Eggplant Meatballs

These eggplant meatballs, made with lentils, roasted eggplant, and bread crumbs, are moist, tender, and so satisfying that you won’t even notice there’s no meat in them.

A single eggplant meatball on a fork with spaghetti and tomato sauce.

These eggplant “meatballs” are reminiscent of falafel and made, brilliantly, with roasted eggplant, lentils, and bread crumbs. What results is a crisp crust, a tender interior, and an impossibly enticing taste. Whether you choose to try them atop pasta smothered in marinara, tucked in pitas with a dollop of tzatziki, or made into a veggie meatball sub, we can promise you won’t miss the meat.–Angie Zoobkoff

Eggplant Meatballs

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • 1 H, 45 M
  • Makes 20 meatballs
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Ingredients

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  • 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (from 3 to 4 slices of bread)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large globe eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup cooked lentils
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil

Directions

  • 1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300°F (149°C).
  • 2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to combine.
  • 3. Dump the bread crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Bake until the bread crumbs are lightly golden and completely dry, stirring halfway through, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • 4. Transfer the bread crumbs to a large plate. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F (191°C).
  • 5. Line the sheet pan with aluminum foil and place the eggplant on top. Prick it 3 to 4 times with a fork. Roast it until a paring knife easily slips into the center, 40 to 50 minutes. (It should be very tender throughout.)
  • 6. Remove the eggplant from the oven and use scissors to cut an “X” in the bottom. Transfer it, stem side up, to a colander set in the sink and let it drain and cool for 20 minutes.
  • 7. Set the eggplant on a cutting board and slice it open lengthwise, then scoop out the flesh and place it in the bowl of a food processor (if a few charred bits of skin get into the flesh, it’s fine).
  • 8. Add the egg, lentils, garlic, basil, parsley, nutritional yeast, 3/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes and process for 12 one-second pulses to combine.
  • 9. Add the toasted bread crumbs and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine.
  • 10. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush against the surface, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight. The batter should resemble very thick oatmeal.
  • 11. In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, warm the vegetable oil and 1/2 cup olive oil for 2 minutes.
  • 12. Shape the eggplant mixture into golf ball-size pieces and roll until they’re nice and round. Drop 1 into the oil. It should immediately sizzle and be surrounded by small bubbles—if not, let the oil heat up some more. Add a few more balls to the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan.
  • 13. Fry the “meatballs” in batches, browning them on all sides, 5 to 15 minutes for each batch, depending on the exact temperature of the oil and the size of your meatballs.
  • 14. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve immediately.

HOW TO SERVE THESE EGGPLANT “MEATBALLS”

  • Tux variationThe options for these tender vegetarian balls are endless but here are a few suggestions. We’d love to hear how you served them in a comment below.

    Piled atop spaghetti and smothered in marinara sauce.

    Tucked into a pita with tzatziki or hummus and plenty of cucumbers, lettuce, onions, or other vegetables.

    Served as a knife-and-fork appetizer with tahini sauce for dipping.

    Tucked into a toasted sub roll and topped with marinara and cheese as a vegetarian “meatball” sub.

Recipe Testers Reviews

This eggplant meatballs recipe was a bit of work but the end result was worth it. These “meatballs” came out tender, very flavorful, and I really enjoyed the texture. My very carnivorous husband even asked for seconds.

Frying them was similar to frying falafels but the batter was wetter and softer. To make the batter less wet, I might drain the eggplant after it has been scooped out of its skin and perhaps add more bread crumbs. They formed into balls easily enough, but I would suggest you chill the formed balls in the fridge between batches and handle them gingerly.

I put some of them in marinara while I fried the rest and they dissolved pretty quickly. If you want them to stay intact, I would add them to the plate and pour some sauce over instead of putting them in the sauce.

This recipe would make 4 to 6 servings, depending on whether you are serving any other courses.

Mwah! We non-vegetarians savored every bit of these delicious and hearty meatballs with our pasta dinner! They had great texture and were wonderful with marinara sauce, just how we want really good traditional meatballs to be.

The mixture came together fast with the pulses in the recipe and it wasn’t too sticky to handle after being refrigerated overnight. Frying formed a solid and sturdy crust on the meatballs. They could be served plain as finger food. They did become a little fragile when cooked in a sauce, though. In order to preserve their shape, I added the meatballs to the gently simmering marinara sauce at the end, turned off the heat, and let them sit while the pasta cooked. Once the pasta was done, I transferred just the meatballs to a serving bowl, tossed the pasta in the sauce, and served it separately from the meatballs.

Too many prepping steps for a weeknight? You’ll be happy to know that the recipe has time-saving potential. I think panko would be just fine if you don’t have time to make and toast fresh bread crumbs. And this would your chance to use those cooked lentils in your freezer—just thaw them overnight in the fridge. Roasting vegetables for another meal? Stick a couple of whole eggplants in the oven at the same time.

These were tasty enough but more like falafel than meatballs and so it was weird. We thought they were much better served in a pita pocket with hummus and lettuce, tomatoes, pickled red onions, etc.

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