Eggplant Meatballs: These meatless meatballs taste exactly like eggplant parmesan in meatball form! If you’ve been thinking about trying a vegetarian meatball recipe, this one is IT!
OK, right off the bat I’m going to tell you that we’re not vegetarians. If you’ve been reading along with SLH for long enough, you’ll know this is evidenced by our utter love for one-pot sausage pasta.
By this chicken and biscuits pot pie.
And by this bacon caramelized onion dip.
And when we’re on a vegetarian kick for months at a time, we always have this insatiable craving for meatballs. Isn’t that always the way?
These kinds of vegetarian eating stretches happen about once a year. They don’t usually coincide with the typical burst of resolution eating in January, but more often in the summer when fresh vegetables are plentiful and impossible to turn down.
We’ve just come to the end of a 4 month vegetarian eating stretch. It was strictly vegetarian for Kyle and mostly vegetarian for me because pork tenderloin happened. I’m so incredibly proud of him for not giving into eating meat when I made that grilled tenderloin because it was so damn good.
Call me mean if you wish. But as soon as the idea of that tenderloin entered my brain, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
ANYWAY. These eggplant meatballs are what we’re talking about today! In short, they fit perfectly into our meatless binge and they are so SO SOOOOO delicious.
Eggplant Meatballs with Limited Ingredients
I’ve purchased frozen vegetarian meatballs a number of times from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and they’ve been pretty good. Tasty enough to throw on a pizza but not really my cup of tea for a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, you know?
And I haven’t been thrilled with their ingredient lists that include lots of fillers, thickeners, and other things I can’t pronounce. I’ve tossed around the idea of making my own vegetarian meatballs before but I just couldn’t get behind the idea of bean- or lentil-based meatballs.
So when I came across a recipe for eggplant meatballs recently, I just about jumped all over it. I made a bunch of tweaks to that recipe which changed them from being vegan meatballs to vegetarian meatballs and overall, I’m really happy with the changes I made.
I’m sure the vegan version of these eggplant meatballs would have been fine but I just didn’t feel like making a flax egg or making a special trip to Whole Foods to buy nutritional yeast.
So I made them with a whole egg and a shitload of delicious Parmesan cheese. Sue me.
PRO TIP: I also added some dried porcini mushrooms to these meatballs. I simply softened them in a bowl of hot water and then sauteed with the onions, celery, and garlic. The mushrooms gave the meatballs a little bit of “meaty” flavor, a trick I learned from America’s Test Kitchen.
What I Love About These Eggplant Meatballs
To say that these eggplant meatballs blew me away is putting it lightly. I’m over here almost literally picking myself up from the floor after weeping tears of joy.
OK. That’s a little dramatic. But seriously, these meatballs taste like eggplant parmesan in meatball form.
And I think that’s what I love most about them! I absolutely ADORE eggplant parm so these eggplant meatballs hit all the marks for me!
I also love that the recipe makes a BIG batch. I made 2 dozen large meatballs which is more than enough for the 2 ½ of us in this house. So I froze a bunch of the meatballs and they thawed beautifully.
The texture of these eggplant meatballs was just perfect. They were light and almost fluffy. Not at all heavy meat bombs like so many meatballs can be. Maybe because they’re not made with meat?
They held up extremely well to baking and didn’t fall apart when we cut into them. We actually cut up 2 meatballs for Riley’s dinner and even the cut pieces didn’t fall apart when she was shoveling them in her mouth (quite literally) with her little fingers and toddler fork.
I know they could be easily sliced or crumbled to use as a pizza topping and I’m very much looking forward to doing this in the near future.
And lastly, I love that they contain an ingredient list with all completely pronounceable and easily accessible ingredients.
Now, as I say with all of my recipes, go make this recipe NOW! Eggplants are abundant in the summer in all of the farmers’ markets, CSA boxes, farm stands, and of course in grocery stores year-round.
Make these eggplant meatballs a part of your Sunday supper and you’ll be sure to WOW your entire family!
- 2 medium eggplants (about 2 ¼ lbs total), unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- ½ oz dried porcini mushrooms
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, small diced
- 1 celery rib, small diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups Italian breadcrumbs
- ½ cup roasted chickpeas - see note below
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 large egg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a very large 14-inch saute pan or 15-inch skillet, bring the eggplant and vegetable broth to a strong simmer over medium-high heat and then reduce to low. (If you don't have a pan this big, make the eggplant in 2 batches using a smaller pan.) Stirring occasionally, cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the liquid has thicken and the eggplant is soft but not mushy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant from the pan to a large bowl. Pour off the liquid from the pan (discard) and wipe out the pan.
- While the eggplant braises, add the dried mushrooms to a medium bowl and cover them with very hot tap water. Allow the mushrooms to soak for 15 minutes, then transfer them to a cutting board and roughly chop them. Reserve the liquid.
- Over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and then add the onions, celery, and garlic. Season with a good pinch of Kosher salt and black pepper. Cook stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables have browned a little. Stir in the chopped mushrooms and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in ⅓ cup of the reserved mushroom liquid and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the pan contents to the bowl with the eggplant.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl with the vegetables along with 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir with a silicone spatula until completely combined.
- Transfer half of the mixture to a food processor (if yours is smaller than 14-cups, you'll need to work in smaller batches) and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but not pureed. It will be sticky but should hold together just like regular meatballs do. Repeat with the remaining eggplant mixture.
- Using a large cookie scoop, scoop out 24 meatballs onto the 2 prepared baking sheets (12 meatballs per sheet pan).
- Bake for 20 minutes then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Bake for another 15 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned and the meatballs feel fairly firm when lightly pressed. Serve immediately with spaghetti and marinara sauce or cool the meatballs on the pans until they are warm to the touch, and transfer them to wire racks to cool completely before refrigerating or freezing.
If you don't have/can't find roasted chickpeas, you can make them by roasting a can of rinsed and drained chickpeas at 400° F for about 15 minutes. The leftovers will make a great snack. However, ½ cup of canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained) will work fine in place of the roasted chickpeas too. I used up some roasted chickpeas I had in the pantry because I was out of canned chickpeas when I started to make the meatballs.
heavily adapted from Sweet Simple Vegan
OXO Good Grips Mixing Bowl Set with Black Handles, 3-Piece
OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Pro Half Sheet 13 x 18 Inch
Reynolds Kitchens Pre-Cut Parchment Paper Baking Sheets - 12x16 Inch, 22 Count
Large Walnut Wood Cutting Board by Virginia Boys Kitchens - 17x11 American Hardwood Chopping and Carving Countertop Block with Juice Drip Groove
J.A. HENCKELS INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC Hollow Edge Santoku Knife 7-inch Black/Stainless Steel
OXO SteeL Slotted Spoon
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor, Brushed Stainless Steel, White
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