Inspired by my Italian heritage, I really wanted to veganize one of my favorite classic Sunday lunch dishes: meatballs. I grew up with the smell of tomato sauce and “polpette” (meatballs) slowly cooking stovetop every Sunday morning. Those were the first irresistible aromas, sizzling sounds and bright colors that seduced me into the completely mesmerizing world of cooking. I dedicate this recipe to the one who ignited my love affair with the kitchen: my mother, Lina.
This is not one of my quickest, nor easiest recipes. It takes a while to prepare, and the mixture is quite sticky so forming the (no)meat balls can be a bit messy. However, I’m telling you, this recipe is worth the effort. First of all, you will get a nice big batch of (no)meat balls (around 20 to 25), which can be easily heated up for a quick meal or just as delicious served cold in a (no)meat ball sandwich. Yum!
Meatballs are typically cooked in a pot of tomato sauce, slowly simmering on the stove. I tried baking them covered in sauce in a glass casserole dish and they came out wonderfully. The benefit of baking them is that you don’t have to stir the sauce and thereby risk breaking them. You simply turn them over once after 20 minutes. I found this easier and it allowed them to keep their shape perfectly.
I understand it’s quicker to use store-bought bread crumbs and tomato sauce, but we cannot control the ingredients in these products. Also, they have their own flavor which may differ from the flavors we are trying to create. I include my recipes below and encourage you to try them.
Enjoy these scrumptious little vegan masterpieces!
Vegan (No)Meat Balls
1 package firm organic tofu
1 cup chickpeas, kidney or cannellini beans, cooked and marinated (see marinade recipe below)
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 small potato, peeled and finely chopped
1 beet or 2 small carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 zucchini, finely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 teaspoons sea salt
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cumin
2 ½ cups chickpea flour
4 teaspoons egg replacer
½ cup shelled hemp seeds
½ cup nutritional yeast
2 cup bread crumbs (see recipe below)
½ cup water
5 tablespoons ground flax seed
½ cup water
- Prepare tomato sauce (see recipe below).
- Marinate tofu and beans (see recipe below).
- In a small bowl, mix ground flax seed and ½ cup of water. Set aside for 20 minutes.
- Heat grapeseed oil in large sauce pan. Add onions, garlic, and all chopped vegetables. Add sea salt, pepper, oregano and fennel seeds. Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 10- 15 minutes.
- Add marinated tofu and beans to vegetable mixture and stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chopped parsley, paprika, chipotle, turmeric and cumin.
- Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in 1 ½ cups chickpea flour, egg replacer, hemp, nutritional yeast and bread crumbs. Place ½ of the mixture into food processor. Add ½ cup of water and blend until soft and clumpy.
- Add blended mixture back to bowl with vegetable mixture. Stir in flaxseed mixture. Add remaining chickpea flour. Stir well. Mixture will be very sticky.
- Form nomeat balls with your hand and coat with bread crumbs. You can add them to your pot of tomato sauce and allow the nomeat balls to simmer for 30-45 minutes in the sauce, gently stirring occasionally. Alternatively, you may add about 1 cup of tomato sauce to a casserole dish, and more sauce to cover each nomeat ball, and bake the nomeat balls (covered with aluminum foil, punctured with a fork to allow steam to escape) at 350˚F for 40-50 minutes. Gently turn the nomeat balls over after 20 minutes of baking.
- Serve warm with pasta or salad, or any way you desire!
Marinade for tofu and beans/chickpeas
In a large glass container, place crumbled tofu and beans or chickpeas, and mix in the ingredients which follow. Marinate for about 2 hours prior to cooking.
2 gloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive OR grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons unsalted steak spice
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari
1 bay leaf (remove before cooking)
Homemade Bread Crumbs
4-5 slices of bread of your choice, dried and hardened (takes about 2 days)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Choose bread that you would like to grate. Break it into pieces and place on a cooking sheet. Leave it in the oven for at least 2 days to dry out and harden. Do not turn on the oven.
- Once bread is completely dry and hard, put it in a blender or food processor and grate.
- Pour into large bowl and add oregano, salt and garlic powder.
- Use as desired.
Maria’s Easy Tomato Sauce
4 cups strained tomatoes (comes in a glass jar)
⅓ cup tomato paste (optional if you like really thick sauce)
3 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 bay leaf
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
4-6 leaves fresh basil
Sea salt to taste
1. Heat oil over low heat in large pot. Add chopped onions and sauté over low heat for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
2. Stir in all remaining ingredients and let simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Discard bay leaf and basil before serving.
You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.
~Chef Mario Batali
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