Vegan. Meat balls. Life-changer.
I've never been a fan of meat substitutes, you know, the tempehs and tofus and seitans. They're not whole foods, not by a long shot, and the flavors have never thrilled me. I'm soy and gluten sensitive anyway, so no great loss there.
When I first gave up meat with feet I simply assumed that my meatball days were past. There are some foods that you just shouldn't try to "fake", in my opinion, and the meatball is one of them.
Except that the whole meatball concept is kinda brilliant. Especially when you consider that they appeal to all age groups, are equally appropriate for cocktail parties and family dinners, and they keep well in the fridge or freezer making meal time a snap.
So, I decided to challenge myself with making a delicious non-meat meatball, a meat-less ball, a ball of non-meat substance, one that would look, act and taste like the real deal. Not only that, but it had to be super-loaded with nutritive value, and be protein-heavy. And no beans allowed. I figured it was a long-shot, but I like a big challenge, so I headed into my test kitchen yesterday, ready to struggle through variation after variation until I got it right.
I guess it was my lucky day because I hit it on the first shot. These "Meaty Balls" are life-changing. They've changed my life anyway, and my 13 year old carnivorous son is pretty impressed, so there's a good chance they may change your life too.
The key to the texture and rich flavor is cooked red quinoa and toasted walnuts. These two ingredients form the "meat" of the mixture. I added some chia for additional protein and healthy omega fats, and to help bind everything together. The psyllium, quinoa flakes, and panko also contribute binding. A simple combo of olive oil, whole grain mustard and coconut milk adds flavor and combines with the binging ingredients to hold everything together. Herbs, onions and garlic go in too, because what's a meatball without herbs, onions, and garlic, right? And since I can't make anything lately without some greens, I tossed in some spinach for good measure.
I tasted the meaty balls naked and with basil pesto, both were equally delish. I imagine they would stand up well to a red sauce too, but since my body is a nightshade-free zone you'll have to let me know how that one works out. I also tested a portion of the mixture baked in a small ramekin, producing an individual meaty "loaf", also quite yummy. I'm sure you could bake the entire recipe in a loaf pan if you wanted to save yourself the saute time.
The texture is convincingly meaty and when you cut into it you'd never know it's totally vegan. These little guys are so close to the real thing, they hold their shape in the saute pan and on the plate- they even pass the fork test.
It's worth mentioning that these lovelies are not only vegan but also free of gluten, corn, and soy, just a few of my own personal enemies that I avoid like the plague. I loved the fresh sage but basil and thyme would work nicely here too, so play around with other herbs if sage isn't your thing.
Without further delay, please enjoy my Meaty Balls (wink-wink)...
Vegan Meaty Balls (makes 12-15 smallish balls)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 white onion, peeled and sliced
4 fresh sage leaves
2 handfulls baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried italian herbs
1 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup packed cooked red quinoa
1 tablespoon psyllium husks (see NOTE below)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon gluten free panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon quinoa flakes
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsweetened nut milk of choice (I used So Delicious Coconut Milk)
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for sauteeing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until starting to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and toss around for about 2 minutes to wilt. Add the salt, pepper and dried herbs. Chop the mixture coarsely by hand or in a food processor. Transfer mixture to a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Cool for about 5 minutes then chop coarsely by hand or in a food processor. Add the nuts to the spinach mixture.
Add the cooked red quinoa to the spinach & nuts mixture, stir well to combine. Add the psyllium, chia, panko, and quinoa flakes. Stir to combine.
In a small bowl combine the mustard, olive oil, and nut milk. Combine well with a fork or small whisk. Add to the quinoa & nut mixture stirring well. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for about 5 minutes while you heat your oil in a saute pan over medium heat.
When the oil is hot, use a small ice cream scoop or two spoons to form tightly packed balls. Saute the balls in the hot oil until browned on all sides, about 2 minutes. Don't overcrowd the pan or you'll steam your balls instead of browning them.
Serve hot, or cool completely and transfer to a lidded container to store in the refrigerator or freezer.
NOTE: In the US psyllium husks can be found in the supplement department with the other fiber products. Here's a photo of the one I use...