Vegetarian ‘meatballs’ a fun, easy and delicious project


Main dish

‘Meatballs’ With Marinara

1/2 cup uncooked medium or long-grain brown rice

1 cup dried brown or green lentils

5 garlic cloves — 2 whole, 3 minced

2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup for pan-frying

3/4 cup onion that has been very finely minced or grated using a box grater (about 1 medium onion)

3 teaspoons dried oregano

1 (23- to 28-ounce) container tomato puree

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 / 4 cup unseasoned medium-grind breadcrumbs

1 egg, lightly beaten

Bring 3/4 cup water to a boil and add the rice. Return to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until rice is tender, 40-45 minutes. Off the heat, keep the rice covered for 5 minutes. Measure out 1/2 cup of the cooked rice and transfer to a plate to cool completely. Refrigerate the remaining 1 cup of rice for another use.

Place lentils in a large saucepan, along with the 2 whole garlic cloves and 6 cups water. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then lower to medium. Cook the lentils until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain thoroughly so that the lentils are dry. Allow to cool completely.

While lentils cook, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of the onion and the 3 minced garlic cloves, cooking until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the dried oregano and the tomato puree. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Place the cooled lentils and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until lentils are mashed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, and add cooled rice, remaining 1/2 cup onion, remaining 2 tablespoons oregano, and the grated cheese, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and egg. Stir the mixture until well mixed.

Using a 1/8-cup measure, shape into balls. They will be slightly sticky to the touch. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Over medium-high heat, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch skillet until the oil shimmers. Gently lower the balls into the hot oil, cooking in batches and making sure not to crowd the pan. Lower the heat to medium and fry on first side for about 3 minutes. Turn (or gently nudge) to second side and cook 2 minutes.

Transfer the first batch to a baking sheet, add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil to the skillet for subsequent batches and cook in the same manner. Transfer the balls to the oven to finish cooking about 5 minutes. The will dried out a bit and will have a slightly crispy coating.

Place the warm marinara in the bottom of a wide bowl and arrange the “meatballs” on top. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations” by Kim O’Donnel (De Capo, $18.99).

Per serving: 482 calories (48 percent of calories from fat), 17 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fiber, 27 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 41 milligrams cholesterol, 968 milligrams sodium.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

My family has been eating a lot less meat over the past few years. Oh, we still get nice steaks to throw on the grill, and when they show up on the table with oven-roasted potatoes and a mound of dressed arugula, the meal is cause for celebration. But more often than not, dinner will be an amply tricked-out salad with a loaf of bread, a bowl of farro topped with vegetables and a fried egg, or a spicy tofu stir-fry with rice.

Maybe we’ve evolved. Maybe we’ve just changed. We don’t eat this way because we’re trying to cut meat out of our diets; partial vegetarianism is our new normal.

So I’m guessing we no longer qualify as “meat lovers” in the traditional sense. We’re certainly nothing like the fictional “Mr. Sausage” whom my friend Kim O’Donnel had in mind when she wrote The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (De Capo, $18.99). Mr. Sausage is that dude who would laugh if you even mentioned the words “kale salad.”

The book is a follow-up to O’Donnel’s 2010 The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour, which was a cornerstone text for people who climbed on board the “Meatless Monday” train.

The new book is geared toward festive meals and get-togethers. There are some simple recipes but many more that rise to the occasion, whether it’s Thanksgiving or an Easter dinner. They can take a little more time than, say, that salad I dump everything into.

We decide to modify her recipe for lentil “meatball” subs — losing the hoagie rolls and cheese, but keeping the “meatballs” and marinara sauce.

The meatballs are a bit of a project, albeit an easy and fun one. You cook brown rice and lentils separately, let them cool and mash them together with all the typical meatball seasonings. You then shape and refrigerate the balls, fry them in batches, then keep them warm in the oven while you assemble the meal. You end up with a tender, full-of-flavor meatball with a fantastic crisp crust.

And when these “meatballs” come to the table, they taste nothing like clean-out-the-fridge tofu surprise.

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