8 unusual sources of veggie protein + a lentil balls recipe

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green saladgreen salad
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One of the biggest mistakes I made last year when I decided to go vegetarian for a month, was not doing enough research before I made the change.

Which meant I ended up struggling to have enough energy.

Fortunately, a quick email to a nutritionist friend put me on the right path. I needed to make sure I was getting enough protein.

Tiredness problem solved.

This year, I’ve adopted a more moderate approach to vegetarianism by going meatless on Mondays.

It can be easy to rely on the old veggie protein favourites like eggs, lentils, cheese and beans. So here are some more unusual vegetarian protein sources to help you avoid falling into a meatless Monday rut, as it were.

8 unusual sources of veggie protein

1. brussels sprouts
I’m always on the look out for excuses to eat more brussels sprouts, like these. Until I did some investigation, I didn’t know that brussels are one of the highest sources of protein for green vegetables.

2. kale
With a similar level of protein to brussels sprouts, kale is another great veggie to choose to help boost your protein intake. It’s cabbage cousins also contain some protein but aren’t as well endowed as kale.

3. edamame
While I automatically think of soy and tofu for veggie protein, I hadn’t every linked the moreish green soy beans in Japanese restaurants with soy and protein.

4. sunflower seeds
I tend to forget about seeds as a great nutritional source. While sesame and flax (linseeds) are no slouches in the protein department, sunflower seeds have the highest protein content. A recent Stonesoup commenter finds roasted sunflower seeds a great alternative to bacon. Need to investigate that one.

5. tempeh
Made from fermented soy beans, tempeh is even higher in protein than tofu and has the added bonus of a healthy does of microbes. The flavour is nutty and I find it much stronger than tofu. To be honest I’m still trying to find a great way to prepare it, so if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

6. almonds
While nuts in general, contain decent amounts of protein, almonds contain the most protein and least carbs of the nut family. They’re wonderful as a snack or tossed in salads.

Almond meal or ground almonds make a great gluten-free flour substitute in baking, such as in these chocolate muffins or my supermoist carrot cake. It’s also useful in savoury cooking. See the lentil balls below. Or try it instead of flour in your favourite fritter recipe.

7. quinoa
While not technically a grain, quinoa sure acts like one. With twice the protein content of rice, it weighs in with considerably higher protein than its grain siblings. I love the texture of cooked quinoa. If you’d like to learn more, you may find this post useful.

8. seitan
Made from wheat protein, seitan can be made to have a similar texture to meat. People with gluten sensitivies should of course steer clear. I’m yet to find a source of it in Australia.

And thanks to the lovely Mel from Dietriffic for inspiring this post.

a meatless monday supper menu
lentil balls with tomato sauce
green salad

lentil balls7
lentil balls with tomato sauce recipe
takes 5 mins prep + 20 mins cooking
serves 2

Don’t be alarmed by the appearance of these little lentil balls, they’re actually a lot more delicious than they look. The lentils, almond meal and egg combine to create a wonderfully satisfying ball texture.

I’ve also used almond meal in actual meat balls instead of bread crumbs and was really happy with the results. If you need to feed some carnivores, soften a chopped onion and combine it with about 300g (10oz) minced (ground) beef and 75g almond meal. Shape into balls and bake in tomato passata as per the lentil ball recipe.

I like to serve these simply in a bowl with parmsean on top and a green salad on the side. Feel free to serve tossed in with pasta, or zucchini noodles.

1 can lentils (400g/14oz), drained
75g (3oz) almond meal
1 egg
1 jar tomato passata (tomato puree) (700g/24oz)
parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

2. Roughly mash lentils in a large bowl with a fork, then add almond meal and the egg. Mix and season.

3. Place tomato passata in the base of a large oven proof dish. Using a soup spoon, form the lentil mixture into small balls. Placing them in the sauce as you go.

4. Drizzle very generously with extra virgin olive oil and bake for about 20 minutes or until balls are firm and the sauce has reduced a little.

lentil balls8
simple green salad
takes 5 mins
serves 2

It’s hard to beat a good mixed leaf salad to add a bit of colour and greenery to most meals. You can quickly make your dressing and pop the leaves on top while the lentils are in the oven. Then you just need to toss the salad at the table. Too easy

I love a good aged sherry vinegar for my dressings but other wine vinegars or lemon juice are also good.

