Eric Akis: Making meatloaf magic, minus the meat

Eric Akis offers a recipe for a vegetarian 'meatloaf' made with lentils and quinoa

Eric Akis

A reader, Diane, sent me a note asking if I had a recipe that was meatloaf in style, but made with lentils, not ground meat. I didn’t, but told her I could create one and I’m serving it up today.

When developing the recipe, I wanted to prepare something that had a deep savoury flavour that was moist and tender as good meatloaf is. I also wanted to prepare something that looked similar to an eye-appealing meatloaf that held together when sliced.

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To ensure a consistent result, I decided to make the loaf with canned lentils and choose Unico brand. Every time I opened a can, the lentils were tender, but all nicely holding together and not mushy in texture, which made them a good base ingredient for the loaf.

When rinsed and thoroughly drained, I blended about two thirds of those lentils with panko and a bit of cornstarch; binders that would help hold the loaf together. For added richness, I also blended in some toasted walnuts and ingredients with umami that added that deep savoury flavour, such as soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.

This blended mixture was added to a bowl that had the rest of the canned lentils in it, along with some cooked, cooled quinoa, sautéed onion and carrot, flavoured with garlic and herbes de Provence and chopped parsley.

When everything is thoroughly mixed together, you end up with a dense, flavourful, nutrient-rich mixture that’s easy to shape into free-form loaf on a baking sheet. When that’s done, for added colour and even more taste, the outside of the loaf is brushed with barbecue sauce, as I sometimes do with meatloaf.

When baked and allowed to rest after cooking, this hearty loaf has a nice texture and looks similar to meatloaf but, of course, contains no meat.

Serve the loaf as you would meatloaf, with peas, mashed potatoes and gravy. With regard to the latter, you’ll also find a recipe for vegetarian mushroom gravy below.

Lentil Quinoa Loaf

A dense, savoury, flavourful loaf you can slice and serve as you would meatloaf.

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: About 60 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup water

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can lentils (divided; see Note 1)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup very finely diced onion

1 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp herbes de Provence (see Note 2)

1/2 cup walnut pieces

5 to 6 Tbsp barbecue sauce (divided; see Note 3)

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup panko

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp salt

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

• Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy (see recipe below)

Place quinoa and water in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium-low and cook, undisturbed, 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the water has evaporated. Spoon the quinoa into a mixing bowl.

Open the can of lentils and pour them into a sieve. Rinse the lentils with cold water, and then let them drain in the sieve while you prepare the other ingredients.

Place the oil in a skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the carrot and onion and cook until tender, about four to five minutes. Mix in the garlic and herbes de Provence and cook one minute more. Spoon this mixture over the quinoa.

Place the walnuts in a clean skillet and set over medium heat. Heat walnuts four to five minutes, until lightly toasted. Now set walnuts in a food processor.

Place 1 1/3 cups of the drained lentils in the food processor. Put the remaining lentils in the bowl with the quinoa.

Add 3 Tbsp of the barbecue sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, panko and cornstarch to the food processor. Pulse until the lentils are thoroughly blended with other ingredients and the mixture is fairly smooth.

With a spatula, transfer the blended lentil mixture to the bowl with the quinoa and other ingredient in it, ensuring you get all of it. Add the salt, pepper and parsley and thoroughly mix to combine.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Set the lentil/quinoa mixture in the middle of the baking sheet. Very lightly dampen your hands with cold water. Now use your hands to form the lentil/quinoa mixture into a loaf that’s about 7 inches long and four inches wide. Brush the top of the loaf with 2 or 3 Tbsp of barbecue sauce.

Bake the lentil quinoa loaf in the middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until loaf is set and richly coloured. Rest the loaf 10 minutes. Now cut into clean slices with a very sharp serrated knife and serve with the gravy.

Note 1: I used Unico brand lentils.

Note 2: Herbes de Provence is French-style blend of dried herbs. It’s sold in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.

Note 3: I used Newman’s Own brand Hickory Barbecue Sauce.

Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy

Here’s an easy-to-make gravy made with richly favoured vegetable stock and mushrooms you can serve with the lentil quinoa loaf.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Makes: About two cups

1 Tbsp olive oil

8 small to medium brown mushrooms (about 125 grams), thinly sliced

2 1/4 cups vegetable broth or stock (divided)

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp brown sugar

• pinch ground sage

• dash hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

2 Tbsp cornstarch

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place oil in a pot set over medium to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add mushrooms and cook until tender and the moisture has evaporated from them, about five to six minutes.

Add 2 cups of the vegetable broth (or stock), soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sage and hot pepper sauce to the pot. Bring to a simmer, and simmer five minutes.

Combine remaining 1/4 cup vegetable broth (or stock) and cornstarch in a small bowl and mix until the latter is dissolved. Add this mixture to the pot, return gravy to a simmer, and simmer two minutes, until lightly thickened.

Taste and season the gravy with salt and pepper. Serve the gravy with lentil quinoa loaf.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series.

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