Lentil Meatballs with Lemon-Pecan Pesto Sauce

By Jaymi Heimbuch
January 27, 2016, 1:15 p.m.
Lentil meatballs are the perfect main for a hearty vegetarian meal.
Lentil meatballs are the perfect main dish for a hearty vegetarian meal. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

About This Dish

For those who think vegetarian dinners aren't hearty, I give them this recipe. Rich and filling, these nutrition-packed lentil "meatballs" have a surprisingly complex flavor profile, with the distinctive aroma of fennel, a smoky hint of paprika and the punch of red pepper flakes. Another layer of deliciousness is added on with the zesty lemon pesto sauce, which uses pecans for a slightly nutty undertone.

While garlic is a very healthy thing to keep in your diet, I prefer to leave it out of my pesto sauces because it can be an overpowering flavor. But, if you prefer garlic in your pesto, simply add in two cloves of fresh garlic into the food processor when blending up the sauce.

These lentil meatballs also make great leftovers. Wrap them in foil and warm them up in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, then drizzle them with pesto sauce (or your favorite pasta sauce!).

Inspired by The Sprouted Kitchen.

Prep Time
Total Time
4-6 servings (about 25 meatballs)
  1. Soup pot
  2. Cutting board
  3. Kitchen knife
  4. Mixing bowls
  5. Measuring cups and spoons
  6. Food processor or blender
  7. Baking sheet
  8. Parchment paper
  1. 1 cup red lentils
  2. 2 cups water
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  5. 34 cup light ricotta cheese
  6. 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  7. 2-3 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  8. 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  9. 1 teaspoon paprika
  10. 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  11. 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  12. 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  13. 23 cup panko bread crumbs
  14. 14 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  15. 14 cup pecans
  16. 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  17. 12 teaspoon fine sea salt
  18. 1 cup packed basil leaves
  19. 14 cup extra virgin olive oil
  20. 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Cooking Directions
  1. In a soup pot, combine the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water. Slightly mash the lentils with a fork until they are a chunky texture. Set them aside to cool.
  2. In a food processor, combine the pecans, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Blend until fairly smooth. Add in the basil leaves, olive oil and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth, adding in a little more olive oil if needed to get a sauce-like consistency.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled lentils, eggs, olive oil, ricotta cheese, fennel seeds, parsley, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir to thoroughly combine. Add in the bread crumbs, and stir until combined.
  5. Take a spoonful of the mixture and roll a 1-inch round ball in your hands. The mix should be quite moist but hold together well. If it doesn't hold together or is runny, add in a few more bread crumbs (only a little at a time) until the mixture holds together but is still very moist.
  6. Place the 1-inch balls onto a baking sheet, spaced a little distance apart so they aren't touching. Place the sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the lentil balls, then bake 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven.
  7. Plate the lentil meatballs with the pesto sauce drizzled over the top, and a little extra lemon zest as garnish. Serve and enjoy!

As an alternative preparation idea, you can keep the Parmesan cheese out of the mixture, and instead spread the cheese on a plate or tray. After rolling the lentil mixture into balls, roll the balls over the grated cheese to create a crust. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the lentil balls every 5 minutes to make sure the cheesy crust is evenly browned and crispy.