Vegetarian meatballs packed with legumes and iron-rich spinach that still give the meaty taste without the meat!
Vegetarian meatballs even for meat lovers? After researching many different recipes and powering through three cooking trials, I finally created my “meatiest” meatless meatball!
Meatballs, either turkey or beef, were always a favorite growing up. After losing my mother in high school, I still remember so clearly the times as a child being her sous chef and getting my hands dirty in the kitchen. I remember the texture and smells of the raw onion and italian seasonings even to this day!
Homemade is Better than Store-Bought
Have you ever tried reading the nutrition label of a food item and thought you were reading either a foreign language or a portion of an advanced chemistry book? Majority of the time these ingredients are artificial and processed, in other words, not beneficial in any way! The least and most simple ingredients listed the better! In this case, most meatballs store-bought in the freezer section are filled with binders and excessive sodium. Another great reason to make them at home, you can sneak in any veggies you want for extra nutrition (or picky eaters). Making your own version at home, whether it is vegetarian or with lean poultry or beef will cut out these artificial bad guys and make your gut happier.
Three Times The Charm!
When I started thinking about creating my own version of vegetarian style meatballs I wanted to replicate that memory of the texture and smell. My first attempt was using lentils for a good source of protein. In my version, they came out shapeless (too gooey) before baking and then too dry on the outside; they reminded me of a delicious falafel, but not a meaty meatball. I thought for the second attempt, well they need more mushrooms and lentils to hold together with the egg mixture; nope!
On the final attempt (after running out of lentils), I noticed there were many versions of chickpeas and thought, why not? I had chickpeas in my pantry and went at it! I decided to add different flavoring as the cumin and paprika wasn’t noticeable in the first two and relied on my mother’s old recipe with Worcestershire sauce and Italian seasoning. Since this is a vegetarian recipe I used soy sauce, and tomato paste for a sweet and savory flavor. Lastly, the first two recipes included sautéed onions and mushrooms; for the final recipe I used raw onion also similar to my childhood recipe.
The Many Uses of a Meatball
These vegetarian meatballs can be excellent as a sandwich, a bite-size snack, and yes on top of pasta. After baking these for 35 minutes, I simmered them in tomato sauce. Recently, my family gave me as a gift a gourmet tomato sauce by Dean & Deluca (they know me too well) and had to use it! This recipe is also great for a post-workout or midday snack. It packs in only 45 calories with 2g protein and 2g fiber per meatball. As I mentioned topping it over pasta, I had mine with homemade sweet potato gnocchi that was so easy and fun to make provided from the food blog, Pinch of Yum.
This batch makes up to 20 meatballs and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and freezer for 3 months.
If this recipe has already convinced you to go ahead and have spaghetti and meatballs then I have done my job! I hope these healthy, vegetarian meatballs satisfy your cravings!
More rolled oats (gluten free) can be substituted in place of the bread crumbs and Tamari for the soy sauce to remove gluten in this recipe.
- 1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup frozen spinach
- handful (1/4 cup) of fresh parsley, optional
- 1/4-1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 Tablespoon low sodium soy sauce (or Tamari)
- 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon Coriander
- 1 large egg
- Preheat oven to 375. Set aside a greased or non-stick cookie pan.
- Throw all ingredients together into a food processor except the egg to taste and adjust for seasonings.
- Once you've reached your flavor preference, throw in the egg and pulse until thoroughly blended.
- Using your hands (or a cookie scooper) make the mix into small meatballs and lay on the pan. Makes 18-20 small meatballs.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, flipping over halfway for even browning.
Kathryn Pfeffer-Scanlan MS, RD is a recent transplant to Boulder, CO after working as an inpatient dietitian for almost five years in Boston. She is hoping to explore health and wellness and the food industry while she explores beautiful Colorado. Katie is passionate about her new cooking hobby and started a food blog, One Hungry Bunny, in April 2016. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.