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Extreme Vegan Makeover: Lentil "Meat" Balls Edition

If you have ever looked at my photo albums on Facebook called “My Vegan Recipes” and “My Vegan Recipes II,” you know I have A LOT of recipes that have not yet made it to my blog. Mainly, that is because I set this high standard for myself (which I often regret) of requiring some interesting story to go along with each recipe. And I have more recipes than I do interesting stories so you see my problem.

I cook something, it tastes great and I take pictures and then think, “Yeah, but what am I going to say about Indian Stew?” (that’s just to tease you because I have an INCREDIBLE Indian Stew recipe waiting to be shared).

So I either need to have some incredible life experiences that can somehow be associated with the food I cook or I am going to have to learn to deal with shorter, less creative writings and let the food speak for itself.

However, the lack of a story was not the only reason this recipe has been sitting in the “Green Room” waiting for its 15 minutes of fame for so long. This delay came from not being able to decide what to call it. Why the problem?

Well, one day a debate ensued on a Facebook group page for using the word “meat” when describing an Extreme Vegan Makeover for meatloaf or something. Or maybe I used the word “steak.” I don’t even remember. Some people don’t like to see or hear words that remind them of food made from animals. I respect that. So I came on the blog and put all the words like that in quotation marks in the titles of all my recipes.

There were suggestions I come up with “alternative” names for my recipes, e.g. sweet loaf, veet loaf or maybe I could do what the big companies do and purposely misspell words like “chickn” or “wingz,” as if removing a vowel or changing a letter doesn’t make you think of an animal at all????

So I did some reading on the etymology of certain words. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “meat” comes from the Old English word “mete” which meant food as opposed to drink. It wasn’t used to mean animal flesh until much later around the 14th century. Today we talk about the “meat” of a coconut and seitan being “wheat meat.”

The word “flesh,” according to The Free Dictionary, is used in botany to mean “the pulpy, usually edible part of a fruit or vegetable” and can also mean substance. “Milk” is a term used to describe the liquid expressed from seeds, nuts and grains as well as from non-human animals and human animals.

One of my favorite writers and Vegan chefs, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau writes how she steers away from words like “mock,” “faux,” “substitute,” “fake,” or “imitation” because Vegan food IS real food and not some inferior, unreal version of animal-based foods. She writes in her Vegan’s Daily Companion, “By definition, the words “alternative” and “substitute” imply that the thing they are being measured against is the superior choice; that is, you choose the “substitute” when you can’t get the real thing, and so on” (p. 175). I completely agree. I don’t like when people say they eat “fake” cheese. The cheese I eat isn’t fake. It isn’t plastic or pretend cheese. It’s just non-dairy cheese.

Plus, if my recipes are makeovers of old pre-veg favorites, then, of course, they have to have the original name in them somewhere or how will anyone know what it is I am trying to recreate in a compassionate, cruelty-free way? If I call my recipe Chickpea Salad and not Chickpea “Tuna” Salad, then how will anyone know I am attempting to recreate the tuna fish salad and sandwiches that many people, including myself, loved before becoming vegetarian or Vegan? Some people may feel disgusted by the thought of eating anything that reminds them of animal foods but there are many, many people, again including myself, who miss the foods they used to eat and appreciate a way to satisfy those cravings with Vegan foods that are familiar to their senses and their memories.

In fact, someone told me that my Chickpea “Tuna” Salad was just the thing her sister needed to give up eating tuna! THAT is the purpose of my Extreme Vegan Makeovers.

Now for the recipe: I spent a lot of time batting around ideas about what to call these. Tom and I sat around free associating names like “veet” balls, “neat” balls, lentil balls, etc. It actually got quite silly (and risqué) and I proposed holding a contest on the blog so someone else could come up with a name that everyone would be happy with. But in the end, I have to be true to myself and so I present to you my delicious Lentil “Meat” Balls.

