There are meatballs and then there are meatballs. And then... there are eggplant-filled balls meant to make the meatball obsolete. The eggplant meatball. I first heard of these when I saw them frozen in my grocers freezer last year. My mother makes a mean grapejelly meatball via frozen bulk meatballs and I quickly purchased a crap-ton, filled my crockpot with the necessary sauces and voila! Of course, those particular "meat"balls, without the saving grace of chili sauce plus jelly, are in a word "bland." In another word, "tasteless."
A few months back, I was in the library (shock me) and happened across a display of veggie cookbooks out for what was then gardening season. I flipped through one with a delicious looking cover, and right there in front of me was a recipe for eggplant meatballs.
Now, I couldn't tell you why it never occurred to me that one could make such meatballs and instead, assumed that one could only purchase said meatballs for far too much money per box. All I can say is: I grew up in America. And so, let's face it, there was a time in my life where I assumed peas was created--miraculously--from a can. So, cut me some slack on this revelatory moment. I was just uber excited. And from the pictures, they looked GOOD.
The pictures do not lie.
-from Totally Vegetarian
2-3 T olive oil
1 med. onion,dice
1 med. eggplant, cut in 1/4-1/2 cubes
1 1/2 c. toasted walnuts,chopped
sea salt and pepper
2 c. dried bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten
1c. Parm. cheese, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
zest 1 lemon
1 T dried parsley
1 T oregano
1/2 c. basil
veggie oil spray
1. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. If your bag o walnuts is not toasted (as mine never is), spread the necessary amount of raw almonds on the sheet and pop them in the oven. As soon as they start to smell, take them out. Roasting walnuts is not a lengthy process. Chop the walnuts and set them aside. Then re-oil the baking sheet.
2. Heat large skillet and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the skillet is hot, add onion and saute on med-low until translucient, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Saute until veggies are soft and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes, adding oil as needed.
Or, saute the eggplant a day or so ahead, like I tend to do and freeze it. Then, when you saute the onions, add the defrosted eggplant and in 5 minutes, voila: ready for the next step.
Transfer to a large bowl.
3. At this point you add the chopped walnut to the eggplant and mix well. You need a food processor or, if you have no processor, at least a blender. Warning: spoken from personal experience, the processing of walnuts in a blender tends to gum up the works (i.e. it turns into walnut butter and stops the blades from moving. Put a "generous cup," whatever that means, to the processor/blender and hit frappe. Once it's all walnut buttery batter, return it to the bowl. Add breadcrumbs-basil and mix well. Then rub olive oil in your palms (its greasy but oddly satisfying) and shape the mixture into meatballs about the size of golfballs.
4. Place the balls on your baking sheet and bake 20-30 minutes. Then, remove the pan from oven, cover with foil to steam, and ta-da meatballs.
The first batch, I combined all the balls at a two to one ratio and flatted them to make veggie burgers.
Upon learning this recipe, I have taught it to my man, and up until this past week, when the last of the eggplant was finally meatballed, I had him whip up batches for me to take with me for dinner between my internship and my tuesday and thursday night classes. These meatballs are great by themselves, a little nutty with the taste of the grease from the pureed nuts and the olive oil added in, plus the eggplant's veggie heft and texture, the parmesan's sharpness, and the bread crumbs to make it all come together. I've never had a real meatball that can compare to these fakers. On a sandwich, they make a nice substitute for falafel balls (or as veggie burgers, as previously stated). I've never had the chance to try, but they can also be crumbled for a taco fiesta of eggplant proportions. All that said, they taste magnificent with pasta sauce and a nice whole wheat linguine, which is how I find myself eating them right at this very second.
(Picture to come of this fabulous meal as soon as I get the camera home and uploaded.)
And the pasta sauce I'm using? That's for another time.