Vegan Eggplant Meatballs are a meatless version of a traditional favorite. These no meat, Italian style veggie balls are made with lentils, quinoa, roasted eggplant, Italian herbs and spices. Make ahead easy, freezer friendly and a crowd pleaser, serve em' up with your favorite marinara and noodles or polenta! This recipe is vegetarian and vegan.*Time above includes the pan fry method. Add 15 more minutes if using the bake method. Portions: Plan on 2-3 vegan meatballs per adult. I usually have two, my husband, three.
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.
*To DIY Bread Crumbs, tear pieces of sliced sourdough and place them in a work bowl of a food processor with the s blade attachment in place. Process sourdough until small crumbs form. Spread the pieces on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 350F for about 10-13 minutes or until dry and crispy. Cool completely and use in recipe or store in a freezer bag for up to two weeks. **If using individual dried herbs sub 1 Tbs oregano, 1 1/2 tsp thyme and 1 1/2 tsp basil.