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Meatless Monday: Veggie Balls

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

There are some food holidays that seem nearly impossible for vegetarians to celebrate. Take, for instance, National Meatball Day, an annual tribute that veggie-lovers may have skipped out on yesterday. But thanks to the specialists at New York City’s wildly popular the Meatball Shop, you now have a mouthwatering — and meatless  — reason to belatedly join in. Next time life calls for meatballs, whip up a batch of these robust veggie balls. The baked rounds are loaded with celery, mushrooms, lentils and walnuts — plus a ton of fresh herbs — to mimic the plump, hearty texture of the classic spaghetti-toppers. Whether you cover them with spoonfuls of pesto or smother them in tomato sauce, these veggie balls will have even hardcore carnivores asking for seconds.

Veggie Balls

2 cups lentils
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
3 large eggs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft (but not falling apart), about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.

Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt over medium- high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.

Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, and walnuts to the cooled vegetables and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400degreesF.

Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 9 x 13- inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.

Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs (about 11/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, allowing 1/4-inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.

Roast for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through.

Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

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