Lentil "meatballs" with roasted broccoli pesto

Let me take a minute to breathe.

You may have thought I dropped off the face of the earth.  The good news is I didn't.  The bad news is I've been in a whirlwind of crazy these past few months.

A short synopsis of my recent life: At the very end of September, I found a job (about 2 days before having to move out of my temporary Denver home).  This job was in Vail, which meant I had to relocate before I could start work, which meant I had to find a place FAST so I didn't end up homeless.  I found an apartment right away, fortunately.  A quaint (a very kind word for 270 square feet) place about 20 minutes from work.  The job was perfect for me - a dietitian/personal training position at a luxury resort and spa nestled at the base of Vail Mountain.  For the past 3 months, I've been working early, late, and every time in between leading group fitness classes, training individuals, doing one-on-one nutrition counseling, and hosting seminars and workshops.

This has left a lot of time for me to talk to people about nutrition, but little time for me to think about nutrition.  People judged what I ate 24-7 (imagine people peering over your shoulder every time you put a bite of food in your mouth saying, "Ooh, what's the nutritionist eating?"  It's exhausting).  For the first time in my life, I experienced wanting everyone to just stop caring about nutrition for 2 minutes so I could rest my brain.  I could feel my passion dwindling, and I hated it.

I needed a break and something to reignite the flame that used to fuel my love for good food.  I found that in a book (The Omnivore's Dilemma - an excellent read that takes a critical look at our food supply) and a series of recipes that made me feel good.  One of those being lentil meatballs.

I'm back now, hopefully for good.  So let's talk nutrition...
Why lentils?  Lentils are a great meat alternative, meaning they have good amounts of protein, iron, and zinc like meat, but they have a few clear advantages over animal products. 1) They're cheaper.  A 16-ounce bag of lentils will probably run you $2.  Compare this to ground beef, which is, on average, $3.80/pound.  2) They contain tons of fiber.  Good for that GI tract and your cholesterol.  3) They have a much longer shelf life (you can keep them in your pantry).

Fennel seeds are that sweet, licorice-y flavor that's characteristic of Italian sausage.  In other words, you just can't go wrong.
Crush those babies up and release the fragrant oils. 
A brushing of olive oil over your lentilballs helps them to brown and form a crust on the outside. 

Lentil "meatballs"
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
Serves 2 as a meal, 3-4 as a side

1/2 cup uncooked lentils
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup ricotta
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp fennel seed, crushed
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Rinse the lentils well, removing any debris, and pick out any impurities.
  2. Cover the lentils with 1 cup cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain any excess liquid from the lentils. 
  3. Dump the lentils into a food processor and blend smooth.
  4. Combine the lentil mush, egg, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, fennel seed, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl.  Mix in the breadcrumbs and allow the mixture to sit for 20 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400.
  6. Roll the lentil mixture into 1" balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush with olive oil.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.  The meatballs should be golden brown.
  8. Serve with roasted broccoli pesto (recipe below). 
Roasted broccoli pesto
1/2 cup broccoli florets
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1 Tbsp walnuts, toasted
1 tsp coconut flakes
2 Tbsp milk (I used soymilk for a nuttier taste)
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Wash the broccoli well. Toss broccoli in olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. 
  3. Roast the broccoli for 10 minutes or until parts of the florets are looking crispy but the broccoli isn't super soft - you just want the raw bite taken off. 
  4. Place the broccoli, garlic, walnuts, coconut, and milk in a food processor and blend smooth.  Slowly add olive oil (a really good, fruity olive oil since you're eating it raw!) until the pesto is at the desired consistency.  
  5. Store any leftover pesto in an airtight container for up to a week. 

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