With a base of roasted eggplant, lentils, and toasted bread crumbs these Vegan Meatballs have a rich and robust flavor that even meat lovers can get behind! Serve them over pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce or as an appetizer with some tzatziki for dipping.
But I've been in search for the best vegan meatballs that even meat lovers will enjoy, I knew I could find a delicious recipe in my friend Raquel Pelzel's cookbook Umami Bomb! Cara Mangini said this cookbook is "pure vegetable magic!" And I will say, especially if you're looking to make more vegetarian meals, this cookbook is a treasure and a great resource to keep handy. Be sure to enter the cookbook giveaway below for a chance at a free copy!
Now, let's get to Raquel's eggplant meatballs!
Easy vegan meatballs with eggplant!
If you've been looking for vegan meatballs that are both flavorful and NOT dry, this recipe is your ticket! Not your typical black bean-based recipe, this one relies on hearty roasted eggplant, lentils, carrot or sweet potato puree (or an egg if you don't mind), and a handful of spices for a rich and robust Italian flavors. If you serve these with marinara or homemade pasta sauce, you won't even miss the meat! And for me, the subtle hint of eggplant parmesan coming through is a bonus!
While this is not a dish that can be whipped up in 20 minutes, it is not hard to make and worth the effort. The extra steps of baking the breadcrumbs and roasting the eggplant truly elevate the flavor of the meatballs and are steps you don't want to skip. You can also work ahead to make the mixture one night in advance so it's ready to use for a quick dinner.
How do you keep vegan meatballs from falling apart?
Soft and creamy roasted eggplant does not have the texture as meat, so to make the meatballs stick together, Raquel uses a combination of lentils, pureed sweet potatoes or carrots (or an egg if you don't need it to be vegan), and some bread crumbs. But here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
- Do not over-process the eggplant. When pulsing the mixture in your food processor, be sure to do it only as much as necessary to combine the ingredients. When eggplant is over-processed, it takes on a doughy, and somewhat watery, texture that you don't want here.
- Drain the eggplant well. Allowing the roasted eggplant to drain before adding it to the food processor is essential. It's a very watery vegetable and will make the meatballs impossible to form if not drained first.
- Chill the "meatball" mixture. Once combined, the eggplant meatball mixture needs to chill for at least 20 minutes but you can leave it for several hours or overnight. I like to make the mixture in advance so preparing these vegan meatballs at dinner is quick and easy.
- Add a little chickpea flour. As some do with falafel, a bit of chickpea flour could help your meatballs to hold together.
Ingredients you need to make vegan meatballs
These vegan meatballs are made with a base of roasted eggplant and lentils, with a few other ingredients to help hold it all together and simple seasonings for bold flavor! Here is what you need:
- Breadcrumbs (or gluten free bread crumbs). We start the recipe by toasting them in the oven for bigger flavor! Use gluten-free breadcrumbs if needed.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Globe eggplant- Select an eggplant that's about 1 ½ pounds in weight with healthy, shiny skin and a green stem. To create the base of the meatball mixture, the eggplant is first roasted, which adds a rich, slightly smoky flavor.
- Pureed carrots or sweet potato, OR one large egg if you do not mind the meatballs being vegetarian and not vegan. For a shortcut to the pureed veggies, Raquel suggests, in a pinch, you can buy a jar of baby food.
- Cooked lentils - I used green lentils. Lentils give these meatballs a firm texture while also adding protein.
- Herbs and Seasonings - A simple combination of garlic, basil, parsley, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. You could also use an Italian seasoning mix.
- Nutritional yeast - This is meant to give you a hint of th Parmesan cheese flavor. If you do not have it, you can use chickpea flour, although it won't give you the same flavor.
How to make vegan meatballs
There's several steps to making these eggplant meatballs but they are well worth it! The extra prep of baking the breadcrumbs and roasting the eggplant truly allow all flavors to pop in this vegan recipe.
- Bake the breadcrumbs. Toss them with a bit of EVOO and salt and spread the bread crumbs on a baking sheet then toast briefly in the oven
- Roast and drain the eggplant. Keep the eggplant whole, prick it with a fork all over, then put in a large sheet pan lined with foil (this will help the cleanup). Roast in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes at 375 degrees F. You're looking for the eggplant to be very tender that you can easily slide a knife through the middle. "
Put the eggplant in a colander over your sink or a bowl and let it drain and cool for 20 minutes or so.
