Lentil loaf is one of those ubiquitous vegan dishes that seems to pop up on every blog and website around the holidays. I’m joining in the lentil loaf fun. For years, I’ve wanted to create a decent lentil loaf to post on this site. I’d tried my hand at it a few times and wasn’t too happy with the results. So I gave up. But I figured, what better time than “Thanksgiving season” (if you’re a blogger, you know that Thanksgiving is, indeed, a full “season”) than to tackle this dish once again?
Thankfully, I came up with not one but two versions of lentil loaf that I liked. I could not decide which I liked better, though, so I left that to my chief taste-tester, Gennaro. Truth be told, Gennaro is a pretty horrible taste-tester, as he is very reluctant to give me criticism (great husband, not great taste-tester). But over the years, I’ve developed enough insight into his body language to know when he really loves something, and when he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. In this case, his body language pointed clearly to loaf #1. So that’s the one I’m sharing here.
This lentil loaf is texturally not exactly like meatloaf, so don’t think you’ll be getting a perfect replica. But it’s a delicious centerpiece to a meal nonetheless, and will definitely go well with all of the typical meatloaf accompaniments. In fact, it works best when surrounded by a supporting cast of mashed potatoes and gravy. The topping is also essential, as it adds a sweetness and flavor to the dish. This is also delicious cold the next day (in my opinion). I ate three slices straight out of the refrigerator for breakfast and lunch and not only did it still taste great but it kept me full throughout the day!
I adapted my recipe from this one at Oh She Glows. I loved the idea of using grated apple in the loaf (I personally think it keeps the filling from becoming too dry). I also liked the idea of processing the lentils (I processed 1/2 instead of 75%) in order to keep the loaf from falling apart. This one holds together remarkably well. The cranberries rounded everything out with a tart-sweetness that added flavor and festiveness to the dish.
I will be bringing this for our vegan family Thanksgiving feast. This is the first year that our entire extended family dinner will be meat-free! It’s funny because in years past, as more and more of us were giving up meat, the family turkey got smaller and smaller as more vegan dishes began to spring up in our lineup. I’m so exited that this year, there will be no turkey at all! This dish will fill in just perfectly.
Note: this recipe is somewhat more labor intensive than what I usually like to make for a weeknight meal. Altogether, it took me about 40 minutes of active prep and then about 45 minutes of baking (during which I cleaned my dirty kitchen!). It’s definitely not the most labor intensive meal I’ve ever made, but I thought I’d give fair warning to those looking to tackle this one in a hurry, as there are a few different cooking components at play here. Also note that for best results, you should have parchment paper on hand to line your loaf dish for easy removal.
Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf:
Adapted from Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf; Yield: about 8 thick slices
1 cup uncooked green/brown lentils
3 cups water
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup onion, very finely chopped
1 cup celery, very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1/2 cup grated apple, tightly packed
2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (use coconut aminos to make this soy free)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries
2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut nectar (can also substitute agave or maple syrup)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1. Add lentils to a small pot with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and simmer lentils, covered, for about 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone but lentils remain firm. Drain remainder of the liquid. Set aside.
2. In a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade, process oats together with walnuts for about 30 seconds, until a coarse flour forms (almost like a coarsely ground cornmeal). Pour processed walnuts and oats unto a large mixing bowl and set aside.
3. Add 1 cup of lentils to food processor with same steel blade (no need to wash first) and process until mixture begins to clump together. Set aside.
4. In a non-stick saute pan, saute onion, garlic and celery in vegetable broth over medium-high heat until soft and vegetable broth is gone, about 5 minutes. Add cooked onion, celery and garlic to mixing bowl with the oats and walnuts. Add pureed lentils and roughly mix. Add another cup of the whole lentils, then remaining loaf ingredients and mix well. I actually like to use my hands to mix everything together and make sure all of the ingredients are well-distributed. I don’t bother much to add things in a certain order, as using your hands will kind of help to distribute things well.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While oven preheats, pour lentil loaf mixture into a 9x5x2″ (or similar-sized) loaf pan and press firmly into pan, using hands. Top should be smooth. Then mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and pour over top, spreading evenly with a spoon or spatula until well-distributed.
6. Bake loaf in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes on a middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes before lifting loaf out of pan with the sides of the parchment. For easy transfer to a serving platter, I gently lifted the bottom of the loaf from the parchment with a long spatula and then pulled the parchment out from underneath. Slice and serve with desired accompaniments.