Vegan Meatballs (Mushroom “Neat” Balls)

I cut this recipe from Vegetarian Times magazine about 10 years ago (am I really this old?!) and it sat untried in my recipe binder until I finally got around to “veganizing” it this year. I’ve since made it a few times because it’s just so delicious and I can freeze half the batch, which is a great way to punch-up plain pasta when I’m in a rush. The trick to this is to use Arborio (risotto) rice, which makes everything “gluey” and stick together. I’m sure that there are more protein-rich versions out there, but these are worthy of the carbs and good if you’re looking to avoid soy. If you’re in a hurry, you can use store-bought pasta sauce, but I have to say that this one is really lovely, and doesn’t reall  take that much time.

Vegan Meatballs (Mushroom "Neat" Balls) - Gluten-Free

Update

August 29, 2011 – I had some leftover “neat” balls in the freezer and they came in handy for a quick dinner tonight. I used whole wheat pasta, half a jar of store-bought pasta sauce, and sprinkled half a bag of baby spinach into the pasta before topping with the neat balls, which I had defrosted and quickly reheated on the stove. Yum!

Vegan Meatballs (Mushroom "Neat" Balls) - Gluten-Free

5.0 from 6 reviews
Spaghetti & Vegan Meatballs (Mushroom “Neat” Balls)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 5
Ingredients
Ingredients for Tomato Sauce:
  • 4 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled Italian-style tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 small onions
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ tsp. dried oregano
  • ⅛ tsp. crushed red chili pepper
  • ¼ tsp Italian seasoning
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • salt, to taste
Ingredients for Neat Balls:
  • 2⅔ cups vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 lb. cremini or baby bella mushrooms (should make 2 cups when finely chopped)
  • 4 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 vegan egg (Ener-G egg replacer works great)
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs (use gluten-free, as needed)
  • ⅓ cup almond/nutritional yeast mix (half nutritional yeast, half finely milled almonds)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
Instructions
Directions for Tomato Sauce:
  1. In a large bowl, blend the tomatoes with a blender or hand-blender.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until softened but not browned, 2-3 mins. Add oregano, crushed red chili pepper, and Italian seasoning, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir-in the crushed tomatoes and sugar, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste and reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Directions for Neat Balls
  1. In a large saucepan, bring broth to a simmer over high heat. Add rice, reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir almost constantly during las 5 minutes of cooking. Transfer to large bowl.
  2. In food processor, pulse mushrooms in batches until finely chopped.
  3. In large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 2-3 mins. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, 3-5 mins. Add to bowl with rice; let cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 400F. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
  5. Add vegan egg, breadcrumbs, almond/nutritional yeast mix, parsley, salt and pepper to cooled rice mixture and mix well. Form mixture into about 24 oval-shaped nuggets, each about 2 by 1.5 inches.
  6. In clean large nonstick skillet, heat remaining 2 tsp olive oil over medium high heat; tilt to coat bottom. Add half the nuggets and cook until browned on one side, about 2 mins. Turn nuggets over onto prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining nuggets.
  7. Bake until nuggets are browned and firm, 15-20 mins.
  8. If you haven't already done so, boil your pasta while the balls are baking.
  9. Put 3-5 balls on each bowl of pasta with sauce, serve hot.
Notes
Modified from Vegetarian Times magazine, January 2000.

71 Comments

  1. JL goes Vegan says:

    The “neat” balls looks soooooooooooo good.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Thanks for your comment… and for your comment-advice! :)

      Reply
      • Desiree says:

        What can is use in place of the mushrooms?

        Reply
        • vegangela says:

          Hmm… Not sure, this is really a mushroom recipe. May want to google “bean balls” or tofu-based balls if you’re not into mushrooms :)

          Reply
  2. baking in lisbon says:

    The “Neat” Balls sound delicious, I’m definitely going try this one!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Thanks for your comment. Let me know when you make them. I love them so much!