Lentil “Meat” Balls


2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray or oil
½ red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup bread crumbs (or gf bread crumbs or corn flake crumbs)
2 tbs. ground flax seed
3 Tbs. gf Vegan Worcestershire sauce OR2 Tbs. soy sauce plus 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. each paprika, garlic powder, Italian seasoning
2 Tbs. chickpea flour plus 2 Tbs. water


Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the lentils and a pinch of salt and return to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Let cool and move the lentils to a large mixing bowl. Mash them with a fork, potato masher or your hands until they are completely mashed.

Heat a large skillet and add the oil or cooking spray. Sauté the onions for about 4 minutes until translucent. Add the zucchini, carrot, celery, garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté about 5 minutes until the veggies are tender.

Add the hot veggies to the lentils in the bowl. The heat will help soften the lentils. Add the parsley, bread crumbs, flaxseed, Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce and vinegar), and spices. In a separate little bowl or cup, put 2 Tbs. of chickpea flour. Add 2 Tbs. of water and mix into a loose paste. This will act as a binder. Add the flour and water mixture to the bowl.

Mix everything well. Hands work best. If the mixture seems too loose, add more bread crumbs. If it feels too dry and tight, add water or non-dairy milk.

Heat the large skillet again with a tablespoon of oil. While it’s heating, form the lentil mixture into little balls. Wet your hands, scoop up about 2 Tbs. worth of the mixture (more or less depending what size you like your balls) and roll between your open hands until it is shaped like a ball. Let them rest for awhile (you can even refrigerate them) so they will hold their shape better.

Raw Lentil “Meat” Balls

Put the balls into the skillet and fry on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Turn them carefully with tongs or a thin spatula so that they brown on all sides. Cook them long enough to be sure they get cooked all the way through (that’s a great excuse to steal one and taste it 🙂 Remove from the pan and serve however you choose.

(1) instead of frying them in a pan, other ways to cook them include baking them in the oven or dropping the balls gently into a pot of tomato sauce and letting them gently cook. That’s the way I always used to make meatballs and they were always very soft and tender.

(2) if you want the balls zestier, you can change up the spices to include chili powder, Cajun seasoning or hot sauce. For an extra decadent treat, stuff the lentil mixture with some Vegan cheese while forming the balls. Then when you bite into one, you’ll get a mouthful of yummy, gooey cheese.

When I made the Lentil “Meat” Balls,  I served them with brown rice pasta with a simple Marinara Sauce. But we had so many left over, that the next time we ate them, we changed it up completely and served them with mashed potatoes and gravy. Equally scrumptious!


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18 Responses to Extreme Vegan Makeover: Lentil "Meat" Balls Edition

  1. Vanessa Campbell October 1, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    Hi Rhea…I want to make your delicious looking lentil meat balls but have a quick question. What type of lentils did you use…red lentils…green lentils or does it matter? Thanks…I can’t wait to try them.

    • Rhea October 2, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

      Brown lentils for anything you want meaty. They fall apart when you cook them so you can form loaves and balls, etc. If you want the lentils to hold their shape in a dish, use red or green. xoxo

  2. ieatvegancupcakes August 16, 2014 at 1:12 am #

    These look really good! I want to make them for my nephew for his birthday this year, but how do you think an omnivore/carnivore would like them?

    • Rhea August 16, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Robin, these do taste like lentils but they are really delicious. I think omnis would like them. There are also my vegan mozzarella-stuffed eggplant meatballs on the blog. You could try those or the tempeh meatballs. The key to them tasting meaty is the vegan Worcestershire sauce. Happy birthday to your nephew.

  3. cody May 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Perfect spot for me. I keep searching for this kind of recipe. Thank God u have it. Thanks for sharing healthy pollock recipe

  4. Rhea Parsons January 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Lica – I am so glad you liked them. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  5. Lica January 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    I made these tonight…and they didn’t disappoint! I forgot to add the flour mixture, but they still turned out great. Thank you very much for this fantastic recipe. (I also wondered how to freeze them, but previous comments answered that for me!)

