Vegan meatloaf made with whole foods and no faux meat – it’s not only possible, but worthy of a place at your next family dinner! Vegetables, lentils, and seeds are sneakily hidden into a hearty, savory loaf that isn’t mushy in the slightest. Can easily be made gluten-free, too!
Well, it’s official. I never want to make another vegan meatloaf again. Ok, ok, I realize that’s a bit dramatic, but DANG. I never thought I was going to get this recipe right! So many tests. So many fails. But then…a flash of an idea…a final test…and I tentatively asked my husband Michael the ultimate question after he’d had a few bites.
“Do you like it?”
Silence. Fear and trembling (on my part). I felt like I was waiting to find out if I’m Star Baker or about to be kicked out of the tent. Aaaaaaaand I’ve just revealed my addiction to The Great British Bake Off.
Finally, he says, “I don’t know how you make things like this out of vegetables.”
And at that precise moment, I knew I’d nailed it. STAR MEATLOAF MAKER.
It’s still crazy to me that all of those ingredients somehow combine into a vegan meatloaf that is hearty, flavorful, and most importantly, NOT MUSHY. If you’ve ever made my vegan ground beef, you’ll recognize most of these ingredients. For most of my tests, the vegan ground beef was the bulk of the mix, and I tested different binders to hold everything together. But no matter what I did, the loaves always shrunk down in the pan and the middles were mushy. I almost threw in the towel. And then, I remembered falafel.
Beth, falafel? Where are you heading with this?
Hold your pita, I have a point. Promise. Ok, so as we all learned when we made oven-baked falafel, the key to the perfect texture is to use soaked dried chickpeas. Using cooked chickpeas virtually guarantees a mushy interior. Then I realized that many vegan meatloaf recipes use lentils, but they all use cooked lentils, which have already absorbed moisture, so that wouldn’t help the mushy middle problem. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I decided to try soaking the lentils and grinding them up like I would for falafel. And IT WORKED. No mush. No loaf shrinkage. Great texture. Happy dance in my kitchen! OVER MEATLOAF. (what has happened to me?) Oh, I also soaked the pepitas and sun-dried tomatoes, which are usually part of the vegan ground beef. That combo with the lentils was the game-changer. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Basically what I’m saying is that you soak the lentils, pepitas, and sun-dried tomatoes while you’re shredding some vegetables to roast them. While you’re at it, mix some ground flaxseed with water for a flax “egg” that you’ll use later.
Cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic. Spread them out on a big baking sheet, roast them off until they’ve browned a bit and released their moisture.
At this point you might be thinking, uh, Beth, this isn’t a quick recipe, is it? Well, as the Bake Off contestants often say, it’s a bit of a faff. That’s British for a pain in the booty. It’s one of those things you make when you’re already planning on being in the kitchen doing other things. Like making mashed potatoes and gravy to go with the meatloaf, for example. It might not be a weeknight meal, but it’s certainly worth making! Michael says we should have it at Thanksgiving. 🙂
Back to the vegetables – when they’re done roasting, it’s time to get the meatloaf mixed. Strain the lentils, pepitas, and sun-dried tomatoes and add them to a food processor fitted with an s-blade. You’ll already have it out from grating the vegetables – so efficient, you are. Now here’s the important part. You need to grind the lentils down into a fine meal. You don’t want big lentil pieces, because they won’t absorb the moisture around them in the loaf while baking. Ask me how I know.
That already looks like meat, doesn’t it? It’s so weird. But see how you can’t even tell there are lentils in that mix? That’s when you know it’s ready. Now we make the meatloaf mix! In a large bowl, add the ground lentils and pepitas, then the roasted vegetables. Then the flax egg, marinara sauce (or ketchup, or even my white gravy recipe), panko breadcrumbs (use gluten-free if that’s how you roll), vegan Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper. Then mix it all up until everything is evenly incorporated together!
I don’t have a picture of the mix in a loaf pan. You’re going to have to use your imagination for that, but I know you have one so I’m not worried. If you want to make your life a little easier, line the loaf pan with wide strips of parchment paper so you can pull the loaf right out when it’s done cooking. It bakes for a full hour at 350F. I know, I know, that’s a long time. But it’s enough time to make mashed potatoes and gravy and watch an episode of Bake Off. That’s very specific, and thus very revealing about how I spend my time. Riveting, I know.
And there you have it! A beautiful vegan meatloaf jam-packed with vegetables and lentils. If you want, you can add a glaze during the last 15 minutes of cooking. But I don’t, because….
Gravy. Because gravy. That is all.
Oh wait, that’s not all. If you want to play with your food, here’s a fun idea! Shape the meatloaf mix into 8 mummies, and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make vegan mashed potatoes.
Add the mashed potatoes to a big ziplock bag or piping bag, snip the end off, and pipe it on the mummies to look like cloth. Sliced olives for eyes, and what have you got? Mummy Meatloaf! Keep your thoughts to yourself on my horrendous decorating skills, thank you very much.
Ok, friends! Thus ends this vegan meatloaf tome – it was an epic saga and I have to admit that I’m relieved to move on to something else for a bit. Star Meatloaf Maker, signing off.
- 1 head of cauliflower, cored and broken into florets (1.5-2 lbs)
- 1 onion, chopped into 1″ pieces
- 8 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¾ cup pepitas (raw shelled pumpkin seeds)
- 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
- 1/2 cup dried red lentils
- 1/2 cup dried green/brown lentils
- 2 T ground flax seed
- 5 T water
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs (use gluten-free version if needed)
- 1/2 cup marinara sauce, ketchup, or protein-packed gravy
- 3 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce or A1 sauce (or a combination)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
- In a medium bowl, soak pepitas, sun-dried tomatoes, and lentils in 4 cups of very hot water. Set aside.
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to a small bowl and stir in 5 tablespoons of water. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Next, prepare the vegetables. In a food processor fitted with a grating attachment, grate the cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and garlic. Spread out evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. You should end up with about 4-5 cups after cooking.
- While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the marinara sauce or gravy if using (I often use jarred marinara or ketchup to save time).
- When the vegetables are finished cooking, remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350F.
- Straing the soaked lentils, pepitas, and sun-dried tomatoes. Add to a food processor fitted with the s-blade and pulse until a fine crumb is formed and no large pieces of lentil or pepita remain. Scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. Remove to a large bowl.
- To the bowl with the ground lentil mixture, add the cooked vegetables. Stir in flaxseed, marinara/ketchup, worcestershire/A1 sauce, panko, and seasonings. Mix very well until evenly combined.
- Line a loaf pan with parchment paper if desired (not necessary, just helpful for removing the loaf and slicing). Pat the meatloaf mixture evenly into the loaf pan, pressing down to eliminate air pockets.
- Bake the loaf at 350 for 1 hour. If using the glaze, remove the loaf after 45 minutes and spread the glaze over the top and bake for 15 more minutes.
- Serve with whatever sides you like. We love it smothered with protein-packed vegan gravy on a bed of mashed potatoes!