The BEST Vegan Meatballs | Italian-Style Nut-Free Recipe

GFGluten FreeNFNut FreeVVegan

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This easy Italian-style vegan meatball recipe is made from simple and wholesome ingredients,
but packs a big flavor punch! Gluten-Free & Nut-Free.

Vegan Meatballs – what’s not to love? This Easy Vegan Meatball Recipe is the BEST – it’s made from simple and wholesome plant-based ingredients, has a hearty texture, and is packed with mouthwatering flavor. Not to mention the recipe is totally gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan! 

If you loved traditional meat-based balls, you will love my vegan version of the classic recipe. These meatballs are just as delicious and can be enjoyed as-is, with marinara sauce, or even stuffed into a meatball sub!

Overhead photo of cooked vegan meatballs on white speckled plate topped with fresh parsley

INGREDIENTS + INSPIRATION

Traditional meatballs are usually made with ground meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, and spices – meaning we need to do a lot of plant-based swaps here! When developing this recipe I wanted to create a meatball that was both flavorful and had a good texture….because biting into a ball of mush? Not appetizing. These plant-based meatballs are made Italian-style, with lots of tasty spices, herbs, and a cheesy flavor, thanks to nutritional yeast.

Ingredients for vegan meatballs in small white bowls on stone background. Clockwise text labels read ground flax, cremini mushroooms, rolled oats, spices, vegan worcestershire sauce, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, extra-firm tofu, oil, chickpeas, onion, parsley, and sunflower seeds

These vegan meatballs have a flavor base of mushrooms, onion, spices, tomato paste and Vegan Worcestershire sauce. The Worcestershire sauce adds a LOT of umami flavor to the meatballs as well as a lovely brown color – some stores carry vegan versions, but you can also purchase it online.

I ultimately decided to use a combination of ingredients to achieve the ultimate meatball texture. The combination of chickpeas, shredded tofu, and soaked sunflower seeds combine to give these meatballs a higher protein and fiber content, plus a good chew! Rolled oats and ground flax seed help to thicken the mixture, all while keeping things gluten-free and nut-free.

HOW TO MAKE VEGAN MEATBALLS

While there are a few steps in this recipe, they are all totally worth it for the perfect meaty, flavor-packed meatball.

side-by-side photos of processed mushroom mixture in food processor next to a photo of it cooked down in a pan

  1. Pulse the onion, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and parsley together in a food processor.
  2. Sauté the mushroom mixture for 8-10 minutes, to cook off the extra moisture
  3. Blitz the mixture with rolled oats, chickpeas, grated tofu, flax, and worcestershire sauce to create the perfect texture
  4. Scoop the mixture, roll into balls, cook or bake and enjoy!

I wanted this vegan meatball recipe to be just as versatile as traditional meatballs, so you can prepare these meatballs in 3 different ways: bake them in the oven, pan-fry them on the stovetop, or air-fry them, if you have one! 

3 sets of 3 cooked meatballs prepared in the oven, pan-fried, or air-fried. The meatballs sit on a small speckled white plate

The way you cook your meatballs does have an effect on the final texture (not flavor though), so here are my notes:

  • Bake: the oven is the most hands-off method, and produced meatballs that are browned on the outside, and nice and meaty in the center. I preferred the inside texture of the baked meatballs the most!
  • Pan-Fry: you can also pan-fry your meatballs in a little oil on the stovetop. These meatballs were the juiciest and had a nice crispy exterior. Their insides were a little on the soft side, but you can easily finish them in the oven if you are looking for a firmer texture.
  • Air-Fry: the air fryer final texture was somewhere in-between baking and frying; the outsides of the meatballs were nice and browned, and the inside was slightly softer than the baked version. The air-fryer is great for smaller portions, but you will need to cook your meatballs in multiple batches if you want to only make them in your countertop device.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

Vegan Meatballs tossed in marinara and served over spaghetti on white speckled plate. One meatball is cut in half to show the inside texture

These Vegan Meatballs are both meal-prep friendly and versatile! Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy them:

  • Simmered in marinara sauce and served over pasta. Don’t forget the side of garlic bread, and roasted veggies if you want to get fancy! 
  • Made into meatball subs – toast some bread, top with meatballs, marinara, and plant-based cheese. Broil until melty and top with parsley!
  • Served in Italian-style wraps or in grain bowls with roasted veggies!

Meatball sub with french bread, meatballs, sauce, cheese, and parsley on small baking tray

COOKING TIPS + FAQ

  • Dry your ingredients well. It’s important to dry your sunflower seeds well after soaking, as well as cooking down the mushroom mixture thouroughly. Otherwise your meatballs will have too much moisture, be mushy, and not hold their shape.
  • Can I freeze these meatballs? Yes! I recommend baking your vegan meatballs in whatever way you prefer, then freezing them on a baking sheet first to prevent sticking. Then transfer your meatballs to a freezer-safe bag or container, where they will stay fresh for up to 2 months.
  • How long will these last in the refrigerator? These plant-based meatballs will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can reheat them in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave! 

Vegan Meatballs in saute pan with marinara sauce topped with fresh parsley. A wooden spoon holds 2 meatballs in the pan

If you’re looking for more cozy and wholesome Italian-inspired dinner recipes, you’ll also love this One-Pot Pasta Primavera , this Vegan Pesto Risotto, and this Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta with Basil Gremolata!

