The road to any plant-based diet requires gradually reducing the amount of meat you eat, and the frequency with which you eat it. While that may sound daunting to some, there’s a silver lining: many popular dishes can be adapted to be meat-free without sacrificing taste or satiety, and meatballs are one of them. Intimidated for years to try my hand at making them, I could not have been more thrilled than when I finally got around to developing this recipe for homemade vegetarian meatballs. Not only are they delicious and satisfying, they’re also incredibly versatile, making them a valuable component to a meat-free diet. You can enjoy them on top of a mound of spaghetti, in a macro bowl, or as I often do, on their own, topped with tomato sauce or pesto and served alongside a soup or a salad. Note: And in addition to being vegetarian, this dish can be made gluten-free by using gluten-free panko crumbs.
Preparation Time: 1 hour
Makes about 12 meatballs
1/3 cup quinoa, or bulgur, or a combination of both
2/3 cups water
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons, divided, plus additional for brushing the baking sheet
½ cup onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups eggplant, diced into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese cut from a block, and then diced into small square pieces, plus 2 tablespoons grated for garnishing
¼ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup panko or gluten-free panko crumbs
3 tablespoons of your favorite organic marinara sauce (mine is Rao’s marinara)
1 ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt to taste
A few grinds of pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Add the quinoa and the water to a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until the quinoa has sprouted, about 15 minutes. Salt to taste. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
Heat the 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and sauté until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic at about the 3-minute mark and continue to sauté the onions and garlic together for the last 2 minutes. Set aside in a prep bowl.
Using the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and eggplant. Sauté over medium heat until the eggplant is golden and tender throughout, about 8 minutes. Salt to taste.
To a large food processor, add the quinoa, onions, and garlic, eggplant, Parmesan, parsley, panko crumbs, 3 tablespoons marinara sauce, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Pulse until the ingredients are well combined. The texture should be almost smooth but not completely.
Using your hands or an ice cream scooper, gently roll the mixture into about 12 balls. (If you’re too rough with it, they will collapse.)
Brush a baking sheet lightly with olive oil. Transfer the balls to the sheet and then to the oven. Bake for about 22 minutes, checking at about the 20-minute mark to make sure they’re not getting overdone (if using a toaster oven check sooner as they cook faster). When finished, remove the sheet from the oven and serve the veggie balls as desired, on top of pasta, as a side dish, or in a macro bowl.