By Claire Tansey
Home cooks, by nature, are creative and resourceful. While home cooks may not have formal chef’s training, we sure like to fool around and figure it out in the kitchen. We futz with our favourite recipes, tweaking them to be just right; we flip through cookbooks and attach sticky notes (by the dozens) to pages that pique our curiosity and interest. We’re also quasi-home economists, making frittata or soup from whatever misfit collection of produce is in the crisper, slow-cooking inexpensive ingredients like dry beans and “tough cuts” into melty deliciousness and buying what’s on sale to transform into something tasty.
We are happy to try all kinds of tricks and hacks in search of a delicious meal that’s good for the health of our families, bodies, brains and budgets.
- It adds a huge nutritional boost. Lentils are high in fibre and complex carbohydrates, which help keep our guts happy and our glucose steady. They’re also packed with plant protein power, low in calories and high in lots of minerals.
- It’s a boon to my grocery budget. “Stretching” meat has long been an item in the home cook’s toolbox, and I’m always game to try to make meat go a bit further.
- Cooking with lentils and beef is also good for the planet! Both contribute to “sinking” carbon into the earth (this is a good thing!). Lentils are also drought-resistant and need no irrigation.
Talk about a super-charged dinner!
After a bit of (delicious!) trial and error, I’ve landed on a lentil-to-meat ratio that works for meatloaf, meatballs and burgers. Start by cooking split red lentils so they get soft and smooth. I cook 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) of dry lentils in about 4 cups (1 L) of water, then cool this mixture completely before adding it to anything else. You can keep this puree plain or add seasonings like herbs and spices and a good pinch of salt. You can never add flavour too early!
Once the mixture is cool, measure out 1 cup (250 mL) of lentil puree for every 500g of ground meat. Simply mix in the lentil puree along with whatever seasonings your recipe calls for. If you’re making meatballs or burgers, the lentil-charged mixture is a little bit more delicate to work with, so I’d recommend cooking the balls or patties in a little canola oil in a non-stick frying pan.
One more bit of home cook/ economist wisdom: I’m a big fan of using my freezer to make life easier for future me, so whenever I make this lentil puree, I make a big batch and freeze it in 2-cups (500 mL) portions. It freezes perfectly, thaws easily in the refrigerator and makes this simple, healthy swap a snap.
Meatloaf with Plant Power
- 1 1/2 cups split red lentils
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- Thyme sprigs (optional)
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 yellow onion, grated
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup ketchup, BBQ sauce or HP sauce, divided
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp Worceshershire sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 eggs
- Combine the lentils and 4 cups water in a medium pot. Add 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt and a few sprigs of thyme if you like. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer gently for 15 – 25 minutes, or until the lentils are completely smooth. Cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
- In a large bowl, mix beef, pork, onion, garlic, eggs, Panko, 1/3 cup (75 mL) of the ketchup (or whatever you’re using), parsley, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and remaining 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt.
- In a bowl, combine 2 cups (500 mL) of cooled lentil puree with breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Add this mixture to the meat mixture and mix very well until it’s completely combined.
- Pack the mixture into a 9- x 5-inch (22 x 12.5 cm) loaf pan and smooth the top.
- Brush the top with remaining ketchup. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until the blade of a paring knife poked into the centre of the loaf is hot to the touch, or an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F (74°C).
- Slice and serve with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans if you like.
- Form into golf ball sized meatballs, about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Arrange on a tray.
- In a large non-stick skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs and fry until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Internal temperature should register 160°F (71°C) when instant-read thermometer is inserted into centre of meatball. Remove to a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
- Form mixture into 12 equal sized patties.
- In a large non-stick skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Fry burgers for 5 to 7 minutes per side, testing doneness with a digital instant read thermometer inserted sideways into centre of each patty to ensure patties are cooked to 160°F (71°C).