The Vegan Lentil Loaf Even Omnivores Will Like
A holiday meal with overflowing bowls of mashed potatoes, silky homemade gravy, an oversized stuffed turkey roasted to perfection and … a lentil loaf?
I still remember my first taste of lentil loaf. I was a newly declared vegetarian and just returned home from my first semester away at college for Thanksgiving. My mother, terrified that I wasn’t going to get enough protein, pulled out her dusty copy of the Moosewood Cookbook for inspiration and fashioned the most Thanksgiving-y dish she could: a ketchup-glazed lentil loaf made with oats, raisins and legumes. It did the job, but I'm fairly certain the rest of my family of omnivores looked at me with pity while they enjoyed their fried turkey.
Well, 12 years and many attempts later, I've revamped the sad lentil loaf into something that everyone — even friends who eat animal products — can look forward to.
Incredibly moist, this vegan lentil loaf is light-years beyond the grim bean-and-grain loaves of the past. Studded with carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms, this lentil cake almost resembles a traditional meatloaf in both color and texture. Of course, like any good meatloaf, it benefits from ketchup. I've tried about a dozen different toppings, but I keep coming back to the classic ketchup-and-brown-sugar mix. I like to think of it as a peace offering, a familiar invite to those who are nervous about biting into a dish made of vegetables, nuts and lentils.
While I often serve it with roasted potatoes and green beans for holidays, it's so easy that it has become a weeknight staple in its own right. Plus, leftovers make a tasty sandwich!
- 1 cup green or brown lentils
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- 2 cups mushrooms, diced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried rubbed sage
- ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup walnuts, diced
- 3 tablespoons ground flax seed
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Place lentils in a medium sauce pan with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, cooking for 35 to 40 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots and mushrooms, and cook until onions are translucent and vegetables have been reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in thyme, oregano, sage and red pepper flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Add prepared lentils to a food processor and pulse just a few times to create some mashed lentil pieces while still keeping some texture. Add pulsed lentils to a large bowl. Stir in the cooked vegetables, chopped walnuts, ground flaxseed, balsamic vinegar, flour, bread crumbs and another generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir together and press into a lightly greased or parchment-lined loaf pan.
- Whisk together ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. Spread over the loaf.
- Bake for 55 minutes. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Rubbed sage is dried and crumbled sage leaves, often available at specialty grocery stores and spice shops. If you don't have access to rubbed sage, substitute ground sage.
Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, is a registered dietitian and healthy living blogger at delishknowledge.com. Specializing in mindful eating, food sensitivities and weight management, Alex strives to make vegetarian eating simply delicious.
(Photo: Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD)