These hearty vegan meatballs are a hit with even the pickiest eaters! Their savory, smoky flavor is delicious in subs or on pasta with lots of marinara.
Lately, Jack and I have been spending a lot of time with my family in Chicago. One thing my husband especially loves about this area is all the comfort food, especially the plethora of meaty things between bread. I often shy away from the “fake meat” types of things, but when I do make something that is inspired by a meat dish, he’s the first to tell me if it’s great or if I’ve missed the mark. Well, I fed these vegan meatballs to him and my family last night, and not only did Jack wolf his down with approval, in a surprise move, my dad was the first to ask if there were any extra.
We love this recipe – the vegan meatballs are a riff on the Eggplant Mushroom & “Meatball” recipe from our cookbook. I messed with it a bit, replacing the out-of-season eggplant with black beans and switching up the spices. I think even your pickiest eater will love this one, because the mushroom flavor isn’t very pronounced after you smother these vegetarian meatballs with marinara sauce.
How to Make Vegan Meatballs
These vegetarian meatballs are not difficult to make, but they do take a little bit of time. Start by sautéing onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a pan and then adding balsamic, tamari, and black beans. I use my non-stick non-chemical GreenPan because I hate when mushrooms stick to the bottom of the pan, and I love knowing the surface they’re cooking on is completely toxin-free.
Next, pulse the mushroom mixture in a food processor with walnuts and black beans. Then mix it in a bowl with brown rice and spices. Finally, use panko to form them into balls. Below you’ll see what they look like before you bake them – they will get nicely golden brown in the oven.
If you want to make these in advance, store the uncooked meatballs in the fridge overnight and bake them when you’re ready to eat. They firm up a bit in the fridge, so these vegan meatballs are a terrific make-ahead meal.
What to Do With Vegan Meatballs
We love stuffing these vegan meatballs into subs. Once baked, heat up marinara sauce, add the meatless meatballs, and then assemble them in buns with fresh basil. Note: this recipe is best when served in soft buns or baguette – nothing too crusty; these little veggie balls are more smush-able than a regular meaty meatball.
Of course, you could also make spaghetti and meatballs with these guys! Serve the vegetarian meatballs with marinara or pesto and your favorite pasta shape. They’d also be great with sweet potato noodles, zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash.
If you love these vegan meatballs…
Best Vegan Meatballs
- ½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
- ½ yellow onion (about 1 cup chopped)
- 8 ounces mushrooms, de-stemmed, chopped
- 1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1½ cups cooked brown rice
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 6 soft sub buns or sliced soft baguette
- 2 cups jarred or homemade marinara sauce
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- Several handfuls of arugula, optional
- Parmesan (skip if vegan) or vegan parmesan cheese, optional
- In a large skillet, heat ½ teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, pinches of salt and pepper, and cook until browned and soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add ½ cup of the black beans, garlic, the balsamic vinegar and tamari sauce, and cook for 2 minutes or until everything is well browned and soft. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool slightly.
- In a food processor, pulse the walnuts. Add the mushroom mixture and pulse 2 to 3 times until just combined. Do not puree or the mixture will be too mushy. Add the remaining ½ cup of black beans and pulse briefly. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the brown rice, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Mix until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the panko breadcrumbs onto a plate. Form the mixture into 18-1½ inch balls and gently roll in the crumbs, using the breadcrumbs to pat the mixture into cohesive balls. Place on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes or overnight.
- Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, carefully flipping halfway through.
- Heat the marinara sauce in a skillet and add the meatballs. Heat until just warmed through and serve immediately on the buns with arugula, basil, and parmesan cheese, if desired. (Tip: don’t let the meatballs sit in the sauce for too long or they will start to fall apart).
Special thanks to GreenPan for sponsoring this post!