Meatloaf is kind of one of those polarizing meals. Everyone has an idea of what a perfect meatloaf is, and most of us have nightmarish memories of it from childhood. Personally, I’m a bit of meatloaf purist – just beef, eggs, and oatmeal (because that’s how my mother made it). No onions or peas, and certainly none of this let’s-add-last-night’s-leftover-peas nonsense. Well, that’s how I used to think, anyway, until I made this easy lentil vegetable loaf.
We were throwing a dinner party for a diverse group of guests, and a bunch of them were vegetarian. I wasn’t really sure what to make because meatloaf happened to be the main entree. “Let’s make an easy lentil vegetable loaf,” my friend suggested, “lentils are a great meat replacement.” And so we whipped it together and, spoiler alert, it tasted better than the beefy loaf!
There is one, super important key step to making this the best vegetable loaf you’ve ever had. Hang tight – we’ll get there in a minute – first let’s look at why we chose lentils and oatmeal as our main ingredients.
Substituting Lentils for Ground Beef
If you’ve never tried lentils as a ground beef substitute, now is the best time to give it a try. Their texture resembles crumbled ground beef and their flavor is neutral enough to pick up the flavors from the seasoning. In addition to their amazing flavor, lentils are a great source of lean plant-based protein and fiber.
When shopping for lentils, look for brown or green lentils. They’re milder in flavor and hold their shape better than red lentils, which allows them to mimic beef a little bit better. Always make sure to cook your lentils in a well-seasoned broth, too. As I said, they pick up other flavors quite nicely so cooking them in a flavorful broth is the best way to get started.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love using lentils in this easy lentil vegetable loaf, either. All it takes is one cup of dried, uncooked lentils to replace one pound of ground beef. Think of the savings at the grocery store!
Use Oatmeal Instead of Bread Crumbs
Some people swear by bread crumbs (or saltine crackers) in their meatloaf. I’ve always used oatmeal, primarily because it’s what my mother used but also because I think it makes a better loaf. That’s especially true in this vegetable version. And before you worry about anyone noticing the oatmeal flavor – oatmeal is so neutral it will get lost in the flavorful lentils and mushroom mixture
Like breadcrumbs, the oatmeal’s role is to absorb liquid and fat. Nutritionally speaking, the oatmeal has a one-up on breadcrumbs, offering more fiber and less sodium than commercially prepared breadcrumbs. Not to mention that oatmeal makes your loaf gluten-free, making it acceptable to eat for a wider audience.
Any variety of oatmeal will work, but whole-grain, steel-cut oats will give you the biggest boost of nutrition. You may need to further grind steel-cut or rolled oats to get them to the correct consistency, so if you’re running short on time feel free to use the quick cooking kind.
Make the Best Lentil Vegetable Loaf Ever
Okay, now we’re ready to reveal the super key step that makes this the best vegetable loaf you’ve ever had. Are you ready? It’s cooking the vegetables before they go in the loaf.
I’ve had way too many bad meatloaf experiences where I bit into a semi-raw piece of onion and it crunches in an unsavory way. A good vegetable loaf should be loaded up with vegetables but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going for a consistent texture.
So make sure you cook those onions, carrots, and celery until they’re soft and tender and let the mushrooms cook until they release their liquid. Trust us, this will taste so much better than tossing in raw vegetables.
Now we’re armed with all this knowledge, let’s get to cooking. Have you ever used lentils as a substitute for ground beef, and how did it turn out? Where do you stand on the breadcrumbs vs. oatmeal debate? Let us know in the comments!
Yields: 1( 5x7-inch) loaf | Servings: 6 | Calories: 226 | Total Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 381mg | Carbohydrates: 34g | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 8g | Protein: 12g | SmartPoints: 7
- 2 cups cooked lentils, (drained well)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 (8-ounce) package white or button mushrooms, cleaned and diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Liquid Aminos, optional Tamari or gluten-free lite soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats, uncooked (for a gluten-free recipe, check the label)
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, optional yellow mustard
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Add 1/4 cup water to a large skillet, add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add more water as it evaporates.
- Add carrots, celery, and mushrooms, and continue sautéeing until mushrooms have released their liquid. Drain well and set aside.
- Add lentils, tomato paste, liquid aminos, balsamic vinegar, oats, almond meal, and oregano to a food processor and pulse until ingredients are combined. Add to a mixing bowl.
- Add veggies and mushrooms to the food processor and pulse until combined and chunky. Add to the lentil mixture and stir to combine. Lightly spray a 5 x 7-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add ingredients and form into a loaf.
- Bake 35 minutes, add topping and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to set 10 minutes before slicing.