I almost had my fiance fooled. He thought these were little meatballs. But he could tell from the smile on my face that I was up to one of my how-can-i-sneak-more-vegetables-into-things schemes. Skeptical of my intentions, he poked and prodded the poor little balls before taking a bite, pausing, and then digging in again. He really liked them. And I think you will too!
These are not meant to be a substitute for real Italian meatballs, although Italian spices and a marinara sauce would be delicious. I am not really trying to fool anyone, but these are just a different way of eating lentils. They are super satisfying in their flavor and their texture. They get their meatiness from brown lentils, sunflower seeds, and chickpea flour and their earthiness and reddish hue from grated beets and paprika. I throw in some canned pumpkin to add a little extra moisture and because canned pumpkin seems to be showing up in everything I make these days- from overnight oats, to a quick bread, and even to enchiladas.
The tomato coconut sauce draws from the Indian spice cabinet- cumin, coriander, cilantro, ginger, and garlic. Coconut milk rounds it all and gives it just a little sweetness. I served it all on top of brown rice, but go for whatever grain you have.
Lentil Kofta in Tomato Coconut Sauce
1 1/2 cup brown lentils, uncooked
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds (I used raw, but toasted would be delicious!)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 medium beets, peeled and grated
6 tablespoons chickpea flour or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Tomato Coconut Sauce:
2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14-ounce can coconut milk, well-shaken (I used full-fat because it has fewer additives and thickeners)
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare lentil kofta. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place lentils in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft. Drain lentils.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, process sunflower seeds, pumpkin puree, grated beets, chickpea flour, ground coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic cloves, and salt until combine, scraping down sides as necessary. Add lentils to processor and process until mixture is well combined and a large mass forms. The mixture will be a little stiff but stick together easily when you try to form a ball. If the mixture needs more moisture, add a little water to the mix, but do not add too much.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Scoop lentil mixture into balls, about a rounded tablespoon, and use your hands to shape into balls. Distribute on tray, and bake for 25 minutes or until tops are just starting to crack. Remove from oven.
Prepare tomato coconut sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5-8 minutes or until soft. Add ginger, chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add bay leaves, tomato sauce, and generous pinch of salt. Stir, bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook for 25 minutes.
Remove bay leaves from mixture. Transfer mixture to blender and blend until smooth. Return mixture back to pot, stir in coconut milk and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add kofta, stir to coat and heat through. Enjoy! Serves 4-6.