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.  

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (Shorbet Ads)

This past week marked the one year anniversary of the revolution in Egypt. Back in 2011, the excitement was palpable and you could just feel the energetic optimism that comes with the prospect of change. That said, I sincerely hope that some sort of progressive and inclusive democracy takes root in that country. 
The first Egyptian dish I ever made was Koshary (or Kushary or Kushari) from a Saveur Magazine article written by Anita Lo. That specific recipe came from an eatery in Cairo's now-famous Tahrir Square.  This one for Egyptian Lentil Soup, or Shorbet Ads, comes from Food & Wine magazine and I first spotted it on My German Kitchen (though clearly the dish is not Germanic in origin). 
Now, what do I like about this soup? Well, for starters it's a "one-pot meal"- it's incredible easy to make and there are only a handful of ingredients, all of which I had on hand. The soup also has some nice heat and a bit of acid from the lemon. And, it's healthy.
Serve this beautifully-hued soup with warm pita...and Bil hana wish shifa'! بالهنا و الشفاء 
(Bon Appetit.)
Egyptian Red Lentil Soup  (Adapted by My German Kitchen from Food & Wine...and tweeked a bit more by me!)
Yield: 8
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
  • white medium onion, chopped
  • carrots, copped finely
  • celery ribs, chopped finely 
  • 3 garlic gloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 pound tomatoes, seeded and diced (I went with organic, BPA-free canned, diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 8 cups water
  • salt
  • yogurt
  • lemon wedges
  • warm pita 
  1. Melt the butter in a big soup pot on medium heat and add the vegetables (onion, carrots, celery, garlic). Cook until softened for about 5 minutes.        
  2. Add the spices ( cumin, coriander, ancho chile) to the veggie mixture and cook for another few minutes until fragrant.               
  3. Add the tomatoes and let them cook for two minutes.
  4. Add the lentils and water, season salt and cook the soup over lower heat for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are very soft.
  5. Puree your soup with a stick blender. Add some more salt to taste and serve with yogurt, lemon wedges and warm pita.     

Revolutionary Food: Koshary (Kushary) El Tahrir

The most recent issue of Saveur features the "Chef 100," whereby 100 hundred well-known chefs gave readers their suggestions on food, restaurants, cooking utensils, cookbooks and unique ingredients. Though Anita Lo probably doesn't have a direct line to the newsroom, she recommended koshary - a vegetarian dish from Egypt that features pasta, lentils, chickpeas and onions. (It tastes wonderful when topped with tomato sauce and vinegar.) The koshary recipe she recommended originates from a little cafe in Cairo's Tahrir Square.  This is what Anita said about the ultimate Egyptian street food:
"Served in a plastic or metal bowl, the food is many shades of brown: a mixture of toasted pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and fried onions — perhaps a staff meal creation of some hippie distance runner just enrolled at the Natural Gourmet cooking school. But pour on a little of the garlic-vinegar and tomato-pepper sauces that sit on every table, and you've got some seriously delicious comfort food. Complex, earthy flavors from the legumes mingle with toasty, nutty pasta and the rich, caramelized sweetness from the onions, all offset by the zingy sauces."
I was curious. I was also feeling somewhat humbled because I had never heard of koshary. How did I miss this popular Middle Eastern staple? I eat tons of Palestinian food and I'm very familiar with Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli (this recipe), Iraqi and Moroccan dishes. I guess Egypt's cuisine flew under my radar. My only exposure to Egyptian food was at Ali's Kebab Cafe in New York's Little Egypt on Steinway Street in Queens. (The Kebab Cafe features Alexandrian cuisine, so in addition to kebabs and meze platters, there are also dishes that infuse Greek and French influences - which is appropriate for a city with a history like Alexandria.)  I remember what we ate and koshary wasn't even on the menu (which is delivered orally).  
Well now I'm in-the-know. Here is one of Egypt's most famous street foods and my attempt to try something new...
Let's hope the revolution in the streets of Cairo (and throughout the country) help bring a vibrant and transparent democracy to the people of Egypt.
KOSHARY EL TAHRIR (Published in Saveur Magazine
4 oz. ditalini or macaroni, cooked
2 oz. spaghetti, cooked
4 oz. brown lentils, rinsed
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup cooked basmati rice (optional)
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
2 cups canola oil
1/4 cup flour
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (I used an organic pureed tomato sauce because I prefer that texture) 
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

Combine ditalini and spaghetti in a bowl; set aside. Put lentils and 4 cups water into a 2-qt. saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, 20 minutes. Season lentils with salt, drain, and transfer to a bowl along with rice and chickpeas; set aside.
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Put flour into a bowl, add onions, and toss to coat. Working in 2 batches, add onions to hot oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to paper towels to drain; reserve oil.
Spoon 4 tbsp. oil from skillet into a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne, and ginger; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and vinegar and bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat. To serve, divide pasta mixture between 4 bowls; top with lentil mixture and fried onions. Spoon tomato sauce over each bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lentil Overload: Side and Soup

The word legume is derived from the Latin word legumen which is believed to come from the verb legere "to gather."  Well-known legumes include peas, beans, lentils, lupins, carob, soy, and peanuts.  For almost 6,000 years of human civilization, legumes have been an important source of protein and used when meat sources weren't available. Being a vegetarian, legumes are a great addition to my diet. 

These two recipes are wonderful.

The first comes from the Williams Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook.  We just got a boat load of red onion and red peppers in our CSA share, so this zippy little lentil salad is perfect for this week.  I also have left over feta cheese from the Pumpkin-Feta Muffins I made a few days ago.  Perfect! I'm a huge fan of the vinaigrette that coats the lentils.  Oh, it is yummy.  This side dish is also versatile: Baby Otis loves the lentil salad when it is pureed into a soup.  The lentils can also be added to noodles for a flavorful pasta salad.  You can try small white (navy), pinto or black beans if you want to change things up.  Fresh goat cheese can be substituted for the feta if you are craving something more creamy. 
The second recipe comes from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa series).  One of our closest friends Andrew's sister-in-law recommended this recipe and I can see why.  It's flavorful, rich and (as an added bonus) it uses our CSA leeks, onions, carrots, garlic and celery.  Like the Lentil Salad, it can be pureed if you desire a smoother consistency. It is also an easy protein-rich baby food...you know, if that's your thing. 
Lentil Salad with Red Pepper, Mint and Feta (Courtesy of Williams Sonoma Vegetarian)
1 cup (7 oz) dried lentils
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus vinegar to taste
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and finely diced
1/4 cup (1/4 oz) chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Rinse the lentils and drain, then transfer to a saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, drain immediately and place in a bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the 5 tablespoons of vinegar, garlic, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  Add to the warm lentils and toss together to coat evenly.  Add the onion and bell pepper and gently.  Let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Season to taste with more salt, pepper and vinegar, if necessary.  Add the mint and toss to mix well.  Add the feta (save a bit for garnish). Transfer to a platter or individual plates.  Garnish with mint sprigs.  Enjoy!
Serves 6

Ina Garten's Lentil Vegetable Soup (Courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa)
1 pound French green lentils
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts vegetable stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the vegetable stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. (I had to add a little bit more salt.) Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan. 

Serves 8-10.