Earlier this month, for the second year in a row, we enjoyed a holiday hybrid of Cookbook Club with friends (for anyone who missed it, we’d written up the idea behind and inspiration for Cookbook Club last year). This one featured grown-up takes on holiday-themed dishes from growing up and centered around Sinterkerst—a very fun Danish gift-giving game that’s kind of like White Elephant, but with more chaos, dice-rolling, fast-paced thievery, and cheap and/or pre-owned gifts.

One of the two dishes we brought to share was a vegan take on holiday party  meatballs—warm, smokey, savory appetizers good for snacking on and having with a variety of dips.

Given that it’s the heat of holiday season for many of us, we thought we’d go ahead and share the relatively simple recipe here.

What you need:
• 1 cup Dried Brown Lentils (AKA Swad Horse in Indian grocery stores)
• 1 cup (dry) Brown Rice
• 2 cups Raw Walnuts (halves, pieces, whole—doesn’t matter)
• 1 handful Fresh Rosemary (chopped)
• 1 tsp Liquid Smoke
• 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
• 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
• 1 tbsp Ground Flax Seed
• 1 tsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or low sodium soy sauce
• 1 tbsp Sesame Oil

So, note that it’s best to do some of this prep work the night before you want to serve the balls simply because their form holds better when the ingredients are chilled or at least cool.

First, cook your brown rice stovetop according to package directions. One tip for brown rice or rice cooking in general if you’re looking for it—we like to bring rice + water to a  boil with the lid on at full heat and then, once steam starts escaping the lid, bring it all the way down as low as it’ll go without taking the lid off, trapping as much residual heat as you can. Once done, set aside or (as we usually do), just let it cool stovetop and then put the whole thing in the fridge overnight.

You’ll also ideally want to soak your dried lentils overnight or at least 8 or so hours. If that’s not possible, it’s not a huge deal, you just might get a grainier texture on ones that haven’t been soaked as much or at all. Regardless, again, you can likely follow package instructions on cooking or, if you don’t have any, you basically just bring to a boil in water (I usually fill a 2 quart pot about 3/4) and then turn the heat to medium watching that it doesn’t boil over, cook for anywhere from a half-hour to an hour, until the lentils fully soak up the liquid and are very tender to the fork—add more water as needed or, as an alternative, you can use vegetable stock for more flavor. Once done, set aside to cool or, ideally, store in the fridge overnight.

The walnuts are the only ones you don’t really have to do much with. I tend to soak them too for an hour or two in water, again, to get rid of some of the grittiness in the final product, but I don’t think it’s 100% necessary.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Now, essentially, you need to blend each of those three ingredients—rice, lentils, walnuts—separately, one at a time. I made the mistake of first trying an early version of this recipe blending all three at once, and you just end up having far less control of the texture of the mixture as a whole. The lentils, you can blend until pretty smooth—hummus-like, but not overly liquidy; the walnuts, I like to keep a little chunky, for added texture; and you can also keep the rice from being totally broken down. The rice is our primary binder and, though the closer we get it to a gummy paste, the better it’ll bind, we also like having some of the grain left for optimal end texture.

In a large bowl, combine all of the three main, blended ingredients with everything else and stir well, combining everything as thoroughly as possible for a consistent mixture and taste. Set out a large baking sheet or baking stone and, one by one, use your hands and a spoon to form the mixture into small balls. You can make them whatever size you want, just keep in mind that the larger they are, the longer they’ll take to cook through and the more likely they’ll be to fall apart or pool in the oven rather than keep their ball form. Bake at 35o for an hour or so, keeping an eye on them and pulling them when the outsides get dark and crispy.

That’s it. This usually makes a healthy number of balls—as many as 60, depending on how large you make them—so you’ll likely be doing them in batches.

Dipping sauces—we like anything from a homemade ají to a peppery cashew creme to a simple tamarind-based sauce or store-bought HP (pictured).

Enjoy! And happy holidays!