Eggplant Meatballs are a vegetarian version of an Italian favorite! Made with eggplant, mushrooms, and walnuts, this recipe is easily made vegan or gluten-free. Yes you can enjoy a meatless dinner and add more veggies to your plate by trying this recipe!
Are we cool with calling something a meatball when it doesn’t actually have meat in it?
You’re looking at meatless meatballs. Instead of meat I’m using a super savory combination of eggplant, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and Italian seasoning.
This was actually a reader requested recipe, and I’m SO glad they did! These are the perfect texture and flavor to go with marinara sauce and spaghetti, stuffed in a hoagie bun, or anything else your hungry brain can dream up.
A lot of vegetarian meatballs I’ve tried fall apart easily, but not these! They’re also baked, which makes them perfectly cooked all the way around, not to mention you won’t need to stand over a splattering pan while you try to get all the sides evenly browned.
Eggplant meatball ingredients
- Olive oil
- Portobello mushrooms
- Parmesan cheese
- Italian seasoning
- Salt & pepper
How to choose and store an eggplant
When you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, choose an eggplant that is heavy for its size and has a smooth, shiny skin. There shouldn’t be any wrinkled or soft, sunken spots. The eggplant should be firm and medium in size.
Just a heads up, I feel like eggplants spoil much quicker than other veggies I keep in the refrigerator. I generally only go to the grocery store once a week, and need to plan to cook my eggplant within three days max or it will have gone bad.
You’ll know your eggplant has gone bad if it is dark and squishy on the inside. When cutting into a good eggplant it will have a light colored flesh and small seeds speckled throughout.
I recommend buying two eggplants for this recipe just to be sure at least one will be good and to make sure you have enough eggplant to fill 7-8 cups once cut. If your meatballs are falling apart, make sure you have used enough eggplant since the size of the vegetables can vary greatly.
How do you make eggplant meatballs?
I like cooking the eggplant and mushrooms on the stove top to release any moisture, then combining them with breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese (use a vegetarian parmesan if concerned about rennet), an egg, and seasonings.
Roll the mixture into balls, bake, and drop into your favorite marinara sauce. The balls hold together beautifully while offering a tender bite once cut into.
Do I need to peel my eggplant for eggplant meatballs?
This recipe works with or without peeling the eggplant, but I find I prefer the texture of peeled eggplant. You can prepare it whichever way you prefer.
What can I substitute for the egg?
I recommend substituting the egg for one flax egg.
What can I substitute for the Parmesan cheese?
Replace the Parmesan cheese with a vegan parmesan cheese, or try leaving it out entirely and adding a little more eggplant.
What can I substitute for walnuts?
You could try substituting another finely chopped nut such as almonds or cashews. If you prefer to avoid nuts altogether, I recommend using sunflower seeds.
Can I make this without a food processor?
You can make this recipe without a food processor, but be sure to chop everything very finely or your meatballs may fall apart.
How do you make gluten-free eggplant meatballs?
To make this recipe gluten-free, substitute the breadcrumbs with gluten-free breadcrumbs, almond flour, or ground up gluten-free pretzels.
Can this recipe be vegan?
To make vegan eggplant meatballs, follow the instructions above for using a flax egg and vegan parmesan.
Can I freeze eggplant meatballs?
This recipe is great for making ahead and freezing. Bake and cool the meatballs completely, then transfer them to a freezer safe container.
Freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before adding to marinara sauce, or add frozen to marinara sauce and simmer slowly on the stove top until heated through.
Tips for customizing
- Serve on a hoagie bun with mozzarella or provolone cheese similar to these eggplant parmesan sandwiches
- Add ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes with the seasonings
- Add ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley to the meatball mixture before baking
- Use whatever kind of mushrooms you have on hand or prefer
- Toast the walnuts before chopping for extra flavor
More vegetarian recipes
- Easy Eggplant Parmesan
- Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich
- Lentil Veggie Burgers
- Walnut Burgers
- Black Bean Burgers
- Butter Bean Recipe
More pasta recipes
- Spaghetti with Vegetarian Meatballs
- Olive Oil Alfredo
- Penne al Pomodoro
- Spaghetti Arrabbiata
- Spaghetti Aglio Olio
If you make this recipe, be sure to rate it, leave a comment, or tag #theliveinkitchen on Instagram!
How will you serve your eggplant meatballs?
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed (about 7-8 heaping cups)
- ¼ cup water
- 4 ounces portobello mushrooms, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Coarse kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Marinara sauce
- Fresh chopped parsley, optional
- Cooked spaghetti, optional
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and ¼ cup water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant has softened, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a another large skillet, cook mushrooms over medium heat. Add a bit of oil as needed and stir frequently until the mushrooms have released most of their moisture and turned dark and soft, about 10 minutes. If you only have one skillet it’s ok to cook the eggplant, then the mushrooms in the same skillet, but cooking them together will overcrowd the pan.
- Add walnuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Add the cooked eggplant and mushrooms and process into a paste.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic, beaten egg, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Stir completely to combine.
- Roll the mixture into small balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes until the balls are firm and lightly browned.
- While the meatballs are baking, heat marinara sauce over medium low heat in the same skillet you cooked one of the vegetables in. Once the meatballs are done, carefully transfer them to the marinara sauce and gently spoon sauce over the meatballs to coat them completely.
- Serve eggplant meatballs over spaghetti with fresh parsley if desired.