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Vegetarian Meatballs

  • Serves: 6
  • Prep Time:  20 min
  • Cook Time:  45 min
  • Calories: 514
vegetarian meatballs in a bowl of pasta with roasted tomatoes.

Meaty—with no meat at all—savory and oh-so-satisfying, these delicious, lentil-based vegetarian meatballs give regular meatballs a run for their money.

Painlessly Plant-Based

It’s true—if you’re used to eating meat with most meals, making the shift towards more plant-based meals can (at first) feel a little disorienting. And if you lean too hard on old-school vegetarian fare, or even on just one or two vegetarian recipes you know how to make, things can get boring FAST. That’s where these vegetarian meatballs come in! When you’ve got a hankering for spaghetti and meatballs, but want to keep eating those body-and-planet friendly plant-based meals, look no further than this satisfying recipe. Intensely savory, with mushrooms, parmesan and plenty of garlic flavoring a protein-packed lentil base, there’s no sacrifice here.

ingredients for vegetarian meatballs with pasta in small bowls

No Meat. Got it. So, What IS in Meatless Meatballs?

Our vegetarian meatball recipe perfectly reflects where we are in our plant-based eating journey—they’re VEGETARIAN, not vegan. We’re still using egg as the binder, and lots of parmesan cheese for that delicious umami punch that we craave.

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Lentils
  • Olive oil
  • Onion
  • Cremini mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Panko
  • Italian seasoning
  • Cayenne
  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil
mushrooms being pulsed in a food processor
mushrooms and cooked lentils being pulsed in a food processor
mushroom lentil combination in a food processor
mushroom lentil combination with cheese, eggs and spices in a large bowl for vegetarian meatballs

3 Reasons These Lentil Meatballs Taste SO Good.

We’ve worked hard to perfect this recipe. We want big, bold flavors—nothing bland about these dense, hearty veggie meatballs. They’re good for you, but they also have to TASTE good, or what’s the point, right? Here’s why these lentil-mushroom meatballs taste so, so good:

  1. Umami, times 2! Meaty mushrooms and parmesan both contribute umami to these vegetarian meatballs. Defined as the elusive fifth flavor, it’s extra important to us to make sure that plant-based recipes have a source (or two!) of umami.
  2. Panko! We’ve talked about our love for these airy, crunchy, Japanese-style breadcrumbs before, but we’re here, talking about them again! They’re just so much lighter than traditional breadcrumbs, and they work perfectly in this recipe.
  3. They’re roasted. Roasting the meatballs is key—the high heat creates a crust around the meatballs that’s just right. Brush them with a little oil before roasting to really encourage that lovely crisp crust.
fresh tomatoes sliced on a sheet pan
tomatoes roasted on a sheet pan
vegetarian meatballs roasted on a sheet pan

How To Serve Vegetarian Meatballs

We’ve included our favorite way to serve these lentil meatballs in the recipe below, but they’re actually delicious in a lot of different ways. For example:

  • They make great toddler food! Having trouble getting your tiniest family member to eat their veggies. We’ve found that when veggies look like meatballs, they have a magical tendency to disappear—even from our toddlers’ plates!
  • Try them in a sandwich! Vegetarian meatball sub, anyone?
  • As a salad topper—when we make a batch of these lentil meatballs, we always make extra so we’re guaranteed to be able to indulge in our favorite healthy lunches! We mix up a simple raw kale salad, and top it with lots of avocado and a few of these lentil meatballs for an ultra-healthy, filling lunch that powers us through ‘til dinner. Or at least afternoon snack time.
vegetarian meatballs with roasted tomatoes over pasta topped with parmesan cheese and fresh basil

Tools You’ll Need:

5 Healthy Vegetarian Recipes to Try.

It’s a goal of ours to eat less meat in 2020. You, too? Here are five super-delicious, budget-friendly vegetarian recipes that prove that meatless doesn’t mean flavorless:

Pass The Meatballs!

Whatever your healthy-eating goals are, we hope you’re as into this lentil meatball recipe as we are! If you try it, we’d love to hear about it! Snap a photo of your vegetarian meatballs, and maybe even a video of the beautiful people you feed it to. Tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Happy eating!

