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For these hearty and healthy vegan meatballs, we've swapped out the traditional ground beef and pork for protein-packed chickpeas and quinoa—without skimping on any of those Italian flavors that you look for in a classic meatball. Mushrooms up the umami factor, and a simple tomato sauce completes the picture. Serve over your favorite pasta.

Source: EatingWell.com, March 2019

Gallery

Read the full recipe after the video.

Recipe Summary

active:
40 mins
total:
1 hr 10 mins
Servings:
6
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If you love spaghetti and meatballs but you're trying to cut down on meat, you need to try our vegan meatballs recipe, which swaps traditional ground beef, other meats (such as pork and lamb) and eggs for a plant-based blend of hearty chickpeas and quinoa. While we've skipped the meat, we're not skimping on any of those Italian flavors that you look for in a classic meatball. In addition to being free of meat and dairy, our vegan meatballs also nix the breadcrumbs that are used as a binder in many meatball recipes, so they're also gluten-free. Serve them over your favorite pasta or swap in vegetable noodles for a lower-carb meal and an extra serving of veggies.

Tips for Making Vegan Meatballs

1. Make the Plant-Based Meatball Mixture

To make these meatballs, start by pulsing cauliflower, mushrooms, onion and garlic in a food processor—which is much faster and easier than chopping the ingredients by hand. The veggies are sautéed with Italian seasonings, just like regular meatballs. Next, pureed chickpeas are added—they add protein and also help bind the mixture in place of the traditional egg. Cooked quinoa adds additional protein and heartiness to our meatball mixture. Together, all of these ingredients create a vegan meatball with a satisfying texture and plenty of flavor.

2. Add Some Umami

The secret to the meatlike flavor of our vegan meatballs is umami. Called the fifth taste (the other four are sweet, sour, salty and bitter), umami is essentially a savory flavor that comes from the amino acid glutamate. Meat and Parmesan cheese, which are used in traditional meatballs, have a lot of naturally occurring glutamates. To get umami in our vegan meatballs, we use vegan ingredients that have glutamates, including tomato paste, tamari (which is gluten-free soy sauce) and mushrooms. When you combine all of these ingredients, you end up with an amazing vegan meatball that would make even the biggest carnivores' mouths water. Try using these umami-rich ingredients to give a meaty flavor to other vegan dishes, such as soups and stews.

Pan of meatballs

3. Shape and Bake the Meatballs

Once you've stirred together the meatball mixture, use your hands to form it into balls. (You can also shape the mixture into a loaf, for a vegan meatloaf.) Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and firm.

Sauce

4. Serve with a Simple Sauce

While the meatballs are baking, whip up a simple sauce: Simply sauté canned tomatoes, crushed red pepper and Italian seasonings, then simmer for a few minutes for an easy tomato sauce that's way tastier than jarred.

Plate of noodles and meatballs with red sauce

Check Your Wallet: Traditional Meatballs vs. Vegan Meatballs

For a price comparison on vegan versus traditional meatballs, we turned to vegan celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli (aka Chef Chloe on Instagram and YouTube). Coscarelli notes that the vegan version costs $9.26 to make the recipe, compared to a traditional meatball made with beef, lamb, veal and eggs, which clocks in at $13.88 per recipe. That's a savings of almost $5 for the recipe, or almost $1 per serving.

Environmental Impact: Traditional Meatballs vs. Vegan Meatballs

In terms of environmental impact, using chickpeas and quinoa instead of beef helps make these "meatballs" better for the environment. Beef creates an estimated 34 times more climate pollution than beans and lentils, pound for pound, according to research from the NRDC.

Nutritional Comparison: Traditional Meatballs vs. Vegan Meatballs

When it comes to nutritional differences, you'll save 341 calories by choosing our vegan meatballs over traditional meatballs. They also provide 6 more grams of fiber and they're 11 grams lower in saturated fat than typical meatballs. This recipe also saves more than 1,200 mg sodium by bumping up those umami flavors so less salt is needed.

Finished Dish from the side

Serve your vegan meatballs simply with sauce or add some regular or veggie noodles. They're also great over grain bowls or salads. And they freeze well, so make a big batch to have on hand for easy meals.

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

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  • Pulse cauliflower, mushrooms, onion and 1 garlic clove in a food processor until finely chopped, about 15 pulses. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower mixture, 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool, stirring a few times, for 5 minutes.

  • Add chickpeas to the food processor; puree until smooth. Add the chickpea mixture to the large bowl along with quinoa and tamari (or soy sauce); stir to combine. Form the mixture into 24 balls (about 2 1/2 tablespoons each) and place on the prepared baking sheet.

  • Bake the meatballs until heated through and firm, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, finely chop the remaining garlic clove. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, crushed red pepper and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer. Cook until the flavors have melded, about 5 minutes. Serve the meatballs with the sauce, sprinkled with basil.

Tips

To make ahead: The sauce can be made 3 days ahead and the meatballs can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate separately.

Learn more about how to make these vegan meatballs.

Nutrition Facts

4 meatballs & 1/2 cup sauce
394 calories; protein 12.7g; carbohydrates 45.7g; dietary fiber 10.1g; sugars 12.4g; fat 17.1g; saturated fat 2.4g; vitamin a iu 1865.2IU; vitamin c 47mg; folate 101.6mcg; calcium 59mg; iron 5.9mg; magnesium 82.7mg; potassium 1271.8mg; sodium 433.9mg; thiamin 0.2mg.

3 1/2 vegetable, 3 fat, 2 starch, 1/2 lean protein

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