This lentil loaf is my go-to entrée for the holidays. It has a robust flavor and a hearty texture. It doesn’t fall apart, isn’t too mushy or too dry, and doesn’t lack textural variety. This recipe is vegan, grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and can easily be made nut-free.
Even if you are experienced in the kitchen, there are always a few recipes that can throw you off your game. Often times the challenges stem from trying to make a specific dish a little healthier or working with strict ingredient guidelines – as is the case with this vegan lentil loaf recipe.
The main problem with most lentil loaves is texture. A lot of recipes rely either on oats, breadcrumbs, or both. Oats are an excellent binder, but turn mushy when combined with wet ingredients and then cooked for an hour in the oven. Breadcrumbs are great a great binder too, but can turn pasty and dry out the loaf too much. Neither scenario is ideal. The trick is to use a variety of binders that produce a tender (not mushy) and sturdy (not crumbly) loaf.
Another problem with a lentil loaf is that all the ingredients have already been cooked. This means that the proteins and starches no longer cling together and don’t really change shape when you cook them for a second time. Have you ever noticed how a veggie burger doesn’t shrink on the grill the way a meat burger does? So, you need to build texture into the loaf right from the start.
When you dial in these two elements, your lentil loaf will have a textural variation and nuance to match its great flavor.
Tips for Making Lentil Loaf
The list of the ingredients for this lentil loaf is by no means short, but don’t let that intimidate you. Once you have all the ingredients prepped, the recipe comes together quite quickly.
- Brown lentils: the type of lentils you use for the loaf is really important. Brown lentils work the best. They are not too mushy when cooked (like split red, yellow, or white lentils) but still break down a little bit (not like black or French lentils). They are also not as pasty as beans or peas. If you cant find brown lentils, whole red lentils work too.
- Walnuts: in a moist environment (cooked lentils, mushrooms, vegetables), walnuts soften up and offer just a bit of pleasing resistance to each bite. Their flavor is also mild enough to not distract from the savory flavor of seasoned lentils and vegetables. Pecans would work really well too.
- Mushrooms and vegetables: I absolutely love mushrooms in lentil loaves, veggie burgers, or even meatballs. They provide a wonderful umami-rich flavor and a hearty, chewy texture. Mushrooms and vegetables also impart moisture, so the lentil loaf doesn’t turn out too dry and crumbly.
- Chickpea breadcrumbs and flaxseed meal: the combination of chickpea breadcrumbs and flaxseed meal do a great job at bridging the gap between liquids and solids by capturing the moisture and transforming it into a binder. Regular breadcrumbs work too (coarsely ground are better than finely ground). but chickpea breadcrumbs have a superior “crispy” texture due to their flaky nature.
- Herbs: the herbs I use regularly in this lentil loaf recipe are thyme and rosemary. Each of these herbs has a unique, complex flavor but both add a small amount of warmth and lemony – peppery undertones. Other good options are marjoram, oregano, or even parsley.
- Salt: soy sauce, tamari, and coconut aminos all have a wonderful umami flavor, but they also add moisture. So use salt instead.
How to Make Lentil Loaf
This lentil loaf is relatively easy to make, but does require some prep.
- Cook the lentils. If you’re using dried lentils, cook them to the point that they’re just done – still firm and not falling apart. This way, the lentils add a creamy texture without turning mushy. You can also purchase jarred lentils, but cooking legumes from scratch is so quick and easy that there really isn’t any reason not to.
- Sauté the mushrooms and vegetables. It might be an extra step, but really want to sauté all the vegetables and mushrooms before adding them into the lentil loaf. Sautéing helps to eliminate the vegetables water content and condense their flavor. Another benefit of cooking the vegetables is that you can season them to make them even more flavorful.
- Process all the ingredients. Add the walnuts into a food processor fitted with an S blade and pulse until the walnuts are coarsely ground. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until just combined. The degree to which you process the ingredients is really important. If the lentils aren’t mashed enough, the lentil loaf will fall apart. If they are mashed too much, the lentil loaf will be too mushy, having a paste-like texture. Aim for having about three quarters of the lentils partially mashed.
