and your man are okay! These moments do bring some perspective, in all of their craziness. And yes, contemplating the stories of all of our powerful limbs is perfectly normal :)

    And sweet balls! (had to) (but seriously, they look delicious).

  9. says

    Gah! That is SO SO SO scary!! I’m just glad both of you are okay!! What a traumatic few days. Sheesh.

    You definitely need comfort food like this at times like those…and well, just because. :)

  10. says

    We visited The Meatball Shop in NYC a few months ago — changed our lives!!

    This looks incredibly delish — I would’ve never thought of this lentil and mushroom combo. Guess, the possibilities are endless when it comes to “meatballs” :)

  11. Pearl Martin says

    These look amazing! how might i make this vegan? maybe relpace the eggs with banana or appple sauce?

    • says

      Hey Pearl, great question. I wish I had a great answer for you. I know that you could omit the eggs altogether, they just act as a binder here. I know the eggless meatballs will stick together through baking, but they’ll probably break apart more easily when you’re eating them. I added eggs because I thought they were a little too crumbly, but that may have been because I didn’t process the lentils and mushrooms enough in my first batch. Please let me know if you give them a try!

      • Jai says

        Vegans can use Flax powder as a substitute for eggs. All that needs to be done is add water to Flax Powder , whisk and allow it to rest for 5 min.
        You will notice that the texture then resembles that of insides of an egg.

  12. says

    I am so glad to know you are ok and everyone else involved in the accident is too… what a scary thing to happen!

    I love that you make and remake the recipes that you share here to make sure that you are only sharing the best ones. Total dedication! You inspire me! :)

  13. says

    Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you’re alright! I think everyone I know is ready for this winter madness to be over – it brings out the worst drivers in us! These meatballs on the other hand, look lovely! I made some vegan taco meat last week with grated tempeh and lentils, but I love the idea of the lentil + mushroom combo. I’ll be trying it for sure!

  14. says

    These look so good. I love using lentils to replace meat – so hearty. My favorite part of your post was the picture of the giant bowl of pasta with the 3 meatballs. I love giant bowls of pasta! I’m glad to see you don’t skimp on the carbs! My kinda girl!

  15. says

    I tried making lentil meatballs before but did give up after my first batch. I’ll definitely be trying your recipe! They look delicious.
    So glad to hear that you guys are okay :)

  16. says

    I am so glad you and your man are ok!!!! This recipe is a brillant way of having veggies in a different fashion. So smart. I swear to God the last two recipes I made of yours have become regulars and I have a feeling this is going to be another winner!!!!

  17. says

    Goodness — I am so glad you two are ok! What a crazy and scary month. Hopefully the spring will be a little warmer, calmer, and full of good new memories to come.

    Absolutely love these meatballs too! I just had dinner tonight with a bunch of vegan friends. Totally want to try a version of these! :)

  18. says

    Looks like a great recipe. I have never tried a veg meatball and these look worthy of a try. I have been eating more vegies and less meat for the last two and a half years which has me looking for ideas to replace the meat. Glad you survived the crash!

    • says

      Thanks, Kurt. Hope you get a chance to make these meatballs someday soon. I have never been a fan of traditional meatballs, but my boyfriend says this vegetarian version is as good or better than the regular ones.

  19. says

    I usually don’t encourage perfectionism, but I have to say I think yours pays off. Every new recipe here is 100% worthy of being shared.

    Really hope your nose is okay!

  20. says

    I am glad you are doing fine. Take care. I am totally digging this meatball. when the weather is not so good and during rough times, its the comfort food that we all need.

  21. says

    love a good lentil meatball. these look perfect and so tasty with the mushrooms in there. It’s always a little tricky testing non-meat, traditional meat items huh? You do a fabulous job. These will be happening!

    • says

      Thanks, Sara! I’m going to try the lentil meatballs in your cookbook next. Please let me know how these turn out for you!

  22. says

    Weather is getting so completely crazy these days, I hope I never have to witness thunder snow! Glad you are ok, and this is a wonderful ‘comeback’ recipe! I’ve been thinking along the same lines…I made a mushroom bolognese sauce yesterday that was so good. I crave spaghetti and meatballs in the cold weather, I need to try these.

  23. says

    Good lord, dude. I’m glad you guys are okay. And now it seems kind of weird to be all “hey, those not-actually-meatballs look delicious!” too. Oh well–they do. :) LIFE.

