For a vegan option, these eggplant meatballs use sweet potato or carrot puree (you can buy a jar of baby food in a pinch), instead of using egg. The texture is a bit delicate; you'll especially love them when they break up into a marinara sauce for a Bolognese effect. To serve the cooked meatballs with marinara, simply add them to warm sauce and let them soak in it for a couple of minutes, (or longer).
Eggplant ‘Meatballs’ [Vegan]
- 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (from 3 to 4 slices of bread)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 large globe eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons pureed carrot or sweet potato
- 2/3 cup cooked lentils
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1⁄3 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed
- red pepper flakes
- 1 cup canola or grapeseed oil
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Transfer to a rimmed sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden and completely dry, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring midway through. Transfer them to a large plate and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F.
- Line the sheet pan with aluminum foil and set the eggplant on top. Prick it 3 to 4 times with a fork, then roast until a paring 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 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, then scoop out the flesh and place it in the bowl of a food processor (if a few charred bits of skin get into the flesh, it’s fine. Add the sweet potato or carrot, lentils, garlic, basil, parsley, nutritional yeast, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes and process for 12 one-second pulses to combine. Add the toasted breadcrumbs and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush against the surface, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.
- Heat the canola oil and the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Shape the eggplant mixture into golf ball–size pieces and roll them until they are nice and round. Drop one into the oil. It should immediately sizzle and be surrounded by small bubbles—if not, let the oil heat up 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. Serve immediately.