Vegetarian Eggplant Meatballs Recipe - Pamela Salzman Skip to content

Vegetarian Eggplant Meatballs Recipe

The book process is a long one and similar to online dating.  You parade yourself around vulnerably, putting your best assets forward, hoping the right companion will ask you for a date.  You might have to kiss a few frogs before you find Mr. Right and then you’re an item.  DaCapo Lifelong Books and I dated a bit before we got together in August of 2015 and the rest is history!

Most of the recipes in the book are from classes I have taught, which means they have gotten A LOT of feedback.  I chose ones that would stand the test of time – no silly, trendy food here. And also I chose ones that were really popular in my classes and with my students’ families.  These vegetarian eggplant meatballs were one of those recipes.

But before I teach a recipe in class, it has to pass the test, i.e. my guys need to approve.  When I served these vegetarian meatballs to my husband and Mr. Picky, my son, two certified carnivores, I was a little nervous.  But they LOVED them!  I did, too.  These have all the same flavor of a meatball without the meat.  It’s not that I don’t serve my family beef, but really only sparingly.  I definitely favor plant foods with our meals so we get the benefits of all those vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants.

I love serving these with spaghetti squash and sauteed greens and they make a great sandwich the next day.  As with most of the recipes in my book, there are substitutions for the most common allergens.  Omit the pecorino to make them dairy-free.  Swap gluten-free bread crumbs for a gluten-free version.  One of the messages in my new book is that cooking healthy food is probably not as hard as you think.  I hope you’ll give these a try and let me know how it goes!













Vegan version

Swap the eggs for 1/4 cup flaxseed meal mixed with 6 Tablespoons of water. Add 2/3 cups of cooked kidney beans or beans of choice (mashed) into the mixture and use vegan grated parmesan.


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Vegetarian Eggplant Meatballs Recipe
Serves: 24 "meatballs"
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1” cubes (you should have 8 cups)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup fresh Italian parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 eggs, beaten (you can use between 2-4 eggs, but I like to use 4 for extra protein and to hold the meatballs together better)
  • 1 ½ cups dried breadcrumbs (you can use 1 cup, but the meatballs will be much softer)
  • ⅛ teaspoon of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper
  • ½ recipe of Marinara Sauce, recipe below, or about 3 cups of sauce
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Warm olive oil and sauté garlic until just fragrant and barely starting to lightly brown, about 30 seconds. Add eggplant and water. Reduce heat to low and cover the skillet. Allow eggplant to steam until soft, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, if you have time.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.
  3. Place the eggplant mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well chopped, but not pureed. Or just do this on a cutting board with a knife.
  4. Transfer eggplant to a large mixing bowl and add cheese, parsley, basil, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Stir mixture well to combine using your hands or a wooden spoon. The mixture can be refrigerated at this point, covered for up to a day. It is easier to roll into meatballs when the mixture is cooled down. (If doing so, preheat the oven 30 minutes before baking the meatballs.)
  5. Roll mixture into 1 ½ ” balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm on the outside and light brown underneath.
  6. Transfer meatballs to a large saucepan with marinara sauce and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Notes: you can add crushed red pepper with the garlic to add some heat. You can also shape these into veggie burgers. If fresh basil isn’t available, you can add a few dashes of dried basil and dried oregano.


¼ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced or 2 28-ounce containers of crushed tomatoes
1 7-ounce jar of tomato paste (for a richer, thicker sauce)
Sea salt
A few leaves (a small handful) of fresh basil, thinly sliced*

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté gently until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
2. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste (if using) with 2 generous pinches of sea salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
3. Puree about half the sauce with an immersion blender or pass through a food mill. (You can also blend half the sauce in a blender or food processor.) Put the sauce back into the saucepan.
4. Add the basil and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

*If fresh basil isn’t available, you can add a few dashes of dried basil and dried oregano.



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  1. Just wanted to thank you for this fantastic recipe. I’ve made these countless times exactly as written – the only thing I add is some fennel seed (always adds something to meatballs), a pinch of red pepper flakes and some lemon zest. I like to make eggplant parm sandwiches with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. My husband (who is very much a carnivore) gobbles them down.

    • Genius! I love the idea of adding fennel seeds. It gives it that sausage seasoning flavor without actually using sausage. Glad your husband loves them!

  2. I had these at a restaurant and they were fantastic, even better than ones made out of ground beef. I wanted to add more to the recipe like onions, bell pepper and carrots. Do you think that will spoil the recipe?

    • I’ve never tried that, but if you do, I would swap some of the eggplant for the veggies you would like to supplement with. Just make sure that any vegetables you add to the mixture are cooked.

