Lentil Meatballs

Salma Hage

"The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook"

"Lentils lend a substantial texture to these balls, making them every bit as satisfying as their more conventional non-vegetarian counterparts. Generously spiced and served drenched in tomato sauce, they are both slightly unusual and decidedly delicious."—Salma Hage


For the meatballs:
•    1/2 cup dried green lentils
•    5 ounces cremini (chestnut) mushrooms
•    2/3 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes
•    1/2 cup walnuts
•    1 teaspoon soy sauce
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    4 garlic cloves, chopped
•    1 onion, finely chopped
•    1 celery stalk, chopped
•    1 carrot, finely chopped
•    1 teaspoon Lebanese 7-Spice Seasoning 
•    1 teaspoon dried oregano
•    2 tablespoons tomato paste 
•    Parsley leaves, to garnish
•    Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
•    Extra virgin olive oil
•    2 garlic cloves, chopped
•    1 large onion, finely chopped
•    1/2 teaspoon cumin
•    1/2 teaspoon coriander
•    Pinch of chili flakes
•    6 tomatoes, chopped
•    1 cup vegetable broth (stock)
•    One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
•    1 tablespoon tomato paste
•    Handful basil leaves, torn


Preheat the oven to 400ºF and lightly oil a baking sheet.

Rinse the lentils and put them into a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Cook over simmering heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and the water has been absorbed. 

Put the mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, and soy sauce into a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper and blend to a paste.

Heat the remaining oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic for 1 minute. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until soft but not colored. Add the 7-spice and oregano and season well.

Add the mushroom paste to the skillet or frying pan and cook over low heat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cooked lentils and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, add the tomato paste (puree) and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Set the mixture aside until it is cool enough to handle.

Shape the mixture into balls the size of gold balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and slightly crispy. 

To make the sauce, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute without browning. Add the onion, season with a little salt, and sauté until softened. Add the spices and chili flakes and cook for another minute, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth (stock), the canned tomatoes, and the tomato paste and bring to a boil. Season with a little more salt and pepper and add the basil leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for about 10 mintues, stirring occasionally.

Serve the “meatballs” with plenty of piping hot tomato sauce and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Excerpted from The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook by Salma Hage (Phaidon Press). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton. 


4 servings