Softened eggplant is transformed into juicy vegetarian meatballs in this eggplant meatballs recipe! Baked in the oven before being tossed in pasta sauce, each meatball is bursting with Italian flavors that pair perfectly with spaghetti, subs, and more.
I used to have a hard time coming up with dinner ideas for Meatless Monday, but not anymore! It’s now easier than ever to turn vegetables into new and exciting dishes, like plain cabbage into meaty cabbage steaks and raw cauliflower florets into General Tso’s cauliflower.
In this eggplant meatballs recipe, sautéed eggplant is pureed with simple ingredients, then rolled into balls and baked to meaty, Italian-flavored perfection. The baked meatballs are tossed in pasta sauce and served over pasta, with salad, or however you like! It’s a richly flavored and deliciously meaty recipe that you’ll hardly notice is meat-free!
Table of Contents
- Why you’ll love this eggplant meatball recipe
- Ingredients needed
- Gluten free substitute
- How to make eggplant meatballs
- Tips to make the best recipe
- What to serve with eggplant meatballs
- Storage instructions
- Recommended tools to make this recipe
- More eggplant recipes to try
- Frequently asked questions
- Eggplant Meatballs
Why you’ll love this eggplant meatball recipe
- Mouth-watering Italian flavors. A handful of ingredients, like garlic, basil, and parmesan, are used in the meatball filling to help every bite taste like classic Italian-style meatballs.
- Vegetarian. You won’t be missing the meat in this recipe! A blend of pureed eggplant and Italian-inspired ingredients leaves you with savory vegetarian meatballs that are naturally meaty and tender.
- Versatile. Serve the eggplant balls and pasta sauce over spaghetti for a classic meal, or take it over the top by stuffing them into subs, topping them on a salad or grain bowl, or make them the main dish. There are endless ways to serve eggplant meatballs!
This recipe is made with almost all of the same ingredients as a traditional Italian meatball recipe but swaps the ground meat for softened and pureed eggplant. This is what you need:
- Eggplant. You need 2 medium-sized eggplants to make this recipe.
- Olive oil. To sauté the eggplant.
- Water. Water helps the eggplant soften in the pan and prevents it from burning. Feel free to use vegetable stock instead to deepen the flavor.
- Salt and pepper. For flavor.
- Garlic. Fresh garlic cloves give the meatballs a distinct and mouthwatering savory flavor.
- Basil. Fresh basil is best but dried will work in a pinch.
- Italian breadcrumbs. Use pre-seasoned Italian breadcrumbs or regular breadcrumbs stirred together with an Italian seasoning blend.
Gluten free substitute
To make gluten free eggplant meatballs, use Italian-seasoned gluten free breadcrumbs instead.
- Parmesan cheese. This gives the meatballs a savory, salty, and cheesy flavor. You can even add shredded mozzarella in addition to the parmesan for extra cheesy and gooey meatballs.
- Eggs. To bind the meatball mixture together.
- Pasta sauce. Any jarred or homemade pasta sauce (or sugo!) you love will work.
- Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. For garnish.
How to make eggplant meatballs
Making meatballs with eggplant is easier than you may think. They come together in just 6 simple steps:
Step 1 – Cook the eggplant
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the eggplant and sauté. Pour the water into the pan and continue cooking until the eggplant is soft.
Step 2 – Puree
Transfer the softened eggplant to a food processor along with the garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Process until smooth, then pour into a mixing bowl.
Step 3 – Finish the meatball mixture
Add the breadcrumbs, parmesan, and eggs to the bowl with the blended eggplant. Stir together, being careful not to over-mix.
Step 4 – Shape and bake the meatballs
Use your hands to shape a scoop of the mixture at a time into round golf ball-sized meatballs. Place them on a baking sheet, then bake in the oven.
Step 5 – Heat the tomato sauce
While the baked eggplant meatballs are cooling, heat the pasta sauce in the non-stick skillet. Place the meatballs in the skillet but do not toss them in the sauce.
Step 6 – Serve
Take the skillet off of the heat when the sauce is warmed through. Garnish with parmesan cheese and basil, then serve!
Tips to make the best recipe
- Is the eggplant mixture too wet? Try stirring in more breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese until it isn’t soggy and is easier to work with.
- Use clean and wet hands to shape the meatballs. A little water on your hands will prevent the mixture from sticking.
- Roast the eggplant. To deepen the flavor of the meatballs, toss the eggplant pieces in olive oil, then roast them in a 450ºF oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pieces are soft and lightly browned.
What to serve with eggplant meatballs
Just like regular or vegan meatballs, you can top the eggplant meatballs and tomato sauce on a plate of spaghetti or your favorite pasta. For a lighter option, swap the pasta for gluten free pasta, leafy greens, or zucchini noodles instead.
Make sure to save some leftovers to stuff into meatball subs for lunch the next day!
To store: Once they’re cooked in the sauce and slightly cooled, you can store the leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To freeze: Eggplant meatballs can be frozen without the tomato sauce for up to 2 months. Thaw them on the kitchen counter before reheating.
To reheat: Reheat the meatballs with the tomato sauce in a non-stick skillet until they’re heated through.
Recommended tools to make this recipe
- Non-stick skillet. Use a medium or large skillet to cook the eggplant and meatballs.
- Food processor. To puree the softened eggplant, garlic, and basil.
- Mixing bowl and wooden spoon. To stir the meatball mixture together.
- Baking sheet. To bake the meatballs.
More eggplant recipes to try
Frequently asked questions
No, peeling the eggplant isn’t necessary. As it cooks, the skin softens and melts in your mouth, just like the flesh.
Sure! The meatballs can be prepared without the marinara sauce, then stored in the fridge or freezer for later.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Grease a large baking tray and set aside.
- Add oil to a large non-stick pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the eggplant and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the water and cook for another 10 minutes or until the eggplant has softened.
- Transfer the eggplant mixture to a food processor, along with the garlic, salt, pepper, and basil, and process until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Add the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and egg and mix well. If the mixture is too wet, add more bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.
- Using your hands, shape the mixture into meatballs. Place the meatballs on the baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let them cool slightly.
- In a non-stick skillet, add the tomato pasta sauce. Add the meatballs to it but do not mix. Once the sauce is heated, remove from the heat and drop a little sauce on each one, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and some finely chopped basil.
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