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large handfuls mixed washed salad leaves

1. Combine vinegar and oil in the base of a salad bowl. Taste and season generously, remembering that the leaves are going to dilute the dressing.

2. Toss in the leaves to coat.

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video version of the recipe

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{ 37 comments }

Michelle August 8, 2011 at 7:47 pm

My family has been making our own seitan for years (we call it gluten though :-) ). It’s actually not that difficult to do (just takes a little time and effort), and with a variety of options to cook it, can be pretty tasty. Will be happy to share a few recipes, if you’re interested.

Sage August 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I love tempeh, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it since moving to Denmark.

Here are a few of my favorite tempeh recipes:

http://www.sageandsimple.com/2010/01/tempeh-reuban-sandwiches.html

http://www.sageandsimple.com/2009/06/tempeh-marsala.html

http://www.sageandsimple.com/2009/04/tempeh-fajitas.html

http://www.sageandsimple.com/2009/02/tempeh-cheesesteak-sandwiches.html

Now I’ve got a major tempeh jones :(

Cindy August 8, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I have previously found seitan in a few health food shops around the place. As Michelle points out, you can make it yourself! (Here’s the long way and here’s the cheat’s way using gluten flour ;-) ).

As for tempeh – it took me a few years to develop a liking for it. Now my favourite ways to cook it include nasi lemak, spicy tempeh broccolini pasta, tempeh lasagne, and marinated tempeh ‘bacon’. I’d suggest slicing it thinly, marinating it and frying to start.

olivia August 8, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Hey Jools,

Great post! I have tried to make lentil balls once before and they turned to mush :( Will give it another go using your recipe. They look delicious!

Homemade seitan is delicious. There was a recipe doing the rounds of the internet a few years ago, I tried it out back then and – wow – very tasty. Dangerously so, in fact! I only ever made the one batch (it was that dangerous). This is the recipe:

http://yeahthatveganshit.blogspot.com/2007/04/infamous-seitan-recipe-o-greatness.html

If you do some digging you will find variations on this recipe all over the place.
Let me know how it goes!
Olivia

Pam August 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm

As a full time vegetarian (or to be more accurate – a pescatarian) who lived in Indonesia back in my uni days, I love tempeh. Fabulous stuff. Sadly I can no longer get it through my previous supplier Food Connect, since the maker has moved south. Supermarket bought tempeh just isn’t as good. I love to just cut tempeh into around 1-2 cm thickness slices and shallow fry it. Indonesian Ketchup Manis (sweet soy sauce) makes a great topping / dipping sauce or even as a pre-cooking marinade. I usually serve it with a rice / noodle / vegatable stir fry. Enjoy!

Erin @ she cooks, she gardens August 8, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Gosh, these sound great and so simple. I’m going to give them a go tomorrow night!

I was going to suggest you give making Seitan a go as it’s pretty straightforward and easy to play around with flavours but others beat me to it. This is one of my favourite recipes: http://www.veggienumnum.com/2010/10/homemade-seitan-sausages/

:)

Irini Savva August 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Wonderful! I’m always looking for new vegetarian sources of protein.

Gail Brenner (AFlourishingLife) August 9, 2011 at 12:43 am

Hi Jules,

I’m a first time commenter, and wanted to share two ideas for using tempeh. The first one is simple: cut in squares, stir fry in a little oil, then add soy sauce and let it soak in – delicious morsels.

The second is more complicated. You make a stuffing of any vegetables cut into small pieces such as mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, onions. Add in crumbled tempeh and some cooked brown rice. Season however you want – I like thyme. Then steam cabbage or chard leaves. Put the stuffing in the leaves and roll up. Then I put tomato sauce and parmesan on top and bake for 30 min. A delicious vegetarian dish with all the nutrients you need.

lynn @ the actor's diet August 9, 2011 at 1:16 am

oooh i just bought kale!

EM. Halliburton August 9, 2011 at 2:59 am

I have no idea how this was done, but I had an amazing tempeh reuben in a deli once.

Emily Marin August 9, 2011 at 4:07 am

It’s actually quite difficult and overwhelming when you suddenly change your meal plan especially when you haven’t consulted your nutritionist or you just didn’t do some research before jumping into that change.

