These vegan eggplant meatballs made with tender sautéed eggplant, crispy panko breadcrumbs and Italian seasonings, smothered in rich tomato sauce.
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.
Vegan Eggplant Meatballs
- 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 + 1/4 cup water whisked together and allowed to sit for 10 minutes or more
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 cup panko
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- marinara sauce for serving
- Heat 1 tbsp. oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sautee about five minutes.
- Add garlic and sautee an additional minute.
- Add eggplant and continue to cook for about an additional fifteen minutes, flipping occasionally, or until eggplant is soft. Allow to cool.
- Preheat oven to 375. Add eggplant and remaining ingredients to mixing bowl. Mix well (hands work great here) and shape into balls.
- 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.
- Serve with marinara.