You'll never believe how hearty and savory these Vegetarian BBQ Meatloaf Minis are. Made with wholesome plant-based ingredients and baked in muffin tins, they'll be adored by both kids and adults.
This recipe post is sponsored by California Walnuts. I was compensated for my time, however all opinions are my own.
Why You'll Love these Vegetarian BBQ Meatloaf Minis
These mini meatloaves give the classic meat-centric recipe a serious run for its money. Tested on even the most devout carnivores, and approved by the masses, they check all the boxes for a wholesome weeknight dinner.
Instead of baking the meatloaf in one loaf pan, it gets pressed into individual muffin tins. This has two advantages: One being that everyone gets perfectly portioned pieces. And two, each meatloaf comes equipped with a 360º CRUST, so no one has to fight over the end piece. The contrast of the lightly crispy edges with the moist, meaty interior is what truly elevates these mini loaves.
Small, yet mighty, here is what these vegetarian meatloaf minis have to offer:
- Savory depth of flavor and quintessential notes of umami.
- Hearty, meaty texture.
- Quality plant-based protein, fiber, and good fats from walnuts.
All of which begs the question, what's not to love?!
February is American Heart Month, which is the perfect time to try a new heart-smart recipe. Walnuts are certified through the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check program as a heart-healthy (1) food, making them an ideal choice. Three decades of scientific research show how eating walnuts affects various factors related to heart health such as cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and blood vessel function.
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions:
- Lentils: This recipe calls for COOKED brown lentils, which you can either make from scratch, or buy in a can or vacuum-sealed pouch. If making from scratch, be sure to give them enough time to slightly cool. It's also helpful to pat them dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
- Walnuts: A key for achieving rich, toasty dimension, walnuts are a simple and powerful ingredient to elevate these loaves. Walnuts have more plant-based omega-3 alpha linolenic acid, ALA (2.5 g/oz), plus 4g of protein, 2g of fiber and 45mg of magnesium per ounce.
been associated with benefits for heart health, brain health and inflammation.
- Mushrooms: You need one 8-oz. container of baby bella (or cremini) mushrooms, which really amp up the umami. You can also use portobello or shiitake here, if you prefer. The key is finely chop them (they should be similar in size to the chopped onion), so they easily meld into the mixture.
- Breadcrumbs: I tested this recipe with both classic and panko breadcrumbs, and both worked well. If you only have seasoned breadcrumbs on hand, just scale back the Italian seasoning to 2 tsp. Alternatively, if you're making these meatloaf minis gluten free, use oat flour instead.
- Spices: Italian seasoning, smoked paprika, and garlic powder give the loaves a savory-smoky edge. If you prefer a little spice, feel free to add some crushed red pepper flakes, too.
- Condiments: A mix of Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste help create the savory backbone of these loaves.
- Flax Eggs: Flax eggs (and chia eggs) replicate the consistency of an egg really well and can be used as a binder in plant-based recipes. One flax egg = 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal + 2.5 tablespoon water.
- BBQ Glaze: While you can use a pre-made BBQ sauce, there is nothing quite like this homemade glaze. Plus, it's SUPER simple to make--just combine in a bowl and stir--and it leans on many pantry staples.
Step 1: Prepare Flax Eggs
Combine flaxseed meal with water in a small bowl. Let sit until the mixture becomes gelatinous.
This is also a good time to heat the oven to 375ºF and thoroughly grease 10 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin.
Step 2: Sauté Onions and Mushrooms
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add onions and mushrooms; cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Step 3: Add Tomato Paste and Spices
Add tomato paste, Italian seasoning, smoked paprika, and garlic powder; stir well to combine. Cook for 2 more minutes, allowing the tomato paste to deepen in color. Next, add Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper; stir well to combine.
Turn mixture out into a large bowl.
Step 3: Pulse Walnuts in Food Processor
Add walnuts to the bowl of a food processor and blend until they resemble the texture of a very coarse sand.
Step 4: Pulse Lentils in Food Processor
Add lentils to the food processor with walnuts, and pulse about 6 times, just to break down lentils but NOT puree them. It’s important to maintain some texture to ensure the meatloaf isn’t mushy. Ideally, you’ll still have some whole lentils at the end.
