Fall is here and that means it’s time for all the comfort foods to come out! Since subjecting my husband to my vegan lifestyle, we haven’t had any Italian classics since so many of them are meat and cheese heavy. Now that I’m getting better at learning how to “veganize” my favorite meals, it was time to try my hand at one of my favorites- good old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs!
I used to make the BEST meatballs. Seriously. Everyone who tried them wanted my recipe.
My secret? Well it comes from one technique my mom uses, one technique my dad uses, and one little twist of my own. My dad always makes them with FRESH PARSLEY. The flavor is so much better than the dry stuff! My mom always adds a little bit of KETCHUP. I know. It sounds crazy. But if you think about it, ketchup is basically tomato concentrate and sugar (plus a few other ingredients to add depth of flavor). My own little twist? Worcestershire sauce. It adds a little kick. Don’t try to Italian-shame me on it either. People always wonder why they’re so flavorful. Secret’s out.
For vegan meatballs there’s a few hurdles to jump over:
- Texture. How the heck can beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc get a “meatier” texture?
- Binding. How the heck can you get the ingredients to STAY TOGETHER?
- Flavor. The main ingredients usually used in vegan meatballs are relatively flavorless. Especially in comparison to meat. Sigh.
After discovering the amazing texture of tempeh and how “meaty” it really is, I have been brainstorming ways to turn it into a meatball. I did some research and actually found a recipe on the minimalist baker that uses tempeh and also states chickpeas can be used as an alternative. I decided to give it a go, but added my own special twists to really crank up the flavor. My meat loving husband LOVED them. LOVED LOVED LOVED. We have been eating leftovers for lunch all week!!
Warning: if you haven’t cooked with tempeh before, you might be surprised by its bitter flavor. Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans, and the flavor reflects it. That being said, steaming the tempeh (especially in veggie broth) REALLY tones the bitterness down. Once you add some other flavors to it, and especially add it to sauce, the bitterness is gone.
- 1 batch flax egg 1 tbsp flax seed meal + 2.5 tbsp water
- 1 medium yellow onion minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley if no fresh available, use dried
- 1 tsp oregano dried
- 1 tsp basil dried
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1/3 cup vegan parmesan cheese store bought or DIY- instructions in notes at end. This time I used follow your heart brand
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs Italian seasoned preferred
- 8 ounces tempeh
- 1 cup veggie broth for steaming tempeh
- olive oil for sautéing
- 1/3 cup vegan parmesan
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 375
- In a large skillet on medium heat, pour 1 cup veggie broth on bottom. When broth is hot, add slab of tempeh and cover with lid allowing it to steam and absorb some of the broth for approx 15 minutes. The slab will be “puffed up” when done. Turn once halfway through. While the tempeh steams, chop your onions, garlic, and parsley and prepare your flax egg by mixing water and flax seed meal in a small bowl and setting aside.
- Heat a skillet to medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Sauté onion until fragrant and translucent (approx 3 min), then add garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant (approx 1 min). When done, remove from pan with slotted spoon so as to drain excess oil.
- Carefully take the tempeh out of the broth and set on a plate. Break up the slab into smaller pieces so it can be easily distributed in food processor. Add tempeh, flax egg, garlic, onion, parsley, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan (1/3 cup), and breadcrumbs (1/2 cup) to food processor and pulse a few times until everything is combined. The result should be combined enough to act like a dough, but with as coarse enough texture to give you a “meatier” meatball.
- Heat up the same large skillet used earlier to a medium heat. In a separate bowl or plate, combine the remaining breadcrumbs and parmesan for coating the meatballs.
- Spoon out tablespoon sized amounts of the mixture, roll into balls with your hands, and then roll in the breadcrumb/parmesan coating. It’s important to keep the meatballs on the smaller size so they keep their shape and don’t fall apart.
- Add a thin layer of olive oil to heated pan. When oil is hot, add the coated meatballs in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Brown the meatballs for 5 min, shaking the pan to ensure they brown on all sides (note: I suggest testing with one meatball first. If your meatballs are sticking to the bottom the pan isn’t hot enough!)
- Put the meatballs on a baking sheet (I like to line mine with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper) and bake for 15-20 minutes, until deep golden brown (longer time = crispier meatball)
- Serve with favorite sauce! I served mine with spaghetti and marinara sauce and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan. Enjoy!
- 3/4 cup raw cashews
- 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder