One of the most common requests that I get for the blog is easy, filling, vegetarian dinner ideas. Perhaps it’s partially because of the Meatless Mondays movement, which encourages people to give up meat once a week to help reduce our risk of chronic preventable diseases and reduce our carbon footprint. People are starting to shift from the traditional way of thinking that meat should take center stage at each meal with vegetables, fruits and grains relegated to the role of supporting players. I try to incorporate as much plant-based whole foods as possible into my diet, so I’m always happy to oblige with new tasty and hearty vegetarian recipes. In fact, the most popular recipe on my blog to date is a veggie burger recipe. Who would’ve thought?
When I heard that California walnuts and the Recipe Redux were sponsoring the We Heart Walnuts! Recipe Challenge, I knew that I wanted to create a fun and tasty vegetarian dish. Those who know me know that I can rarely pass up a recipe contest. After all, entering a recipe contest on the Food Network is how I first got interested in cooking so many years ago and it put me on the path to becoming The Foodie Physician. Plus, with California walnuts as the starring ingredient, I couldn’t wait to start experimenting in the kitchen. With such a delicious, healthy, and versatile ingredient, it really got my creative juices flowing!
Walnuts are packed with flavor as well as a wide variety of important nutrients. One ounce of walnuts has 2.5 grams of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), 4 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber! This combination helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. They are perfect on their own as a healthy snack or paired with other whole foods as part of a nutritious meal.
Walnuts are one of those ingredients that I always have on hand in my pantry because they pair well with so many ingredients. They make an easy, nutritious addition to so many dishes, both savory and sweet. Here are just some of the ways that I like to use them:
I like to use red lentils because they cook up the fastest, but you can use brown lentils too. I grind the lentils and walnuts up in a food processor similar to how you make falafel, and I also add some spinach, onion, and garlic. I flavor the patties with smoky Middle Eastern spices like cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. Then I coat the patties with olive oil and bake them in the oven until they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
To pair with the patties, I make a delicious Roasted Red Pepper Walnut Sauce, which is my take on muhammara, a Middle Eastern red pepper spread. Walnuts thicken the sauce and their nutty flavor pairs perfectly with the smoky peppers. A touch of Greek yogurt adds creaminess but it can be left out if you want to keep the recipe vegan. The sauce has a lovely orange hue and addictive, smoky flavor- it’s hard to resist eating it out of the bowl by the spoonful!
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 ounces (3 packed cups) baby spinach
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 cup California walnuts
- 3 tablespoons white whole wheat flour (or other flour)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup (6 oz) roasted red peppers, drained
- ½ cup California walnuts
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (omit to keep the recipe vegan)
- Kosher salt
- For serving: whole grain pita bread, baby spinach or lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Place the lentils in a medium saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly ajar so that the water doesn’t boil over. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a sauté pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add the spinach and cook 2-3 minutes until wilted. Season the mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add the vegetables from the pan along with the flour, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, ¾ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and about half of the cooked lentils. Pulse until walnuts are finely chopped and ingredients are combined. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the remaining lentils.
- Coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Form the lentil mixture into balls using a small cookie scoop, about 1 ½ tablespoons each. Place the balls on the sheet pan and flatten them slightly with your hand. Brush the tops of the patties with the remaining tablespoon of oil.
- Bake in the upper third of the oven for 15 minutes. Flip and cook another 10-12 minutes.
- To make the sauce, puree the roasted red peppers, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, smoked paprika, yogurt and a pinch of salt together in a food processor until smooth (for an even smoother consistency, puree in a blender).
- Serve the patties in pita bread pockets with spinach or lettuce, tomato, and cucumber slices. Alternatively, patties can be served on a bed of vegetables. Top with sauce. Devour!