Gluten free vegetarian meatballs may sound like an oxymoron to you. But once you taste how rich and meaty lentils and mushrooms can be, you’ll be rooting around your pantry for these simple ingredients and serving up Meatless Monday on a Wednesday.
It’s easy to run up a steep grocery bill in the warmer weather, since I make my kids wait all year for the abundance of summer fruits. Once strawberries, blueberries and avocados are in season, my children call in all those promises I’d been making during the winter.
‘No, you can’t have strawberries in January. They taste terrible plus they cost a million bucks.’ To keep things Shoestring Friendly, I try to make some meals that are almost straight from the pantry. Like these vegetarian meatballs.
If you can swing it, don’t forsake the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The depth of flavor can’t be beat, and if I sprinkle it on things my children are always willing to give it a try. Oh, and my 1 child who swears up and down that she hates mushrooms? She ate these happily, unaware. My other child who declares an aversion to lentils? Same deal.
Lentils and mushrooms are always willing to fill in for beef, and at a much, much lower price. Add some fresh herbs (one of the few things we always grow successfully each spring and summer), and you’ve got some big flavor there. Plus, lentils are easy. No soaking, and they cook in no time. They’re like the un-bean bean.
These meatballs are soft enough that a 2-inch ice cream scoop makes quick work of portioning them, but stable enough that they won’t fall apart easily. They’re not altogether unlike those gluten free quinoa burgers we made a while back, but they’re even easier to make plus they go bun-less (not being burgers and all).
I like to give them a spin under the broiler after they’re done baking, which helps them brown a bit on top. But really that part is optional. I tried tossing them in some gluten free flour and sauteing them for about 8 minutes (turning them from side the side), but I found it to be more trouble than it was worth.
If you really don’t want to turn on your oven, though, go for it. You could also bake them in a toaster oven (which I did successfully with a few, just to see).
Gluten Free Vegetarian Meatballs (with Red Lentils & Mushrooms)
1 pound red lentil beans, rinsed (any lentil will do, though – red just makes gives them a meat-like blush)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
20 ounces sliced white or baby portabella mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup tomato marinara sauce
2 teaspoons gluten free Worcestershire sauce (both Lea & Perrins and Heinz brands are gluten free)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
2 eggs at room temperature, beaten
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper and set it aside.
Place the lentils and the stock in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover and allow to simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
While the lentils are cooking, in another medium heavy-bottom saucepan, saute the onion in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the onions are beginning to soften (about 4 minutes). Add the sliced mushrooms and salt, and mix to combine. Cover and cook until the mushrooms have reduced in size by about half and have softened (about 5 minutes more). Drain the mushrooms of any excess liquid, and allow them to cool briefly.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the drained mushrooms and onions and the bread crumbs, and pulse until the mixture begins to clump. It will be chunky, not completely smooth, but you should not see any recognizable pieces of mushroom. Transfer to a large, wide bowl. Place half of the cooked lentil beans in the food processor, and pulse until mostly smooth. Transfer both the processed and the whole lentils to the bowl with the mushroom mixture. Add the marinara sauce, Worcestershire, basil, parsley, grated cheese and the eggs, and mix gently to combine fully.
With a medium (approximately 2-inch) ice cream scoop, scoop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet each about 1 inch apart from the other. Drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil, and bake until mostly firm to the touch (about 20 minutes). Broil for 5 minutes, rotating once during broiling, to brown the tops slightly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool briefly before serving. The meatballs will firm up as they cool. Serve over gluten free pasta.