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[Photograph: Quentin Bacon]

Hearty and versatile eggplant has got to be one of the best vegetable substitutes for meat. Mark Bittman uses the nightshade as the base for meat-less meatballs in his new VB6 Cookbook. They're not much harder to throw together than the animal-based version, especially if you've got homemade breadcrumbs and cooked or canned white beans at the ready. Once baked, the tender "meatballs" are surprisingly flavorful (as long as you don't skimp on the salt), making it easy to forget that you may normally be eating beef.

Why I picked this recipe: Eggplant is the meatiest of vegetables, so these "meatballs" were an obvious pick.

What worked: The sweet and silky eggplant was a perfect flavor base in these meat-less meatballs. I also appreciated the extra protein from the added white beans.

What didn't: I thought the final meatballs were a bit too mushy, and could have used structure from nuts or other grains. I wouldn't recommend serving them in a sandwich, as pictured. As written, you're better off serving them on pasta or polenta. In addition, the tomato sauce could stand a longer simmering time if you're not in a rush.

Suggested tweaks: Adding some ground pine nuts, walnuts, or perhaps a whole grain like barley or quinoa would give the meatballs a bit more structure. The cauliflower and mushroom variations listed in the recipe would also help solve this problem. I'd recommend baking the meatballs on parchment paper to prevent any unwanted sticking. The meatballs can be baked ahead of time and reheated for serving.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of VB6 Cookbook to give away this week.

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