In our house we all love pulses. With the wide variety of lentils and beans available, some of them always find their way into our soups and stews for added protein, form the base for creamy dips, or get turned into burgers when we’re up for something hearty and filling. And when comfort food is in order, nothing beats a plateful of lentil polpette. These bite-sized little faux meatballs are full-flavoured, versatile and packed with veggie goodness. Serve them coated in a herby roasted pepper and tomato sauce and happy faces are guaranteed. And the good news is, they’re so easy to make!
The base for these lentil polpette is a mixture of red lentils, rolled oats and ground walnuts. I love the soft, herby flavour the red lentils lend to the mixture and they make a convenient choice as well. When cooked in a measured amount of water, they turn into a pulpy mass that can be stirred into the remaining ingredients immediately, without the need for mashing or a food processor.
Lentils pack a nutritional punch, providing you with fiber, folate, iron, calcium and protein. However, when used by themselves, the protein in lentils is incomplete, as it does not contain sufficient amounts of all of the essential amino acids. Combining the lentils with whole grains and nuts makes up for this, as the grains and nuts provide the amino acids the lentils lack. The three of them together turn these polpette into a good source of complete plant protein, as well as giving them a delicious flavour and pleasing texture.
Now just to add in the extras for flavour and texture. Grated carrot and cooked onions and garlic add moisture and flavour, while chopped parsley and oregano make the whole thing fresh and herby. Some salt and pepper and a quick stir and the mixture is ready to be rolled into little balls.
The lentil polpette can either be quickly pan-fried or baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Both versions will turn out delicious, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, so it’s really up to your personal cooking preference. I usually start by roasting the vegetables for the sauce, then pop the lentil balls in the oven, so it can do the work for me while I finish making the sauce.
Containing just a few ingredients, the sauce is as simple as it is delicious. Roasting tomatoes, red peppers and garlic in the oven gives them a deep, sweet flavour. Now whizz them with a large bunch of basil and you’ll get a full-flavoured, clean tasting sauce that everyone will love.
You can serve the lentil polpette and their sauce with pasta, for that nostalgic Lady and the Tramp vibe (but also because it’s a great match). Instead of with pasta, though, they’re equally good served over cooked grains or mashed potatoes, or paired with crusty bread as part of a mezze platter.
I hope you’ll love them as much as we do. And if you give them a try, I’d love to hear about it! Just slip me a note in the comment section, or contact me on Instagram.
Lentil polpette in roasted red pepper sauce – serves 4, makes about 30 lentil balls
for the lentil polpette
- 200 g red lentils
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- 15 g curly parsley, chopped
- 1 small (80 g) carrot, finely grated
- 100 g walnuts, ground
- 150 g rolled oats (choose a certified gluten free brand if you’re gluten sensitive)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
for the red pepper sauce
- 6 red Romano peppers
- 1 kg plum tomatoes
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 plump garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 fresh red jalapeño (optional), stalk and seeds removed
- large bunch of basil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- cooked wholegrain spaghetti, mashed potatoes or crusty bread, to serve (choose courgette noodles, gluten free pasta or gluten free bread to keep it gluten free)
- chopped parsley and basil leaves, to top
- simple green salad, as a side (optional)
Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
Halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Cut out the stem ends, then arrange the tomato halves, cut-side up, over one of the baking sheets. Place the whole peppers and the garlic cloves on the second baking sheet. Drizzle the tomato halves and peppers with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
Roast the peppers and tomatoes for 30 minutes. After 15 minutes, let the baking sheets switch places in the oven, to make sure the veggies are cooked on all sides. When they’re done, take the baking sheets out of the oven and let the veggies cool a bit.
Meanwhile, bring 500 ml of water to a boil in a small pan. Add the lentils, then lower the heat. Cover the pan and keep the lentils on a low simmer for 17 minutes. After this time, the lentils will be soft and all water will just have been absorbed. Keep an eye out during cooking, though, and add an extra splash of water if neccessary, to prevent the lentils from burning. When the lentils are cooked, take the pan off the heat and let the lentils cool down a little.
Heat the last spoonful of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes until translucent.
Transfer the cooked lentils to a large mixing bowl. Add the cooked onion mixture, the herbs, the grated carrot, the chopped walnuts and the rolled oats. Stir to a crumbly mixture that holds together when pressed; add some extra rolled oats if the mixture is too wet. Season well with salt and pepper.
Clear one of the baking sheets used for roasting the vegetables and line it with a new layer of parchment.
Spoon out portions of the lentil mixture and roll them into little balls. Place the lentil polpette onto the baking sheet. Optionally, brush the balls with a little extra olive oil (this will turn them extra crispy in the oven, but they will turn out delicious and crisp already even if you omit this step). Bake the lentil polpette in the oven for about 20 minutes, until they’re golden, crisp and cooked through.
Remove the skins from the tomato halves. Remove the skins, stalks and seeds from the roasted peppers. Open the skin of the roasted garlic cloves and scoop out the cooked garlic. Put the tomatoes, peppers and garlic cloves into the mixing bowl of a food processor. Add the basil and the jalapeño, if using, then whizz to a chunky sauce. Reheat the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Serve the lentil polpette with the sauce, spooned over cooked pasta, grains or mashed potatoes, or along with crusty bread and a green salad. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and extra basil leaves before serving.