Vegetarian Meatballs

There should be a story behind this “meatball” recipe; I should tell you that it was my great-grandmother’s veggie meatball recipe, or that it was invented in a fit of brilliance when I had meat-eating friends coming to dinner and wanted to trick them.

The truth is less grand, even a little sad.  I lost this recipe.  I made it up 3 years ago, and I don’t remember why.

I was probably frustrated with the selection of vegetarian meatballs in the freezer section (which usually look and taste like mush), so I set out to make better ones.

I made these, or something very like them, was extremely pleased with myself, and then forgot all about it.  I even forgot how I made them.

So I felt foolish over the past several months as I kept wanting meatballs, but avoided making them because I wasn’t sure how.

Eventually I just buckled down and took my best guess, and they came out just great.  Lesson: make that food you’ve been avoiding, because you’ll almost always be glad you did.

This is also one reason I’m glad I have this blog; when I make something that comes out well, I can record it, publicly, and never forget it again.

These tofu meatballs don’t actually taste that different than regular meatballs, at least in my mind.  Tofu itself has little flavor, the nuts and mushrooms give it a meaty taste, and the seasoning does the rest.

Ground beef honestly doesn’t have that much flavor on its own – a few spices like fennel and oregano, which are often found with meatballs, are enough to trick the palate.

Crumbled tofu even has the same texture as ground beef.  They don’t behave that differently than meatballs, either, though mine crumbled more than I wanted them to.

They held together great when I baked and froze them, but when I added them to pasta sauce, they started falling apart.

I used egg as a binder, though, and I’m 99% sure that adding a second egg would solve the problem. (I know they didn’t fall apart last time I made them… Do real meatballs fall apart, too?)

On the other hand, you could eliminate the egg altogether, mix this up with tomato sauce, and have a great “meat” sauce.  Not a bad alternative.

The biggest variable in this recipe is the tofu.  Not all tofu are alike – mine was very firm and unusually dry.  If your tofu works out differently, post a comment and let me know what happens!

Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 1 lb very firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetables, very finely chopped (I used mushrooms)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • Seasonings – I used:
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp fennel seed
    • 1/2 tsp basil
    • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
    • pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 eggs

 

Crumble the tofu into small crumbs (I found that a pastry cutter made this easy).  The finer all the ingredients are, the finer the texture of the meatballs will be – see the picture below.

Vegetarian Meatballs

Stir in the nuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, and your choice of vegetables.  Any vegetables will work as long as they’re very small.

Mushrooms, carrots, and spinach should work well.  Add the seasonings, mix well, then taste and adjust the flavors until you’re happy with it.

Once the taste is right, beat the egg and add it, stirring to spread it evenly through the tofu mixture.

At this point, the mixture should be just slightly wet and sticky, so it’ll hold into a ball if you squeeze a handful. If it’s too dry, try adding some stock or even another egg.  If it’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture.

Heat the oven to 350, and lightly oil a baking sheet.  Form the meatballs by gathering a small handful of the tofu mixture and squeezing it into a roughly round shape.

Don’t try to roll it to perfect the shape, or it will crumble.  Place the balls on the baking sheet, close together but not touching.

Bake for about 10 minutes.  The outsides will be firm and lightly browned.

 

Serve immediately with pasta and sauce, or freeze them to save for later.  To reheat, just cook them in a pan with a little oil until they’re nicely browned.

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