A More Satisfying Meatless Meatball

Once you find the perfect base of beans, vegetables and grains, the possibilities are endless.

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By Tejal Rao

I make my veggie koftas, or meatballs, from a base of soft, half-mashed black beans seasoned with ginger, garlic and chiles, bake them in the oven until they’re nice and crunchy on the outside, then dunk them in spicy tomato sauce.

But the other day I got stuck on something the chef Brooks Headley told me years ago, when I was reporting on his veggie burger development. Instead of trying to perfectly imitate meat (a fairly pointless quest, in my opinion), he used a wide range of vegetables and grains for a more complex, satisfying texture — different levels of chew, tenderness, and some crisp edges in each bite.

I was thinking about this when I tried Kay Chun’s Swedish vegetarian meatballs, made with canned chickpeas, mushrooms and bulgur wheat. Straight out of the oven, I simmered them in some mushroom gravy and served them on mashed potatoes, with a little ripe persimmon I’d cooked with vinegar.

And what’s really cool about a meatball base is that when you find one you love, you can make it again and again, but season it differently each time, depending on your mood.

For example:

Meatball base + freshly grated ginger + sliced spring onions + heaped tablespoon miso. Add them at the last minute to a hot pot with soft tofu, mushrooms and tender greens.

Meatball base + crushed garlic + lemon zest + chile flakes. Drench them in tomato sauce with fresh oregano and have them with spaghetti.

Meatball base + grated onion + dried cherries + walnuts. Pile them on a plate of labneh with olive oil and lots of chopped dill on top.

But if meatballs sound a little too ambitious today, here are some quicker, one-pot ideas: Hetty McKinnon’s leek and mushroom pasta technique is super smart — the pasta cooks directly in vegetable stock, releasing its starch to form a creamy sauce. And Sarah Copeland’s soba with sweet and spicy tofu comes together in just half an hour. You can play around with the vegetables, customizing according to your taste and what’s available right now.

Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs

Go to the recipe.

Creamy One-Pot Mushroom and Leek Pasta

Go to the recipe.

Sweet and Spicy Tofu with Soba Noodles

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing!

If you’re starting to think about Thanksgiving, I wanted to direct you to some really good vegetarian and vegan recipes, including a stunning mushroom Wellington. There’s also a recipe for vegan mashed potatoes made with Yukon Golds, which get a silky texture thanks to plenty of olive oil, and some particularly delicious roasted carrots finished with yaji — both of which would be just as delicious with some crispy baked meatballs, if you’re not ready to think about Thanksgiving yet!

Thanks very much for reading The Veggie and see you next week. If you don’t already subscribe to New York Times Cooking, please consider it. You’ll have access to all our recipes, and you’ll be supporting the work of my team — recipe developers, testers, stylists, photographers, editors and so many more.

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