- Season. Since all the ingredients in the loaf are cooked, taste the mixture before transferring it into a loaf pan. This is the time to add additional seasonings.
- Bake. Transfer the lentil loaf mixture into a parchment paper-lined loaf pan and bake it at 375°F/190°C until golden brown on the edges and slightly dry to the touch, for 35-45 minutes. Once baked, let the lentil loaf rest in the pan for at least 15 minutes. This is really important because the loaf firms up as it cools. If you remove the loaf from the pan straight out of the oven (when it’s still hot), it might not retain its shape.
How to Serve Lentil Loaf
The lentil loaf is great on its own, but to make it a complete meal, you can serve it with mashed potatoes and gravy (the recipes are in my cookbook). All together it makes for a great entrée for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Another option is to top the loaf with a glaze, adding a nice contrast of flavor, and serve it with a green salad.
How to Store & Reheat Lentil Loaf
- Refrigerating: allow the lentil loaf to cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Freezing: allow the lentil loaf to cool completely and slice into individual pieces. Transfer to an airtight, freezer-safe container, separating each slice with a piece of parchment paper (so the loaf slices don’t stick to each other as they freeze), and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: slice the loaf first (if it’s not sliced already). Then lay the individual slices on a bare baking sheet and reheat in a 350°F/175°C oven until warmed through (the time will vary depending on whether reheating from refrigerated or frozen).
MORE VEGAN MEATLOAF RECIPES
This loaf is made with lentils. However, you can make vegan “meatloaf” with pretty much any legumes you like:
- Chickpea loaf: this loaf is very flavorful, savory, and comforting. It has a nice crust and soft interior that just melts in your mouth.
- Bean loaf: the bean loaf is quite different from both the chickpea loaf and the lentil loaf – it calls for fresh fines herbs (rather than dried herbs) and uses oats (rather than chickpea flour or chickpea crumbs) as the main binder. It looks just as stunning at the center of a holiday table though.
If you try any of these recipes, please, leave a comment and rate the recipe below. It always means a lot when you do.
- 1 1/3 cups brown lentils , soaked*
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 yellow onion , chopped
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms , chopped
- 2 carrots , chopped
- 2 stalks celery , chopped
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram
- 2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. dried rosemary
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1/3 cup chickpea breadcrumbs **
- 3 Tbsp. flaxseed meal ***
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- salt , to taste
- black pepper , to taste
- Cook the lentils. Add the soaked lentils into a medium pot, cover with water by several inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, season with salt, and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are fully tender, 20-30 minutes. Top with water as necessary to keep the lentils submerged at all times. Sample a lentil at the 20-minute mark to see how tender the lentils are. You're looking for a just tender lentil with a tiny bit of bite. Once cooked, drain the lentils.
- Sauté the mushrooms and vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and celery, season with salt, and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the marjoram, thyme and rosemary and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Preheat the oven. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 375°F/190°C.
- Process all the lentil loaf ingredients. Add the walnuts into a food processor fitted with an S blade and pulse until the walnuts are coarsely ground. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse to loosely combine, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary. Be careful not to purée. If the mixture is too wet, add more chickpea breadcrumbs. If it's too dry, pulse a little more.
- Season. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more salt for saltiness, marjoram for a floral aroma, thyme for an earthy flavor with lemony-minty undertones, and rosemary for a woodsy flavor with aromas of lemon and pine.
- Bake. Transfer the lentil mixture into a parchment-lined loaf pan, spread, and press into an even layer. Brush the top with a little bit of oil to help the loaf retain moisture. Bake the lentil loaf, uncovered, until golden brown on the edges and slightly dry to the touch, 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, 10-15 minutes. Then gently remove from the pan.
- Serve. Carefully cut the loaf into 12 even slices and serve it with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy.
- Store. Leftover lentil loaf keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For longer term storage, freeze in an air-tight container for up to 3 months.
- Reheat. Slice the loaf first (if it’s not sliced already). Then lay the individual slices on a bare baking sheet and reheat in a 350°F/175°C oven until warmed through (the time will vary depending on whether reheating from refrigerated or frozen).