Vegan Spaghetti Marinara with Lentil Balls

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  • Makes 8 cups pasta and sauce + 20 lentil balls
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This whole-food vegan take on classic spaghetti and meatballs is as healthy as it is satisfying. The lentil “meatballs” take some time to make, but they’re well worth the effort. They also freeze beautifully for up to a month: After baking, freeze them in an airtight container. Reheat in a 350°F oven 20 to 30 minutes.

This recipe calls for store-bought marinara sauce, but if you'd rather make your own, try Mryna's Marinara Sauce. Try more of our reader-favorite vegan recipes today!

By Darshana Thacker Wendel,

Last Updated:


  • 1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 8-oz. package button or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 3 small cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. dry whole grain spaghetti
  • 6 cups purchased oil-free marinara sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil


  • In a large saucepan combine lentils and 1 cup water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cover and cook about 15 minutes more or until lentils are tender. Uncover and cook until any remaining liquid has evaporated.
  • Stir in the next seven ingredients (through salt and pepper). Cook, uncovered, over low about 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and pan is very dry, stirring occasionally. (Watch carefully so lentils do not scorch.) Spread mixture in a shallow baking pan; cool completely.
  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 15×10-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Scoop out 2 Tbsp. lentil mixture, shape into a ball, and place in prepared pan. Repeat to make about 20 lentil balls. Bake 50 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp.
  • Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. In a saucepan heat marinara sauce. Drain spaghetti, return to pot, and toss with 3 cups of the warm marinara sauce.
  • To serve, top spaghetti with lentil balls and top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with basil.

Comments (66)

(5 from 31 votes)

Recipe Rating

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Biggest waste of ingredients. You should remove this recipe from your web site and send it to anyone ever again by email. I'm wondering if this recipe iws even cooked and tested before putting it out there. I've been cooking extremely difficult plant based recipes for 3 years now and never had a problem with any recipe except for this one My lentils were hard and I added more water and cooked until dry. Which the lentils never dried up they were still moist even after 30 minutes of cooking in my pot. I finally just took them out of the pot and was disappointed at the result. Terrible . The lentil balls fell right apart . Many suggestions here to add a better binder even one from FON so why not in the recipe?


Are these meant to be prepared with raw lentils ? Or tinned lentel?

Lisa, Forks Over Knives Support

Hi Dean, This recipe uses raw lentils not tinned.

Jeffrey Bradley

Very good. Needed to dry them out a while and bake at 250 for and hour. Also making the balls a bit smaller helped out a lot. Tastes great w homemade pasta. Thanks


This was a bit of work (this is explained in the intro) but we agreed that it was worth it since we don’t eat many pasta dishes. I was fearful of scorching the lentils so I added a little more water than 1 cup. Cooling the lentil mixture is a must to be able to form them properly. The lentil balls were still too moist after baking for 45 minutes but did keep their shape when placing them on the dish. I think next time I’ll cook the lentil mixture a little slower or lower heat and keep the 1:1 ratio. Also, I’ll add a little bit more spices and maybe some red pepper flakes for flavor. And even better make the lentil balls ahead of time and possibly freeze. We really enjoyed this dish! Thank You! 😋


I love pasta dishes and am happy to see a really delicious looking recipe with lentils, vegetables and spices. This could really work for me. I'm excited!

samone anderson

don't know if its good or not but did look and also wrote down, the ingredients looked divine. I loved the fact that you added the ready and prep time, that's all I got to say. I will visit your website again soon for more tips and recipes and would give it a overall 5 rating! Please insist getting tons of more people to visit it's amazing ! See You Soon!!

Myr Wing-Davis

How many calories (and the other nutritional information) is in three lentil meatballs

Megan Edwards

Hi Myr, We are currently working on adding nutritional information to all our recipes and anticipate for this feature to be live on the website by the end of the summer. Please stay tuned for updates!


There is no possible way 1 cup of lentils can get tender with only 1 cup of water. I saw other reviews after I looked up whether there was an error in the recipe…. Definitely add 1.5 or 2 cups water or it all burns!

Megan Edwards

Hi Kasia, Thanks for bringing this to our attention! We reached out to the recipe creator about the measurements. While she says that the 1:1 ratio works well to ensure the lentils don't get mushy, she agreed that 1.5 cups would be better for the recipe, so we've updated the instructions. Let us know how it goes!


It cooks faster when soaked for about 2 hours. Adding a pinch of bicarbonate of soda works wonders.


I really like these. Third time I've made them. I like freezing them for an easy meal later. Like some others, I worried about whether there was enough water, so I did add a bit more. I liked reading about the people who followed the recipe to a T, and maybe I will next time. Anyway, thank you. I really enjoy these lentil balls.


This recipe was a lot of effort to make and everyone at my table was disappointed. The ingredients for the balls were chopped and not processed. This made them difficult to form, and after they were baked they were just a conglomerate of ingredients. They may as well have been just been spread out on the pan and baked. Forming them into a ball was useless and a waste of time. Complicated recipe. Bad outcome. Flavor wasn't worth the effort.


