Nutrition

Level Up Your Pasta Night With This Vegan Lentil Meatballs Recipe

4 min read
With protein, carotenoids, and other nutrients, this recipe is as nutritious as it is flavorful.
With protein, carotenoids, and other nutrients, this recipe is as nutritious as it is flavorful.

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Few things in life are more enjoyable than a warm bowl of pasta. But overdoing it on the classic spaghetti and meatballs combo can have the opposite effect, leaving you feeling more sluggish than satisfied—courtesy of all those refined carbohydrates. Plus, if you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or simply prefer a plant-based approach to eating (we’ve got plenty of recipes where that came from), the OG dish just won’t cut it.

We tapped integrative chef Blaine Arin Tacker for a nutritious, vegan-friendly take on the traditional—and she delivered. Enter: Vegan Lentil Meatballs and Baked Spaghetti Squash Noodles, a protein-packed recipe that’s as nutritious as it is flavorful.

Case in point: Lentils are a good source of dietary protein—an essential nutrient that plays a number of roles in the body, including bone and muscle building support. (A single half-cup of cooked lentils delivers around 8 grams of protein—not to mention other essential nutrients like magnesium, iron, and zinc.) Squash, on the other hand, includes carotenoids and bioactive compounds which have health benefits, making this recipe a fantastic way to help get your nutrients through food first. Even better? You don’t have to sacrifice taste—this dish hits all the right spots. Mangia!* (1, 2, 3)

Lentil Meatballs & Baked Spaghetti Squash Noodles

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 large spaghetti squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon (keep these divided)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cups cooked lentils, drained well (green lentils, brown lentils, red lentils)
  • 1 egg or vegan egg°
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped—fresh parsley is best
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese—vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast work great, too
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free breadcrumbs or coconut flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450˚F.
  2. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, from top to bottom. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender and easily pierced with a fork—this should take about 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, along with your shallots and garlic. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Set aside.
  4. Add the sauteed shallot mixture into a food processor. Add in the lentils, egg (or egg substitute), tomato paste, parsley, parmesan, breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, then pulse until just combined—you don’t want it too mushy. (If you used a vegan egg, you can add more seasoning to taste here.)
  5. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the lentil mixture and roll into balls, spacing them evenly onto parchment paper or a greased baking sheet. You may have to play around with the ratios during this stage; if your mixture is too wet to hold its shape, place it into the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes to firm up, or add more breadcrumbs.
  6. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden-brown and slightly crispy. While the lentil balls are baking, use a fork to scrape out the fibers of the spaghetti squash into a bowl—these will be your “noodles.”
  7. When the lentil meatballs are done, remove them from the oven and allow to set for 5 to 10 minutes.
  8. Time to eat! Serve the lentil meatballs warm on a bed of spaghetti squash and pasta sauce. Garnish with parsley and more parmesan, then dig in.

Notes:

  • °Vegan egg: If you’re vegan or plant-based—or just want to substitute the egg in this recipe—a flax egg is a great alternative! Making one is super simple: Just combine a tablespoon of flax meal with 3 tablespoons of water, then leave the mixture to sit for 5 minutes until the texture becomes gelatinous.
  • Feel free to experiment with this recipe. There are countless different seasonings you can incorporate to enhance the flavor (cumin, cilantro, a splash of soy sauce, red pepper flakes, oregano, ground flaxseed, even crushed cashews), and you can also play around with using different vegetables (zucchini, sweet potato) to create the noodles. After all, the beauty of cooking is the freedom to customize your dish—and the better your food tastes, the easier it is to turn healthy eating into a habit.

References:

  1. Carbone, J. W., & Pasiakos, S. M. (2019). Dietary Protein... Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients, 11(5), 1136.
  2. Polak, Rani et al. “Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake.” Clinical : a publication of the American... vol. 33,4 (2015): 198-205. doi:10.2337/diaclin.33.4.198
  3. Kulczyński, B., & Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2019). The Profile of Carotenoids and Other Bioactive Molecules in Various Pumpkin Fruits (Cucurbita maxima Duchesne) Cultivars. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(18), 3212.

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