If it’s a spaghetti and meatball kind of day, these super-tasty, plant-based eggplant-baby bella “meatballs” are what you need in your life right now … even if you’re not a vegetarian. I reserve this recipe for a lazy Sunday since it does take a bit of time to prepare. But it’s totally worth it! In other words, you’ll want to plan for a good 45 minutes for prep. If you’ve got the time, no stressing out is required to roast these flavorful stand-ins for beefy meatballs. It can actually be a zen-like culinary experience if you add spa-like background tunes. (I’m actually not kidding about that!) Or make it a fun evening to cook as a couple, family, or besties “pod.”
As for the ingredients, this is why I did what I did! The duo of eggplant and baby bella mushrooms provide “meatiness” and veggie lover’s goodness. The combo of chia seeds and marinara sauce adds moistness while working as a flavorful binder. The nutritional yeast flakes (nooch!) act like parmesan cheese. The oats provide plenty of body for a just-right texture. And everything else boosts deliciousness!
These don’t taste like mock beefy meatballs. Rather, they taste like (and they are!) real vegetable-based “meatballs” … and in the very best way, not in a “Where’s the beef?” kind of way! Ideally serve these (somewhat funny looking!) hearty, plant-based eggplant-baby bella “meatballs” is to quickly toss in simmering marinara sauce and serve over pasta. However, you don’t want to actually simmer these “meatballs” in the sauce or they’ll become mushy.
These “meatballs” are also rather versatile. So, try them tossed with other sauces, like pesto. Find my nuts & seeds plant-based pesto recipe HERE. Serve in a Mediterranean flatbread or on a Lebanese salad drizzled with tahini sauce. Find my lemony tahini dressing recipe HERE. Or nestle in orzotto. Find my lemony herb “orzotto” with garlicky chickpeas recipe HERE.
Hint: If you’re serving these plant-based “meatballs” to the carnivores in your life, pair them with their favorite pasta, marinara, real parmesan cheese, and buttery garlic bread and I bet they won’t miss the meat!
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) marinara sauce of choice
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large (1 1/4-pound/570-gram) eggplant, small diced (do not peel)
- 8 ounces (225 grams) baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped*
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/4 cups (125 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats**
- 3 tablespoons (15 grams) nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/3 cup (15 grams) packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, minced, or 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- In a small bowl, stir together the chia seeds and marinara sauce. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in an extra-large, deep cast iron or other stick-resistant skillet over medium-high. Add the eggplant, mushrooms, garlic, salt, black pepper, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the veggies are fully softened, about 12 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl
- Add the chia marinara to the eggplant-baby bella mixture and stir to combine. Add the oats, nutritional yeast, basil, and oregano and stir to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes to slightly cool.
- From mixture into 24 balls, about 30 grams each. (Hint: I form them by using a medium [2-tablespoon/30 milliliter] cookie scoop, then rolling into balls by hand.) Place onto the prepared baking sheet, brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and roast until browned, about 25 minutes.
- If you’re not the saucy type, they’re tasty just as is. Or quickly toss hot “meatballs” in simmering marinara and serve over pasta.
Per serving: 220 calories, 12g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 530mg sodium, 25g total carbohydrate, 7g dietary fiber, 5g total sugars includes 0g added sugars, 7g protein
*If prefer, pulse mushrooms in a food processor to finely chop. **For a smoother appearance, pulse oats in a food processor to coarsely chop. But don't go overboard by processing into flour!