Ah yes, the bug-monkey meatballs again. Or is it monkey-bug? For a creature we made up ourselves we sure don’t know anything about it. This week we’re bringing you another version of these little cocktail appetizers. This time they’re made out of mushrooms and lentils. And before you even say “but I don’t like mushrooms” know that once they’re minced, fried, and mixed in you can’t tell they’re there. We promise! A few of our squad mates down right hate mushrooms, but love these.
These little meat-less balls are similar to our original Bug-Monkey Meatballs, with a few differences. The biggest is a base of lentils and mushrooms instead of pork and fish. Since the lentils and mushrooms are on the softer side there’s also less soy sauce with more cornstarch and breadcrumbs to help them bind together. Because the mixture is a bit softer they are also baked instead of pan fried. The sauce is almost the same with the exception of the removal of the fish sauce and extra soy sauce to compensate for it.
The lentils are first cooked in vegetable stock and liquid smoke to give them some extra flavor. Once they’re soft and all the liquid has been absorbed three-fourths get pureed in a food processor. Pureeing some of the lentils creates a base that is easy to form and binds well, while keeping some of the lentils whole gives the “meat”balls more texture so they don’t end up mushy.
Then mushrooms are cooked in a mixture of vegetable oil and coconut oil. The coconut oil will firm up while the mixture rests in the fridge and make these easier to roll into balls, but will melt when cooked and help keep things “juicy”. Once all the moisture from the mushrooms has cooked out and they become crispy we add the garlic and ginger for a minute to release their flavor.
Everything is then mixed together and put in the fridge for an hour. This rest time lets the coconut oil solidify. Towards the end of the rest time preheat the oven. We tried pan frying these, like the original Bug-Monkey Meatballs, and it did not work well. The softer mix didn’t hold up and they fell apart. If you are set on pan frying these and are fine with them not being vegan you can add an egg to help create a tighter bind.
Use about a tablespoon of filling and roll into little balls. Make sure you line your baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone mat. Don’t use tin foil. These little suckers will stick to the foil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping them around every 10 minutes.
While they bake, make the sauce. It’s almost exactly the same as the sauce from the original recipe, except you’ll use the pan the mushrooms were cooked in and extra soy sauce instead of fish sauce.
Once the sauce is done and the balls are baked combine them, place in a bowl (We understand if your bowl isn’t square and fuzzy. We ourselves could only get a square bowl), garnish with green onions, and serve!
Faux Bug-Monkey Meatballs
1 cup green or brown lentils
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil; divided use
3 tablespoons coconut oil; divided use
8 ounces cremini mushrooms; minced
4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger
4 tablespoons Chinese garlic chives, finely chopped (or a mix of the green part of scallions and regular chives)
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Prepare lentils by rinsing them and adding to a pot with the vegetable stock and liquid smoke. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat down and simmer covered until all the liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender (about 15-20 minutes).
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons coconut oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have lost all moisture and have become crispy. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Add 3/4 of the lentils to a food processor and pulse until a thick paste forms. Pour into a large bowl, along with the reserved lentils, the cooked mushroom mix, chives, peppercorns, salt, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, cornstarch, breadcrumbs, and the remaining vegetable oil and coconut oil. Stir thoroughly to combine.
Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Form into small meatballs, about 1 tablespoon each. Place the meatballs on a parchment or sil-pat lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the balls every 10 minutes.
For the sauce:
1 clove minced garlic
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4-1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
3/4 cup vegetable stock or water
3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Cornstarch slurry (2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved into 1 tablespoon water)
To the skillet the mushrooms were cooked in, add the garlic, red peppers flakes, and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir for about 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the vegetable stock, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Stir to combine, making sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet left from the meatballs. Bring to a simmer.
Add the cornstarch slurry and continue to simmer for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce has thickened. Add the meatballs to the sauce, and stir to coat them.
Garnish with sliced green onions and serve with toothpicks.