Lentil "Meatballs" with Lemon Pesto

The hunt was on for a good vegetarian entree recipe. I wanted  something relatively light, not too time consuming to make and I wanted it to be pasta-free. Not that there's anything wrong with pasta.  As I've mentioned before, pasta is kind of my go-to, my default, and sometimes I have to dig a little deeper in order to get some variety in my diet. I came across this recipe for Lentil Meatballs on SproutedKitchen, which I had also pinned a few weeks ago. I checked my pantry and wouldn't you know, there, staring up at me, was a big bag of French green lentils. Dinner was on. 
I liked the texture of these meatballs and unlike The Meatball Shop's vegetarian balls (which are awesome), these are smoother because the lentils are pureed. {The two recipes also use different ingredients and are topped with different sauces.} 
If you are someone who likes Meatless Monday this is a really nice recipe to have in your rotation. Now for me, everyday is Meatless Monday. That's because I've been a vegetarian for, I can't believe it's been so long, 26 years. I can't recall if I ever explained how I became a vegetarian on this blog, but I'll try to give you the story in a paragraph or two...
The year was 1986 and I was turning 10 years old. There were two things I wanted for my birthday-  Little Orphan Annie drapes and a dog. I really wanted a dog. I didn't care what kind or what size. A mutt from the local shelter would have done it. Now my parents are incredibly loving people, but I wouldn't say they are known for their affection towards animals. In fact my mother was terrified of dogs at that time.* And so that year, for my 10th birthday, I got two goldfish. Nary a dog in sight. 
I named the goldfish Romeo and Juliette and they lived in a little fish bowl right next to my bed. The bowl had some colored gravel, a little ceramic sign that said "No Fishin'"and a straggly weed that bobbed up and down. I loved those fish. 
After a most unfortunate accident (I filled the water up too high), Juliette died (she jumped out of the bowl). I was devastated. And I felt responsible. I sat shiva, buried her in a box in our backyard and mourned the loss. I wore black. And that was the day I decided I would never eat fish again. Meat was out of my diet a short while later. Then chicken disappeared from my diet when I was in college. 
Being a vegetarian is just how I roll. I never feel limited and I eat from almost every cuisine on the planet. But I'm not here to proselytize, so let me stop where I am...
Back to the balls. They hit the spot. The lemon pesto dressing gives the dish a really nice pop. It's a great pairing. 
So make these meatballs for Meatless Monday, or any old day...

{The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook comes out August 28th. I can't wait to get my hands on it.}

* Postscript: I eventually adopted a wonderful Rottweiler named Omar...only 14 years after my 10th birthday. He came from the LASPCA in New Orleans. He's been with us for 13 years (knock on wood) and he is loved. 

Lentil "Meatballs" (Adapted (barely) from The Sprouted Kitchen, adapted from In Jennie's Kitchen
Serves 4, Makes 18 small balls** 
2 cups cooked lentils (I used about about 1 1/4 cups of dried French green lentils , put them in a medium saucepan and covered them in a few inches of cold water. I brought the water to a boil, then lowered the flame to a simmer. Cooked, partially covered, until the lentils were tender. This gave me a little bit more than 2 cups cooked.) 
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup Ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Hefty pinch of dried thyme
1 teaspoon each sea salt and black pepper 
2/3 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko- Japanese breadcrumbs)
Lemon Pesto Sauce (Courtesy of The Sprouted Kitchen)

1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pinenuts 
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup packed basil leaves 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons water to thin


In a food processor, pulverize the lentils into mush. Put them in a large mixing bowl.
Add the beaten eggs, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, fennel seed, parlsey, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. Stir in the breadcrumbs and let the mix sit for 20 minutes.
For the pesto sauce, put the garlic, nuts, lemon zest and juice and salt in a food processor or blender and run until smooth. Add in the basil leaves and olive oil until you get a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Add water, oil or lemon juice to thin as desired. Stir in the parmesan and set aside. The sauce will keep covered in the fridge for about a week.
Preheat the oven to 400'. Check the lentil mix by rolling a 1'' round ball between your palms, it should hold together fairly well. If it seems pretty wet and it falling apart, stir in another Tbsp. or two of breadcrumbs until the ball with stay together.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the mix into balls and line them up on a baking sheet (they don't need lots of space between, they won't spread). If you like a bit more of a crust, brush them with olive oil.
Bake on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown, gently turning the balls over halfway through baking. Remove to cool slightly.
Serve with your favorite noodles, on a bed of sauteed greens, or simply on their own with a nice drizzle of the pesto sauce.

** For some reason I got 25 balls out of this recipe, and because of that, I didn't have enough sauce. I divided the meatballs into two groups- the first 18 were coated with the lemon pesto and the rest were topped with my homemade marinara.