Eggplant Meatballs

by Toni Fiore

Makes 20 to 24, Serving 4 to 6

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled, cut into ¼ - to ½ -inch dice
1½ cups walnuts, toasted (see page 86) and coarsely chopped (optional)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups dried bread crumbs
2 large organic eggs, beaten; or ½ cup firm tofu, processed until smooth
½ cup dairy or vegan Parmesan, grated
½ cup grated Pecorino, or vegan cheese
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ cup coarsely chopped basil
vegetable oil spray

Store-bought vegetarian meatballs are expensive—and a bit too bland for my taste. This recipe is the perfect alternative: easy, affordable, and delicious. (It’s also one of the few recipes in which I substitute dried parsley if I don’t have fresh, so do make these even if that’s the one ingredient you’re without.) I drizzle the meatballs with a little basil-oil slurry and serve with a side salad of tomatoes and onions. You can shape them into burgers and serve with Lemony Garlic-Smashed Potatoes. Use leftover meatballs in lasagna or as a taco filling. To give these a Middle Eastern flavor, replace the basil with a generous handful of chopped mint and serve with garlicky Tzatziki.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

2. Heat a large skillet and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the skillet is hot, add the onion and sauté on medium-low until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and a sprinkle of salt and sauté until the vegetables are soft and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. If the eggplant dries out too quickly and begins to stick, add a bit more olive oil. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

3. Add the walnuts, if using, to the eggplant and mix thoroughly. Transfer a generous cup of the eggplant mixture to the food processor. Process until pureed and return to the bowl. Add the bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan, Pecorino, garlic, zest, parsley, oregano, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper and mix well. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining tablespoon or more olive oil. Rub a little olive oil on your palms and shape the meatballs with your hands, using 2 heaping tablespoons of the mixture at a time. Each meatball should be about the size of a golf ball.

4. Place the eggplant balls on the prepared baking sheet and spray with vegetable oil spray. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until a deep golden brown with a nice crust. Don’t let them overbake or they will get too dry. Remove the pan from the oven, cover with foil to slightly steam the balls, and allow them to rest for a few minutes.

From Totally Vegetarian by Toni Fiore, published by Da Capo Lifelong