  24. Jody says

    I made these this evening, primarily because my husband mainly eats low-carb vegan because of a cholesterol problem. I substituted egg whites for the eggs, and also threw in some black olives because I was low on mushrooms. Delicious! I ate it with sauce over pasta, but hubby ate it over spaghetti squash. A real hit, and easy to make. Sorry about your car crash, but glad it yielded this recipe! Thanks!

    • says

      Thank you for commenting, Jody! I’m so glad you and your husband enjoyed the meatballs. I will have to roast up some spaghetti squash next time, that sounds so good!

  25. Heidi @foodiecrush says

    Years from now yiu’ll look back n this experience, look over at your man and smile at this crazy memory as he tells it to new friends over cocktails. But one question: who is out of a car? Glad you’re taking comfort in comfort food.

    • says

      Thanks, Heidi. I’m looking forward to that day! The boyfriend was driving his car. Fortunately, the insurance company reimbursed him well and he found a car he loves on Craigslist.

  26. says

    Glad you’re okay Kate. Car crashes are the worst experience. Just before Christmas I had 2 in the space of 7 days!

    On another note, these meatballs look absolutely amazing :) Yet another reason why I desperately need a food processor… I don’t know how I’ve managed for so long without one!

  27. Elena says

    Made these last night with some of the arugula walnut pesto and also a roasted garlic red pepper marinara i threw together (had a lot of extra time)….over some roasted spaghetti squash. so delicious!!! it was exactly what i was craving in this cold pittsburgh weather! thanks!

    • says

      Elena, I’m so glad you enjoyed the meatballs! I’m eager to try them with roasted spaghetti squash and both of your homemade sauces sound delicious. Thanks for commenting!

  28. Rosa says

    I was excited to make these, as I usually am when you post a new recipe. To be honest, they weren’t my favorite. I didn’t like the oregano taste combined with the spaghetti and tomato sauce. I might try them again with a different spice combination. Maybe make them a bit smoky or something… :)

    • says

      Hi Rosa, thank you for your feedback. I’m so sorry you didn’t love the spice combination in the meatballs. I’m surprised that you didn’t enjoy the oregano flavor as it is a staple in Italian seasoning mixes and marinara sauces. Are you sure you used one teaspoon, not one tablespoon? Regardless, it sounds like the meatballs turned out well otherwise and I hope you’ll give them another shot!

  29. Graceful Mouse says

    Made this last night, and it was so good I was nicking bits of the mixture out of the frying pan! I have tried a LOT of vegie pattie-type recipes, and this was far and away the best ever.

    I switched out the dried herbs for smoked paprika, cumin, little bit of cinnamon, and a hefty splatter of harissa. I didn’t have red wine, so mixed 1/4 cup water with a hefty spoon of tomato paste and threw that in. Served them with some homemade roasted tomato sauce on a bed of those zucchini noodles from a previous recipe. I have 4 leftover in the fridge, and intend to turn them into a wrap with fresh salad and yoghurt topping. Or possibly chopped into quarters and tossed through a quinoa salad. So many options…

    Thanks for these amazing recipes – I’ve worked my way back through all of your posts and have found so much inspiration.

    • says

      Thank you for such a lovely review! Your spice selections sound SO good. Zucchini noodles sound like a great base. I’ve also heard from others that the meatballs are good on spaghetti squash, can’t wait to try that!

  30. says

    The perfect addition to a Meatless Monday meal! Love the sounds of these tasty meatballs, the Crimini’s would certainly add some fabulous meaty textures! Thanks for sharing…


  31. Nina says

    I made these yesterday and they were fabulous! I added garlic powder, upped the herbs and added a dash of worcestershire sauce. I love that you can play around w/ the spice mixtures. I am thinking about trying them as lentil burgers and freezing them. Do you think I should sear them a bit before I freeze them…or freeze them raw?

    • says

      So glad you enjoyed the meatballs, Nina! I hadn’t thought of turning them into lentil burgers but that is a genius idea. I’ve never tried freezing veggie burgers, but Angela of Oh She Glows has tips here.

  32. Siobhan says

    Hi! These sound great. I only have red or green (Puy) lentils in my cupboard. Which of these could be best substituted for brown? Or should I wait until I’m doing my next grocery shop and get brown? Thanks!

