Vegan Eggplant Meatballs Recipe is a meatless version of a traditional favorite. These Italian style veggie balls are made with French lentils, quinoa, roasted eggplant, Italian herbs and spices. Make ahead easy, freezer friendly and a crowd pleaser, serve em’ up with your favorite marinara, like this Fresh Marinara Walnut Sauce, and pasta or polenta! This recipe is vegetarian and vegan.
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Meatless Meatballs Comfort Food
I never had homemade meatballs until my early 20s when my aunt and uncle prepared them at a family gathering. I thought they were the best thing I’d ever tasted! Tender, juicy and with the perfect amount of Italian seasoning and umami. They were unforgettable!
Did eating a vegetarian diet mean I’d have to give up comfort food favorites? I initially thought this, but over time, I discovered a meatless lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up old favorites. It simply means finding new ways to prepare them. And, after all, I find these vegan eggplant meatballs even more flavorful than their meat-filled counterpart!
The recipe starts with roasted eggplant and garlic as the base, infusing smoky flavor and adding richness to these meatless vegetarian balls! Add lentils, quinoa and breadcrumbs for bulk with plenty of herbs and spices and we’re in meatless meatball heaven!
Quick Guide: How to Make Vegan Eggplant Meatballs
This recipe has several steps, but they flow together easily. The payoff is this recipe makes 22 balls, enough to stash some away in the freezer for later. In summary, here’s how to make these meatless balls (see full recipe below for more detail):
- First, roast the eggplant and garlic.
- Second, while the eggplant and garlic are roasting, cook the lentils and quinoa together. All these cook up in about 30 minutes!
- Third, scrape the flesh from the eggplant and squeeze the roasted garlic from its papery skins. Place in a food processor with tomato paste and diced shallots and process.
- Fourth, place the lentils, quinoa, and eggplant mixture into a large bowl. Add herbs, spices, and breadcrumbs. Mix well.
- Fifth, transfer part of the mixture to the food processor and process until a fistful holds together. Transfer back to the mixing bowl and mix.
- Next, portion and shape the meatless eggplant balls. Rest in the freezer or fridge.
- Last, pan-fry or bake the balls.
How to Roast Eggplant
There are several ways to roast eggplant, from charring on an open flame on the stove top, to on the grill or in the oven. Eggplant can be roasted whole or sliced in half, depending on cooking method used. I generally take a shortcut approach when roasting eggplant by slicing the eggplant in half and roasting in the oven (for more details, see recipe card below):
- First, slice the eggplant lengthwise, down the center. Slash shallow hash marks over the flesh. Lightly brush flesh with olive oil.
- Second, turn the eggplant flesh side down and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes.
- Next, to see if the eggplant is done, press the skin. If the skin is dark, almost black, is soft and sinks when pressed, it’s ready.
- Last, cool and scrape the flesh out.
Sometimes eggplant can be watery after roasting. For this recipe, strain off as much liquid as you can before using it in the recipe.
A Few Recipe Tips
- Freezer friendly? Yes please! These eggplant meatless balls are so versatile! Freeze completely after shaping, before or after cooking. Store in a freezer bag for up to two weeks. Thaw in fridge overnight then cook or rewarm.
- What to Serve with Vegetarian Eggplant Balls? We love these meatless balls with any shape of pasta or zucchini zoodles, our favorite fresh Walnut Marinara Walnut Sauce, a sprinkle of parm (vegetarian or vegan), fresh basil, and a Vegetarian Kale Caesar Salad or Vegan Kale Caesar Salad. They’re just as fabulous shared over polenta covered in marinara or in a saucy sub!
- Pan Fry or Bake? I’ve included two cooking methods in the recipe. We prefer the texture and flavor pan frying yields, but these vegan eggplant meatballs can be baked if desired.
- Gluten Free? I’ve not tested this recipe with gluten free bread crumbs. If you give it a go, please let us know how it goes in the comments!
- DIY Breadcrumbs! This recipe calls for unseasoned bread crumbs. For homemade, I like sourdough. See recipe notes below for an easy DIY method. They store beautifully in the freezer for make-ahead ease!
More Eggplant Recipes to Love
- Thai Red Curry with Eggplant and Sweet Peppers
- Smoky Roasted Eggplant Hummus
- Mediterranean Lentils with Roasted Eggplant and Blistered Cherry Tomatoes
- Creamy Roasted Eggplant Artichoke White Bean Dip
Vegan Eggplant “Meatballs” Recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs (680g) Globe Eggplant about one large or two smallish eggplants
- 1 Head of Garlic small, tips sliced off with garlic exposed, root in tact.