      Reply
  3. Jennifer says:

    You had me at spaghetti… I can’t wait to try the mushroom neat balls too! Delicious!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      A fellow carb-lover, I see? I love you already! These “neat” balls are so delish… I can’t believe the recipe sat there for 10 years, untouched!

      Reply
  4. Victoria says:

    Hi, do these hold together ok? I’d love to fry then cook in sauce to get all that lovely sauce flavour in – but a lot of vegan meatballs fall apart – any thoughts on this?!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Victoria – They’re pretty dense so I think they’d hold-up… but there’s only one way to know for sure… try it and let me know how it works out for ya! :)

      Reply
  5. Jenn says:

    I don’t know how I ran across your site, but I’m glad I did. I made these today. I really enjoyed them! I have been a vegetarian since March, and I am trying to go vegan, but I’m terrible at it. I don’t like most vegetables. I didn’t do it for my health, I did it because of animal welfare. Most of the recipes I’ve tried I haven’t cared for, but this one was great. I’ll be making it again for sure.

    You mentioned adding onions in the neat balls, but not as to how much onion.

    Someone asked if they hold up. They do, but definitely not like a meatball.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Jenn, Thanks for the kind words and feedback. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found a recipe that you like – that makes the transition to vegetarianism so much easier!

      Thanks for the tip about the onion. It’s one medium onion, so I’ll fix the recipe.

      Reply
  6. Ash says:

    I’m going to try these out! I have been craving sweet and sour “meatballs”, and I wonder how these would turn out if they were fried and then went into the slow cooker in a sauce to simmer for a few hours on low?

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      I’m not sure – maybe just test out a couple to see that they don’t fall apart? Keep me posted!

      Reply
      • Ash says:

        These were amazing! I tried a few of them for about an hour in the slow cooker and they were a bit mushy already. So I just made sweet and sour sauce, added it too cooked rice, and put the plain neat balls on top. Yum!!

        Reply
        • vegangela says:

          Yum, that sounds amazing and reminds me of the sweet and sour meatballs that my mom used to make when I was little. Will try that – thanks for sharing!

          Reply
  7. SJ says:

    I made the “neatballs” this evening. It’s a little bit time consuming but well worth the effort. Instead of vegetable broth to cook the rice I used water seasoned with smoked paprika, and italian seasoning. I loved the flavor of these. I have a carnivore in the house and he loved them as well. Thank you very much for posting this recipe. These were very enjoyable.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      I’m so glad you liked them – they’re definitely a bit of work but I think they’re worth it. I like your modifications and I love hearing that the carnivores loved them too! Thanks for the feedback!

      Reply
  8. Mel says:

    Loved these!! Really easy to make and tastes great :) Looking forward to trying many more of your recipes!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Thanks Mel! Let me know what else you try ;)

      Reply
  9. Andrea says:

    Is the vegan egg necessary? I´m not sure where to find it. And same for the almond/nutritional yeast mix? Are they both necessary?

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      The vegan egg holds everything together. You can get EnerG egg replacer at any good health food store. It’s just potato starch that you add water to to make a liquid “egg” substance. As fr the almond/nutritional yeast, that’s what gives it a nutty/cheesy flavor…

      Reply
  10. hongkonger says:

    Found your site for the first time today and made these… time consuming but worth it. I increased quantities to make 3 dozen, added some quorn mince to the mix plus additional herbs. Definately would add that you need to make all your balls before you start frying them off. Just chilling them off in half dozens per bag before sticking them in the freezer …will likely make these again! Thanks.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Glad you liked them!

      Reply
  11. Vegan cook says:

    Thanks a mil for this incredible recipe, Angela. I followed the recipe only loosely (I roasted the mushrooms and used white rather than cremini or baby bella; I added a little white truffle oil; I used brown rather than regular, white, arborio rice; and tried the neat balls with and without the almond meal). Also, instead of the tomato sauce, I tried pesto and sauteed chopped vegetables and threw the whole thing over pasta. No matter how you cut it, the neat balls are incredible – great flavor and texture. And just as delicious frozen and reheated.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      So glad you liked them. I love the addition of truffle oil. Must try that next time!