  3. i am having so much trouble pinning your recipes to pinterest. They keep saying something is wrong on their end but it only happens on your website. Is it possible you could look into this>

    • I’m sorry you are experiencing issues with the pin it button. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ll have my tech person look into this.

    • Hi Lani. The pinterest save button should now be working properly on my site. Please let me know if you encounter any issues.

  4. We absolutely love this recipe! What would you do if your sous chef got excited and prepared the mixture but added the sauce (by mistake) before forming the balls. Which ingredient(s) would you add to solve this hiccup? 🙂 asking for a friend of course lol

    • I would turn this into a bolognese. It will still be delicious!

  5. My friend recommended this recipe to me so I bought my eggplant and made it the next day. I was not disappointed! I made 38 balls which were plenty big. I made homemade GF breadcrumbs. I added oregano.
    i combined all of the ingredients in my food processor with a few pulses. I used one jar of marinara from Costco (3 1/2 cups) but i needed more sauce for all of the balls…so I only put about 2/3 of the balls in the sauce. I served it over my homemade noodles. Wow, are these good! You’d never know it was made with eggplant! DE-licious!

    • Love your adaptations! Glad you gave it a try.

  6. Wow! One of the friends I swim with made these and mentioned how yummy they were. So I made them the next night and my husband – who rarely comments on the things I make – LOVED them! I”ll definitely add these to our dinner rotation! Thanks for the amazing recipes!

    • Thank you, Noelle! These are a family favorite and they freeze well, too!

  7. Do you think quinoa could be substituted for the breadcrumbs?

    • since I haven’t tried that, I can’t say for sure. Assuming you mean cooked quinoa, it’s worth a try. I would let the mixture rest as long as possible in the fridge before shaping into meatballs and baking.

  8. these look amazing. can i use arrowroot instead of eggs?

    • Not sure! I would try thicker flax eggs.

  9. I don’t work with eggplant that much so have a few questions! Could I cube and cook the eggplant the day before? And if I have time, roll them and keep in fridge overnight until cooking? I assume I can do all this, but know some vegetables like potatoes turn colors etc! Of course might as well double the recipe and freeze leftovers

    • Yes to cooking the eggplant the day before. Yes to roll the balls the night before – just keep them covered in the fridge. Leftovers freeze well! Enjoy!

  10. We absolutely LOVE this recipe! I’ve made these several times now and it’s a hit every time. Since it yields so many, I freeze about half of the “meatballs” after baking. It freezes beautifully and makes life easier for me since it’s like a heaven sent bonus day ’cause I don’t have to cook on that day!! When I don’t have time to make your delicious marinara sauce, I just use store bought and serve with my kids’ favorite, Angel hair pasta. Thank you for yet another fantastic recipe

    • I am so delighted! I also love having these in the freezer for a quick dont-have-to-cook night!

      • Can I make the eggplant meatballs the same day? And then cook them.

        • Totally! I recommend allowing the eggplant to cool down for a few minutes before making the mixture since it’s easier to roll into meatballs when it’s cool.

  11. I made these a while back but forgot to post a comment. They are amazing and love the sauce also! When I first made them I served them with whole grain angel hair pasta! Yum! But I had so many leftover even after sharing with my daughter and grandson who gave them a thumbs up, that I decided to try freezing and it worked wonderfully! I cooled them and froze them on a piece of parchment on a sheet pan and when they were frozen placed them in freezer bags. Also froze the sauce in portion sized amounts. Then when my husband was out of town and I didn’t want to cook I took out a few and thawed them with some sauce. I heated the meatballs in the oven at 375 until lightly brown and heated through. I then toasted a couple of whole grain small buns and made meatball sliders with the heated sauce, mozzarella, and parmasan and top! Unbelievably good! I will definitely be making again! They freeze beautifully!

    • Oh, your comment made me so happy! Yes, they’re like a little gift from the freezer, aren’t they?? Thank you, Cathy!

  12. Can you give me an idea of how many eggplant balls this recipe will yield? I’m making it for a larger group so I’m trying to figure out if I should double or triple the recipe. Thanks

    • Yes, I have to fix this recipe and enter it into the plugin which wasn’t working when I uploaded this post. My apologies. You will yield 20-25 depending on how big you make them. Enjoy!

  13. I’ve made these 4 times and they are always a hit, my husband loves them! I use 4 eggs and follow the recipe closely, it’s hard to mess up. Love them. Thank you!

    • Thank you for the positive feedback! My husband is crazy for them, too! 🙂

  14. Made these for the second time, love them. How long will they keep, glass container and low shelf in my frig? I did freeze some, we’ll see how that works out!

    • Great! These will easily keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. Enjoy!