- Prepare and chill the meatball mixture. Slice the eggplant open and scoop out the flesh and add it to a food processor fitted with a blade. Add the pureed carrots or sweet potatoes (or egg), lentils, and the remaining ingredients except the breadcrumbs. Pulse for 12 seconds (do not over process), then add the bread crumbs and pulse 2 to 3 times till incorporated.
Chill the mixture in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, for 20 minutes or overnight.
- Shape the meatballs. Shape the eggplant mixture into golf ball-size pieces and roll them until they are nice and round.
- Cook the meatballs. Get a skillet with a bit of oil (grapeseed oil and the remaining olive oil) heated over medium-high heat and cook the meatballs in batches, so there is enough space between each one. It will take 3-5 minutes per batch, approximately.
- Serve. Transfer to a plate with a paper towel and serve immediately.
Serve them in marinara sauce!
If you'd like to serve the cooked eggplant meatballs in marinara or spaghetti sauce, get your sauce warmed then add the meatballs to the sauce and let them soak for a couple of minutes or longer. When you're ready, ladle the saucy meatballs over your favorite pasta or cooked basmati rice.
Serve them as an appetizer
How to store leftovers
While I prefer them fresh from the pan, these eggplant meatballs can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat quickly on the stovetop.
Can I freeze vegan meatballs?
Yes, you can freeze these vegan meatballs. Allow them to cool completely then freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, you can transfer them to another freezer-safe container or reusable ziploc bag. They'll stay fresh for up to 2 months.
When you're ready to cook them, you can transfer them directly to the pan from the freezer.
More vegan recipes to try:
Vegan Eggplant Meatballs
- 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 more tablespoons
- 3 tablespoons pureed carrot or sweet potato, (or 1 large egg if not vegan)
- Kosher salt
- 1 globe eggplant
- ⅔ cup cooked lentils, (I used green lentils)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup roughly chopped basil
- ¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast, (or chickpea flour)
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup grapeseed oil (for frying)
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Transfer to a rimmed sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden (10 minutes or so), stirring midway through. Transfer them to a large plate and set aside.
- Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
- Line the sheet pan with aluminum foil and set the eggplant on top. Prick it 3 to 4 times with a fork and roast until a pairing knife easily slips into the center (40 to 50 minutes). It should be very tender throughout. Remove the eggplant from the oven and use scissors to cut an X in the bottom. Transfer it, stem side up, to a colander and set in the sink and let it drain and cool for 20 minutes.
- Set the eggplant on a cutting board and slice it open lengthwise and scoop out the flesh and place it in the bowl of a food processor Add the pureed carrot (or egg), lentils, garlic, basil, parsley, and nutritional yeast (or chickpea flour) and ¾ teaspoon of salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Process for 12 one-second pulses to combine. Add the bread crumbs and pulse 2 to 3 times to combine.
- Scrape the mixture in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush against the surface, and refrigerate for 20 minutes or overnight.
- Shape the eggplant mixture into golf ball-size pieces and roll them until they are nice and round.
- Heat the grapeseed oil and remaining ½ cup of olive oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.
- Drop one of the balls into the oil, it should immediately sizzle—if not, let the oil heat some more. Add a few more balls to the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Fry the “meatballs” in batches, browning them on all sides (3 to 5 minutes for each batch).
- Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and serve immediately.
- This recipe is from Raquel Pelzel's cookbook Umami Bomb.
- This recipe makes anywhere from 16 to 20 meatballs.
- To serve them with marinara or spaghetti sauce, warm the sauce up then add the meatballs and let them soak for a few minutes. you can also serve them as an appetizer with a sauce for dipping such as Tzatziki.
- Leftover & Storage: Store leftovers in a tight-lid glass container in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can also freeze them for 1 to 2 months. Once cooled, freeze the meatballs on a large tray for one hour, then transfer them to a container to freeze for later. Reheat from frozen in a medium-heated oven.
- Nutrition information is a best estimate, not including the frying oil.
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