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Easy Vegan Meatballs

White plate filled with spaghetti, vegan meatballs, and marinara sauce on a blue background.
Recipe At-A-Glance
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Vegan, Gluten-Free25 minutes
Quick and easy meatless and gluten-free vegan meatballs with chickpeas, rice, and oats. All you need are 25 minutes and a handful of common ingredients.

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Whenever someone is hesitant to try out eating more meatless meals, one of my favorite things to do is show them just how comforting and hearty plant-based eating can be.

I think a common misconception about a plant-based diet is that it’s just a bunch of salads. So not true! A plant-centered meal can be just as hearty and stick-to-your-ribs-y as a meal with animal products. And this big ole plate of spaghetti and vegan meatballs is a perfect example of that.

I posted my first meatless meatball recipe back in 2011 after getting a recipe emailed to me by one of my coworkers. I was really happy with the taste of the recipe, but now looking back at it, the ingredient list was a little unwieldy. It had 17 ingredients just to make some daggum meatballs!

For years now, I’ve been working on perfecting that vegan meatballs recipe with these main goals in mind:

  1. Reduce the ingredient list as low as possible (it’s down to 10 for the base recipe).
  2. Use only pantry staples (the weirdest ingredient here is walnuts).
  3. Keep it delicious, meaty, and hearty (it totally is).

White plate filled with spaghetti, vegan meatballs, and marinara sauce on a blue background. A white-handled fork rests on the edge of the plate.

After a whole lot of spaghetti and meatball dinners (like, a lot), I think I’ve finally landed on a really great, relatively simple, perfectly meaty, and delicious plant-based meatball recipe. Woohoo!

What are meatless meatballs made out of?

There are a lot of great meatless meatball recipes out there, but not a lot of great meatless meatball recipes that don’t call for specialty ingredients like tempeh or TVP or tofu or wheat germ or seitan. These vegan meatballs are made using only ingredients that are regularly kept in my pantry. They are all 100 recognizable—no soy protein isolate here! Here’s what’s in these meatballs:

  • Chickpeas
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Walnuts
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
  • Ketchup
  • Herbs and spices

Skillet filled with vegan meatballs, on a blue background

How do you make vegan meatballs gluten-free?

There’s no flour or breadcrumbs to help these meatballs hold their shape, so you’re already half-way there! Just make sure to grab gluten-free old-fashioned oats and use tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce, and this recipe is ready for all of your gluten-free friends and family! This is the best GF spaghetti we’ve found, by the way. And you can make some vegan Parmesan cheese to go with them, too!

Light blue bowl filled with meatless meatballs, on a darker blue background

How do you cook these meatballs?

When it comes to the cooking method for these beautiful, meaty babies, I’ve done all kinds of testing, and I’ll tell you that my favorite method is to pan-fry them (in avocado oil because it has an über-high smoke point) until brown and crisp.

BUT, if pan-frying isn’t your thing, I’ve also done these 100% in the oven with pretty darn good results. You obviously don’t get the crispy, crunchy outside crust, but you still get a really great meatball.

Hand holding a white-handled fork with a vegan meatball skewered on it.

Help! My meatballs won’t stay together!

I’ve also done a lot of testing on this recipe using eggs, egg substitutes, and even no egg at all, and I’ve found little difference. If you have trouble getting the recipe to hold together, you can add an egg (if you’re not vegan) or a flax egg (mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed meal with three tablespoons warm water and let thicken for five minutes) to the mixture to make it stickier, but I didn’t find it necessary.

Can you freeze these meatballs?

You sure can! I like to freeze them after pan-frying in a single layer in a cookie sheet. Then once frozen solid, I transfer to a zip-top freezer bag and keep them stashed in the freezer for up to six months. When it’s time to cook those bad boys, I just drop them into a pot of sauce straight from frozen and cook until warmed through—about 10 minutes. 

The original version of this vegan meatballs recipe has been around for a while and quite a few folks enjoyed it, so if you’d like access to that, you can print it here. But I highly recommend trying out this new version! You won’t be sorry. Enjoy!

 
White plate filled with spaghetti, vegan meatballs, and marinara sauce on a blue background.

Vegan Meatballs

Yield: 36 1-inch meatballs
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

At last, meatless meatballs that don’t call for any specialty ingredients! These Easy Vegan Meatballs are relatively simple and perfectly meaty, and you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (toasted is great, but not necessary)
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (wild rice is great, too)
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (use coconut aminos or tamari if gluten-free)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • Additional spices, if desired (see notes)
  • Avocado oil (or other high heat oil), for pan-frying

Instructions

  1. In the basin of a food processor, pulse together the chickpeas, onion, walnuts, oats, and garlic until it forms a coarse meal about the texture of ground beef. Don’t overmix. You should still see a few small chunks.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl, and add in the rice, ketchup, soy sauce, chili powder, salt, and any additional spices you’re using. Stir until well-mixed.
  3. If you like a meatball with smoother texture, transfer half of the mixture back into the food processor, and pulse until very smooth and pasty—add back to the other half of mixture and stir well to combine.
  4. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Form the meatball mixture into 1” balls and fry in skillet until golden brown on all sides—about 10 minutes total. Don’t overcrowd the pan—you’ll probably want to work in 2-3 batches.