I am going to make these within the next days as I like the ingredients and the balls really look delicious. After having read the comments I would suggest to double the quantity of the water (1 cup lentils, 2 cups water) and to use a mixer to get a dough. Don’t puree it, you will like to have the meatballs coarse.


i made these and wasn't to impressed. The 250 temp is to low, i had to cook them at 350 after the 45 minute cook time at 250. They also need a better binder, Mine fell apart. Not sure what ill do with the left overs, maybe add them to some rice. Maybe some flaxseed binder? Love the idea but the recipe needs some tweaking to mae it more like a regular meatball.

Peggie JonesDargan

I used your book & made this, I’m not vegan & it was so delicious, I followed the recipe & the only thing my meatballs didn’t look like the picture but it was still yummy.


Lentils need more water than the equal amount. The water was absorbed within 5 min and that was not enough liquid to cook the onions and mushrooms. Once the other ingredients were added, there still was not enough liquid to simmer the mixture without it burning. I would recommend a cup and a half of water.

Dennis Heck

I made this recipe exactly at written, but there does not seem to be anything to hold the balls together. The taste was OK, but none of my lentil ball held together very well. Should the mixture have been processed in a food processor before forming the balls?


2 tps Psyllium powder (thickening agent) if not allergic to it would hold it perfectly together. Awesome dietary fiber too. Improvise with your own spices in your own tomato sauce.

Evelyn Jankousky

I use Cuisinart and everything else together fine


I made this recipe without forming lentil balls, keeping the mixture in the pot I cooked it. I also made Myrna's marinara sauce with two cans of tomatoes, 3 dates, 3 garlic cloves and dried basil. Delicious! The combination of the lentil/mushroom mixture and marinara is super tasty .

Tabitha A.

I had zero luck with one of the other FOK recipes with "wheatballs", but these worked spectacularly! I would definitely add more spices and possibly nutritional yeast or vegan grated parm in place of, or in addition to, the wheat flour. I used Simple Truth Organics Marinara Sauce. I don't know if it's oil-free, I didn't really care as the rest of the recipe is extremely healthy.

Debbie Bedard

Need gluten free option, can you help

Steffen Jurisch

Try buckwheat flour or polenta flour ;-)


Yummy! I added a little more spices for my tastebuds.


Delicious but I did add a lot of flavor enhancers to the sauce. As others said, the balls did fall apart but so what! I will make this again.




This recipe is a hit in our home. As other comments have mentioned, we were skeptical about the amount of onions and the use of mushrooms. Don’t be… the onions cook down nicely. And the mushrooms go through a vegan-voodoo process and add a nice meaty texture and flavor. Enjoy!


Do they still taste at all like mushrooms? I really don’t like mushrooms but sooo many vegan recipes use them that I feel like I need to try again


Yum! I thought it was delicious in flavor and I always appreciate recipes where I can make things a day or so in advance. My only problem was in keeping the balls intact- like homemade veggie burgers, they fell apart. Ideas??

Tofu Cat

What can be used in place of the mushrooms? Mushrooms are gross.


While untested in our home, you may consider chickpeas, zucchini or even sun dried tomatoes as substitutes for mushrooms.


Delicious! I make these all of the time. We’re hooked!

Sherry Siddall

I love Forks Over Knives recipes. That said, it would be helpful if you included nutritional information. For this recipe I used a food processor to chop the onions and mushrooms and garlic, and it worked well. I did add an additional half cup of water to the lentil mixture about halfway. A tasty recipe.


The nutritional information is posted, but if you haven’t paid FOK, it won’t be available. For those who have upgraded, click on it i at the top on the right of the recipe name to view nutritional information.


I'm actually pretty surprised at the negative reviews. I've made these half a dozen times and they're always a hit. I make them exactly as the recipe instructs and I freeze the leftovers to enjoy for longer.

Susan FitzGibbon

One cup of water for one cup of lentils is insufficient to cook the lentils. Final taste of meatballs was just OK, nothing special.


FOK, please update this recipe to something more than 1 c of water; multiple people have noted this is impossible; I burnt a cup of lentils trusting in this guidance. Had it simmering on 1, covered. Or—don’t cover and constantly stir? Help us not waste food, please.

Chris G.

The meatball were pretty rough. Way too many onions (and then onion powder on top of it?). The texture is crunchy because the onions and garlic are almost raw testing, which is odd. And the flavor is just not good overall. It has potential though. Next time I’ll half or even quarter the amount of onions. Sauté the onions, garlic and mushrooms before adding to the lentils as well. Once the lentil mixture is done cooking in the pot, I’ll add them to a food processor to mince up. Then roll into balls and pop in the oven. Think this will be a step in the right direction.


