Lentil Loaf Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 35 min. Bake: 45 min. + standing
You will never miss the meat in this vegetarian lentil loaf. Sauteed vegetables, savory lentils and mushrooms, and melty mozzarella make for one seriously satisfying loaf.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2023

Looking to reduce or eliminate meat from your diet? That doesn’t mean you have to give up your fave comfort foods like meat loaf. In this wholesome, hearty recipe, a mix of legumes and colorful vegetables makes for a filling lentil loaf that’s completely meat free.

This vegetarian meat loaf, loaded with sauteed vegetables and aromatics, calls upon brown lentils to replace ground meat. Eggs and cheese bind everything together, just like in many classic meat loaf recipes. If you want to make this loaf totally vegan, you can replace those binders using the adjustments in the Tips section below.

Lentil Loaf Ingredients

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  • Brown lentils: Brown lentils hold some texture and shape when cooked, making them ideal for a vegetarian meat loaf. Green lentils are a good substitute, but don’t use red lentils. They cook down far too soft and creamy.
  • Sauteed vegetables: We saute a beautiful array of fresh vegetables before adding them to the loaf mixture. This cooks out their moisture first so that they don’t make the loaf watery when it bakes.
  • Precooked brown rice: Rice helps bind this dish together, and brown rice has a more substantial tooth and texture than white rice—perfect for adding meatiness to the loaf. Day-old rice is best because it will have dried out a little, but freshly cooked rice is OK too, as long as you let it cool before using.
  • Aromatic herbs: Fresh basil and parsley add color and freshness to the loaf while lending a sweet-grassy flavor and aroma.
  • Mozzarella cheese: We use shredded part-skim mozzarella in this recipe. It acts as a binder for all the ingredients, but perhaps more importantly, it tastes simply delicious with the tomato glaze and Italian herbs.

Directions

Step 1: Cook the lentils

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In a small saucepan, combine the lentils and broth. Bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Remove from heat.

Step 2: Prepare the loaf pan

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment, letting the edges extend up the long sides of the pan. Lightly coat the paper with cooking spray.

Step 3: Cook the vegetables

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In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion and mushrooms, and saute for about 10 minutes, until tender. Stir in the basil and parsley. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl, and let them cool slightly.

Step 4: Assemble the lentil loaf

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Add the rice, lentils, cheese, egg and egg white to the vegetables; mix well. Stir in the salt, garlic powder and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan, spreading it evenly and gently packing it into the pan. In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and water. Spread over the loaf.

Step 5: Bake the lentil loaf

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Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160°. Remove the pan from the oven, and let stand for 10 minutes. Lift the loaf from the pan using the parchment overhang. Slice and serve.

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Recipe Variations

  • Make it a pepper lentil loaf: Replace the carrot with the same volume of sweet bell pepper. If you like a little heat, add a minced jalapeno or another spicy chile.
  • Add spice: Add oregano and a little ground fennel seed to the loaf batter for a more Italian flavor. Or swap in chili powder, ground cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper for a Mexican twist, garnishing with fresh cilantro before serving. For smoky spice, add smoked paprika and smoked salt or smoked cheese (or both).
  • Keep the sauce on the side: Instead of the tomato glaze, serve this lentil loaf with a side of vegetarian or vegan gravy or a cooling sauce like tzatziki. You could also replace the tomato glaze with salsa for a Mexican-spiced dish, or barbecue sauce for as smoky loaf, or simply hot sauce for a little heat.

How to Store Lentil Loaf

You can assemble the lentil loaf ahead of time, and store it in the loaf pan, covered but unbaked, for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Cooked leftovers of the loaf can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat refrigerated slices in a toaster or full-size oven or in a dry skillet.

How to Freeze Lentil Loaf

The cooked loaf can also be frozen. Let it cool completely, then wrap it airtight, and store in the freezer for three months (it’s best to leave off the glaze). Thaw the frozen loaf overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat it in a 350° oven until heated through to 165°.

To freeze individual slices, freeze the cooled slices for a couple of hours on a baking sheet, then seal them in an airtight container or freezer-safe resealable plastic bag. Store in the freezer up to three months. Reheat frozen slices in a toaster or full-size oven or in a dry skillet.

Vegetarian Meat Loaf Tips

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Can you make this lentil loaf vegan?

For a vegan variation, replace the whole egg and egg white with 2 tablespoons chia seeds or flax meal (ground flax seeds). There’s no need to add water for a liquid-based egg substitute; the other ingredients in the loaf already provide enough moisture.

Nuts make an ideal cheese substitute because they add fat and structure to the lentil loaf. Replace the mozzarella with a cup of finely chopped walnuts or pecans. Or use lightly ground sunflower or pumpkin seeds if a nut allergy is a concern. Oil-free vegans can saute the vegetables in a little broth or water.

How can you avoid making a mushy lentil loaf?

Removing moisture from the ingredients before you make the loaf batter will help prevent mushiness. Overcooked lentils can make the final dish soggy, so keep the heat low when you cook them, and check the firmness often. Also, you can use a potato masher to lightly crush half of the cooked lentils. Too much mashing will make them pasty, but a little helps release some moisture while keeping the loaf from falling apart.

After you cook the loaf and remove it from the pan, let it cool on a wire rack at least until it stops steaming, or until it completely firms up, before you cut into it. This will let the loaf settle and firm up before you slice it.

What do you serve with lentil loaf?

This vegetarian meat loaf is as hearty as traditional meat loaf, so green sides make sense. Consider a tossed salad or cooked asparagus, green beans or broccoli. For a heartier side, try slices of roasted or grilled squash or sweet potato. A meat-free mushroom gravy alongside vegetarian mashed cauliflower or vegan mashed potatoes can put a traditional spin on a meat-free meal. Serve leftover loaf slices in a vegetarian meat loaf sandwich.

Lentil Loaf

Prep Time 35 min
Cook Time 45 min
Yield 6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-3/4 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions

  1. Place lentils and broth in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9x5-in. loaf pan with parchment, letting ends extend up sides. Coat paper with cooking spray.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat; saute carrots, onion and mushrooms until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in herbs. Transfer to a large bowl; cool slightly.
  4. Add cheese, rice, egg, egg white, seasonings and lentils to vegetables; mix well. Transfer to prepared loaf pan. Mix tomato paste and water; spread over loaf.
  5. Bake until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 160°, 45-50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 213 calories, 5g fat (3g saturated fat), 43mg cholesterol, 580mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate (5g sugars, 5g fiber), 14g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 2 lean meat, 1-1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 fat.

This lentil loaf is so flavorful, you won't miss the meat. And it's packed with fiber and nutrients. —Tracy Fleming, Phoenix, Arizona