Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vegetable Meatballs

Do you like challenges? Do you like pushing yourself to solve a cooking conundrum? I have good friends, for many reasons, who are always on the lookout for ways to eat more vegetarian dishes. Have you ever had a vegetarian meatball? Sadly they tend to suffer from a similar fate as some regular meatballs, namely the darn things are dry, dense and heavy. So my challenge was to make veggie meatballs that are moist and flavorful without resorting to kitchen contortions to deliver a fairly simple recipe. Meat lovers, take a seat, this one is for the veggie lovers.


And when I say veggie lovers, I mean the hardcore veggie lovers. We start with an eggplant. A lovely medium deeply purple eggplant. Take out whatever you use to peel carrots and use it to peel your eggplant. No tough skin for this recipe. Once you've stripped your eggplant, go ahead and cut it into a medium chop. You should get about 4 cups of chopped eggplant. Next you want to chop both an onion and mushrooms, also getting about 4 cups each.


This is going to be your base for your meatless mixture. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of finely minced garlic. Let the garlic cook in the oil about a minute, careful not to let it get too brown. Now add you cut vegetables. Because we are working with three of the wettest veggies at our disposal, we want to cook down some of that moisture while adding flavor. No need to add salt. We'll be adding that later. You want to reduce your mixture to about 4 cups total. How long this takes depends on how carefully you cook your vegetable mixture. I'd say roughly 15 to 20 minutes.

reduced down 2

So now you've got this lovely flavorful base for your meat mixture. Still you can't form meatballs with it so next we pop it into your food processor and give it a whirl. So it looks like this....

not pretty mixture

Not very pretty is it? Now it's more like a chunky paste but it still needs some work. We need to get rid of some more of the moisture. This is where I take a dish towel, and placing half the mixture in the dish towel, twisting the towel so you can torque the liquid out and SQUEEZE. The more liquid you get out now, the more your meatballs will taste better when cooked so don't wimp out on this step. Repeat with the other half of the mixture. Once you've done your best female Russian shot-putter imitation...

...put the entire mixture in a bowl. Next chop up a half a cup of oil cured olives into a fine dice. I like adding olives for their salty meaty flavor. Mix well with your meat mixture. You also want to add a half a cup of diced shredded mozzarella. I don't like leaving the larger texture of the shredded cheese in the ball, so go ahead and dice it down a bit. Now for some flavorings. Since I'm making meatballs to go with spaghetti, I used a liberal sprinkling of a Italian dried herb non-salt mix I found in the spice aisle at the grocery store. I also added 2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil. I have not added any salt because the olives are already salty and I don't think it needs any. You, however, are free to go wild with whatever flavorings you enjoy. Don't forget to taste it and adjust. Once you do have the flavor of the mixture the way you want it, there's one more step. As long as you successfully went Irina on getting the moisture out of your trifecta of veggies, we're going to add a binder back into the mixture. You'll need two egg yolks and roughly a slice and a half of white bread. You want to mixture the two together until you get a paste.

breadyolk paste

Mix well into your vegetable mixture. If all has gone according to plan, the mixture should hold together well. To form the meatballs, you have two choices....coat your hands with olive oil and form the balls with your hands or if you got a small ice cream scoop, you can coat that with olive oil and scoop up the meat mixture. Either way, you will want to drop them on a silpat lined cookie sheet and bake them in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes.

Meatless Meatballs and spaghetti

Now, I'm not trying to replace meat in your world and frankly this recipe only works if you like the flavor of onions, eggplant and mushrooms but let me tell you, it's pretty damned tasty. It's still moist, the olives give it just the right tang and the fresh basil makes a great Italian compliment to your sauce. It's really not that hard to make and I bet they freeze well so making a big batch will be a time saver in the long run. Plus if you grow your own eggplant and onions in your backyard garden, you will be set when ground beef prices go up and up. Eating more vegetables doesn't have to mean losing out on flavor. Bon App├ętit.


the dogs' mother said...

I made ground beef meatballs tonight. Always an experiment - this time I used a slurry of rare onions and garlic and lets chopped dry mushrooms in with it (left over from The Engineer's latest camping experiment).
They turned out pretty well. No idea what the next experiment will go.

Big Shamu said...

I'm so glad you have folks who tolerate your experiments. Your meatball sounded good. The Engineer forages his own mushrooms? How much fun is that?

the dogs' mother said...

No, not mushroom collection. He is making up these things in advance of the weekend's hiking trip with a couple adults and a pile of 10 year old boys. The current experiment was a combination of ramen noodles, dried mushrooms, fritos and some spices and, wait for it, tuna. Dear gawd! And he wanted input!

MakingSpace said...

OMG. Note to self. Do not read The Karmic Kitchen when you are hungry. Doh!

Would this make a good "meat"loaf? Some of us lack patience...

Anonymous said...

These are fabulous!!! Could NOT stop eating them so never did get a chance to make pasta!

Buzz Kill said...

The Mrs likes eggplant and I try to find different uses for it. But if I do anything othere that grilling or breading and frying, it looks horrible (like the above picture). I might give the meatballs a try for a change of pace.

Top Chef Masters had a meatball quickfire and I think one chef went with a vegetarian meatball. But they only had 20 minutes.

Dani said...

Thank You!! I was just wondering what to do with the eggplant that I pulled from the garden yesterday.

Syd said...

Damn Dani! You're already getting eggplant from your garden?!

The most adventurous I've gotten with meatballs is is using turkey. I would try these, as long as they weren't called "vegetarian". As soon as something is labeled "vegetarian", I have a mental block and immediately hate it.

Big Shamu said...

Awww Froggy, I was gonna be all impressed that the hubs was daring enough to eat mushrooms he foraged. I mean, come on, he's a nuclear engineer!

MS, it might make good meatloaf. A small loaf with other veggies in it maybe. I'm not a big fan of meatloaf so I don't foresee me experimenting with that one. I'll leave it to you.

Anony, short of breaking into my house for more, yes, you had to stop once you snarfed them all down.

Buzz, eggplant/onion/mushroom paste is one butt ugly food item. This is where we lose the Food Texture Issues folks. But it really is very tasty.

Dani, as always, glad I could help.

Syd, for you I suggest you call them faux oyster meatballs....if that helps.

MakingSpace said...

Never mind, I got the vegan meatloaf recipe I was lookin' for, though I'm gonna use real eggs so it won't be vegan when I make it.

Um, that Russian shot-putter... I just have to comment.

Sharon Rudd said...

What's not to love about mushrooms, eggplant, onions, garlic and cheese? But I think you suggestion of adding the olives is brilliant!

Captain Obvious said...

Captain Obvious says:

Looks tasty. Have had many varieties of meatballs(pork, beef, fish, shrimp, squid, etc)but never all veg. The closest thing would be seasoned wheat gluten with veg products(a lot of Buddhists eat this) but that's another story.

Will have to try these sometime.

btw-Top Chef Canada just aired

Dani said...

Syd, living in Florida does have it's perks.