August 20, 2010

Meatless meatball party, part 3

Continuing meatless meatball month, we're on week three with another homemade meatless meatball. This week, we're testing out a recipe from this website. This is a lentil-ricotta meatless meatball. The creator of this recipe actually states: "It looks like a meatball…smells like a meatball…[and] most importantly, it tastes like a meatball." The pictures on the website definitely look like meatballs, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

First problem I had with the recipe - it just calls for lentils. I have never used lentils, so I did some research on what sorts of lentils were out there, and tried to figure out which one would be best to use. Since they were going to be pureed, I went with a red lentil, which I learned does not hold its shape well when cooked - I figured I'd just save myself some time and use an already-squishy lentil. This was a mistake, which I'll get to in a second. Side note, after printing out the recipe, I did not go back and look at the pictures until I was done cooking them, so I had no idea how wrong I was. The rest of the ingredients were pretty straightforward.

I cooked up my bright salmon-colored lentils, and then drained them, where I lost a bit of the mushy-lentil goo through the strainer. I couldn't leave it in the strainer too long, or it would have oozed out completely, I suspect, so I just got as much water out as I could, then dumped them into a bowl and finished mashing up the ones that hadn't yet disintegrated (not many). This, right here, I believe is the source of all the future problems I had with this recipe. Too much water, and too-mushy lentils. I forged ahead anyway (again - I hadn't looked at the pictures on the website in a day or two), adding the remaining ingredients. I tasted it, for seasoning purposes. This definitely did not taste anything like a meatball, but it tasted fairly good, so I decided not to abandon the project. I popped it in the fridge for the required two hours, hoping it would firm up a bit during that time.

When it came time to cook them, I got my pan of oil ready to go, then pulled the bowl of lentil-ricotta goo out of the fridge. It had firmed up slightly, but not nearly enough. Maybe with more time… In any case, I scooped spoonfuls of the goo into the pan of hot oil, and watched them totally flatten out. Again, looking at the pictures on the website now, that was very wrong. But it was way too late to do anything about it, so I continued. They browned nicely on the bottom, but then I had to flip them. They were really soft, which made them very difficult to flip. Probably also a result of too much moisture. I did my best, only ruining two or three in the process. That was okay, since, even though the recipe said it made 18, my batch made close to 30. I finished cooking up the lentil balls, and then froze them.

When meatless meatball party day arrived, I arranged the meatless meatballs patties on a tray with the other meatless meatballs, and baked them in the oven. That part went well. Nothing unexpected there. So let's get to the reactions:

April: Forgettable. (ouch!)
Dan: Cheesy, almost gritty, no real flavor, has potential.
Ginny: Delicious taste on own. Texture kinda mashed-potato-y with crunchy outside. Best on own - no sauce. Or Swedish. A little grainy.
Anonymous: Preferred potato pancake-like appearance. Dry, tastes of milled grain product.

I definitely agree that it had a mashed potato consistency on the inside. The exterior was nicely crispy. Texture-wise, this was pretty enjoyable, but nothing like a meat-filled meatball. Not even close. If I'd coated it in breadcrumbs before frying it, I could probably sneak it past someone by calling it a croquette. Which would be delicious. But we were going for a meatball experience here. And it tasted like lentils! Which wasn't bad, but it sure wasn't meat. And before anyone jumps down my throat, allow me to specify: it tasted like red lentils! Maybe whatever sort of lentils the original recipe poster used tasted more meaty. I'll have to try it again with different lentils and see if it's more meat-like. I'll get back to you on that.

The experience:
Texture - Crunchy outside, mashed-potato-y inside. Neither of those things are like a meatball.
Flavor - Lentil-y and cheesy. Neither of those things are like a meatball, either.

While these were tasty, I was promised a realistic meatball experience with no meat, so I had to give it a lower grade than I would have otherwise. But I'll try it again with different lentils and reassess.

Final grade for this attempt: B

Lentil Ricotta "Meatballs"
makes about 18
2 cups cooked lentils, pureed (warning - do not use red lentils, I guess)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Canola oil for frying
Marinara sauce, optional

Add all ingredients to a deep bowl. Mix very well, using hands or a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate for two hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add shaped "meatballs" and cook until browned all around, turning only once. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let excess drain off. Add to simmering marinara sauce if serving immediately, or store in a tightly covered container up to three days.

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