Zoodles With Vegan Lentil Meatballs (gluten-free, weird-ingredient-free)

Zucchini noodles are a great alternative to regular pasta, but can feel more like a salad than dinner. These vegan lentil meatballs — made from all natural ingredients you already have on hand — are an easy and delicious solution. Read on, or jump straight to the recipe, HERE.

Zoodles With Vegan "Meatballs" (Lentil Meatballs -- vegan and gluten-free) | Will Cook For Friends

I love the occasional bowl of zoodles in the summer, when it’s sweltering hot and a bowl of vegetables can pass as a bowl of pasta. But in the winter, they just don’t cut it for me.

I crave the rich, hearty, let’s face it, carby-ness of real pasta. Real pasta has a stick-to-your-ribs quality. Zoodles, by comparison, feel unquestionably like salad.

This got me wondering if it would be possible to make zoodles more satisfying for these cold winter days. The answer: meatballs. Big, hearty, definitely-not-salad, meatballs.

Zoodles With Vegan "Meatballs" (Lentil Meatballs -- vegan and gluten-free) | Will Cook For Friends

Meatballs on zoodles might be fine for me, but for vegetarians and vegans, it kinda defeats the purpose of a plant based meal. That’s when it hit me: VEGAN MEATBALLS.

(I am so sorry. I cringe every time I type this, but I don’t know what else to call them. No-meatballs? Lentil balls? It just doesn’t sound good. I mean, now that I think about it, balls of meat doesn’t sound great either. We need a better name for these things!)

Vegan meatballs… err, no-meatballs… sounded like a bit of a challenge at first, but after one batch I knew I was on to something great.

Zoodles With Vegan "Meatballs" (Lentil Meatballs -- vegan and gluten-free) | Will Cook For Friends
Zoodles With Vegan "Meatballs" (Lentil Meatballs -- vegan and gluten-free) | Will Cook For Friends

Coming from a meat-eater, I want to be totally honest and say that these aren’t going to fool any carnivores out there into thinking they’re eating meat when they’re not. But that said, these are so freakin’ good in their own right.

They have that crave-worthy savoriness of any good meatball, with a tender but not mushy texture. While it doesn’t taste exactly like meat, the earthiness of the lentils mixed with a secret ingredient (a little splash of soy sauce) adds a great depth and umami flavor.

(As my husband would say: “oooh, mommy!”)

And because they’re held together with lentils and oats, they pack a wallop of protein and fiber that can turn a simple bowl of vegetables into a real, satisfying meal.

The best part is, there are no weird ingredients in here. No faux “meat” products, no msg, no special nutritional yeast or anything unusual. These balls are made entirely with things you (likely) already have in your pantry and fridge right now.

Zoodles With Vegan "Meatballs" (Lentil Meatballs -- vegan and gluten-free) | Will Cook For Friends

After this photo was snapped, I seriously inhaled this entire bowl. I’ve never been happier with a bowl of zoodles in my life — something about that classic tomato sauce and the meatballs had me slurping zoodles just like noodles. I got sauce all over my face and everything.

Of course, if you’re still not feeling the whole zucchini-as-pasta thing, you can sub it out for spaghetti squash, or regular pasta. Really, I don’t care, as long as you have an excuse to make these meatballs.

To all you vegans / vegetarians out there, I want to know: what do you miss most from the world of meat and dairy? And if meatballs make the list, I’ve got just the thing.

5.0 from 4 reviews
Zoodles With Vegan Lentil Meatballs (gluten-free, weird-ingredient-free)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: vegan, gluten-free
Serves: 4 (about 20 no-meatballs)
For the lentil "meatballs":
  • 2-4 TBSP olive oil, or coconut oil
  • ½ small yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup green lentils ( brown should work fine as well, but green are what I used)
  • 2¼ cups water
  • ½ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
  • ½ cup rolled oats, processed into flour (or ½ cup storebought oat flour -- make sure the oats are gluten-free if you're gluten intolerant)
  • 1 TBSP chia seeds, plus ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce OR gluten-free tamari, for those who are gluten intolerant
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. ground fennel seed
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt, or as needed
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
For serving:
  • 2-3 large zucchini, spiralized (see recipe notes -- or you can use cooked spaghetti squash, or regular noodle, or any kind of noodle alternative you like)
  • your favorite tomato sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • Extra fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
  1. Rinse the lentils and pick over them to make sure there aren't any stones. Drain, and set aside.
  2. Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and saute the onion and garlic in 1-2 TBSP oil for about 5 minutes, or until the onion has started to turn translucent.
  3. Add the lentils, water, and ½ tsp. salt, and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a slow, gentle simmer. Let cook for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender with just a little bit of chew. If there is still some water left in the pot when they've finished, drain it off in a strainer. If they start to run out of water and aren't tender yet, add a splash more and keep cooking.
  4. While the lentils are cooking, process the oats into flour (to make your own, simply add rolled oats to the bowl of your food processor and blend until finely ground), and mix the chia seeds and water together in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.
  5. When the lentils are done, place them in the bowl with the chia seeds, and add in the oat flour and all the remaining ingredients except for the parsley and salt. Using a potato masher, mash the mixture until most of the lentils are broken up and the mixture is sticky enough to hold together when rolled into balls. If the mixture isn't quite holding together, you can add a TBSP or so of water to help it, or mash a little longer.
  6. Add in the chopped parsley and mix to combine. Taste, and adjust seasoning with more salt or spices if needed.
  7. Roll the mixture into "meatballs". I used a rounded TBSP to make them all about the same size, and ended up with a little over 20. You can make them bigger or smaller if you like.
  8. Add a couple TBSP oil to a large skillet (I like cast iron for this, but nonstick or stainless will work too) and seer the meatballs on all sides until a nice crust has formed (about 2 minutes per side, over medium-high heat). The meatballs should hold together easily, but they are tender so be gently when turning them. I found a pair of silicone-tipped tongs (like these) worked perfectly.
  9. Serve directly on top of your favorite sauce, or add the sauce to the pan and coat the meatballs before serving. Serve over zucchini noodles, or other noodly alternative. Enjoy!
You can keep zucchini noodles raw, or cook them a bit before serving to warm them up and soften them. Either way, I suggest taking this one extra step before serving up yoru spiralized zucchini:
after spiralizing, place the "noodles" into a large strainer or colander, and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Let them sit for 10-15 minutes (you can do this while the no-meatballs cook) and allow them to drain off their excess liquid. Spread on a clean towel and blot gently before piling into bowls (or quickly sauteing in a hot pan, just for a minute or two) and then serving. This will help prevent a watery soup from happening in the bottom of your bowl.

