A few weeks ago I had watched a cooking show in which the chef prepared eggplant meatballs. I was intrigued, one, because I love eggplant; two, because I also love meatballs; and three, because I happen to have a garden full of eggplant. So, I decided I would try making them for my family — who also happens to love eggplant – especially eggplant parmigiana – so how could they not love these?
I studied a few different recipes, and I ended up with my own hybrid. I wanted them to include traditional meatball flavors, but I knew that replacing the meat with the eggplant would pose a texture issue. The meatball mixture needed just the right consistency to hold its form and to mimic a meatball. White beans offered extra texture — along with the other usual meatball suspects, e.g., bread crumbs, cheese, onion, garlic, egg, parsley, salt, pepper, etc. The key is not to over process the ingredients. You don’t want the mixture to look like baby food — you need to see pieces of eggplant in it.
Everything essentially goes into the food processor in its current form, with the exception of the the eggplant, onions and garlic which were cooked down until tender. In my opinion, one of the worse things is finding a hard piece of onion in a meatball — yuck!
I used a small ice cream scoop to make evenly sized eggplant meatballs, and I baked the on a greased baking sheet (you could certainly fry the meatballs — but that would defeat the health factor I’m trying to go for here). These must be served in a bath of marinara sauce, you can find my Weeknight Marinara recipe here. I would serve these along with a nice salad or with pasta or on a crusty roll — these meatballs would make a mean sub (or hero – which is what we call them in NJ!)
If you like eggplant, you will love these. Even if you don’t like eggplant, I suggest you try them. Or perhaps replace the eggplant with another vegetable. It’s really exciting when you can take a traditional recipe and make it healthier, make it yours.
Eggplant “Meatballs” with Marinara Sauce
Yields approximately 24 meatballs
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup of water
1 lb eggplant, cut into one inch pieces (approximately 4 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of white beans (if canned, rinsed)
1 medium onion chopped, (approximately 1 cup)
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed (approximately 1 tablespoon)
1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet.
Add three tablespoons of olive oil to a sauté pan, add the diced eggplant, water and salt and pepper, to taste; cook down until softened — approximately 10 minutes. Pour eggplant into the food processor. Sauté the onion and garlic in the same pan — add a bit more olive oil if necessary. Add the onions and garlic to the food processor along with the white beans. Begin to pulse the mixture while you add the rest of the ingredients — parsley, bread crumbs, cheese and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste.
Using an ice cream scoop, form the eggplant mixture into balls — mine were about 1 inch in diameter, which yielded about 24 meatballs, but you can certainly make them larger you will just end up with fewer. Place the eggplant meatballs on the greased baking sheet. Drizzle or spray olive oil on top of the meatballs in order to give them some extra moisture. Place them in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes — until they are firm. Do not mess with them while they are cooking. They DO NOT need to be turned.
Remove from the oven, place in a pan and cover with Weeknight Marinara. The eggplant meatballs will be softer than a regular meatball — so be careful not to let them cook too long – and gently move them in the sauce. Otherwise, they will break apart. Once the sauce is heated through and the eggplant is well coated, you can enjoy them as you see fit!