Vegetarian "Meat" Balls

It’s funny how a recipe morphs right in front of your eyes, yielding a product that you like but maybe didn’t intend.  That’s how I ended up making vegetarian meatballs on Sunday morning.

P.s. As you may have realized from my accounts as a foodie, I like to cook in the morning when an idea is fresh on my brain and I’m a little hungry.
So I’ve been dreaming about pakora lately, a heavily spiced Indian vegetable fritter.  It’s typically fried, which maybe adds to the delicious part, but it’s essentially potatoes, peas, carrots and a flour of some type.  “Ok”, I thought, “but I don’t really want to fry it, so what if I baked it…”  I was hoping to take the flavor profile down a Greek path and use up an eggplant I had lying around.  Continue the idea morphing and it ended in a moist, flavorful, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vegetarian meatball.  I served this with marinara sauce and feta, but later tried it with a dollop of hummus.  Both were great!  
Now I’m slightly addicted.  Make a batch of green lentils (about 1 cup dry) and keep them in the freezer.  When you’re ready to make these guys, defrost, drain remaining moisture and get creative.  I have a list of ideas for the next batch.  
Makes 30 meatballs:
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (=about 1 cup dry)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 onion, cut in 1/4 sized wedges
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups eggplant
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 cup red pepper (=2 small or 1 large)
1/2 cup zucchini
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 eggs
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated and loosely packed
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
To serve:
Marinara sauce and 1/4 cup feta cheese
Cook lentils according to package.  Let cool. 
In a food processor, blend toasted walnuts until they are powdery.  Set aside.  Then blend onion and garlic until pureed.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large skillet or dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium high heat.  Add onion/garlic puree and cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste, stirring to coat mixture, about 2 minutes.  Add eggplant, carrots and mushrooms, cook about 7-10 minutes until vegetables are softened; season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and a few cracks of pepper.  Add red pepper, zucchini, nutmeg, oregano and parsley, cook until softened, about 5 minutes; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Take off heat, spoon mixture into a large bowl to cool.  Taste and season with salt/pepper as needed.
Line two baking sheets with foil, coat with non-stick spray.  
In a small bowl whip eggs, bread crumbs, parmesan and walnuts.  Add to vegetable batter and mix.  Using a spoon, scoop mixture into tablespoon sized portions (the size of a golf ball), roll balls with your hands until they feel packed together.  Repeat.  
Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool.  Gently use a spatula to remove from baking sheets, transfer to serving dish.  Serve with warm marinara sauce and crumbled feta.  
Keywords: vegetarian, feta, meatless, appetizers, marinara, party ideas
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