  6. Rhea Parsons October 2, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Hi Be, thanks for getting back to me about that. I’m so glad it worked out. Maybe I’ll try freezing them too…if they ever last that long 🙂

  7. Be October 1, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    And the verdict is…these are absolutely just as scrumptious after being frozen! I froze them “raw” on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Once frozen, I tossed them into bags for separate portion sizes. My intention was to thaw them in the fridge before cooking but I was in such a hurry tonight, I just popped them in the microwave for about 45 seconds and then fried them. I think they may have been a little softer than originally but still held their shape well.
    We ate them over quinoa and topped with some fresh pico de gallo and avocados. Yum! Next time I will try them over spaghetti squash and your marinara sauce. Thanks for this delicious recipe! 🙂

  8. Rhea Parsons September 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Hi Be,

    I don’t see why not. HOnestly, I’ve never tried because we eat some, put the rest in the fridge and eat them before the week is up. They don’t last long 🙂

    I bet the trick to this is in how you thaw thew them. If you do try it, please let me know! Thanks!

  9. Be September 10, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    We love lentils around this house and I just can’t wait to try these! They sound super yummy! I am doing make-ahead meals this week and was wondering if you think these would freeze well.

  10. Rhea Parsons June 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Bea – thank you and well said. I agree, let’s focus on the living.

    HavegoneVegan – aw, I’d make them for you if I could 🙂 Thanks.

  11. Have Gone Vegan June 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Awesome looking meatballs! I have to admit I’d be too lazy to make them myself, but would love to buy them pre-prepared like that so I could just pop them in a skillet.

    Interesting discussion on word usage. I personally hate seeing the word meat when people ought to own up to the fact that they’re eating chicken, cow, pig or whatever. But meat in the sense of flesh I don’t really have a problem with because you and I are both made of meat too! 🙂

  12. Bea Elliott June 23, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    What a delicious looking plate of food! Lentil “Meat” Balls is a fine name to call it!

    I’ve also heard people say “vegan meat” – Which a fine way alternative too. In my mind it’s much more important to adjust what we call the living beings than what’s left of them after they are gone. Those are just “parts” and pieces –

    But Lentil “Meat” Balls – That’s the real deal! 😉

  13. Rhea Parsons June 22, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Flavia, thank you. Doing the research was fun. It’s empowering to know that the animal-food industry does not own these words, though they think they do. Especially the dairy industry who wants to own the word “milk” and not allow it used for items that are not dairy!

    Hi Carol, they were green lentils. I actually don’t know if it would have made a difference. That’s what they had in the bulk bin. When I get them packaged, they look kind of dingy brown? These were so green, I actually was afraid they were really split peas 🙂 but they cooked up brown so yay!

    Melissa, thank you so much. I needed that validation! I certainly understand not wanting vegan food to have anything to do with animal products, I do, but we have to attract people to vegan food using words they know. And yes, I like the historical aspect. Let’s take back our words!!!

  14. Melissa June 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    I am thrilled with your name choice for the meatballs! That is the same argument/debate I’ve had with friends over vegan and vegetarian food names. I was glad to see someone else define meat in its historic context. That being said, I can’t wait to try the meatballs!

  15. Carol June 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Rhea, these look great, so versatile. Did you use red lentils or green lentils when you made them?

  16. Flavia June 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    These look delicious ~ what a great recipe. I’m so tired of always getting store bought brands, and like finding recipes for those items I would ordinarily just buy from the store.
    I think it’s great that you went into researching the etymology of the words “meat” and “flesh”, how interesting. We DO say “the meat of the coconut”, or “the meat of the problem”.
    I agree that it’s not great using words like “fake” or “substitute” when for most people, it does suggest an inferior alternative.
    Gives me a new perspective on the way we vegans describe our food!

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