Eggplant “Meatballs”

I promised earlier this week to provide some recipes to go with my marinara sauce. Of course, the obvious choice would be any kind of pasta, but I like to be a little more creative than that. Also, I have a hard time eating pasta anymore. I find if I eat it for lunch I’m asleep at my desk within an hour, whereas if I eat it for dinner I’m awake all night, presumably on a sugar high. Yeah, doesn’t make any sense to me either, but regardless of your relationship with pasta, I think this recipe will come in handy. These “meatballs” are great on their own, served aside a big plate of pasta, on a sandwich, on top of a big mound of garlicky broccoli rabe…you get the idea. A versatile vegetarian side or main dish. Whatever you fancy.

I have my grandpop to thank for this one. Yes, that’s right (thanks Grandpop). As I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather is a fantastic Italian cook. At some point during my teens he invited the whole family over for a big pasta dinner. This wasn’t an issue for me. I was happy eating pasta, salad, bread, or whatever other non-meat items came along with the dinner. When I arrived he was cooking up a version of these eggplant meatballs. He’d seen them prepared on a cooking show and thought he’d give them a shot for me. He looked a little downcast and informed me that he didn’t think they turned out right. I tried one and informed him that he was sorely mistaken. See, I think he expected them to be meatier, as they were intended to be a vegetarian version of meatballs. What actually came out, to my tastebuds at least, was more like an eggplant parm flavored ball of vegetarian goodness! I happily enjoyed my eggplant meatballs alongside my pasta that night, and took the leftovers home to make an amazing eggplant meatball parm grinder.

I don’t have the exact recipe my grandfather used. In fact, I don’t think he ever really had a recipe, but rather simply tried to replicate a technique demonstrated on television. I’ve borrowed that technique several times since that initial taste. For this version, I decided to go vegan, whereas the original eggplant meatballs created by my grandfather contained some parmesan cheese. I’ve added some nutritional yeast to get a cheesy flavor, and don’t miss the dairy at all. I also initially pan fried these, which didn’t work out as well as my second attempt in which I baked them. A cast iron skillet is your friend here, as it will give them a perfectly crisp exterior to encase the delicious melt-in-your mouth eggplant.

eggplant meatballs detail

Eggplant "Meatballs"
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and finely diced (1/2 inch or smaller)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds + ¼ cup water, whisked together and allowed to sit for 10 minutes or more
  • ½ cup fresh chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 cup panko
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • marinara sauce, for serving
  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sautee about five minutes.
  2. Add garlic and sautee an additional minute.
  3. Add eggplant and continue to cook for about an additional fifteen minutes, flipping occasionally, or until eggplant is soft. Allow to cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 375. Add eggplant and remaining ingredients to mixing bowl.ย  Mix well (hands work great here) and shape into balls.
  5. Coat baking sheet or cast iron skillet with remaining oil, then arrange meatballs and bake for 30-40 minutes, turning several times during baking in order to brown all sides.
  6. Serve with marinara.


    • says

      I haven’t tried freezing them, but that sounds like a good idea! They usually go quick, so I don’t get a chance ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I might try making a double batch next time and freezing half!

  1. Marisa says

    I made these tonight and they were absolutely delicious! I grew up on my Italian Grandpa’s meatballs but recently went vegan, I’d be totally okay eating these for the rest of my life. Thank you for the recipe!

    • says

      You’re welcome! So glad they worked out for you, and thank you so much for sharing. I love hearing how my recipes turn out for others, and of course, success stories always make me very happy!

  2. says

    I want to make this! I love eggplant and my mom makes something close to this but she uses whole (small size) eggplants and uses indian cooker to boil/steam it. And, this looks awesome. Def. will make it. love it!

  3. says

    So I totally cheated and I decided to chop up some LightLife italian “Smart Sausages” (2 links) which I had in the fridge and throw that in – oh and I used nutritional yeast powder instead of flakes, but other than that I followed everything else in the recipe and oh man were these good!! Fabulous recipe! Will definitely make again!

    • says

      Awesome! Veggie sausage actually sounds like a really good idea for some additional texture and protein – I might try it myself next time I make these. I think with the nutritional yeast the only difference between powder and flakes is the density, so you probably just got a little extra cheesy flavor. So glad these worked out for you and thanks for sharing your results :)

  4. says

    I would LOVE to see an independent print button. It’s a pain to have to copy and paste recipes into another program and then print it from there. I don’t know if it costs more but PLEASE! This recipe looks SOOOO super yummy! I am going to C&P it and then print it and make it for dinner tonight. I have eggplant and was going to make eggplant “parm” but I think I’ll make this instead! I REALLY appreciate your recipes! Being vegan in this new technological age I think is probably a lot more satisfying than ten to fifteen years ago!! If I missed your print button, feel free to scold me, sometimes I miss them.

    • says

      You didn’t miss anything…I’m working on making some updates to the blog and a print button is on my list. Hopefully within the next couple of weeks. I hope you like the eggplant meatballs!!! Thanks much for the feedback and I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying my recipes :)

    • says

      Update – I just added a print button! I did this recipe and my most recent post. I’ll be including one in all posts going forward and hopefully get around to putting one into all my old recipes.

  5. Patti says

    Your blog is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, Alissa. I’ve made it yesterday and it turned out really well. I left out the parsley as I’m not a bit fan of it, next time I might try to add fresh mint instead.
    cheers, Patti

  6. sassygirl says

    love all of your sushi ideas!
    for the eggplant meatballs, do you think the pinko could be
    sub’d out for GF oats pulsed a bit in a Vitamix?

    • says

      Thank you! I can’t say for sure, but that might be worth a shot. The texture might be a little different, but I think they should still be tasty. I’ve also seen gluten free panko around, so they might be worth a shot as well. Enjoy!

  7. Mary says

    I came across your blog via Oh My Veggies (love the online potluck!) and these sound really good. Normally, I am religious about following a recipe to the T but I was wondering could I substitute canned eggplant for fresh? I only ask because Trader Joe’s is featuring canned eggplant in their Fearless Flyer this month and I am curious to try them out. That, and the fact that I have on occasion bought fresh veggies to try new recipes only to be sidetracked and said veggies being forgotten in the
    crisper :( Once again, as a fairly new vegetarian, I appreciate yours and all these great vegetarian/vegan blogs. Thank you.

    • says

      I’ve never actually used canned eggplant, but you got me curious so I just looked it up on Trader Joe’s website. From what I can gather, it’s already cooked and seasoned, so you might need to adjust the recipe but cutting out the eggplant cooking step and adjusting the seasonings. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing with a little tweaking here and there you could get it to work. I wish I could give you a more definite answer – like I said though, you got me curious, so I might just get around to experimenting with that myself!

  8. says

    I picked a couple eggplants from my garden last week and I knew, just KNEW, you’d have exactly the recipe I wanted for them, even though I didn’t yet know what I wanted to for them until I read this ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. stephanie says

    Any suggestions on what to substitute for the flax seeds and water? I am out of them and can’t get to the store.
    The recipe looks amazing!

    • says

      They replace eggs, so you could use an egg if you aren’t vegan, or experiment with other egg substitues like chia seeds + water or commercial egg replacer. I haven’t tried any of these things myself, so I can’t say for sure, but I think they’d work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *