My recipe tester Nicole likes to call these “bread-free stuffing balls,” and I think I would have to agree! These festive bites have all the flavours of traditional stuffing, but they’re protein-packed, bite-sized, and gluten-free, to boot. This is a new and improved version of my popular Lentil Mushroom Walnut Balls recipe. I've streamlined the procedure and provided a make-ahead version to simplify holiday prep. You can store the uncooked balls in the fridge (tightly wrapped up on a plate) for up to 36 hours before baking, so there's less fuss the day of a big meal. The uncooked balls can also be frozen in a freezer-safe bag for 1 to 2 weeks. To bake, simply pop the frozen balls on a prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 to 33 minutes (they need roughly 7 to 10 minutes more bake time when baking from frozen). Also, the Cranberry-Pear Sauce can be made 1 to 2 weeks in advance and frozen until ready to use. If you aren't a cranberry fan, my vegan gravy from Oh She Glows Every Day is a nice option too!
Yield 14 to 15 balls
For the Bread-Free Stuffing Balls:
1 tablespoon (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8-ounce/225 g) package cremini mushrooms**
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups (50 g) stemmed kale leaves
1/2 cup (50 g) gluten-free rolled oats
1 (14-ounce/398 mL) can lentils, drained and rinsed
1 large ripe (230 g) pear, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) pure maple syrup
Small pinch fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add the oil into a large pot and turn heat to medium. Finely chop the mushrooms until they’re roughly the size of peas. Add chopped mushrooms to the pot along with minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir until combined. Sauté for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the water from the mushrooms cooks off.
Meanwhile, tear the kale into large pieces and place into a food processor. Pulse (do not process) the kale until finely chopped (roughly the size of peas or almonds), being sure not to overprocess it. Remove and place into a small bowl for later.
To the processor (no need to clean it out), add the rolled oats. Process the oats until they’re finely chopped and resemble coarse flour, about 15 to 30 seconds.
To the oat flour, add the drained lentils and walnuts. Pulse the mixture, stopping to check on it every few pulses, until it’s coarsely chopped. Be sure not to overprocess it into a paste as you still want a lot of texture and crunchy walnut pieces. Set aside.
To the pot with the mushrooms and garlic, add the herbs and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the kale and chopped dried cranberries, then turn off the heat.
Combine the flax and water in a small cup and stir (no need to let it sit).
To the pot, add all of the food processor mixture, vinegar, and flax mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
With lightly wet hands, shape and roll about 14 to 15 balls, roughly 2 1/2 tablespoons each. Place them on the prepared baking sheet about two inches apart.
Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, until golden on the bottom and firm to touch. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes.
While the Bread-Free Stuffing Balls are baking, make the Cranberry-Pear Sauce. Add the cranberries, pear, and maple syrup into a medium pot. Bring to a low boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 20 minutes until thickened. Use a potato masher to mash up the pear near the end of cooking, if desired.
Leftover balls can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a few days. To reheat, add oil into a skillet and fry over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until heated through.
* You can toast the walnuts beforehand, but this step is totally optional. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C) and toast the chopped walnuts on a baking sheet for 9 to 12 minutes, until lightly crisped and fragrant.
** You can save a tiny bit of chopping time by buying sliced mushrooms instead of whole. You’ll still need to dice them up finely, but it’ll go a little faster with the first chop already done for you!
For my make-ahead tips, be sure to read them in the headnote!