And because I know some of you are going to ask, this is the spiralizer I use. I've had it for a couple years now, and have been very happy with it so far. It makes quick zoodle dishes and clean up a breeze.

This post contains affiliate links. This means if you follow a link to amazon.com and make a purchase, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. Win-win! I am not sponsored by any of the products or brands that I link to, they are only things I personally use or would recommend.

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18 Responses to Zoodles With Vegan Lentil Meatballs (gluten-free, weird-ingredient-free)

  1. Jessy @ The Life Jolie January 23, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    How delicious these look! I seriously love lentils- they always taste so great and save us a ton of money. This has meatless Monday written all over it!

    • Willow Arlen January 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

      I agree, Jessy! So many people tell me they hate lentils and I’m like “what lentils have you been eating?” haha!

  2. Karen @ Seasonal Cravings January 23, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    This is such an amazingly creative dish with those vegan meatballs. Love your recipe title! I am trying to incorporate more zoodles because it’s an easy and tasty way to cut carbs. My kids get the pasta and I get the butternut squash noodles. It’s a win, win! I am not vegan but these meatballs look so good, I will have to try them out. Cheers!

    • Willow Arlen January 23, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

      Thanks Karen! I love the ideal of zoodles, too, but was really struggling to enjoy them in the colder months. These meatballs (no-meatballs) make all the difference. They would be fabulous on butternut squash noodles, I’ll have to try that next time I make them.

  3. Tracy | Baking Mischief January 23, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

    These look so delish and hearty. I totally agree with you on zoodles, and I love that you’ve “beefed” them up a bit for winter. Pinned!

  4. Suzy | The Mediterranean Dish January 23, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    Love this twist on a beloved classic!

    • Willow Arlen January 23, 2017 at 12:57 pm #

      Thanks Suzy! It really does feel nostalgic, so I take that as a win. :)

  5. Anjali @ Vegetarian Gastronomy January 23, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

    I’m laughing at the ‘weird-ingredient-free’ tag! love it! I just busted out my spiralizer for the first time in a year and LOVE IT! This sauce sounds delicious and very healthy!

    • Willow Arlen January 23, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

      Thanks Anjali — I hope you try it! I felt like it really needed that disclaimer, because so many vegan recipes I see these days use faux-meat products and such. I love that these are made from lentils and oats and spices, and not much else.

  6. Aletta September 1, 2017 at 6:15 pm #

    Has anyone tried to freeze these? Thinking about doing up a double batch and keeping some for easy weeknight dinners. Wondering if it would be better to freeze before or after cooking them? Thoughts?

    • Willow Arlen September 15, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      Hi Aletta! I’ve frozen the meatballs before and it works great. Here’s what I do: Prepare the raw balls and place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They can be close together, but try not to let them touch. Place the tray in the freezer and let them chill until solid, at least several hours or overnight. Then pop them off the tray and into a freezer bag, and store until you want to cook them. You can thaw them before cooking, but I did a batch straight from the freezer and didn’t have a problem. It actually helped them hold together a bit in the pan, and when they were done they were nice and hot in the middle. Hope that helps!

  7. Kylie July 2, 2018 at 7:14 pm #

    I’m not even vegetarian and this was delicious, and very easy! Paired it with zoodles and Rao’s tomato sauce – YUM!

  8. Amanda M McCabe-Hernandez September 22, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    What happens to the “meatball” if you don’t use Chia seeds?

    • Chloe February 20, 2020 at 10:03 am #

      probably will fall apart as the chia acts as an “egg” to bind everything

  9. Kate April 10, 2020 at 11:32 pm #

    Great recipe it’s now in my favourites list.

  10. Bob P. February 15, 2021 at 6:46 pm #

    Tried this recipe on a whim and it gets 5 stars for the creative ingredients alone. Outstanding with a homemade pasta sauce. I’ll be enjoying this for a while but you got me on the last step… 2 minutes per side on a sphere? Spheres don’t have sides so what should be the total time for the final step. I sprayed on cooking oil and put them in an air fryer for about 8 minutes at 390 degrees and they were great but I’m really not sure when these are “done”. Many thanks for your recipe!

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