I spend a good amount of time searching for recipes on the web as part of my job at the Co-op, and occasionally I come across one I simply must try. If it’s touted as a better-than-the-original-meat-version plant-based recipe, I’m intrigued. When it’s a vegan recipe that started a full-on fight in a Philadelphia meatball contest, I’m all in. Enter vegan meatballs.
If you want to learn about the full controversy surrounding this recipe by Chef Jennifer Zavala, click the link above, but the general gist is that Chef had the audacity to enter a vegan meatball into a meatball contest, and it was actually very good, to the point that rumors swirled that this recipe almost won before folks found out it was vegan.
As someone who loves actual meaty-meatballs but is trying to eat as plant-based as possible, I wanted to try it out for myself. You probably have most of the ingredients in your cupboard and fridge already:
1 14-oz. can of chickpeas, drained. Save the liquid.
1 1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 squash or zucchini, chopped
1 cup of kale
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tbsp. fennel seed
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/4 cup chickpea water (saved from can)
2 cups chickpea flour (can substitute all-purpose flour) I used a mixture of AP flour and oat flour, for texture.
Step 1 – Drain your chickpeas, but reserve the liquid
Step 2 – Process your veggies
Make sure they’re evenly diced by your food processor, not liquified. Some texture will help them have a more meaty mouth-feel.
Step 3 – Saute your veggie mixture
Add veggies to a hot pan with plenty of olive oil. Stir often until the veggies develop some color. This will add some depth to their flavors, and caramelization just makes everything taste better.
Step 4 – Blend your chickpeas
No need to clean your blender, just dump your chickpeas in there and blend until relatively smooth. It will very much feel like and smell like you are making hummus, and I guess in a way you are.
Step 5 – Add some spice
Add your spices to the vegetable mixture, stir well, and remove from heat. I like to crush my herbs and spices (especially fennel) with a mortar and pestle before adding them to most dishes so more of their aromatics and flavors are opened up.
Step 6 – Create your mixture
Let the veggies cool completely before combining them in a large bowl with your chickpea blend. Add the lemon juice and zest. Next add your flour and the chickpea liquid. Add more flour as needed until you reach a consistency that you’ll be able to roll balls from without batter sticking all over your hands. This took quite a bit more flour for me than the recipe called for. As with most cooking, I just listened to my heart. I suggest you do the same. I also tasted my mixture to see if it might need some salt, which I felt it did.
Step 7 – Rollin’ and fryin’
Roll up your mixture into meatballs (check out my notes on the best size below). Heat up a large, deep pan or Dutch oven with a good amount of oil. Add balls to the hot oil and fry on all sides to create a nice crust.
They will smell delicious while you do this, but as you can see, mine fell apart a little bit (again, size matters, see below). Once they are nicely browned, transfer your vegan meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Enjoy while they’re still warm!
I did not perfect these vegan meatballs in my first attempt. I may have rolled my meatballs a little too large, so after frying up my first batch I reassessed the size. I only needed to fry up a few for dinner (I wanted “meatballs” on my homemade pizza), so with the rest of the batter (and there was A LOT), I portioned them out into much smaller balls with my cookie dough scooper.
I felt like these balls were still a little too moist, so I cooked the smaller meatballs in the oven on a low setting (about 300 degrees) for 30 minutes or so to get rid of some of the excess moisture without browning them. I then froze them so that I could pick them out of the freezer and fry them up as needed for easy meals.
This past weekend I wanted to try the smaller vegan meatballs with some local Lexington Pasta. My boyfriend took them straight out of the freezer and into a pan with hot oil. They once again crisped up nicely around the edges, but still remained a little too moist in the middle. I wonder if I should have thrown them in the oven to warm through and then finished them off in the pan. Also note, we put them in some tomato sauce after crisping them and they definitely lost their crisp and the extra liquid didn’t help the mushy-ness of the inner meatball.
These vegan meatballs do not mimic the real deal for me, but they are still very tasty! Once I took my first bite I thought this meatball tasted more like an Italian-spiced falafel than a meatball. My boyfriend agreed. So, while very delicious, this recipe is just not what I was hoping for texture-wise. I’m not giving up on this recipe, though. I think next time I make these I’ll keep my veggies and chickpeas even chunkier and maybe use as little chickpea liquid as possible to still hold the balls together. Also, I’ll definitely start with a much smaller size ball.
Are you willing to give it a try? Did you perfect the texture and technique? I’d love to hear your feedback so I can continue to tweak my plant-based recipe repertoire. Email me your suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy cooking to you!