Empty lentil mixture into bowl with mushroom mixture.
Step 5: Form Meatloaf Mixture
Add breadcrumbs and flax eggs, and use a rubber spatula (or your hands) to thoroughly mix together. The mixture will be thick, however this ensures the mini loaves stay together when baked.
Step 6: Divide Meatloaf Mixture into Muffin Tins and Bake
Divide the vegetarian meatloaf mixture among the greased muffin cups, gently pressing to fill. I like to smooth the tops and shape them slightly like a dome. Transfer muffin pan to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
Step 7: Top with BBQ Glaze
While the meatloaf minis bake, prepare BBQ glaze by combining all ingredients in a medium bow; whisk well to combine.
Remove meatloaves from the oven and spoon the BBQ glaze evenly over each one. Place pan back in the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before using an offset spatula or butter knife to remove meatloaves from the pan.
Make-Ahead and Storage Tips:
- Make-Ahead: You can prep the vegetarian meatloaf mixture up to 2 days ahead. Keep it refrigerated in an airtight container or large mixing bowl covered with plastic wrap.
- Store: Transfer leftover meatloaf minis to an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- Reheat: Reheat individual loaves in the microwave or a toaster oven. I prefer the toaster oven, which helps maintain the loaf’s texture better than the microwave.
How to Properly Store Walnuts:
Here are a few tips to maximize their freshness and flavor:
- The best place to store walnuts is in the refrigerator if you’re planning to use them right away, or in the freezer if you’ll be storing them for a month or longer.
- Walnuts can absorb flavors of other foods so keep them away from foods with strong odors.
- Chop or grind walnuts (as needed) the day of or day prior to using them to maintain nutrient integrity and flavor.
What to Serve with Meatloaf Minis:
- Mashed Potatoes: A classic pairing for meatloaf is mashed potatoes, and I have two recipes that pair up perfectly with this version. For a vegan option, this recipe for Potato-Parsnip mash is a favorite. Alternatively, opt for a sweeter side and try these Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Miso Butter. (You can use vegan butter in both recipes, if needed!)
- Vegetables: Another classic side for meatloaf is Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Here are my top cruciferous contenders:
More Favorite Vegetarian Recipes to Try:
If you give these vegetarian meatloaf minis a try, snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations. And don’t forget to follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest recipe updates.
Vegetarian BBQ Meatloaf Minis
- Large skillet
- Food processor
- 12-Cup Muffin Tin
- 2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
- 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 8 oz. cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 cup walnut halves
- 2 cups cooked brown lentils (measured after cooking)
- ½ cup plain breadcrumbs (classic or panko)
- ½ cup ketchup
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ tsp. tabasco (or hot sauce of choice)
- ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
- Combine ground flaxseed with 5 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Let sit until the mixture becomes gelatinous.Preheat oven to 375ºF and thoroughly grease 10 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add onions and mushrooms; cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, Italian seasoning, smoked paprika, and garlic powder; stir well to combine. Cook 2 more minutes, allowing the tomato paste to deepen in color. Add Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper; stir well to combine. Turn mixture out into a large bowl.
- Add walnuts to the bowl of a food processor and blend until they resemble a very coarse sand. Add lentils and pulse about 6 times, just to break down but NOT puree them. (It’s important to maintain some texture to ensure the meatloaf isn’t mushy. Ideally, you’ll still have some whole lentils at the end.) Empty lentil mixture into bowl with mushroom mixture.
- Add breadcrumbs and flax eggs, and use a rubber spatula (or your hands) to thoroughly mix together. (The mixture will be thick, however this ensures the mini loaves stay together when baked.)
- Divide the meatloaf mixture among the 10 greased muffin cups, gently pressing to fill. (I like to smooth the tops and shape them slightly like a dome.) Bake for 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare BBQ glaze by combining all ingredients in a medium bow; whisk well to combine. Remove meatloaves from the oven and spoon the BBQ glaze evenly over each one. Place pan back in the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before using an offset spatula (or butter knife) to remove meatloaves from the pan.
(1) California walnuts are certified by the American Heart Association. Heart-Check certification does not apply to recipes, research or information unless expressly stated. Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One ounce of walnuts offers 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid – the plant-based omega-3.