I've never been much of a meatball eater, but for some reason I felt drawn to try my hand at a meat-free version of them this week. Although I occasionally eat meat (only really chicken and fish), I love discovering dishes that use innovative plant-based ingredients to replicate meaty or meat-based products. Whilst I don't mind tofu or tempeh, nothing feels as rewarding or tastes as good as using fresh ingredients in their whole form to make something entirely new and innovative from scratch. For this, I turn to mushrooms. Their rich, earthy and meaty flavour and juiciness add a deep flavour to any dish they are used in, and I find they make offer a really flavoursome alternative to meat, unlike tofu and tempeh which don't taste of much at all.
These mushroom 'meatballs' are full of flavour (with the help of fresh and dried herbs) and cook to the perfect texture; juicy and chewy in the middle, crisp on the outside. I stirred them through an simple homemade basil and tomato pasta sauce and served them with gluten free spaghetti, but you could also use shop-bought sauces, red or green pesto or serve them with your favourite homemade sauce. I've left recipes for homemade passata and sundried tomato pesto from my book, below.
Makes 10-15 'meatballs', serving 2 main meal portions
300g chestnut or button mushrooms, sliced (you can use a selection of any kind of mushroom - portobello would also be nice)
2-3 tablespoons coconut or olive oil, for frying and greasing
50g walnuts (can also use other nuts or seeds such as almonds or pumpkin seeds)
50g gluten-free oats
8 tablespoons ground almonds
50g sun dried tomatoes (or 4 tablespoons tomato puree / paste)
1 handful fresh spinach
1 garlic clove (optional)
About 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
A few leaves of fresh basil
A few sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs (I like oregano, basil and thyme)
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (aka linseeds) or milled chia seeds
4 tablespoons buckwheat flour (or other gluten-free flour)
Pinch of salt or 1 teaspoon tamari
20g black or green olives
1/2 teaspoon Reishi powder
1/2 teaspoon Shilajit powder
Preheat the oven to 180c.
Start by slicing the mushrooms a few times lengthways and then cut them in half down the middle. In a frying pan, fry the mushrooms and garlic (if using) in 1-2 tablespoons of your chosen oil. Fry for around 5-10 minutes until the mushrooms soften and begin to brown and caramelise slightly. Meanwhile, start making the base for the 'meatballs'.
Measure the walnuts and oats into a food processor and pulse until they become a flour-like consistency. Add the ground almonds, sun dried tomatoes (or tomato puree), spinach, fresh rosemary, fresh basil, fresh thyme, dried herbs of choice, paprika, tamari (or salt) and ground flaxseeds or milled chia seeds and blend again until the mixture forms a thick paste.
Once the mushrooms are done, transfer just over half of them to the food processor, and reserve the remainder on a chopping board to cool. Blend a final time, for about 30 seconds, until the mushrooms combine into the paste. Scrape the mixture into a medium mixing bowl.
Dice the remaining mushrooms into small chunks and stir them through the paste mixture. Then add the buckwheat flour (or other gluten-free flour) and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon to combine.
Grease a baking tray with a little oil and then form the mixture into small balls using your hands. Make them the same size you'd expect a standard meatball to be; about 1 or 1.5 inches by 1 or 1.5 inches. Place them a little apart on the baking tray.
Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until brown and crisp on the outside.
Add the 'meatballs' to your desired sauce or serve as you wish. They are quite falafel-like, so could also be enjoyed added to salads or served with houmous as a snack. I love them either in pesto, tomato pesto or tomatoey pasta sauce, or stirred through mushroom gravy and served with potatoes.
+ Alternatively, you could flatten these into burger shapes and either bake in the oven or throw on the barbecue; they work perfectly!
Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
80g sun dried tomatoes
60g fresh tomatoes (any size, roughly chopped)
1 handful fresh basil leaves
80ml extra virgin olive oil
50g almonds or cashews
1 tsp lemon juice or 1⁄4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
pinch of salt
Blend the sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, nuts of choice, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, garlic, nutritional yeast and salt in a high speed blender or food processor until smooth but still slightly chunky. If you'd prefer a smoother consistency, simply blend for longer until you are happy with it. Season further, to taste.
Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Passata
2 red peppers, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1⁄2 white onion or shallot, chopped
1–2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
60ml water or stock (or unsweetened plant- based milk)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
handful of fresh basil leaves
1⁄2 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
Pinch of salt
Ground black pepper
Arrange the red peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roast for 25–30 minutes, until the vegetables become soft and the peppers begin to darken at the edges. Heat 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the chilli, if using, and sauté for 4–5 minutes. Add half the roasted vegetables. Put the remaining vegetables in a blender, add the water or stock and nutritional yeast and blend on a high speed for 20–30 seconds, until smooth. Pour into the pan with the chilli and whole roasted vegetables and heat through. Season to taste. When you are happy with the flavour, either add the cooked pasta to the pan to coat it in the sauce, or divide your pasta among bowls and pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with basil, a drizzle of the remaining extra virgin olive oil and an extra sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add black olives, flaked tuna or anchovies and spinach to the sauce for a puttanesca-style pasta dish.