Recipe courtesy of Pamela Salzman

Eggplant "Meatballs"

I love making a vegetarian version of a traditional meat recipe. I love it even more when my family and my students go crazy for it. Meatballs are such a familiar and popular food, I was a little unsure about how everyone would react when I subbed eggplant for ground beef. But sure enough, these eggplant "meatballs" were a huge hit! I honestly think these eggplant meatballs taste incredibly similar to regular ones, especially when covered with your favorite warm marinara sauce. They are tender enough to cut with a fork and are the perfect match with spaghetti squash for a serious veggie meal.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 45 min (includes cooling time)
  • Active: 20 min
  • Yield: 24 "meatballs"
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2 tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes (you should have about 8 cups)

1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

4 large eggs, beaten (you can use 2 to 4 eggs, but I like to use 4 for extra protein and to hold the meatballs together better)

1 1/2 cups regular or GF dried breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs (you can use as little as 1 cup, but the meatballs will be much softer)

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

A few grinds of black pepper

3 cups marinara sauce


  1. Heat a large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and saute the garlic in the hot oil until just fragrant and barely starting to lightly brown, about 30 seconds. Add the eggplant and 1/4 cup of water. Lower the heat to low and cover the skillet. Allow the eggplant to steam until soft, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, if you have time.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.
  3. Place the eggplant mixture in a food processor and pulse until well chopped, but not pureed. Or just do this on a cutting board with a knife.
  4. Transfer the eggplant mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the cheese, parsley, basil, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Stir the 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 or scoop the mixture using a 1- to 1 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop into 1 1/2-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm on the outside and light brown underneath.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the marinara sauce in a large saucepan over low heat until simmering. Transfer the meatballs to the saucepan with marinara sauce. Toss with the sauce and serve. 

Cook’s Note

You can add crushed red pepper flakes to the garlic to add some heat. You can also shape these into veggie burgers or use a loaf pan to make veggie meatloaf. If fresh basil isn't available, you can add a few dashes of dried basil and dried oregano. You can serve these meatballs with polenta, pasta, spaghetti squash or on a roll.

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