This vegetarian meatball recipe is ultimately savory, made with a base of mushrooms, chickpeas, and umami-packed sun-dried tomatoes. It’s easy to make, and even meat-eaters will love the texture and flavor! Serve as an appetizer or for dinner – so many possibilities!
Ok, ok, ok, hold the phone. These meatballs aren’t…well…really meatballs at all. They’re loaded-with-veggie-goodness-balls. Savory bites of perfection that are delicious paired with marinara and spaghetti, in a sub-sandwich, or used in a stroganoff. Or, keep them as is, stick a toothpick in them, and add them to your appetizer repertoire. Really, the possibilities endless.
You’ll not only love the flavor and texture, but how easy they are to make.
I mean, really.
I’ve converted one of my meat-loving coworkers to the love of vegetarian meatballs. Mindset shift to accepting that vegetarian food can be super flavorful, delicious, and filling. He coworker even suggested I call them “holy-sh*t-I-didn’t-know-there-wasn’t-meat-in-these-meatballs” meatballs.
So it’s safe to say, even the meat-eaters in your life will love these for the rich, savory flavor, and perfect meatball-like texture. Let’s get to cooking them then, shall we?
What actually goes into them?
Are you sitting here wondering well, ok, but what is even in vegetarian meatballs if there’s not meat?
There are many varieties out there, and depending on your preferences, you may lean for one version over another. My goal with this recipe was to use completely approachable ingredients that can be found in any good ol’ grocery store, and that don’t need extra prep.
That being said, here’s what you’ll need for this version:
- Mushrooms – a huge part of the umami and meat-like flavor and texture comes from mushrooms in this recipe. They sauté with onions and garlic aromatics to infuse the flavors and are oh so yummy.
- Chickpeas – an excellent source of protein and they add to the texture of the meatballs.
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes – a little sweet, totally savory, umami-packed flavor. And again, they add to the texture! I recommend using the ones that are not packed in oil, to ensure the meatballs don’t become too wet.
- Italian herbs – use a blend or mix and match your own, the herbs add a lovely flavor punch to the meatballs.
- Worcestershire Sauce – use a vegetarian version of this sauce (the traditionally version is made with anchovies). It adds another hint of umami flavor to the meatballs. You could also sub in soy sauce, but then they won’t be soy-free.
- The Binders – egg and panko bind together the meatballs.
How to Make Veggie Meatballs
You’ll need a food processor to make these meatballs, and then they’ll come together in a snap!
Sautee the mushroom, onion, and garlic until the water has evaporated out of the mushrooms. This is important to ensure that your meatballs have the right texture and don’t end up soggy. No one wants soggy… meatballs.
Let that mixture cool while you combine the chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, and spices in the food processor (photos 1-2). Add the mushrooms and pulse again several times until combined, but still somewhat coarse. Alternatively, you can combine these steps if your mushrooms are completely cooled (photos 3-4).
Once that coarse mixture is formed, add in the panko and pulse until combined, keeping it a semi-course mixture for the texture of the meatballs (photos 7-8). Taste test the mixture at this point (before you add the egg!) to make sure that the salt levels are appropriate for your tastes and adjust as needed.
Stir in the whisked egg – opposed to food processing it in because you don’t want the mixture to get mushy! I like to transfer it to a mixing bowl at this point to make stirring it easier (photos 7-8).
If the mixture seems warm (from the mushrooms) or a little too sticky, place it in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
Proceed to form approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls. You’ll end up with 20-24 depending on the size (as one reader recommends – make them smaller for more crispy edges when cooking if you prefer!).
Heat an oil-coated skillet and pan-fry the balls on each side until golden brown and crispy, on each side (photos 9-10). I like using my cast iron skillet because it gives the exterior of the meatballs that perfectly crisp and golden brown coating.
You can bake them if preferred, they just won’t get as crispy of an exterior as if you pan fry them.
Once they’re golden brown, they’re ready to enjoy!
Ways to Enjoy Vegetarian Meatballs
The world is your oyster…er, meatball, because there’s no limits for ways you can use these meatballs.
There’s the obvious, spaghetti and meatballs. I love using my homemade tomato sauce here.
Add them to a meatball sub. Put them on a pizza. Sandwich them in a slider.
Mix and match and enjoy the heck outta them!
Frequently Asked Questions
Honestly, it’s hard to do so. Using a food processor is the easiest way to get the right texture and make sure the ingredients are mixed. You might be able to use a blender if you blend the ingredients in batches and mix it by hand, but I cannot guarantee those results.
If you can’t find a vegan or vegetarian version of Worcestershire sauce, just use soy sauce in its place.
Yes you can! The exterior just won’t get quite as crispy as when fried. I’ve included baking instructions in the recipe card notes below.
More Classic-turned-Vegetarian Recipes to Love
- Healthier Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
- Spinach Ricotta Lasagna
- Individual Vegetarian Pot Pies
- Vegetarian Tater Tot Hot Dish
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Super Savory Vegetarian Meatballs
- 1 - 1 ½ TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup yellow onion roughly diced
- 3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
- 2 cups mushrooms sliced
- 1 15- oz. can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes julienned*
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- 1 TBSP Italian blend herbs
- 2 TBSP vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup panko
- 2 eggs whisked
- Olive oil or a flavorless oil, for frying
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms, cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until brown and tender, and the water has evaporated from them. With 2-3 minutes remaining with the mushrooms, add the garlic. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- In a food processor, add chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, sea salt, white pepper, Italian herb blend, and Worcestershire sauce. Pulse 2-3 times until a very coarse mixture forms.
- Add mushroom mixture and continue pulsing as a more uniform, yet still slightly coarse, mixture forms. Add the panko breadcrumbs and pulse until incorporated. Taste test and add additional salt as needed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in whisked eggs until fully incorporated.
- Optional: you can place the mixture in the fridge for 15 minutes if it seems too warm, depending on how cooled your mushrooms were. Using your hands, form and roll 1 - 1 ½ inch meatballs; creating approximately 20-24 balls.
- To pan-fry, coat a heavy-duty skillet (I like to use cast iron) in approximately ¼ inch of flavorless oil or olive oil, and heat over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the heated oil, being sure to not crowd the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. You may need to gently turn the meatball from underneath so the outside layer doesn't stick on the first side. Continue cooking in batches until all meatballs are cooked.
- Serve with your favorite tomato sauce as desired, or in your preferred recipe.
This post was originally published in February of 2018; the text and photos were updated in January of 2020 for clarity.