Meatballs. Flavorful, filling, comforting, but healthy? THESE are!
The traditional Italian meatball may be out. But, with the healthy eating trend going full tilt and as Esmé would probably say, the VEGAN traditional Italian meatball is IN! (The Unfortunate Events – anyone read it? Esmé is a character who frequently interjects long lists of what is currently IN and currently OUT : According to Esmé, yellow paper clips, postage stamps, anything with chocolate sprinkles, llamas, and ballet shoes are all in whereas bronze cubes, the dark, tools and parsley soda are all out😀)
But I digress.
Back to the recipe. It produces a meatball bursting with flavor, slight crust, tomato sweet and italian-spiced and NOT made of meat. Instead the protein, the main ingredient, is a pair of accessible and popular plant-based ingredients probably in your pantry.
AND this recipe also depends on a secret ingredient – also in your pantry, I’m sure! – that clinches the moist and spicy aspect.
I moved on into adulthood with that recipe embedded in my brain in terms of handfuls and sent on to make it successfully many times in my pre-vegan days. But now I wanted to make it vegan, and many others have succeeded before me of course, with vegan meatballs, but I wanted my meatballs to taste like my great-grandmother’s.
The marinara sauce was first, and of course the recipe is already vegan. For those who don’t want to also homemake the sauce, I suggest this jarred brand because it is vegan and it tastes awesome. If you want to make your own, I also shared my great-grandmother’s basic marinara recipe with the meatball recipe below.
Back to my story. So then, I had to convert the recipe for the meatballs.
I wanted them to be moist, and spicy, but most of all, healthy. So what protein to use?
I considered lentils and quinoa and ultimately chose a combo of chickpeas and almond flour – I could have used bread crumbs instead of almond flour, but I wanted these meatballs to be teeny tiny protein packages through and through.
And you know what? It worked!
The combination is amazing. The resulting texture is chewy like a meatball, and the secret ingredient made them spicy and moist – like the meatballs made by my great-grandmother’s hand, only plant-based.
How wonderful is that? Can you guess the secret ingredient? Tell me in comments!
makes 1 dozen
- 2 flax egg (2 tbsp flax seeds + 6 tbsp water, wait 15 min)
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, pressed
- 2 cans chick peas, drained/rinsed (but save the aquafaba though, use it in VanillaCrunnch’s chocolate mousse recipe for dessert !)
- 1/4 cup almond flour (or breadcrumbs)
- 1/2 cup ketchup (PETA.org: Heinz brand is vegan)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast ( use this brand) (For those who are not familiar, this is a healthy plant-based vegan substitute for parmesan cheese.)
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning – Basil, Oregano
- pinch of salt and cayenne pepper (only if you like it hot)
2. Prepare the 2 flax eggs and set aside so they can rest for 10 minutes.
3. Rinse the chickpeas (I used canned), put in a food processor and spin to a chunky texture – add the flax eggs when they are ready and process until the flax is blended through. The chickpea texture is going to be a bit chunky, not smooth.
[NOTE: I used my favorite mini food processor here, but it was a tight fit – if you also use a 4-cup processor, you might want to process 1 can of chickpeas and 1 flax egg, put it in the bowl, then process the other can and egg.]
3. Add this mixture to a mixing bowl with other ingredients and use your hands (gloved or very wet) to knead/mix, and then roll 12-24 meatballs depending on size, setting them on an olive-oil brush cookie sheet. The mixture is very sticky – I kept my hand very wet and was able to handle them without sticking, and this added moisture to the meatballs.
[NOTE: The biggest challenge in this recipe was rolling the sticky dough into balls, so if any of you have suggestions on how to make the mixture less sticky but not dry, please comment below!]
4. Bake them uncovered for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through, so the balls are cooked soft in center but crusty on the outside. If you want the center of the meatball to be dryer, bake longer – we like the outside crusty, but the center very soft. The meatballs seem dry coming out of the oven but this is a good thing, it will hold them together. Bury them in your marinara sauce and they will be awesome the next day, though we also ate them right away. And remember, as you sneak bites, isn’t it awesome that these meatballs are ALL healthy protein?
Did you guess the secret ingredient? Tell me in comments, and tag me on Insta if you make these, and please make these, once in your life, it will make you happy😀