We know what you're thinking: These aren't actual meatballs, because they're made of cashews and tempeh. But they're as delicious as the real thing and a great substitute if you're looking to eat less meat. You may even have to apologize to that vegan friend you've been teasing for the last year.
Vegan Parmesan, made with ground cashews and nutritional yeast (one of our favorite vegan-friendly ingredients), gets mixed with ground tempeh, bread crumbs, almond milk and sautéed onions. Seared to golden perfection and simmered in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce, these balls will convert even the most ardent meat lover into a vegan sympathizer.
The difficulty here, compared to, say, our vegetarian meat loaf, lies in the lack of eggs, a binder that is key for any kind of "meatball." To keep things vegan, we replace the eggs with aquafaba, the protein-packed liquid in a can of chickpeas. It's a secret weapon that works wonders in bringing these meatballs (and all your meat heads and vegan friends) together.
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
For the Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can whole-peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the Vegan Parmesan:
1 cup raw cashews
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
For the Vegan Meatballs:
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove, minced
½ small yellow onion, minced
8 ounces tempeh, finely ground in a food processor
¾ cup vegan Parmesan, plus more for garnish
½ cup vegan bread crumbs
¼ cup almond milk
¼ cup aquafaba
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon minced oregano
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooked pasta, for serving
Basil leaves, for garnish
1. Make the tomato sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil, pepper flakes and garlic over medium heat until the garlic begins to sizzle and brown at the edges, 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar and salt, and bring to a light simmer. Cook, until thickened, 25 to 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the vegan Parmesan: In a food processor, combine the vegan Parmesan ingredients and pulse until a fine powder forms. This should have the same texture as the Parmesan in store-bought plastic jars.
3. Make the meatballs: In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the thyme, garlic and onion, and sweat until translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl.
4. Add the ground tempeh, vegan Parmesan, bread crumbs, almond milk, aquafaba, tomato paste, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Portion into 2-tablespoon-sized balls, rolling with your hands to smooth.
5. In a medium skillet, heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the balls to the pan and cook, turning as needed until golden brown all over, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the balls to the sauce and cook, stirring to coat, 2 minutes more.
6. Divide the balls and sauce over cooked pasta, garnish with more vegan Parmesan and basil, then serve.