Meatless Meatballs aka Neatballs
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"Neatballs" are the vegan answer to meatballs. Just turn to some simple ingredients and you will be dishing up fabulous pasta and topping pizza in no time.
Neatballs require "normal" ingredients and take very little kitchen expertise. Since they do take some time to make, you may wish to make double batches and freeze one batch. That way you'll have fast, convenient meals tucked away until you need them.
If cooking from scratch is not always an option, there are several quick alternatives. Thaw some "burger" (as in soy burger) crumbles, mix them well with chopped onions, bell pepper, garlic, and mashed, firm tofu and you will have an excellent neatball which you can bake or fry.
Falafel mix makes up great neatballs; after following the directions on the package, you could add cooked corn and/or chopped red peppers to make a Mediterranean neatball.
Frozen veggie burgers can be thawed (in the refrigerator) and shaped into neatballs; top a neatball sandwich with barbecue sauce, mushroom sauce, or salsa and you have a great, quick lunch.
The key to neatballs is the "glue" that will make a wonderfully flavored mixture stick together. Moist ingredients, such as mashed potatoes, cooked brown rice or sticky, glutinous rice (found in Asian markets), cooked cereal (such as cream of rice), and cooked whole wheat, help hold the dry ingredients together, such as cooked, chopped beans or chopped veggies. Dry ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, whole wheat flour, and ground nuts, help hold together moist ingredients, such as tofu, cooked corn, and chopped mushrooms. Refrigerating uncooked neatballs helps to hold them together for cooking as well.
If you find that your neatball mixture needs thinning out, use liquid that will add flavor and/or color, such as tomato, carrot, celery, or vegetable cocktail juice, vegetable stock, mushroom broth, and pureed vegetables (such as carrots, celery, broccoli, and peas). If your mixture needs thickening, try seasoned breadcrumbs, matzo meal (which can be seasoned with pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder), ground nuts (such as walnuts or almonds), mashed potato mix, and nut flours.
Neatballs can be as simple as rolled mashed potatoes stiffened with breadcrumbs, or tofu thickened with wheat germ and matzo meal. However, you will most likely want to add more interesting ingredients to prevent "boredom". For crunch, think chopped, toasted nuts (such as pecans or pine nuts), seeds (such as sesame or pumpkin), or soy bits (such as soy nuts or "bacon" bits).
Flavor can be "hot" (think chili powder, Tabasco, red pepper flakes, ginger, and chopped fresh or canned chilies), Asian (think soy sauce, tamari, miso, ginger, lemon grass), Indian (think turmeric, curry powder mixes, garam masala, coriander, fennel), Central American (think salsa, cilantro, chopped chilies, lemon or lime juice, chopped tomatoes), Mediterranean (think sun-dried tomatoes, basil, oregano, balsamic vinegar, parsley), or Southern French (think thyme, pepper, lavender, sage).
Sauces for neatballs run the gamut. Take a can of your favorite vegan soup (tomato or mushroom come to mind), add chopped veggies (such as tomatoes, carrots, and onions for tomato soup, or celery and onions for the mushroom), and dilute with pureed tofu. This will make a creamy gravy. Thicken vegetable or mushroom gravy with cornstarch for a homestyle gravy. If time is short, cheat and use mashed potato mix instead of cornstarch; it's faster and takes less concentration. Tomato sauce is fine out of the can or "spiked" with chopped canned or fresh tomatoes, fresh or canned mushrooms, fresh or dried basil and oregano, and fresh or dried garlic. For a creamy tomato sauce, stir in some pureed tofu or soy yogurt (unflavored). Barbecue sauce is also fine right out of the bottle, or create your own with tomato puree, catsup, mustard, and molasses.
Whether you serve your neatballs as an entree or as sandwich stuffing, or stick toothpicks in them and offer them as an appetizer, the people around your table will enjoy them (and you, for creating such wonderful dishes).