Eggplant Meatballs From 'The VB6 Cookbook'

Eggplant Meatballs
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.

Reprinted with permission from The VB6 Cookbook: More than 350 Recipes for Healthy Vegan Meals All Day and Delicious Flexitarian Dinners at Night by Mark Bittman. Copyright 2014. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 60 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • For the Eggplant Meatballs:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into cubes no larger than 1 inch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup cooked or canned white beans
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat
  • Pinch red chile flakes
  • For the All-Purpose Tomato Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Red chile flakes, to taste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, with their juice
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil or 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. For the Meatballs: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Use 1 tablespoon olive oil to grease a large rimmed baking sheet. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add eggplant and 1/4 cup water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces shrivel a bit and are tender and beginning to color, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer eggplant to the bowl of a food processor.

  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan along with onion and garlic and return to heat. Cook, stirring frequently until they’re soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, drain beans; if using canned, rinse beans also. Add beans and parsley to the work bowl with eggplant and pulse until well combined and chopped, but not puréed.

  3. Toss eggplant mixture with the onion and garlic, then add breadcrumbs and red chile flakes if you’re using them. Taste and adjust seasoning. Roll mixture into 12 balls about 2 inches in diameter; transfer them to the prepared pan. Bake, undisturbed, until they’re firm and well browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

  4. For the Tomato Sauce: Put oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it's hot, add onion and garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper, and red chile flakes if you're using it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes

  5. Add tomatoes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and adjust heat so mixture bubbles steadily. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes break down, vegetables become very soft, and mixture thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. If mixture looks too thick, stir in a splash of water.

  6. Stir in herb, if you're using it; taste and adjust seasoning. You'll need to use about 2 cups along with meatballs. Store remaining sauce in refrigerator for up to several days, or in the freezer for several months.

  7. To serve: Serve meatballs hot or at room temperature along with the tomato sauce.

  8. Variation: Mushroom Meatballs

    For those who don’t fancy eggplant, or just as a change, substitute 1 pound chopped mushrooms of any kind for eggplant. In Step 1, cook them until pan is dry and they start to stick a bit, 5 to 10 minutes. Then mix, form, and bake as in the original recipe.

  9. Variation: Cauliflower Meatballs

    Substitute 1 pound chopped cauliflower for eggplant; core and roughly chop it. In Step 1, cook the pieces until the pan is dry and they start to brown a bit, 10 to 15 minutes. Then mix, form, and bake as in the original recipe.

  10. More Ideas: The coarser the breadcrumbs are, the better. If you can’t make your own, use panko (preferably whole wheat if you can find it).