  15. Hi Pamela!

    We made these meatballs completely vegan, following all of the substitutions you recommended in these comments! Nutritional yeast for the Parmesan and the Flax seed and water mixture for the egg. And they were a big hit! Everyone loved them, even me and I hate eggplant due to how mushy it can get! We decided to make it just the slightest bit chunkier and we found that making sure the bottoms browned helped ensure the firmness! Only problem is that when we stripped away the egg and Parmesan to make it vegan, we also removed the protein. . Do you think the addition of white beans could solve that problem without changing the taste dramatically? Can’t wait for your book to arrive in the mail! congratulations!

    • I bet that white beans could be added with success! Since they’ll be vegan, I would taste the mixture to make sure it doesn’t need additional seasoning. Let me know if you try it!

  16. Made these tonight — SO good (and I don’t even like eggplant)! I didn’t feel like getting out the food processor, so I chopped half the cooled eggplant on the cutting board and pulsed the rest in my regular old blender. Used three eggs, Panko breadcrumbs and dried herbs — texture was perfect and held up nicely in the sauce after baking. I halved the recipe for your homemade tomato sauce, used canned organic diced tomatoes and pureed in blender before cooking so I wouldn’t have to wait til they cooled (or risk hot tomatoes exploding in the blender). Overall a really delicious, hearty meal. Thank you for posting the recipe — it’s a keeper!
    I’ll report back on how they do in the freezer…

  17. Just bought eggplant specifically for this mouthwatering recipe! Have you tried freezing the meatballs after baking?

    • I haven’t, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

  18. Emergency! I am making these after my SIL highly recommended, but I accidentally peeled the eggplant before cooking. Should I make some other adjustment or should they be OK without peel?

    • I’m sure it will turn out fine without the peel. Make it anyway!

  19. I want to make these for my daughter who recently went vegan. What could I substitute for the Parmesan cheese without sacrificing the flavor?

    • Hmmmmm…you could sub some nutritional yeast, but not sure what to do about the eggs….

  20. I made these on Monday and they were a huge hit. I doubled the recipe and am so glad I did! A couple of people even thought they were meat . As for the comment on top regarding very soft meatballs, maybe draining the eggplant in a colander would help a bit too (since it lets out quite a bit of liquid if you let it cool in the pan). In any case, hey are fantastic! Thank you!!!

    • How wonderful, Martha! Thanks for sharing!

  21. I made these last night…mine were SO mushy/wet. I am thinking I had too much eggplant…should I have added more breadcrumbs? I used 4 eggs! Plus, i increased baking time AND even upped the temperature of the oven incrementally from 350, to 375, to 400…still pretty darn soft meatballs.
    Thanks for the advice- the flavors were great and the marinara recipe in your basics section of book was PERFECT.

    • Hi Shaz, You should not have had too much eggplant if you used 8 cups. Did you measure the eggplant? I have made this recipe at least 40 times, and I always use 8 cups of eggplant and 4 eggs. Also, you have to follow the timing for how long to cook the eggplant. You can’t cook it too long. Basically, this recipe needs to be followed closely!

      • I cooked the eggplant too long. I thought it was more forgiving. Thanks for pointing this out!

        • Ok, next time just cook the eggplant according to the recipe and I promise these will turn out perfectly!

  22. Sounds so delicious!! Can’t wait to make them. Have you tried GF bread crumbs in this recipe? If yes, do you recommend a certain kind? Thanks!!

    • I have tried GF breadcrumbs and they work fine! Honestly though, I usually make my own from GF bread. (let me know if you need instructions.) I don’t love the ones in my local market. If I had to pick, Ian’s is probably the best of the lot.

  23. It was so wonderful to finally meet you at the book signing last night – Tom and I had an excellent time, and the food samples were so delicious! Thank you for all that awesomeness.

    What can I sub with egg to keep the meatballs together? We try to avoid ‘vegan eggs’ when possible. Would chickpea water work as well?

    Thank you!

    • Hello Adaora, It was so lovely to meet you and Tom last night! Thank you for coming out and taking the time to chat with me. I don’t think this recipe will be super sensitive to egg substitutes like flax eggs or aquafina (chickpea liquid.) Let me know if you need measurements of either!

      • What would be measurements for the flax substitute for eggs in this recipe?

        • I would make the equivalent of 4 flax eggs: 4 Tablespoons of ground flax meal + 3/4 cup of warm water. Let it sit for 15 minutes until slightly thickened. Add about 3/4 of the flax egg mixture to the eggplant mixture. Check for consistency. You want to be able to form the mixture into balls and you want them to hold together. If the mixture feels like it can handle the remaining flax egg mixture, go for it.

          • Thank you! Will be trying this soon

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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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