      Reply
    • Nicky says:

      Useful comments, thanks Vegan Cook. Good to know that how you played around with recipe, as I would be substituting the white rice for brown, too.

      Reply
      • vegangela says:

        Me too – I’d much prefer to use brown rice if it sticks together properly…

        Reply
  12. Annie says:

    omigosh, these ‘neatballs’ are awesome. i found this recipe at the last minute after realizing i didn’t have all of the necessary ingredients to make a mushroom stroganoff, and i had to use those mushrooms that had been hanging out in my fridge for awhile. i skipped the browning step and just popped the balls in the oven, as i figured i’d already dirtied enough dishes for one day! my boyfriend and i smothered them in soy cheese and devoured them. this recipe made about 20 decent-sized meatballs (and lasted about 5 meals).

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      So glad you liked them! I need to make them again soon!

      Reply
  13. Kate says:

    I made these last night – AMAZING!! I didn’t have any fresh parsley, so I spiced them with garlic, oregano, basil & red pepper. They reminded me of stuffing! I served them with tomato sauce, but I think they would be great for a sandwich with spinach and cranberry sauce (Kind of like a toasted thanksgiving sub, without the turkey)! Thank you for sharing this recipe – it is going in my regular rotation!

    Reply
    • Kate says:

      I forgot to add that I didn’t add the nuts. I just subbed with equal amount of nutritional yeast. Perhaps that’s why mine had more of a stuffing taste to me. Still tasted great!

      Reply
      • vegangela says:

        Hi Kate! Thanks for taking a chance on this somewhat labor-intensive recipe. I love them too and definitely think they’re worth it, especially if you can freeze part of the batch and enjoy them later. Your substitutions sound great, I’ll especially keep that in mind if I don’t have parsley on hand (which I often don’t).

        Reply
  14. sheree says:

    Having these tonite, they are becoming a weekly fave.
    I decided to make just the neat balls and put them on a bed of mashed potato , with a side of brocolli and corn.
    A comfort meal on a cool night :)

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Sheree – Yum! That sounds really yummy. I bet they would be great with vegan gravy on top as well. Thanks for sharing this idea :)

      Reply
  15. Cyd says:

    Theses were awesome!!!!

    I made them into burgers instead of neatballs and used flaxseed instead of the enerG vegan egg. I think I’m going to try puréed mushrooms in my next batch of vegan sausages because I don’t like beans. Thanks sooo much Vegangela!!!!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Oh those are all great ideas! Glad you liked the recipe, thanks for taking the time to comment :)

      Reply
  16. Chelsea says:

    Just made these for dinner and they were wonderful! I didn’t use the nutritional yeast and they still tasted great. How have you found is the best way to freeze them (baggies, Tupperware, aluminum foil)? Or does it not matter? I just didn’t want them to get nasty freezer burn.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Sorry for the delay! I always just stick them in a freezer bag… Hope that helps!

      Reply
  17. Julia B says:

    YUM! Made the meatballs on Sunday and made the sauce quick today – it was delicious! I cannot wait to try my vegan meatball subs tomorrow with these!

    I was a part time vegan and as of 12/30/12 I am a full-time vegan. The bf and I are meatball junkies so I will def be keeping a supply of these in the freezer.

    THANK YOU!!!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Vegan meatball sub?! That’s an awesome idea! Must try that! Glad to hear you liked the recipe :)

      Reply
  18. Michelle says:

    I am making this recipe as I type and I’m somewhat confused about how much mushrooms to use. I bought 1 pound, but not even halfway through them I already have 2 cups. I’m not sure whether to use the whole pound or just the two cups. Will report back after I taste them! :)

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I used the two cups of finely chopped mushrooms and they turned out great. As other commenters mentioned, I don’t feel it is necessary to both brown and bake the balls. They could be popped in the oven and rotated periodically. They do taste like rice and not really meatballs, but they are very tasty. Will make again. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

      Reply
      • vegangela says:

        Hi Michelle – I’m glad you liked them! I’ll try just baking them next time. Easier and healthier is fine by me! Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

        Reply
  19. Diane says:

    Great recipe!!! These are really tasty and easy to make. Now… I have no desire to buy the frozen ready made. I browned them in a pan then baked in the oven on parchment paper. Next time I will just bake them as I am trying to cut down on the oils.