    • says

      Good question, Siobhan. I would be hesitant to use red lentils because they break up more while cooking. Puy lentils might work, but you may be better off waiting until you find brown lentils. I’d hate for the recipe to not come out just right for you.

  33. says

    Kathryne, I’m always craving hearty vegetarian meals…. Lentils and mushrooms will all their meatiness seem just right here. Inspired!
    Sorry about your accident – I’m glad you guys are okay.

  34. Allie says

    I made these with a friend and they were delicious over quinoa spaghetti. I preferred a sweeter tomato sauce to the pesto. Hearty and oh so satisfying. Thanks Kate for your great recipes.

  35. says

    First of all, I’m so glad to hear you’re ok! Oh man…car accidents are scary :( Secondly, I can relate to so much in this post. I, too, overthink recipes. I remember when I posted the cinnamon rolls recipe on my blog, thinking it may very well be my last recipe for a while until after the baby was born. I tweaked that post for days and days. I think you did good with this one :) And I frequently look at my face in the mirror, sans makeup. I notice the birthmarks and sun spots and freckles, and early formations of tiny wrinkles, and I wonder what stories my face will tell in the years to come. xo

  36. says

    So glad you’re ok! Sheesh. Secondly, this combination sounds so delicious. And honestly, how smart! I love the idea of making meatballs out of different things besides, well, meat. Love it x 10.

  37. Heidi Hatch says

    I’m not a fan of mushrooms. Got any ideas for substitutions? Otherwise these sound much better than all the nut based “meatballs”.

    • says

      Heidi, I wish I knew what to suggest as a substitute for the mushrooms! Maybe just more lentils? I don’t know exactly how much more, but if you want to play around with the recipe I’d love to hear how it turns out.

  38. Bonita says

    You’re amazing. Made these for hubby who has just been advised to try a veggie diet. He thought they were meat ha ha. Been reading your blog and I think I love you. Well worth the boiling, frying and baking to get the depth of flavour. Next I’m trying your choc/cherry cake. I’m a huge fan of yours from Sydney x

    • says

      Thank you, Bonita! I’m glad you two enjoyed the “meatballs”. Please do let me know how the other recipes turn out for you. That cake is delicious and so easy!

  39. says

    So I have been meaning to tell you that 1. I’m so glad you’re ok! What a scare. And 2. These meatballs look delicious! Thanks for the inspiration!

  40. Bonita says

    Oh no! We’re both addicted… Just made another batch with Indian spices (cumin, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and garam masala) and coriander for a change. Worked again! I think you know I love you and Cookster already. x

  41. says

    Thanks for this. Soy crumble doesn’t really do it for me so this will be something to try as an alternate.

    1) “stirring, for about 30 sections” probably should be “…30 seconds”. Unless you happen to have 19,200 acres (30 x 640) available to walk around while stirring?

    2) Why do all oven based recipes start by preheating the oven so early? With 15 minutes identifiable time, plus time to whiz the lentils in the food processor and the time to allow the mixture to cool, plus various extra bits of time it seems to me that oven will not only reach 400F but will hold at that temperature for quite along time before baking will commence.

    Anyways, thanks again for the post.

    • says

      Thanks for pointing out the sections/seconds error in my post, Steven. I fixed it. I instruct to preheat the oven in the first step since preheating times vary by oven and also because it just seems to be standard procedure.

  42. Karen says

    I just finished eating this for dinner and it was absolutely delicious! My carnivorous husband has declared it his favorite vegetarian dish :)

  43. Dana says

    I have completed this recipe up until the baking. The formed “meat”balls are on the baking sheet in the fridge. The mixture tastes great and I am excited to serve it to my family tonight! I made a few subs/additions. I didn’t have lentils on hand so I used yellow moong dal. I also 1/4 cup kale to go with the parsley (trying to sneak extra goodness in there :)
    Thanks for the recipe. Your finished picture looks amazing. I hope mine will as well!

    • says

      Thank you for the report, Dana! I hope your lentil meatballs turned out wonderfully. Your substitutions sound great, I’ll have to give those a try next time.

  44. lovetocook says

    I’ve read the recipe three times and I don’t see where/when to add the oats. Do I add with egg at end? And instead of egg ground flax and water is egg substitute. Another substitute for mushrooms is grated carrot.

  45. Kate says

    Loved the flavor! Even my fiance, who would much rather actual meatballs, love them!

    Mine came out a bit dry through. Is it possible to overbake them? Do you think I could pan fry them to crisp the outside, then cook them in sauce?