I remembered my friend trying to be a pescetarian because it would make her lose more weight easier. So she started eating fish the next day right away thinking that the adjustment would be easy but it never worked. After a week she gave up. I should let her read this post here to give her some enlightenment.

Thanks for this one! I especially liked the part where you started talking about protein and how to get it from other foods apart from the usual ones.

Lucy August 9, 2011 at 5:20 am

Definitely trying those lentil balls! Looks so different and yummy.

debbie@accidentlydelish August 9, 2011 at 9:47 am

oh my goodness i LOVE tempeh. we make tempeh tacos (crumble and add taco seasonings as you would beef), tempeh bacon (http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2009/06/tempeh-bacon-recipe-vegan-facon-makes.html), buffalo tempeh, oh man i could go on forever!

one of my favorite finds since becoming a vegetarian. also love kale. kale chips are by far my new obsession.

Jason Bartholme August 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm

This lentil balls look awesome. I need to run to the store and get some almonds to grind up. I do miss making my own seitan. The slow-carb diet doesn’t allow wheat because of the high-glycemic index, but I’ll definitely be making the lentil balls this week.

Lucy August 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I just tried making the lentil balls, massive fail! They just weren’t hardening up in the oven, I’m now left with a mass slushy mess of passata mixed with lentil and almond meal! Maybe its because I tried making it vegan by using a flax egg?!

Does anyone have any suggestions for my mush?

jules August 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Lucy,
So sorry you experienced lentil ball fail. I’m afraid the faux eggs are to blame. I tried a few different versions and it wasn’t until I started adding real eggs that I got the texture I was looking for.

In terms of suggestions, I’d stir it all together and change the name to a lentil ragu! From memory, my mushy lentil balls were still delicious – it’s all about managing expectations

And thanks for the tempeh & Seitan suggestions everyone – some great information there!

Emily,
I agree about the importance of planning when it comes to dietary changes. I actually wrote a blog post about my mistakes your friend may find useful http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2010/05/the-number-1-mistake-of-new-vegetarians-how-to-avoid-it/

Heather August 10, 2011 at 5:29 am

Thanks for the list! I’m not a vegetarian, and I certainly wasn’t aware of the protein in brussels sprouts or kale. I actually picked up some kale at the farmer’s market this weekend so I made a massaged kale salad today for lunch. That was a first, and both fun and delicious.

Melanie Thomassian August 10, 2011 at 6:23 am

Aw Jules, I was excited to see your lentil recipe when your post come up on FB, as I LOVE anything with lentils in it, only to find you had given me a wee mention…. THANK YOU!! No need, but a lovely surprise nonetheless :-) Recipe looks great BTW, I will be trying very soon.

Jos August 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

Yuuuuuummmmm! These look fab – i adore lentils – through them into everything i can to add extra protein and fibre. Will be making this tonight!

kathryn August 11, 2011 at 8:54 am

Oh too good Jules. Love this idea. Pre-vegetarian days, my favourite meal was meat balls in tomato sauce so I’m always on the lookout for a good non-meat version. This looks just the ticket – I’ll be trying it out soon.

jules August 11, 2011 at 9:14 am

Heather,
Massaging kale hey? Hadn’t though of that and I have a big patch of kale in my garden so will have to try treating it with more love!

Melanie
Yes lentils are the best! ANd you inspired this post so had to give credit ;)

Kathryn
There’s a restaurant in New York that just makes meatballs – called The Meatball Shop… they’ve inspired a lot of a meatball love in our chouse … but the thing is, I think I like my lentil balls even better… hope you enjoy!

Kerry August 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

When I used to work in a health food store kitchen, I remember seeing tempeh for the first time and thinking there was no way I was ever putting that in my mouth. Well, after being taught to cube it, marinate it in tamari and fry until crispy, I became a convert. We also crumbled it into our vegetarian chili.

Johanna GGG August 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I am pleased to find that brussels sprouts are high in protein – another tick for them! Protein is something that creeps into lots of food unexpectedly, which I learnt to appreciate once I became vegetarian and realised it wasn’t like eating meat when I just saw it as having a chunk of protein but rather a matter of combining lots of foods to get my intake.

