I grew up eating spaghetti with tomato sauce, but (since I didn’t eat meat) the concept of meatballs was foreign to me. It was never something I knew, so it was never something I missed. Recently, however, for some reason I don’t quite understand I got it in my head to make a vegan meatball recipe. I decided to use beets in this recipe, primarily because of their beautiful color, but also I love their soft, sweet flavor. I didn’t try to make this taste like meat (again, I’m not really sure what meatballs taste like), but I wanted them to have the following qualities-
- Beautiful Color
These vegan meatballs (beetballs) succeed on all fronts! They get their flavor from the sweetness in the beets, joined with onions, garlic and mushrooms. They have the same Italian spices that traditional meatballs might (parsley, basil and oregano). Their texture comes primarily from the vital wheat gluten that is used to hold them all together. Vital wheat gluten is the protein in wheat, after all the starches have been removed. You can actually produce the gluten yourself, by using water to “scrub” flour repeatedly- I did it once, but I can’t say I recommend it. It took forever, and I didn’t ever manage to get all the starch out. In the vegan and vegetarian worlds, vital wheat gluten is important because it is the stuff seitan is made of. And that’s essentially what these beetballs are- spherical, veggie-filled seitan.
When you make your own seitan (or beetballs) the texture is created from kneading the dough together- it only takes a couple minutes until you can see stringy connections forming in your dough. After that you will bake the formed beetballs surrounded by well-oiled tinfoil- the result is 8 chewy beetballs, with a crusty outside.
These beetballs (vegan meatballs) are incredibly filling, especially if you eat them with tomato sauce and spaghetti like I did. They would also be great in a beetball sandwich, or on their own with tomato sauce.
Vegan Meatballs (Beetballs)
- ½ lb. beets (around 2 small, or one large)
- 2 oz. mushrooms (around 4 button or crimini mushrooms)
- ¼ onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 TBSP. ketchup
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried parsley
- ¼ tsp. oregano
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup vital wheat gluten
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- Oil, as needed
1. Cut the beets into small cubes, place in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until you can easily stick a fork through them.
2. In the meantime, dice the onion, mince the garlic and chop the mushrooms into small pieces. Add a small amount of oil to a skillet and let it heat up before adding all the garlic, mushrooms and onions. Allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become translucent.
3. Once the beets are cooked, drain them and preheat the oven to 320°F (160°C). Transfer the beets, and onion mixture to a food processor and blend. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Next add all the other ingredients, and process again. A dough should start to form (if your beets are a little over ½ lb., you might need to add a little more vital wheat gluten).
4. Take the dough out of the blender and knead for around 2 minutes (make sure you do this on something you don’t mind turning beet colored!), and separate into eight even pieces. Lay a piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, shiny side up, and lightly oil. Form each of the 8 pieces of dough into a ball and place on the cookie sheet. Cover with another piece of oiled aluminum foil and roll the edges closed.
5. Put in the oven for 45 minutes, before flipping the whole package of beetballs over and returning to the oven for an additional 25 minutes. Serve warm.