Finally, if you make this recipe and decide to share it on Facebook or Instagram, don’t forget to tag me @FromMyBowl + #FromMyBowl! I love seeing your delicious recreations 🙂

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The BEST Vegan Meatballs

This easy Italian-style vegan meatball recipe is made from simple and wholesome ingredients, but packs a big flavor punch! Gluten-Free & Nut-Free.

  • Author: Caitlin Shoemaker
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 Minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: ~55 meatballs
  • Category: Main
  • Method: Stovetop, Oven
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegan

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup (107 g) soaked sunflower seeds*
  • 8 ounces (225 g) cremini shrooms, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (95 g) rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary
  • 7 ounces (200 g) extra-firm tofu, grated (1/2 block)
  • 1 15.5-ounce (440 g) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
  • Spray or cooking oil, for frying/baking

Instructions

  1. Prep: Soak the sunflower seeds in warm water in a small bowl while you prep the remaining ingredients. If you are baking your meatballs, preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Set up your food processor with an S-blade attachment.
  2. Base Flavors: Add the onion, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and parsley (if using) to the food processor. Pulse until a fine consistency forms. Warm the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat and add in the pulsed mixture along with the nutritional yeast, tomato paste, garlic powder, italian seasoning, smoked paprika, pepper, and chili flakes, fennel, and parsley, if using. Sprinkle salt over this mixture and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have darkened in color and most of their liquid has evaporated.
  3. Add Texture: First, add the rolled oats to the same food processor (no need to rinse it out) and process for 15 to 20 seconds, until a fine breadcrumb-like texture forms. Add in the grated tofu, chickpeas, flaxseed, cooked mushroom mixture and vegan worcestershire sauce. Process until everything is evenly combined – try not to over process the mixture though, to keep some texture.
  4. Form Your Meatballs: Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon-sized cookie scoop (or large spoon) to divide the meatball mixture into even balls – mine made around 55 balls. Wet your hands with either spray oil or water and roll each ball into your hands to form a uniform sphere.
  5. Cook: depending on your preference…
    1. Bake: Lightly spray your meatballs with cooking oil if you want a crispier finish. Bake at 400F in the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Briefly remove from the oven, flip, and bake on the top rack for an additional 10 minutes, or until golden.
    2. Pan-Fry: Coat the bottom of a sauté pan with oil and warm over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook each side for around 2 minutes, using tongs to rotate them. Transfer to a towel to absorb any excess moistture. The outside of each meatball will be crisp, but the inside will still be tender – feel free to finish the meatballs in the oven or air-fryer for 5-10 minutes to firm them up.
    3. Air-Fry: Place the meatballs in the basket of your air fryer, making sure not to overcrowd it. Bake at 360F foor 15-20 minutes, shaking the basket (or rotating the meatballs) every 5 minutes for more even cooking.
  6. Serve: as desired; these meatballs can be simmered in sauce once fully cooked, or alongside spaghetti with sauce, in a sub or wrap, or however you fancy! Cooked meatballs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. I recommend freezing the meatballs on a baking tray first and then transferring to a bag or container to prevent them from sticking to each other.

Notes

  • Soaked Sunflower Seeds: place the sunflower seeds in a medium-sized bowl and cover with boiling water (I use my electric kettle). Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until visibly “swollen” and the water has darkened. Drain well and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
  • Italian Seasoning: if you don’t have Italian seasoning, use 1/3 tsp each dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary.

Keywords: vegan meatballs, italian-style vegan meatballs, nut-free vegan meatballs

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About the Author

Hey there, I’m Caitlin! I make easy-to-follow, wholesome, and budget-friendly vegan recipes that are mostly gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I’m also an avid yogi, love the great outdoors, am chocolate-obsessed, and enjoy eating almond butter straight off of the spoon.

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Comments

  1. These are amazing. They are super easy to make and I love that you can freeze the extras for a lazy day. I don’t like the “fake meat” style meatballs like most of the store brands so I was really excited to see this recipe and had to try it right away. I’ve made them twice now and perfect each time! I used the baking method both times.

  2. These were really, really good! I loved the firm texture from baking – they held up very well in a sandwich unlike some other vegan meatball recipes I’ve tried. I only got 30 meatballs though, even measuring 1.5Tbsp per ball which was odd – not sure how it was so far off. Regardless, recipe worked out perfect and I will make it again!

  3. discovered the recipe an hour ago – the meat balls are still in the oven but I can’t wait to finally eat them because the smell is already insane 🙂

  4. I assume I could sub walnuts for sunflower seeds if that’s what I’ve got, right? Can’t wait to make these!!!

  5. I made this last night and my boyfriend and I loved it! I served it over Black Bean Fettuccine so it was just effect for a spooky Halloween theme dinner. The meatballs have really nice flavor. I baked them and immured them oil so they were completely plant based and oil free! We’ve been eating WFPB for 6 months and my boyfriend said this was his favorite meal so far! Thank you!!

      1. Thanks! I was vegan before but really honed in on WFPB Sugar and oil free. It’s been good!!