As the Sargent Choice Dietetic Intern in my food service rotation I was challenged with the task of creating a new Sargent Choice menu item that could be incorporated into the regular cycle menus of the dining halls on Boston University’s Campus. At first I wasn’t quite sure even where to begin. After looking through the cycle menu at Marciano Commons Dining Hall I realized that the offerings at the Vegan station were more limited than other stations. The menu including a large array of Asian inspired dishes, including stir-fry’s, quite a few salads, and a few Mexican inspired dishes. I became inspired to challenge myself, a non-vegan, to create a vegan entre that would bring a little variety to the cycle menu. I enjoy cooking and enjoy trying out new foods so I was up for the challenge!
I begin by thinking about something that I would like to cook for myself; lately I have been enjoying cooking with lentils and the flavors of basic curries. My initial idea was to use eggplant, which isn’t frequently served, and stuff a small Japanese Eggplant with the curried lentil and vegetable mixture. The size of the Japanese eggplants would be perfect for serving while making for a great presentation! However, I was quickly made aware of the current price for a case of Japanese Eggplants and it was way over my budget! Back to the drawing board I went. I began to shift my thinking towards finding a menu item that would not only bring diversity to the Vegan station, but also appeal to all students, vegan, vegetarian, and those without dietary preferences or restrictions. I couldn’t get the idea of BBQ out of my mind; I mean come on, who doesn’t love some good BBQ? So from here I set out to find a way to bring a BBQ menu item to the vegan station. I still wanted to use lentils in my dish given that the vegan cycle menu offerings use primarily tofu and seitan as the main protein source. A lentil oat burger is already offered on the cycle menu, so I didn’t want to just make a lentil based burger, I wanted to go further outside of the box. I took my next idea and ran with it, I would create a BBQ lentil based ‘meatball’ and serve it on a sub roll with coleslaw and a roasted vegetable based side salad!
Coming up with a recipe for my idea proved a little more challenging than I expected; many hour were spent on the internet searching through recipes of vegan ‘meatballs’, ‘meatloaves’, and burgers. I finally settled on two recipes, one that used only lentils and one that used lentils and tofu. The first recipe called for chia seeds as the binder; however chia seeds aren’t a realistic egg replacer for a large-scale dining hall production. Nonetheless, I wanted to mention this because chia seeds could work fantastically as an egg replacer for those of you cooking vegan meals at home! I spent a good deal of time looking up vegan egg replacers and found a few sources that suggested silken or other tofu. This information pushed me towards the second recipe! With a few slight tweaks I was able to ‘finalize’ the recipe for a test meal!
The preparation on the day of my test meal, as well as the production, went very smoothly. The ‘meatballs’ came together well, as did the coleslaw and the side salad. As I was simmering the ‘meatballs’ in the BBQ sauce over medium heat I began to realize that one or two of my ‘meatballs’ had crumbled as I was stirring; from then on I was very careful to ensure that I didn’t lose anymore! This however did get me thinking that the recipe needed a little tweaking, I had to find a way to get the ‘meatballs’ to hold together better, especially for a large scale lunch service where a server cannot be super careful while stirring a large pot of ‘meatballs’! I was able to successfully make four BBQ ‘meatball’ sandwiches to be tested by myself, Executive Chef Adam Pagan, Jennifer Culbert, RD and Lisa Ferreira, RD. I was a little nervous going into the tasting, would my idea turn out well, would they enjoy the meal, or had something gone terribly wrong? I was so relieved when everyone loved the sandwiches! As a group we did bring up the need for a little more binding and a little more moisture to help the ‘meatballs’ hold up better. Adam and I were able to come up with an easy solution of pureeing half of the cooked lentils with a little bit of vegetable stock in a blender, this would act as more of a binding agent while bringing some moisture to the ‘meatballs’! For those of you making these at home, if you are okay with a more crumbly ‘meatball’, or are only making a few so being careful while mixing in the BBQ sauce isn’t an issue, than this step could easily be left out; however to the sake of a large scale service and providing BU students with the highest quality product we decided to alter the recipe to include pureeing ½ of the cooked lentils, which worked fantastically!
The BBQ lentil ‘meatballs’ were served on a small whole wheat sub roll and topped with Carolina-style vinegar based coleslaw to add crunch and contrasting flavors. A side salad of roasted vegetables and black beans tossed in cilantro lime vinaigrette rounded out the meal!
BBQ ‘Meatball’ Sub
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely diced
- ½ cup red bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 ¼ tsp brown sugar
- 1 cup brown lentils, dry
- 2 Tbsp low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 package tofu, extra firm, drained
- 2 ¼ tsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 cup whole grain cornmeal
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¾ tsp chili powder
- ¾ tsp cumin
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup BBQ sauce
- 8 100% whole wheat sub rolls
- Cook the lentils by bringing 2 cups of water and lentils to a boil in a pot over high heat, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20-25 minutes. Drain any remaining water.
- Divide the lentils in half; set half aside and puree the other half with the vegetable broth then set aside.
- While lentils cook, chop your pepper and onion into a small dice.
- Add olive oil to a pan over medium-high heat and cook the chopped onions and peppers for several minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Then add the brown sugar to caramelize the mixture.
- Place the tofu in a large bowl, and use a potato masher to squish the tofu into a fine consistency – you could also use a hand mixer here or your hands alone!
- Add the soy sauce to the tofu and stir to coat.
- Add the whole and pureed lentils to the tofu; continue to mash the mixture, breaking up some of the whole lentils.
- Add the cooked onion and pepper mixture, whole grain cornmeal, turmeric, chili powder, and cumin to the lentil and tofu mixture, combine well.
- Form the mixture into round balls; your ‘meatballs’ should be about an inch in diameter
- Form 32 ‘meatballs’, 4 per serving and place on a sheet pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
- Place the ‘meatballs’ in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This can be done a head and place in the refrigerator over night as well.
- Preheat oven to 425*F and bake the ‘meatballs’ for 20-25 minutes until the outsides are browned.
- Remove the ‘meatballs’ from the oven and place in a large pot, over with BBQ sauce and simmer over medium-low heat.
- Place 4 ‘meatballs’ on each whole-wheat sub roll with coleslaw. To complete the meal serve this sandwich alongside a side salad.