I am a bit ambivalent about tempeh but have found a few recipes I love with it – one is to fry it til crispy and then gently cook in a glaze (or fry til crispy and add to a gado gado plate. I also thought it was brilliant in this tempeh and corn soup – http://gggiraffe.blogspot.com/2010/12/buns-soup-and-crunchie-in-yazs-kitchen.html – and in these pies (that a friend of mine adapted from chicken pies he loved – http://gggiraffe.blogspot.com/2008/03/revolutionary-pot-pies.html. It seems to me that it doesn’t always work but when it does it is brilliant.

Richa August 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm

those lentil balls look amazing..
Being an indian vegetarian, we get our daily dose of lentils and beans.. i love tempeh,almonds and quinoa.. yet to put brussel sprouts and kale into my daily cooking.

jules August 16, 2011 at 6:12 pm

richa
kale is great in indian cooking – use it where you’d normally use spinach or other greens

johanna
lovely to hear from you!
and thanks for the tempeh tips

M September 4, 2011 at 8:11 pm

I just made this recipe for dinner, and it was amazing! At first I never thought I’d try this one as they looked a bit unusual. But I watched the video you made and saw how easy it was.

I used breadcrumbs instead of almond just because almond meal’s a bit expensive. I’m sure it would be even better with almond meal instead, though!
I also cooked it in a pot on the stove because my kitchen is so tiny it doesn’t have an oven (So I really appreciated your no bake desserts too!).

Thanks so much for the recipe, Jules!

jules September 5, 2011 at 7:22 am

Awesome M
So glad you enjoyed! Yes I should have done a better job with the food styling to make them look pretty – but glad you decided to give them a go anyway.

And thanks for sharing your alternate method – glad to hear they’re fine with bread crumbs too

April September 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Jules these are incredible! They are so amazingly easy and delicious, I couldn’t believe it. They made a delicious lunch cold the next day, too, and even my meat-eating partner couldn’t believe how ‘meaty’ they were. Really hearty and delicious. These will become a regular! Thanks Jules, for yet another awesome recipe :)

jules September 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

PLasure April!
So glad you (and your partner) enjoyed them! I haven’t tried them cold so good to know :)

Sue September 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Hi Jules – just wondering if you think lentil balls can be made on the stove top instead of the oven. Being in HK, I don’t have an oven but would really like to try these.

THanks,
SUe

jules September 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Sue
Great question. And yes absolutely! Just simmer gently in the sauce.

ana September 20, 2011 at 11:39 am

Just the ticket for my vegetarian sister. So good to see your video and feel that confidence beaming out from the screen!! Worked so well for non veg spouse as well. The almond meal is just a magic ingredient here. This is definitely a keeper.

Emily December 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

before making this dish i was sceptical about its outcome, since the recipe is so simple. (there are not a lot of ingredients at all, nor ‘wow’ ingredients with big flavours.) happily, i stand corrected. it worked out really well, and not at all like bland, crunchy health food like i mildly feared. rather than almond meal, which i didn’t have on hand, i used flaxseed meal. the flaxseed meal seemed to be enough of a binder, so i took a chance and left out the egg; my hunch was correct, and the lentil balls held their shape throughout the cooking process. i also added a bit of sauteed onion to the lentils. for the sauce, i used heidi swanson’s 5-minute tomato sauce:

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/five-minute-tomato-sauce-recipe.html

it provided just enough bright contrast to the dish’s savoury flavours.

Tennille Chase February 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Trying these lentil balls tonight,again another winner in the price department and with us trying more vegetarian dishes high in protein it was a winner. Loving it.

Kristin March 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

I like to put cubed tempeh in stew – my husband eats meat so we usually make 2 meals and beef/tempeh stew is one of our favorites to make together. With plenty of broth and veggies (white potatoes, turnip, celery, onion, carrot) boiled for a while then thickened with a roux, the tempeh gets soft and chewy. I’ll eat it marinated and fried but I much prefer the texture after plenty of cooking. Thanks for the great lentil balls recipe!

Jen March 29, 2013 at 7:21 am

That looks delicious, love the idea of lentil balls makes a fab alternative to meat balls, something I really miss eating. :)

Laura Trimmell May 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

Made this for dinner with spagetti squash “noodles.” It was a big hit!

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