    Thanks for sharing!!! :-)

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Diane – Glad you liked them and found them easy to make. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  20. Nicole says:

    I made the neat balls and my family thought they were very tasty. My first ever fake meat dish. I added more spices to the balls though.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Awesome, glad to hear that they were a hit with your family – thanks for taking the time to write :)

      Reply
  21. Gloria Huerta says:

    I use Asian black rice or sticky brown rice when I make my vegan meatballs. It works well.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Great tip – thanks!

      Reply
  22. Kathrin says:

    Soooooooooo goooood!!!!! Thanks for the amazing recipe hmmmmmmm

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Ha ha! Glad you liked it – thanks for taking the time to comment :)

      Reply
  23. Brandy says:

    Wow! These are great! They have a sausage-like taste. I added some minced garlic while sauteing the onions and used 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast without the almonds since I didn’t have any on hand. I also did not have a vegan egg substitute so I used 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in 3 tbsp of water to use as a binder and it worked great! I made this gluten free by using 100% brown rice bread crumbs. I plan on freezing this whole batch for quick meals later and I will definitely be making these again. Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Brandy – I’m glad you liked them. You’re right – they do have a sausage taste. I love your substitutions! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment :)

      Reply
  24. Stephanie says:

    Angela,

    THANK YOU for such a great recipe!! I am new to the vegan/gluten-free lifestyle and in the beginning thought I was destined to a life of boring salads and rice and bean dishes. This recipe (and many others on your site) have made me excited about my new eating plan. I made these tonight for the family who are reluctant, to say the least, about this change in eating habits. My husband claims to “hate” mushrooms but gobbled these up without even realizing what he was eating – he even ate seconds! He and my teenage son gave this recipe their seals of approval, so it will definitely be a regular around here.

    Thanks again for all the work you put into your site. It is much appreciated!!

    Stephanie

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Stephanie! Thank YOU for taking the time to write and sharing your kind words. I’m so honored to hear that my humble collection of recipes has brought comfort to you and your family as you transition to a vegan lifestyle. You’ve brought a huge smile to my face… thank you!

      Reply
  25. Rebecca says:

    Hi Angela! I use organic short grain brown rice- it cooks down perfectly to the right consistency. I make and freeze double the recipe and probably will do forever :)
    Lovely to find a veggy+vegan non-gm main course that’s so different to normal recipes- your website is such an inspiration. Thank you!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Rebecca – Thanks so much for the kind words about my site :) How much brown rice do you use? I’d love to know!

      Reply
  26. Sydney says:

    I am making these right now and I subbed quinoa for rice, but I’m thinking that probably wasn’t the best idea, texture-wise. They’ve been in the oven for about 25 minutes so far and still super soft. Browning up nicely, but super soft. Thinking quinoa wasn’t the best choice for a sub, but looking forward to the flavor, regardless. :)

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Whoops! You definitely want to use the risotto rice. The creamy texture acts as a binder to keep everything together…

      Reply
  27. Paulette says:

    The only thing missing was garlic. I added then roasted some grape tomatoes drizzled in olive oil,s&p and served on zucchini noodles with extra pepper. My new favorite dinner. Thanks!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Yum, sounds amazing! Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

      Reply
  28. lorraine says:

    I have made these on several occasions, it never fails, my kids always have seconds and thirds. Soooo good!!!!

    Reply
    • So glad to hear it. Thanks for writing :)

      Reply
  29. Jamie says:

    Hello I am so happy I found your website!!! I just recently became vegan and your recipes look so yummy. I can’t wait to try them. Could I make the neatballs in the microwave do you think? I know the oven helps them crisp up. Thanks for your time and wonderful recipes!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words. I wouldn’t recommend making these in the microwave. Use a real oven if you can ;)

      Reply
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