Vegan meatballs may sound like an oxymoron but it is very much a name that makes sense. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “meat” comes from the Old English word “mete” which meant food as opposed to drink. It wasn’t used to mean animal flesh until much later around the 14th century. Today we talk about the “meat” of a coconut, seitan being “wheat meat” and all the different types of vegan meats. So yes indeed, there are vegan meatballs and they are delicious. Just like there are 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat and 10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With, it is possible to make all kinds of vegan meatballs. Here are some recipes, tips and ideas on ways you can make all kinds of vegan meatballs.
1. Anatomy of a Meatball
No matter what kind of meatball you make, there is a general recipe that gets followed. There is the main ingredient – this could be tofu, tempeh, seitan, TVP, beans, legumes, vegetables and even nuts and seeds. There is the seasoning which can be simple herbs and spices, blends specific to an ethnic cuisine or a mix to make the meatballs taste like beef or chicken. Other ingredients to add flavor can be added such as ketchup, tamari or vegan Worcestershire sauce. Lastly, there is some type of binder such as grains, breadcrumbs, and/or egg replacements including flax or chia seeds. It all gets mixed together and rolled into balls. Every recipe is different but these basics will help give the meatballs the proper taste and texture and keep them from falling apart.
2. Cooking Methods
There are many ways of cooking meatballs which I have to say, came as a surprise to me when I learned to cook. I knew one way: my mother’s way. She would make meatballs and gently drop them in the big pot of tomato sauce on the stove where they would simmer until cooked. I still prefer this method when making Italian food but meatballs can also be sauteed, fried, baked, braised, broiled or simmered in broth. It is a matter of preference and the recipe being used. It’s also handy that vegan meatballs can be frozen and then cooked straight from the freezer or after thawing in the refrigerator.
3. Tofu and Tempeh
Meatballs can be made out of almost anything. If there is a burger recipe you love, you can convert it into meatballs by just rolling balls instead of making patties. Let’s look at some of the options. Like most of the vegan meatballs you can buy at the market, you could use some type of soy to make them. Tofu will take on the flavor of whatever else you put into the recipe so it’s a versatile choice. It also holds together well since it is moist. Tempeh can be ground into small pebbles in a food processor and is a little heartier than tofu with a grainier texture. Try these Tempeh Meatballs that are seasoned with tamari, miso and Italian seasonings.
4. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are a good choice for meatballs. They are inexpensive, easy to cook and a great source of protein and fiber. Beans and legumes can be mashed or processed to be either smooth or chunky. They are sticky so they bind well which is especially important without eggs. Another benefit of beans is the variety of choices, each with a distinct taste and texture. Meatballs can be made from black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas and cannellini beans. This Pumpkin Seed Cannellini Meatballs with Zucchini Spaghetti is an amazing gluten-free dish and these Chickpea Balls are a fun take on falafel. Lentils are an especially good choice for meatballs since they have a rich, “meaty” taste. Learn How to Make Lentil Meatballs.
5. Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds
Meatballs can be made from vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes, beets, and mushrooms. Try taking these burger recipes and turning them into meatballs: Roasted Beet Burgers, Black-Eyed Pea Burgers, Black and White Bean Burgers, Baked Broccoli Burgers, Zucchini and Corn Veggie Burgers, Eggplant Burgers, Portobello Mushroom Burgers, Spicy Cauliflower Potato Burgers, and Amazing Pumpkin Burgers.
Ground nuts and seeds can also be used to make vegan meatballs but they will need extra-good binders such as rice, quinoa, flax seeds or egg replacers. These Lentil Mushroom Walnut Balls put three delicious tastes together to make a fun party food.
When you hear the word “meatball,” you probably think of Italian food. It’s no wonder as meatballs are mentioned as far back as in the ancient Roman cookbook “Apicius.” Italian meatballs are usually made with ground meat, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs or milk-soaked bread, and cheese. Spaghetti and meatballs is a Southern Italian dish that has become popular in American cuisine. Vegan Italian meatballs can be made out of whatever main ingredient you choose. Give them that Italian flavor by adding herbs and spices such as oregano, parsley, basil, fennel and red pepper flakes. Add nutritional yeast or vegan grated parmesan to the mix. Serve them in a sub like this Meatless Meatball Sub or over pasta like this Spaghetti and Vegan and Gluten-Free Tempeh Meatballs.
Gnudi Balls are a traditional Tuscan dish that is also known as “naked ravioli” because these balls are made of just the filling but not pasta. Technically, they might be considered more of a dumpling than a meatball but since we are discussing less-than-traditional meatballs, I thought I would include them. These Spinach Tofu Gnudi Balls are made with tofu ricotta and gently simmered in sauce or can be baked in a casserole dish.
Everyone knows about Swedish meatballs because of the ones served in the giant furniture store. It’s great that they will now be offering vegan meatballs so you can fuel your shopping trip. Swedish meatballs are usually made with ground meat, milk-soaked breadcrumbs, onions, cream and seasonings. These beautiful Swedish Meatballs with Rose Pepper and Thyme are made with beets and tofu. They are not only vegan and gluten-free but they are a vegan version of a beloved grandmother’s recipe so you know they are delicious.
In Greece, meatballs that are fried are called keftedes. They may contain meat, onions and mint and are served as a comfort food. These Vegan Green Keftedes are made with pinto beans while the keftedes in this Giouvarlakia or Greek “Meatball” Soup are made with lentils and cooked in the broth.
Koftas are meatballs that are usually made from meat though in India, they may be made with vegetables, potatoes and cheese. These Vegan Malai Kofta are made with potatoes, carrots, peas and cashews. They are vegan and gluten-free and float in an incredible creamy spiced tomato sauce.
10. Other Fun Flavors
Besides making meatballs with different ethnic cuisines, you can have fun by stepping outside the box (or ball) and doing something different and unexpected. Buffalo sauce is all the rage so instead of doing the usual vegan wings or cauliflower, how about making Buffalo meatballs? These Buffalo Tempeh Meatballs are moist, flavorful tempeh meatballs that get tossed in a hot, spicy Buffalo marinara sauce. Serve them with celery and carrot sticks and a creamy dip. If you prefer BBQ sauce, then you have to make this BBQ Lentil Meatball Sandwich with Sweet Miso Coleslaw and homemade barbecue sauce. Another fun way to make meatballs is to stuff them. Biting into a savory vegan meatball is good but biting into a savory vegan meatball and finding ooey-gooey vegan cheese inside is even better. Make that happen with these Vegan Mozzarella-Stuffed Eggplant Meatballs.
Meatballs are a fun and easy way to enjoy delicious vegan flavors that are familiar and yet new. Whether you serve them over pasta, in soup, in a sub or as an appetizer, everyone will love these incredibly flavorful meatball recipes.
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Lead Image Source: Pumpkin Seed Cannellini Meatballs With Zucchini Spaghetti