Notes

  • This is great base recipe, but you can doctor these up with spices however you see fit—add two tablespoons of Italian seasoning plus two tablespoons of nutritional yeast for serving over pasta with tomato sauce. Add Montreal Steak Seasoning for great cocktail meatballs to serve as appetizers. The possibilities are endless!
  • We use avocado oil instead of something like olive oil because the avocado oil has a higher smoke point and won't get smoky and burnt during pan-frying. You can also use grapeseed oil, safflower oil, or another high-heat oil.
  • If your meatballs aren’t holding together, feel free to add either an egg (if you’re not vegan) or a flax egg (mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed meal with three tablespoons warm water and let thicken for five minutes) to the meatball mixture. I didn’t find this necessary for my meatballs to stay together well.
  • For an extra boost of flavor, cook your brown rice in veggie broth or even not-beef broth.
  • If you want to skip pan-frying, you can just put the formed meatballs directly on the baking sheet and bake at 425°F for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and firm.
  • Add these meatballs to your saucepan right before serving. The longer they swim around in the sauce, the more tender they become.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 36 Serving Size: 1 meatball
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 44Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 113mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 2g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

Leave a Reply

88 Responses
  1. Dawn

    I made these last night! I fried a few and baked the rest. The fried ones tasted really good haha, the baked ones seemed to dry out a bit. I used white rice, because I didn’t have brown – not sure if that maybe made a difference. Either way, I just crumbled them and put them into a pasta sauce. They’re delicious! Next time I’ll most likely omit the chili powder and add a flax egg. But DEFINITELY will be making them again!

    1. Julie @ Wholefully

      I don’t think they would hold together well without the rice. You could maybe try using another grain, but I haven’t tried it, so I’m not sure.

  2. Jane

    Made these for the first time 1/10/2017. Delicious. Held together well and very tasty. I used a hot chilli powder for a nice kick

  3. Alison

    hey cassie!
    these look delicious! do you happen to know the nutrition facts of this receipe? i’m jump starting a healthy kick and want to try to keep track of my intake.

    thank you!

  4. Jessa

    Hey Cassie, I just read your note about the recent recipes being inspired by your familiy’s choice to go meatless and dairy free. I’ve been excited by a couple of the recipes and meh on others, which is fine, to each their own right, and I recognize the content is super high quality.
    I’m curious though, is the plan going forward to have every recipe follow this model?

    1. Cassie

      Right now, we aren’t eating meat or dairy, but honestly, I hate to make sweeping declarations and say every post going forward will be meatless and dairy-free forever.

      This is what is good for us now, but that might change next year or even next week. I’ve always followed a flexitarian diet—we’re just “flexing” a little more toward plant-based at the time (and feeling awesome because of it).

      I will say that, for the next three months on my editorial calendar, all my new posts are meatless and/or dairy-free. I hope you’ll stick around! I promise, there will be plenty of awesome, relevant content regardless of if you’re an omnivore or herbivore. 🙂

  5. Danielle

    Definitely going to give these a go, they sound super delicious! Would really love to know what you put in your sauce?

  6. Kathy

    Love all the plant based options lately. I’ll try them in my next batch cooking session – and you’re right,, all the stuff is already in my pantry. Thanks!!!

  7. Ali

    Do you think they would work without the walnuts, or would I need to substitute? I’m crazy allergic to nuts, so the recipe as-is is not going to work for me.

  8. These balls looks delicious , btw ,I didn’t see lentils in the ingredients list only chick peas . is it the same thing over in usa? ( sorry for silly question )

    1. Julie @ Wholefully

      Lentils were in the older version of the recipe, but they aren’t in the updated one – they were replaced with the chickpeas!

      1. I have made them and I was very pleased with the taste . I have also add them to my blog with link to Wholefully xx
        lhttps://laura-bigsby.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/april-favorites.htm

  9. Veg Monster

    Gave this a try – it was ok but not really that great. Texture isn’t good (more like a dense cookie) and IMO doesn’t go well with bread or pasta. I hate the taste of VWG that’s in most other recipes I’ve tried, so this at least didn’t make me want to throw up, but I wouldn’t make it again.

  10. This recipe was quick,easy and delicious! My family and I just enjoyed eating some. The only major change I made was to chop one onion,two cloves of garlic, one stick of celery, and some fresh parsley in my food processor first before adding the other ingredients. Due to the high salt content and lack of genuine flavor, I don’t use onion or garlic powder. Thanks for this user friendly, fantastic recipe. It’s definitely worth saving.

Meet Cassie
Meet Your Host

Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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