Meatballs are a perennial favorite, one of America’s most common comfort foods. Serve them dipped in a spicy barbecue sauce as an appetizer or over zoodles for dinner. This gluten free version uses red quinoa, brown lentils and whole oats which make a surprisingly delicious meatball with the help from a few spices and some TLC. This is a vegetarian recipe with vegan alternatives.
I have made vegetarian meatballs before using eggplant, breadcrumbs and parmesan with good results Check out Eggplant Meatballs. This time, my goal was to make a meatless, gluten free meatball that has a similar texture and flavors of the meatballs and meatloaf I used to make when I still used ground beef. I have a frequent guest at my table who is gluten intolerant so, whereas I never worried about gluten before (just empty carbs) my priorities have changed.
I know there are faux meat beef substitutes but not everyone has access to them, so I prefer to experiment with normal everyday foods. In this recipe, I used red quinoa which has been a great stand in for ground beef in taco and chili recipes. Check these out: Quinoa Black Bean Tacos with Chili L:ime Sauce and Black Bean Chili Con Quinoa.
I like red quinoa (or multi colored), as opposed to white for this recipe because it has a heartier consistency and flavor. Plus the color helps create results that look more like we are used to seeing when cooking with red meat. I paired the quinoa with cooked brown lentils which add a creamy consistency and raw oats to absorb liquid and give it bulk.
So these vegetarian/vegan meatballs are pretty satisfying and delicious but how do they stack up nutritionally speaking? Both lentils and quinoa are high in protein and fiber with virtually no fat. Both are also rich in nutrients. The third part of the meatball triumvirate is oats which also has protein and fiber. Although oats are hulled, the bran and germ are not stripped away, as is common with other grains, which means the bulk of their nutrients are retained. If you serve them over zoodles, you’ve got a low calorie, low carb, low fat meal that is nutrient rich. Win Win!
TIPS: I made this recipe twice. The first time I used cooled quinoa and lentils and oat flour. The second time I used cold, refrigerated quinoa and lentils and raw oats. Hands down, the second meatballs won. They were easier to roll and maintained their shape. So I recommend making the lentils and quinoa the night before or in the morning to speed things along. The second meatballs also had a better consistency which I contribute to the oats. You could also use panko bread crumbs which won’t give you the same nutritional boost and they are not gluten free. Store meatballs and sauce separately for best results.
LENTIL & QUINOA MEATBALLS
- 1/2 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 cup cooked)
- 2 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1/2 cup red or tri color quinoa (or 1 cup cooked)
- 2-3 Tbsn olive oil or spray (divided)
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 egg or 1 flax egg (1 Tbsn ground flax seed + 2 1/2 Tbsn water)
- 1 Tbsn soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos (GF) or vegan Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 Tbsn ketchup or steak sauce
- 1 tsp dried Italian seasoning or oregano
- 1 tsp each salt and pepper (or to taste)
- 3/4 – 1 cup oats (GF) or bread crumbs
- 2 cups tomato sauce (optional for serving)
- 4-6 large carrots or zucchini, or 12 oz pasta (optional for serving)
- Rinse and drain the lentils. Bring vegetable broth or water to a boil in a large saucepan, add the lentils. Reduce heat and cook for about 15 or20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
- Rinse and drain the quinoa and cook as directed for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the ‘tails’ are visible. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
- If you are making a flax egg, combine the flax seed and the warm water in a mug or small bowl. Mix and let stand for several minutes until it becomes a gel.
- If you are making veggie noodles, wash and remove the stem ends and slice into ‘noodles’ using a spiralizer, a mandolin or a potato peeler. Set aside
- Saute onions in a heavy cast iron pan until transluscent and slightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Put the lentils, onions, egg, parsley and spices in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Or you can smash with a potato masher. The mixture should be chunky not smooth.
- Transfer the lentil mixture to a large bowl and mix in the quinoa.
- Mix in half of the oats and try to roll a ball.You want the consistency to feel firm, like a meatball. If it feels too moist, add more oats. I used a whole cup
- Put the meatball mixture into the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the oats to absorb liquid and make it easier to roll into balls.
- Take the bowl out of the fridge and scoop up some of the lentil mixture and roll it into a ball with your hands. This recipe makes 3 dozen 1 inch meatballs. Make them whatever size you like but make them all the same size so they cook evenly. Roll it until it feels sturdy.
- Place them on an oiled baking sheet and spray the tops with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. You can broil for a few minutes to brown the tops.
- Wipe out frying pan and pour in tomato sauce. Heat on medium until bubbling and then turn to simmer.
- Remove meatballs from the oven and place in tomato sauce. Spoon sauce over to cover.
- Saute the noodles in oil or butter with a pinch of salt, if you prefer. If you are using regular pasta, follow the cooking instructions on the package. Or you can par boil Zucchini noodles for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Serve over hot noodles with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan, if desired.
Lentil & Quinoa Meatballs