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March 27, 2015

Lenten Lentil Meatballs

We went to The Meatball Shop in the West Village maybe two years ago and I picked up a postcard on the way out with a recipe on the back for their veggie balls, which I had ordered and found delicious. The physical reminder to test it sometime got shoved into one of my cookbooks, but I came across the card last week while cleaning and flipping through books which inevitably get stubbed with torn papers, recipes and notes. I put it aside on my desk for the Lenten season. The fact that the postcard was sturdy, not flimsy, meant that it wouldn’t get lost in the mix. The same can be said about these ‘meat’balls; sturdy, not flimsy, and a total stand-out even among a week of omnivorous meals.

Let me cut to the chase and say that if you are going to bother with any sort of multi-component vegetarian meal, whether it be for a veggie crowd option, religion or simply wanting a day off from cooking meat, make these guys. There’s a bit of prep work required, but it’s worth it. The sauteed celery, onion, carrot, garlic, mushroom, thyme and tomato paste are all essential to creating the aromatic base that infuses the hearty cooked lentils. Eggs, breadcrumbs, walnuts, parmesan and parsley bind, bulk out and deliver flavor.

ShopRite is a great destination for stocking up on the pantry items you’ll need to make these. Find big bags of onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato paste, lentils and breadcrumbs as well as their organic eggs and olive oil all in a quick sweep through the aisles. You can find a fresh wedge of Parmesan in the cheese section, too.

This recipe makes a ton. Even halving it, we still had a nice tray of hearty veggie balls for dinner for 2, and the next day’s lunch. Which is, if you’re like me on a Saturday and don’t remember to plan anything for lunch until 3:00 pm, very convenient. They reheat in a low oven for a few minutes beautifully. The only thing in your court is the sauce: use their basil-spinach pesto below or a simple tomato sauce. I used a little of both. As far as Lent goes, you can bet that even the staunchest omnivore is unlikely to turn up his nose at these on a meatless day, which is most likely why The Meatball Shop has them on their menu.

VEGGIE BALLS

via The Meatball Shop, NYC

Ingredients:

2 cups dry lentils
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ShopRite Organic olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons ShopRite tomato paste
8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
3 large ShopRite organic eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions:

-Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.

-Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.

-Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley and walnuts to the cooled vegetables and lentils and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.

-Roll the mixture into round golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.

-Roast 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

BASIL SPINACH PESTO

via The Meatball Shop NYC

Ingredients:

1/4 cup roughly chopped, toasted walnuts
4 cups baby spinach leaves
2 cups fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 cup ShopRite olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan/Pecorino

Directions:

Blanch spinach and basil into the boiling water for 1 minute, then strain the greens, and plunge them into a bowl with ice water. Drain again and squeeze tightly to get as much water out as possible. Chop roughly.
Combine the greens and walnuts with the salt, olive oil and Parmesan in a food processor and process until a smooth consistency is reached. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

MNLentils1

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