Kids wanted spaghetti for dinner. Again! And I was tired of the simple marinara sauce, or pesto (which happens to be their current favorite). I wanted some protein too. And when I thinking of healthy options, I thought, the classic is spaghetti with meatballs. Why not make it vegetarian? I mean, if there can be turkey meatballs.. I initially thought lentils, but it was almost time for dinner, and I didn’t have time to soak and pressure cook them, but I did have canned garbanzo beans, so that’s what I went with.
Now, I’m giving the recipe for the “meatballs” here. Marinara sauce (don’t use the sauce out of the jar) is simple, and I’ve already given the recipe here. Cook spaghetti as per instructions on the box, ‘al dente’, toss around in a tablespoon of olive oil and keep aside.
Onion – 1 (medium sized, diced)
Carrot – 1 (medium sized, diced)
Red bell pepper – 1 (medium sized, diced)
Garlic – 2 cloves (minced)
Spinach – 1 bunch (chopped)
Tomato paste – 1 tablespoon
Fresh thyme – 1 sprig
White button mushroom – 8 (chopped)
Chickpeas – 1 can (drained and rinsed well)
Breadcrumbs – 1/2 cup
Egg – 1
Parmesan cheese – 1/4 cup (grated)
Fresh parsley (or cilantro) – 1 bunch (chopped fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil – to sauté and drizzle on meatballs
1. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a hot pan. Sauté onion, carrot, red bell pepper, garlic and thyme for 5 – 7 minutes, till veggies are soft.
2. Add tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add spinach and mushrooms and cook for 10-15 minutes, till all the liquid is absorbed.
4. Add the chickpeas, cooking for a couple of more minutes, while smashing the chickpeas with the back of your spatula.
4. Remove the mixture from heat, let it cool.
5. Mix in breadcrumbs, eggs, grated cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well with your fingertips (don’t knead).
6. Preheat the oven to 400F.
7. Grease a cookie sheet or a baking pan with olive oil.
8. Roll the veggie+chickpea mixture into golf ball sized meatballs. Arrange them on the greased tray with at least 1/4″ gap between them.
9. Spray the meat balls with non-stick cooking spray.
10. Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned evenly, and cooked through. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
11. Serve on marinara sauce, ladled over a bed of spaghetti.
Note: I decided to keep the meatballs crispy, but if you prefer, after removing them from the oven, you could place them in the marinara sauce, and let them gently poach in sauce before serving them on spaghetti. Just don’t boil them in sauce, lest they fall apart.
1. Instead of chickpeas, you could use lentils. (1/2 cup lentils, soaked for an hour and pressure cooked till tender, drained and smashed).
2. You could add chopped walnuts or almonds (1/4 cup) to the mixture for a bit of crunch.
3. Technically, these meatballs could be deep fried, they will taste better I suppose, but this is healthier. 🙂
4. Any hard cheese, Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano can be used. (Parmesan is quite expensive)
5. Add any veggies you like, dice them fine so they’ll cook evenly. Substitute spinach with any other greens you have on hand.