This vegan lentil loaf has a robust bean (lentil) flavor with seasonings that complement it. It doesn’t fall apart, isn’t too mushy or too dry, and doesn’t lack textural variety. It’s perfect for entertaining over the holidays, or to enjoy for a weeknight dinner.
Even if you are experienced in the kitchen, there are always a few recipes that can throw you off your game. Developing recipes is tough work. Seriously. I know eating delicious food all day, playing with interesting ingredients, and developing new recipes sounds like fun, but it can really test your patience, especially when it’s a particularly challenging recipe. 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 grain-free lentil loaf recipe.
I made about 27 versions of this recipe over the course of a few months. It was extremely challenging to create a lentil loaf that was both vegan and gluten-free. A lentil loaf that had a satisfying, robust flavor, and the right texture. A lentil loaf that even devout carnivores would love.
So what’s the secret to a vegan lentil walnut loaf that has a textural variation and nuance to match its great flavor? I had to cook my way through a few dozen to figure it out.
Tips for Making Vegan Lentil Loaf
The downfall of many lentil loaf recipes is the mush factor. Most of the elements that often go into a homemade lentil loaf (lentils, mushrooms, vegetables) are high in moisture, which can lead to a mushy texture. Another problem with a lentil loaf (or even veggie burgers) 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. I ran through the usual gamut of add-ins: cooked grains, pseudo-grains, as well as nuts and seeds. I settled on walnuts (pecans or cashews would work just as well). In a moist environment, walnuts soften up and offer just a bit of pleasing resistance to each bite. Walnuts have flavor that is also mild enough to not distract from the savory flavor of seasoned lentils and vegetables.
Talking about lentils, brown or green lentils really are the best legume for this vegan loaf. They are not too mushy when cooked (like yellow or red lentils) but still break down a little bit (not like French lentils). They are also not as pasty as beans or peas.
The aromatics, vegetables, and mushrooms are the flavor enhancers. They also provide moisture, so the lentil loaf doesn’t turn out too dry and crumbly.
The binders in this recipe are pretty straightforward – flaxseed meal and chickpea breadcrumbs (any breadcrumbs work here). I have experimented with chia seeds and psyllium, but didn’t like the texture. 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.
It might be an extra step, but you really want to sauté all the vegetables, and mushrooms before using them in the lentil loaf. Sauteing 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.
Preparing the lentils is the trickiest part. 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. The degree to which you process the lentils after they have been cooked is really important. If you don’t mash the lentils enough, your loaf will fall apart. If you mash the lentils too much, the lentil loaf will be too mushy, having a paste-like texture. I prefer to mash them well, yet leaving about 3/4 of the lentils only partially mashed.
Since all the ingredients in the loaf are cooked, taste the mixture before transferring it into a loaf pan. This is the time you can add an additional seasoning.
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.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor(Breville Sous Chef) | 2. Loaf Pan (Lodge, Cast Iron) | 3. Cookware Set (Calphalon, Stainless Steel) | 4. Measuring Cup (2 Cups, Glass) | 5. Can Opener (Zyliss, Stainless Steel) | 6. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 7. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel) |
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This vegan grain-free lentil loaf has a robust bean (lentil) flavor with seasonings that complement it. It doesn't fall apart, isn't too mushy or too dry, and doesn't lack textural variety. It's perfect for entertaining over the holidays, or to enjoy for a weeknight dinner.
- 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 thyme
- 1 tsp. rosemary
- 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 3 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram
- 1 tsp. dried sage
- 1/3 cup chickpea breadcrumbs**
- salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
Add the lentils into a medium saucepan, cover them with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, season with salt, and cook the lentils until tender, 20-30 minutes. When the lentils are cooked, drain any excess water.
Heat the olive in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute them until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, celery and carrots, followed by a pinch of sea salt, thyme, and rosemary. Saute everything until the vegetables have softened, about 3-5 minutes.
Add all the ingredients, including the cooked lentils and sauted vegetables, into a food processor fitted with an S blade. Pulse until a thick dough forms. You should be able to pinch the mixture between your fingers and have it stick together, but it shouldn't be completely pureed. If the mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If it's too dry, pulse it a little more.
Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined loaf pan, spread, and press into an even layer. Brush the top with a little oil to help the loaf retain moisture.
Bake at 375°F/190°C uncovered for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown on the edges and slightly dry to the touch. Remove from oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes in the pan. Then gently remove and carefully slice and serve.
Store leftover lentil loaf, covered, in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. For longer term storage, freeze in an air-tight container for 1 month.
*1 1/3 cups dried lentils equals ~ 3 cups cooked.
*Soak the lentils in cold water for a few hours so they soften up and are easier to digest. When the lentils are soaked, drain the water, rinse the lentils thoroughly, and use as instructed.
**The amount of breadcrumbs depends on how moist/dry your lentils are. I used ~ 1/3 cup. If you don't have chickpea breadcrumbs, feel free to use any breadcrumbs you like.