- 3 tsp Olive Oil plus more for pan frying
- 3/4 C (155g) French Lentils
- 3/4 C (135g) Quinoa rinsed. I like red or tri color
- 2 1/2 C (600g) Water
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 3 Tbs Tomato Paste
- 1/3 C (40g) Shallots about one small shallot
- 3/4 C (60g) Unseasoned Bread Crumbs plus up to 1/4 C more if needed. See note for DIY*.
- 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 Tbs Dried Italian Herbs see note**
- 1 1/2 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce vegan style
- 1 1/2 tsp Fine Sea Salt
Roast the Eggplant:
- Preheat oven to 450F (232C) and set oven rack to top half. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.Wrap the garlic in a small piece of foil and drizzle about 1 tsp of olive oil over the top. Wrap loosely and set on the sheet pan. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and score the flesh in shallow cross marks. Generously brush olive oil on the flesh of the eggplant. Arrange flesh side down on the parchment paper. Roast the garlic and eggplant for about 30 minutes or until the eggplant skins darken and begin to sink. When you press on the skin, it will sink and be soft. Remove the eggplant and garlic from oven and allow to cool slightly. Unwrap the garlic to allow it to cool. Scrape flesh from the eggplant skin, discard the skin and set the flesh aside. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.
Cook the Lentils and Quinoa:
- While the eggplant is roasting, cook the quinoa and lentils. In a medium sauce pan, add the quinoa, lentils, bayleaf, pinch of salt and water. Bring to a boil, turn to low and cover with a lid. Cook for 20 - 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender, not mushy and no water remains in the pot. Discard the bayleaf and transfer the lentils and quinoa to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Make the No-Meatballs:
- Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skins and allow it to fall into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade attachment. To the garlic, add the eggplant flesh leaving behind its juices as best you can, tomato paste and shallots. Process until smoothish or for about 15-20 seconds. Transfer the mixture to the large mixing bowl with the quinoa and lentils.
- To the large mixing bowl add the bread crumbs, pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire and salt. Mix the ingredients until they're evenly distributed.
- Transfer 3 C (525g) of the mixture to the food processor and pulse 15 times stopping once to scrape down the bowl. Check to see if the mixture holds together when squeezed in your fist. Pulse a few more times if needed. Transfer the mixture back to the large bowl and mix again until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Test to see if the mixture holds together in your fist. If it seems too moist add a few more tablespoons of bread crumbs. Mix and test again. Taste for seasoning adjustment.
Shape the Balls:
- Line a small sheet pan with parchment paper. Use a #20 cookie scoop or 3 Tbs each to portion the balls. Scoop all the portions then roll into balls. Freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours before cooking. Flavor improves the longer they rest. MAKE AHEAD TIP: at this point the meatballs can be frozen solid before transferring to a freezer bag. Freeze for up to two weeks.
Cook the Balls:
- There are two ways to approach cooking the meatballs - pan fry or bake. Pan frying creates a crispy, tender meatball while baking omits most of the oil and creates a softer, less crisp meatball. I prefer the flavor/taste frying creates. To Pan Fry: Preheat oven to 200F (93C) if holding the balls warm after pan frying. Otherwise, you won't need the oven on.Pour a shallow layer of oil in a frying pan. I like a cast iron skillet for the job. Heat the oil until it shimmers. Toss a crumb of meatball in the pan. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Using tongs, gently transfer the balls into the pan, leaving room between them for rolling/turning. I cook about seven at a time, in a 10" skillet.Cook for 6-8 minutes, rolling and turning the balls as needed to create a crispy texture or until golden-dark brown. Adjust the heat as necessary. Transfer to a double layer of paper towel to catch pan drippings and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt if desired. Repeat, adding more oil as needed. If holding warm, transfer to the oven on a parchment lined sheet pan until ready to eat.To Bake: Preheat the oven to 375F (190C) and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Brush the parchment with oil. Bake the balls for 20-25 minutes rotating the balls 2-3 times while baking.
- Enjoy the eggplant meatballs with your favorite pasta and marinara sauce, polenta or on a sub or hogie! Serve with parmesan (vegetarian or vegan) and fresh torn basil.
- To rewarm cooked balls, make sure they're thawed from previously frozen, bake on a parchment lined sheet pan at 350F (180C) for about 10-13 minutes or until warmed through.