Takes a bit of time but, WOW, delicious! Here are my tips: 1. I omitted the tomato paste for a more all-round flavor for use in other dishes (perhaps a veggie stir-fry or on top of a salad). 2. I added the frozen meatballs to a sauté pan to heat up with the pasta sauce and they broke apart, giving me more of a bolognese sauce than meatballs (still delicious). So keep separate if you like that 'meatball' look and feel. 3. They freeze incredibly well! Once baked and cooled, I froze them on the baking tray until solid, then transferred them to a silicone freezer bag... easy to pull out one or two as needed instead of a giant clump of meatballs. 4. Great use for mushrooms that are a bit past their prime but are still edible 5. It does take time... make this while you're doing other meal prep and it's a breeze. 6. Lastly, I was sorry I didn't make two batches

Sandy N

I was very disappointed by this recipe. I'm a good cook and know how to follow a recipe -- this recipe did not turn out well. I will not make it again. I will finish what I've made because I hate to throw out food but I won't enjoy it.

Rebekah Welch

These lentil balls are delicious! I followed the recipe as written and they are yummy! One cup of water to one cup of lentils is truly all the water you you need. When you then add the mushrooms (along with onion and garlic) the mushrooms introduce more moisture. The only thing I did change was at 250 degrees for 45 minutes I found I wanted more cooking time, so I increased the temperature to 350 and baked them for an additional 20 minutes. I highly recommend this recipe and if you follow the recipe as-is they should turn out perfectly.

Steffen Jurisch

Sandy, think twice... a good cook don't need to follow a recipe, he follows only his own inspiration. ;-)


Will the recipe still work without the mushrooms or is there a good substitute?


I too am looking for advice on what to substitute for the mushrooms, as I don't tolerate them well. I haven't made this recipe yet, but I'm thinking of trying a combination of finely chopped zucchini and walnuts (1/2 cup of each) in place of the mushrooms. Walnuts are great in other veggie meatball recipes, adding yummy protein and fat (including Omega-3); they can go in at the end, no need to cook them. I decided on zucchini as well for some neutral tasting vegetable bulk, but it is very nutritious as well. Depending on your tastes, I'm sure other veggies could be used - cauliflower has a meaty texture; carrots and red cabbage would be really pretty, if not meat-like. But who says this has to be brown? ;) I saw some people asking about what to sub for wheat flour to make it gluten free - GF oat flour would work great, or brown rice flour. You're just making the mixture less sticky so it's easier to work with.


What gluten free flour can you use?

Denise Wallace

The flour is used to hold the lentils together. So badically you could use ground flax or chia instead. Those work wonders for anyone not wanting to use flour as a binder


I would use gluten free oatmeal in place of wheat flour


I'm allergic to mushrooms, what can I use instead?

Roberta Double

I would think some cooked brown rice would work in place of the mushrooms. I'd try 3/4 of a cup or six ounces. It would add the bulk, absorb the flavor and be sticky.


These meatballs were not worth all of the effort. If the result had been amazingly delicious then I wouldn't mind all the work, but these are certainly NOT worth my time.


This recipe is so good and it's even husband-approved! ;)

Joan R

Made these meatballs today- yummy!

Karen B

I really like these lentil balls. Mostly because they really do freeze well and so make a tasty quick meal. I didn’t cook the lentils quite long enough so I imagine they will be even better next batch.


Not sure what I did wrong, but I only got 15 vs the 20 listed in the recipe. That's totally OK though. They tasted great. It does take some time to make them, but I think it was worth the effort since I can freeze them for future use. Definitely recommend and I would make them again.

Dorothy powell

Wonderful meat ball recipe .I added red pepper flakes to recipe for spicer meatballs . They also freeze well.


What amount of red pepper flakes did you add? Thanks!


One cup of water to 1 cup of dry lentils???

Debbie Ogata

Is 250 really the correct temperature?


You can make this even healthier by spiralizing zucchini for your noodles.


Can I sub Gluten free oat flour or almond flour to make them GF?


I haven't made this yet, what can I sub the mushrooms for? I'm allergic to mushrooms so I need an alternative

Connie Warner

Made this last night. It came out to 25 meatballs but maybe my measurements were slightly off. I loved this and so did my picky Italian husband! :-D. It does take some time, but I find joy in preparing meals w/ plants. Will make again. Thank you!


Yum!! Worth the effort. Freeze some for later.

Cindi M.

I need to be patient and not take the lentil mixture off the burner too soon next time. The “meat” balls were delicious in spite of me! Not hard to make, but it does take some time. And patience ;-)

About the Author

Headshot of Darshana Thacker

About the Author

Darshana Thacker Wendel

Darshana Thacker Wendel is a whole-food, plant-based chef and former culinary projects manager for Forks Over Knives. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, she is the author of Forks Over Knives: Flavor! She created the recipes for Forks Over Knives Family and was a lead recipe contributor to the New York Times bestseller The Forks Over Knives Plan. Her recipes have been published in The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook, Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health, and LA Yoga magazine online. Visit and follow her on Instagram for more.
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