Meatballs were probably one of the first foods that I cooked with my grandmother, Little Lil. I made meatballs every week for years, and for the past seven years I have tried to recreate a vegan version of those meatballs. Various version using lentils or mushrooms mixed with vital wheat gluten have come close. However I could never really capture the essence of the meatballs I knew growing up as an Italian in South Philly.
That is until Beyond Meat came out with their grounds. Then Lightlife came out with their version of ground beef. Next was Pure Farmland with a plant based ground beef product. They all work extremely well in this application and came extremely close to Little Lil’s.
After picking up a pack, I headed home and cooked up a batch and was really curious to see if there was any noticeable difference. One note of difference right off – if you are squeamish about the look or feel of ground beef, be warned – this is as close to the real thing I’ve seen or used. It worked so well mixing and forming, NO egg replacement needed, it holds together fantastically well. Then the finished meatball….All I can say is WOW! These came so close to what I remember a ‘regular’ meatball tastes, and even smells, like that it was scary. I would say it is 98% close – my first bite brought me right back to Saturday mornings sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother sharing a fried meatball before tossing the rest of the batch into the gravy pot!
My grandmother used simple and fairly limited ingredients. The list is below and pretty self explanatory. The ingredients are basically the same as her’s with a couple of substitutions – plant based meat for ground beef and nutritional yeast subbed for the grated Parmesan.
- 1 Pack 12 oz Impossible Grounds
- 2 Medium Garlic Cloves – Crushed
- 2 Teaspoons chopped parsley
- 1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
- 1 Small Italian Roll – all crust removed and soaked and squeezed
- Salt & Pepper – to taste
The directions are pretty simple: add all ingredients to bowl and mix until they are all combined. A word on the bread – it sounds weird I admit – but I think it makes a textural difference. I take an Italian roll, like a six inch hoagie roll, cut off all the crust and soak the bread in water until soaked through. I squeeze out the water and sorta ‘squish’ it through my fingers into the mix.
Once the ingredients are mixed, I use a disher, what ever size you like, to get even amounts – I made mine about golf ball size. Roll into balls. I cooked mine in my air fryer – 400 degrees for 10 minutes giving them a quick shake at 5 minutes. You can just as easily cook them in an oven or go old school and fry them in some vegetable oil.
I hope you try this out and enjoy a taste of my South Philly past. If you do, let me know what you think!