This red lentil chickpea loaf is a nourishing, vegan spin on a beloved comfort food: meatloaf! It’s made with red lentils, chickpeas, so it’s packed with plant protein. I serve it with an easy mushroom gravy.
I don’t know if I can think of a more comforting meal than meatloaf.
Maybe it’s personal: meatloaf was one of my mom’s specialties when I was a kid (along with grilled cheese). When I have a plant-based version of that dish, I think about being little, enjoying one of the meals that she had such a knack for making.
I’ve tried a number of my own vegan meatloaf recipes. My lentil and sweet potato loaf has been a favorite for many holiday seasons. I’m always looking for new approaches to beloved foods, however. And the idea of a chickpea meatloaf, with or without other nutritious ingredients, has appealed to me for a while.
Chickpeas have always served me well in burger recipes. So I figured they’d work well in a loaf, too. I was right! They give this meatloaf great nutrition and a hearty texture. Red lentils, which become very soft as they cook, help to bind the loaf together.
Chickpeas and lentils: that’s two of my favorite sources of vegan protein in one place. I already love the red lentil chickpea loaf for its flavor. The fact that it’s a plant protein powerhouse recipe seals the deal.
There are many approaches to making vegan meatloaf. You can choose to make a more realistic version with one of the ground vegan meats, like Beyond Beef or Impossible burger ground. TVP is a little more old school, but it also does the trick.
For this red lentil chickpea loaf, the grains are bread crumbs—easy peasy! Walnuts also help to hold everything together, and while they do that, they add healthful, Omega-3 fatty acids to the recipe.
In the meantime, a combination of chickpeas and red lentils are really the “meat” of the recipe. The two types of legumes work so well together. Chickpeas are substantial, but they can be a little dry and/or crumbly. Red lentils are smooth, but they can become mushy during cooking.
Together, though, the ingredients create a really perfect meatloaf texture.
Step one in making the red lentil chickpea loaf is to lightly toast and grind up some walnuts. You can use roasted walnut halves if you like, then blitz them in your food processor. The ground walnuts will help to bind the loaf together.
The next step in preparing the recipe is to mash your chickpeas. This process is quickened by using pre-cooked chickpeas. I use 3 cups total, which is 2 14.5-ounce cans. If you love cooking legumes from scratch, you can use three cups that you’ve prepared from dry.
You’ll mash the cooked chickpeas up in a large mixing bowl. I use a handheld potato masher for this! It works beautifully, and it’s an inexpensive and useful tool to keep handy.
Next, you’ll sauté the savory components that become part of the loaf. These are onion, celery, and carrots. You’ll add dry red lentils to the sautéed vegetables, along with vegetable broth. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it for about 12-15 minutes. The beauty of red lentils is that they cook super fast—faster than any other type of lentil.
At this point, you add the cooked lentil + vegetable mixture to your mashed chickpeas. Throw in the ground walnuts and some bread crumbs for binding. Season everything well, then transfer it to a loaf pan for baking.
I like to top my meatloaf with ketchup. It adds flavor and is a traditional touch. But you can skip the ketchup glaze if you like.
At this point, your red lentil chickpea loaf is ready to bake, slice, and then serve.
Here are the standout ingredients that you’ll need to prepare the recipe:
Again, the process of making this hearty loaf is greatly streamlined by using cooked chickpeas! Canned beans are my go-to at home. But if you like to soak beans and cook them from dry, you’ll need 3 cups of chickpeas total (that’s two cans’ worth).
Red lentils can usually be found in the bulk bin of natural grocers, and you can also purchase them in packages. They’re a really great ingredient to keep around, and they’re versatile. I use red lentils in soup, spreads, savory patties, chili, stew, and more.
And now I have two. Since I use chickpeas regularly in burgers, I figured they’d work nicely in a loaf, too. I used a potato masher to mash them up, much as I do when I’m making chickpea salad for sandwiches and wraps.
The walnuts in this recipe are ground up, so that they can work as a binder. I like to use raw walnuts, toast them gently in the oven, and then grind them.
You can use any breadcrumb that you like for the loaf! Panko, traditional, fresh, gluten-free, whatever. Fresh breadcrumbs are my favorite, but any bread crumb will do.
If you have a lot of bread at home, which I always do, fresh bread crumbs are worth it! Add a few slices of stale bread to your food processor and pulse them till they’re bread crumb size. Transfer the crumbs to a parchment lined baking sheet and toast at 350F for 10-15 minutes on a baking sheet, till dry and golden. Proceed with the recipe.
You can cook the lentils with water if that’s easiest for you. However, I like to use a vegetable broth or no-chicken broth for the loaf. I think it imparts more flavor to the lentils.
I like meatloaf even better with gravy, and I love mushroom gravy. This version is probably the easiest that I’ve made.
The gravy is based off of my beloved gravy recipe for Food52, which I’ve been making for years and years. That recipe is faster and easier than this one, but both are low-stress. The only difference is that hearty sautéed mushrooms are added to this one.
I often double the gravy when I make the red lentil chickpea loaf. I’m never sorry to have leftovers, and they’re so good over mashed potatoes.
There’s nothing I appreciate more than a holiday season recipe that can be made ahead of time. The lentil chickpea loaf fits the bill!
You can prepare the loaf and bake it a few days before serving. The leftovers of this loaf will be good for up to five days.
I like to reheat the loaf in an oven at 350 for about fifteen minutes. If you’re only reheating a single slice or two, the microwave is an easier option. Simply place the slices on a microwave-safe plate and heat for about 1-1 1/2 minutes on high.
Absolutely! The whole loaf can be frozen for up to six weeks. This means that you can make it a few weeks ahead of any celebration or gathering. It’s also possible to freeze leftover slices individually for fast, comforting future dinners.
The red lentil chickpea loaf is one of my favorite holiday meals, but there are a lot of others that I love and rely on at this time of year. Here are some other vegan entrées for winter celebrations:
It is so special and rewarding to create vegan holiday recipes: I love making them nostalgic and full of comfort food appeal, while also packed with good things. And there are a lot of very good things here: beans, grains, veggies, nuts. The simple, sustaining foods that keep me going all year round, but especially during this busy season!
If you try this recipe for yourself or loved ones next week, I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.