    • says

      Hey Kate! I’m sorry your meatballs came out a little dry. I would ease bake on the baking time next time. I’m not sure how well pan-frying would work, but if you give it a shot, please let me know!

  46. says

    As we ‘speak’ I have a batch of these baking in the oven. I really was doubting my choice in recipe when I was spending 5 minutes scraping my pan whilst the mix was cooking. But I have just tested the first meatball and I can only see one problem: I have not made enough – these are FABULOUS! What an amazing recipe! I am already thinking about making them again, so I am wondering: have you ever tried freezing them? Thank you so much for sharing and a Happy New Year!

  47. says

    Well, I already shared how impressed I was by this recipe. So if these only made no 6 on your list I must try the rest of your recipes (actually I share your enthusiasm for that buckwheat recipe with roasted strawberries – make it myself regularly)

  48. says

    coming back about six months after first trying this. my friend and i ended up eating the raw batter (before adding the eggs) – so so good! so yesterday i tried making it again, adding a few cups of stock and a bottle of tomato sauce (plus a pinch of sugar) and ended up with the most delicious veggie-laden fake bolognese. katie, you’re a godsend!!

  49. Nicole says


    Your recipe looks awesome and I will definitely try. I’ve made vegan Salisbury steak using lentils and mushrooms so I know how awesome they taste together. I would love to try your meatball recipe but I’m just confused about one thing. Are your lentils cooked? It doesn’t seem like they are. In the recipe I used for my Salisbury the lentils had to be cooked first and then mashed. Just wanted to know if you used raw dry lentils and if that makes the texture more firm? Thanks!

    • says

      Hey Nicole! Sorry for the confusion. The lentils are partially cooked in step 1, for just 10 minutes. They finish cooking in the oven. I think the partial cook improves the final texture.

  50. Jodie says

    I admit, I can spend hours on A. Reading food blogs & B. Cooking. Together with being slightly obsessive about everything…life gets pretty darn fun. Have followed you and felt it was time for Thank You, for the many recipes I have tried. Was feeling meatballish this morn and hello, found your recipe. Not wanting to leave the house I subbed shiitakes that were dry and knew I could use the broth. Then used harrisa spices for a twist. After numerous tastes, now I am full before baking them! Can I roll these in balls and leave to bake later? Wondering if I should add eggs now or before baking. Once again brilliant food blog!

    • says

      Jodie, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the recipes! Your spin on the meatballs sounds fantastic. I’m not sure how to deal with the uncooked meatballs—I would probably just go ahead and cook them since I know they reheat very nicely! Enjoy!

  51. Kerry says

    So 2 for 2 from your website today. :) I made the banana scones (which were amazing) and also the lentil meatballs and LOVED them! I recently found a veggie burger that I could make that my kids loved, but they were requesting them every night and needed another go to dinner to replace a meat dinner the kids enjoyed. My oldest gobbled the lentil meatballs up. My youngest assumed that since I called them meatballs he was getting meat and was not impressed…at first. Then I called them veg-balls (for lack of the skill to come up with a better name) and told them they are not supposed to taste like meatballs and then he really liked them. Since I’m trying to transition the family into more veggie based meals, I still cheat by using organic chicken stock instead of veggie stock, for example, to help assimilate their taste buds…and it seems to be working. Psyched when I find great veggie recipes. Thanks so much.

    • says

      Yes! Kerry, I’m so glad my recipes are turning out well for you. Thank you for letting me know! Glad your kids are coming around to veggie meals! Sounds like you’re doing a great job at it.

  52. Dane says

    These are incredible. I’ve never had vegetarian meatballs before. I can honestly say these are the best meatballs I’ve ever had (sorry mom). Not sure where I went wrong but they were a bit too moist to form into balls. A few extra oats solved it and they were fantastic!

  53. Sofia says

    Hi Kate! I have made these several times now and they are always great. One time i switched the mushrooms for beets and it was pretty tasty. This time I decided to try a different bean so I went with navy beans; and instead of mushrooms I used fennel. It is delicious! Thank you so much for putting this stuff into the world.

  54. claudine says

    Hi Kate,
    I have made some of your recipes and I love them! I am allergic to oats so What can I use on this recipe instead of oats?

    • says

      Hi Claudine! That is a good question. I think bread crumbs would work well instead of oats (gluten-free bread crumbs if need be).

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