These vegan eggplant meatballs made with tender sautéed eggplant, crispy panko breadcrumbs and Italian seasonings, smothered in rich tomato sauce.
I promised a while back 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.
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 greens…you get the idea.
A versatile vegan side or main dish. Whatever you’re into!
I have my grandfather to thank for this one. He’s an excellent Italian cook. At some point during my teens he invited the whole family over for a big pasta dinner. I figured there’d be meat involved, but that wasn’t an issue for me. I was happy eating pasta, salad, bread, or whatever other non-meat items came along with the dinner.
But my grandfather decided to be extra accommodating. 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 — they were awesome!
I think he expected them to be meatier, since they were intended to be a vegetarian version of meatballs. What actually came out, to my tastebuds at least, was more like an eggplant Parmesan 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, having just followed the instructions given to him on television. I borrowed that technique to make this vegan version of Grandpop’s old eggplant meatballs. His version had Parmesan cheese, so I left that out, but added some nutritional yeast to get a cheesy flavor. Also, I distinctly remember my Grandfather pan-frying his eggplant meatballs, but I had better luck baking my version. 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
- 2 tablepsoons ground flax seeds
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium Italian eggplant (about 1 pound), very finely diced (1/2 inch or smaller) and optionally peeled
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 cup panko
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- marinara sauce for serving
Whisk the flax seeds and water together in a small bowl, then allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes.
While the flax mixture sits, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until very fragrant, about 1 minute more.
Add the eggplant and continue to cook for about an additional 10-15 minutes, flipping occasionally, or until the eggplant is soft and browned in spots. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375° and coat a baking sheet or large cast iron skillet with the remaining tablespoon of oil.
Place the eggplant mixture into a large mixing bowl, along with the flax mixture, and stir in all remaining ingredients. Mix well (hands work great here), and then shape the mixture into 1-inch balls (about 20 of them).
Arrange the meatballs on the baking sheet or in the skillet and bake for 30-35 minutes, turning once or twice during baking in order to brown all sides.
- Serve with marinara.
While these are great served with sauce, I don't recommend storing or letting them sit in the sauce for too long, as they're pretty delicate and will fall apart.