Side by Side Slow Cooker Vegetarian Quinoa Balls and Meatball Marinara

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In my house we’ve got one vegetarian and one meat eater.  So, to keep both my husband and me happy, I’ve developed a number of side-by-side meat and vegetarian dishes.  This slow cooker marinara is excellent!  I cook the meatballs in the marinara and my husband says that the combination of meat and marinara makes a rich and satisfying flavor.  For my vegetarian Quinoa Balls, I prepare them in advance and then saute them right before we eat.  Delicious with french bread and red wine!

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Meatball Recipe

¼ cup plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
2 tablespoons skim milk
½  lb 95% lean ground beef

Marinara Recipe

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
8 oz can tomato sauce
6 oz can tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaf (one for each slow cooker)

Quinoa Balls

¼ cup dry quinoa
½ cup water
½ cup cooked green lentils
¼ cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons freshly chopped flat parsley leaves
2 teaspoons freshly chopped oregano
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1½ egg white
3 tablespoons olive oil

Other things you might need

Spaghetti noodles
Butter or margarine for noodles
Shredded Parmesan cheese
French bread


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In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, egg and milk and stir until well combined.

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Add meat and mix well.

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Okay, this is the gross part if you’re vegetarian.  Using your hands, form mixture into balls.  Add oil to pan and saute meatballs.

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Saute for a few minutes to add color.  There is no need to cook all the way through.  It will finish cooking in the slow cooker.

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Transfer the meat slow cooker.

Marinara Sauce

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Chop onions and garlic in food processor.

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Warm oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.

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Add onions and garlic and cook a few minutes until soft.

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Add canned tomatoes, paste, and sauce to a large bowl.

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Add seasoning and salt.

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Add cooked onion and garlic and mix well.

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Add fresh basil and mix lightly.

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Divide marinara sauce between two crock pots.

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Add a bay leaf to each crock pot and cook on low for about 8 hours.  You should stir sauce a few times to make sure the bottom is not burning.

Quinoa Balls

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The quinoa balls call for cooked green lentils.  If you don’t already have cooked green lentils on hand you will need to make them in advance.  First, rinse your dried green lentils well.  I picked these up from the dry grocery bins from my local Sprouts.  The lentils will expand as they cook, so keep this mind when you measure it out.  I made extra to eat separately later on.

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Add your rinsed lentil to a pan and then add twice as much water.  Bring to a boil and let simmer uncovered.

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Check on your lentils periodically and add water if too dry.  Let cook for 30-45 minutes or until soft.

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Okay, now you can start the vegetarian meatballs.  Start by rinsing the quinoa very well.

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Add quinoa and water to a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes until water is absorbed and quinoa is soft.  Then let quinoa rest for 10 minutes.

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While quinoa is resting, chop onions and garlic in food processor.

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Cook onions and garlic in oil until soft.

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Add fresh parsley and oregano and cook for one minute.  Set aside until quinoa is ready.

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In a large bowl mix together onion mixture, green lentils, quinoa, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, and egg whites.

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Mash mixture with the back of a spoon.

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Roll mixture into balls and refrigerate until ready for use.

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When you put the pasta water on the stove to boil, saute the Quinoa Balls on low for about 15 minutes.

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Turn Quinoa Balls frequently.  Mix with marinara sauce when pasta is done cooking.

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This is my new favorite spaghetti noodle.  This type is less starchy and the fact that it has extra fiber is an added bonus!  You can use whatever type of spaghetti noodle you like best.  Add butter or margarine to pasta if desired.

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Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese if desired.  Remember not to eat the bay leaf, but whoever gets it has good luck!!


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