Vegetarian Meatballs

  • Serves: 6
  • Prep Time:  20 min
  • Cook Time:  45 min
  • Calories: 514

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried lentils (or 2 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, about 1 cup chopped
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, tough part of stems removed
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tsp Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese

For Serving

  • 2 lbs roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • fresh basil
  • cooked pasta for serving
  • more parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl toss together tomato halves along with 1 tsp Italian seasoning, 1 tsp of salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Arrange tomatoes on a large baking sheet cut side up, set aside.
  2. If using dried lentils, place them into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cover them plenty of with water, about 4 inches. Bring them to a boil before turning the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until they are tender but not mushy. Drain any excess water and set aside.
  3. Pulse the mushrooms in a food processor until they are about the size of peas.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and the pulsed mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 more minutes until the moisture has burned off and the garlic is fragrant.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the contents back into the food processor along with the lentils. Pulse until combined, about 20 pulses scraping down halfway through.
  6. In a large bowl combine mushroom lentil mixture along with panko bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, cayenne, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, eggs and parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
  7. Roll the mixture into 1 ½ (2 tablespoons) balls, about 24 and arrange them on another baking sheet.
  8. Lightly brush or spray the meatballs with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil or cooking spray.
  9. Bake the meatballs and tomatoes for 30 minutes, rotating the 2 baking sheets and flipping the meatballs at the 15 minutes mark.
  10. Once tomatoes and meatballs are roasted toss them together with cooked spaghetti, ¼ cup of olive oil, fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories514
  • Protein39 g
  • Carbohydrates30 g
  • Total Fat30 g
  • Dietary Fiber8 g
  • Cholesterol110 mg
  • sodium1677 mg
  • Total Sugars3 g

Vegetarian Meatballs

Questions & Reviews

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  • Kelly Leonard

    If I make these vegetarian meatballs and they sit in marinara sauce in a crockpot, will they still hold together? (I wanted to serve these as a vegetarian option alongside beef meatballs in a separate crockpot, so they would be sitting in marinara sauce in a heated crockpot for an extended period of time.)

    It hasn't been tested, so I'm not sure. Good luck!

  • Philomena

    did you use green or red lentils?

    Feel free to use either Philomena! Hope you enjoy!

  • Matthew

    After they are cooked do you think I could make them like a meatball appetizer, heated in a crockpot with a sauce of grape jelly and chili sauce?

    Sure! Sounds delicious Matthew!

  • ZJ

    what type of lentils are best here?

    We usually use regular old brown lentils. Enjoy!

  • Rick Gorczynski

    Can these veggie meatballs be frozen after cooking without loss of texture? If so any recommendations on rewarming?

    We haven't tested them frozen. But I would thaw them out and reheat in the oven, toaster oven or air fryer to maintain some texture.

  • Susan Magers

    We are new to plant forward cooking. These were an excellent addition to our recipe rotation. They were crisp on the outside and soft inside and paired well with our homemade sauce and pasta.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

    Thanks Susan, we are so glad you enjoyed them!

  • Tiana

    Extremely tasty! Will be my go to veggie meatball recipe. I am someone who loved eating meat but am trying to be vegetarian, so i am always looking for the most satisfying meals to fulfil my meat cravings. These definitely hit the spot!
    Thank you for a lovely recipe.

    Note: i don't eat eggs so i used egg replacer from the supermarket from here in Australia and they came out beautifully.

    Thanks Tiana, we are so glad that you loved these! Wonderful to know the egg replacer worked well!

  • Mikayla

    Like a lot of the other reviews, I made this for a non vegetarian who hates mushrooms and doesn’t enjoy a lot of my substitutes, but looooved these. The texture and flavor is amazing! I used a lot of garlic and Italian seasoning and used infused olive oil to coat them for cooking and they were SO tasty! Definitely a staple in our house now!

    Thank you so much Mikayla, we are so happy you loved them!

  • Alisha C Nguyen

    Flavorful, great texture. Meat is NOT missed, even by my 3 year old. I'd suggest going with about half the salt. So thrilled to have found this recipe, definitely saving it to make again!

    Thanks Alisha, we are so glad you and your kiddo loved these!

  • Catherine Hanson

    The texture and taste of the meatballs were excellent. I’m not a vegetarian but wanted to make dinner for one. Didn’t miss the meat. Only issue was rolling the balls. My mixture was quite wet and didn’t roll well, but did firm up in the oven. I really didn’t want to add more breadcrumbs as I didn’t want the balls to be bready. Is it supposed to drier after mixing?

    Thanks Catherine! We're so glad they firmed up for you and that you liked them. We haven't heard that they were too wet before so we aren't sure what happened there.