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summer happened

Recipe: meatless meatballs

Housekeeping News: Google has eliminated FeedBurner’s email subscription service which means you won’t be receiving emails announcing a new use real butter post from now on. I did research other email subscription services, but soon realized my goal is not to grow this blog; I simply want to document recipes and some memories. I typically publish a new recipe once a month and I announce those on my @userealbutter and @jenyuphoto Instagram accounts. Thanks for reading! -jen


All of my grand plans for summer converged on the month of August. Foraging insane amounts of wild mushrooms, family visits, so much cooking, celebrations, hiking, and many overdue house projects left me short on sleep, heavy on backaches, but ultimately delighted. I’m happy it came together and even more thrilled to let out a big sigh as I crawl across the line to September.

marking kris’ birthday with lilies


the chanterelles were off to a great start

jeremy found our first ever blue chanterelles

visited jeremy’s parents and took them porcini hunting

my niece toured the university of colorado in boulder

celebrated mom’s 80th birthday

spent many hours hiking with this crew

And now we can finally get to these fantastic meatless meatballs that were promised since spring. The recipe comes from my friend, Jennifer Perillo (Jennie) – a talented, intuitive, and skilled cook and baker. I’ve made these several times in the last six months. The flavor is excellent and the texture is great. We don’t miss the meat. Even when I flubbed a batch, it ended up more like meat sauce than meatballs and was still terrific. I now keep a few dozen meatless meatballs in the freezer at any given time for a quick weeknight meal.

The bulk of the meatless meatballs comes from cooked lentils. I like that Jennie uses vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon vegetable base) and other aromatics to cook her lentils. French (puy) lentils give me the best and most consistent results, but you can use other types. Just watch that they don’t overcook like my green lentils did – because your meatless meatballs will be more inclined to disintegrate during frying (sad) or while eating (manageable). There is usually an extra half cup of cooked lentils which are great in salads, as a side, or spooned straight into your mouth. You can also purchase cooked lentils to save yourself a step. I’ve seen cooked lentils in stores, but have never tried them.

french lentils, shallot, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, vegetable stock

bring it all to a boil and simmer until tender

ready for meatless meatballs

I’d like to say this is a quick recipe, but it isn’t the kind you can whip up in a half hour. You can certainly eliminate some of the work by purchasing cooked lentils and store-bought sauce, but the meatless meatball mixture needs a minimum rest of 2 hours in the fridge, up to overnight. My preference is to let the mixture sit overnight in the refrigerator, breaking the task up over 2 days.

The original recipe uses ricotta cheese, but since some dairy doesn’t sit well with my gut, I decided to try substituting pressed tofu for ricotta. It worked nicely! Because tofu doesn’t impart much of a flavor, I increased the amount of Parmesan (which doesn’t bother my GI system) and salt. If you want to make this recipe vegan, you can use nutritional yeast in place of the Parmesan (I don’t know how much) and a vegan egg substitute. I’ve added pine nuts on occasion, which make a nice addition. I’m hoping to add some chopped rehydrated dried porcini this fall now that my cabinets are stuffed to the gills with the fruits of this summer’s porcini flush.

breadcrumbs, parmesan, firm tofu, eggs, salt, pepper, cooked lentils, parsley

press excess water from the tofu or else your mixture will be too mushy

purée the lentils

meatless meatball ingredients prepped

mix everything together

refrigerate covered for 2 hours to overnight

When the mixture has rested, begin shaping them into balls. I settled on 25 grams per ball which was roughly 1.5 inches in diameter. This results in approximately 30 meatless meatballs. These days I double the batch and freeze the extras for Future Me, who is always grateful. When you fry the “meatballs” in canola oil, leave them be once they are set down in the oil until the bottoms are browned (this takes a few minutes). If you are cooking in a stainless steel pan, the balls can stick to the base and might break if you try to move them before they are browned. A gentle nudge at the base with a metal spatula helps them release. Turn the meatless meatballs over once to brown the other side.

form into balls


drain on paper towels

I have to admit that I love snacking on a meatless meatball or two before they take a swim in the sauce. They have a great savory flavor and pleasing texture that is kind of like meat, but are so good that it doesn’t matter that they aren’t meat. If freezing, this is the time to let them cool and store in a freezer bag. The rest can go into a simmering sauce for a half hour before spooning them over pasta. I look forward to cooler weather when this dish re-enters our regular menu rotation!

snacking on a meatless meatball

simmer in a pot of sauce

served with spaghetti

not missing meat for a moment

Meatless Meatballs
[print recipe]
adapted from In Jennie’s Kitchen

meatless meatballs
2 cups cooked lentils, puréed (recipe below)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup crumbled pressed firm tofu* (or 1/2 cup fresh ricotta)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil for frying
marinara sauce (recipe below)

* Wrap a block of firm tofu with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and set on a plate. Place another plate on top of the tofu. Balance some weight on the top plate (not too much or you will crush the tofu) and let it press for 30 minutes. Unwrap the tofu and crumble into a bowl. Season with salt.

Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the puréed lentils, eggs, breadcrumbs, crumbled tofu, Parmesan, parsley, pine nuts (if using), and salt and pepper together. Cover the mixture and refrigerate from 2 hours to overnight.

Shape the mixture into 1.5-inch balls (about 25 grams). Heat 1/2-inch of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to work in batches. When the oil is hot, place the “meatballs” in the pan and fry until the bottoms are browned (a few minutes). Turn the “meatballs” once and brown the other sides. Remove to paper towels to drain. Add the “meatballs” to the marinara sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Makes about 30 “meatballs”. Can be stored after frying in an airtight container refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months.

cooked lentils
i use Jennie’s method
1 cup dry French lentils (puy lentils)**, picked over and rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 shallot, sliced
freshly ground black pepper

** I’ve had the best luck with French lentils. I have used green lentils before and they cooked much faster, so it’s important to avoid overcooking and to also drain off any excess liquid or else your “meatballs” will fall apart.

Cook the lentils: Place the lentils, stock, bay leaf, garlic, and shallot in a 3-quart saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes to absorb any remaining liquid. Strain off excess liquid and season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

marinara sauce
from this recipe
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
3 tbsps tomato paste
3/4 cup fresh basil, torn
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Make the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions until golden in color (about 7-8 minutes). Add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. At this point, add the “meatballs” and simmer for 30 minutes. Makes about 4 cups.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

vegetarian chinese potstickers (dumplings) sesame tofu italian meatballs albóndigas (mexican meatball) soup

11 nibbles at “summer happened”

  1. Lesley says:

    Always look forward to your posts. Can I recommend for newsletter subscriptions. There are many blogs I follow and I’ve added their sites to an account there. Super easy to do – an email arrives in my inbox with the new post or a weekly round-up of all posts for those blogs you’ve signed up to. Anyway, it’s a brilliant service.

  2. Bette says:

    Instagram leaves me feeling very unhappy, but I might have to get over it b/c I will miss your newsletters!

    Your August looked wonderful. Yay for September, my favorite month.

  3. Sherry Englehart says:

    I understand it must be so time consuming with so many of us floowing you, I can’t see how you could ever keep up. Will we still be able to go to your site and use your repices my husband alway raves when I use them. I’m 73 and my eyes get tired fast but watching you make the repiices makes it easer. Thank you so much for all the work you put into them. Sherry

  4. deb says:

    that porcini mushroom is gorgeous,
    as is your mom! what a wonderful birthday
    she’s celebrating!!

  5. Irmi says:

    I’m still glad an I still like to read your posts, to watch your stunning photographs offering a glance into your daily life and way of living…
    Can’t believe your Mom is 80 years now – or better: can’t believe a 80 yo woman looks soooo young and full of energy!
    Happy birthday to her and congratulations to you for having such a beautiful mom…
    Keep up the good work, Jen!

  6. Heather says:

    I cant wait to try these as we are looking for ways to reduce meat consumption and I really dislike the flavor/texture of fake ground ‘meat’. Also I love your sentiment of a ‘gift to future me’ and always think of it when making extras for freezing!

  7. Jasmine says:

    Oh my gosh, your mum is 80? No way, I thought she was in her 60’s at most! Great genes! Love your blog. Love the writing and the photos of the dogs, and Colorado foliage and recipes. Cheers!

  8. Kristin says:

    I made these tonight, and they are delicious! My husband saw the tofu (which he eats) but doesn’t know about the lentils (which he doesn’t love, but doesn’t have a strong aversion to), and I don’t think he has any clue they were meatless. I’m not a big ground beef fan, so I am very happy to add this to my recipe files. And, oh my gosh, I am so happy there were extra lentils!! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Berna says:

    Although I will miss your emails, I am totally fine to follow you via instagram. I very much appreciate your hard work. Beautiful photos and great recipe as usual. Thanks!

  10. jenyu says:

    Lesley – Thank you, we are attempting to migrate over to now!

    Bette – I completely understand. We may have an alternative for you in the works, so stay tuned :)

    Sherry – Absolutely! The blog should remain in place regardless of the subscription issues. I’m so happy that you love the recipes.

    deb – xo

    Irmi – Thank you xoxo

    Heather – I’m with you on the fake meats. I am not a fan.

    Jasmin – Yes, can you believe she’s 80? I’m just so grateful that she’s in good health and so happy. xo

    Kristin – Wow, that’s impressive! Whenever we have these meatballs Jeremy is still astonished that he doesn’t miss the meat at all (he’s closer to caveman than I am on the Caveman scale). And those extra lentils are so great, aren’t they?

    Berna – So sweet of you to say. I’m hoping we have found a solution to the email subscriptions. We’re working on it now, but it may take a little time. I just don’t want to force anyone to be on social media if they really don’t want to be. xo

  11. Pey-Lih says:

    Great to hear from you, Jen! I will accept whichever format you want to use. This is also great for catching up on other recipes, too. I am not fussed.

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