Vegan Black Bean Meatball Sub

These hearty vegan meatballs are a hit with even the pickiest eaters! Their savory, smoky flavor is delicious in subs or on pasta with lots of marinara.

Vegan Meatballs

Lately, Jack and I have been spending a lot of time with my family in Chicago. One thing my husband especially loves about this area is all the comfort food, especially the plethora of meaty things between bread. I often shy away from the “fake meat” types of things, but when I do make something that is inspired by a meat dish, he’s the first to tell me if it’s great or if I’ve missed the mark. Well, I fed these vegan meatballs to him and my family last night, and not only did Jack wolf his down with approval, in a surprise move, my dad was the first to ask if there were any extra.

We love this recipe – the vegan meatballs are a riff on the Eggplant Mushroom & “Meatball” recipe from our cookbook. I messed with it a bit, replacing the out-of-season eggplant with black beans and switching up the spices. I think even your pickiest eater will love this one, because the mushroom flavor isn’t very pronounced after you smother these vegetarian meatballs with marinara sauce.

Vegan meatballs ingredients

How to Make Vegan Meatballs

These vegetarian meatballs are not difficult to make, but they do take a little bit of time. Start by sautéing onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a pan and then adding balsamic, tamari, and black beans. I use my non-stick non-chemical GreenPan because I hate when mushrooms stick to the bottom of the pan, and I love knowing the surface they’re cooking on is completely toxin-free.

How to make vegetarian meatballs

Next, pulse the mushroom mixture in a food processor with walnuts and black beans. Then mix it in a bowl with brown rice and spices. Finally, use panko to form them into balls. Below you’ll see what they look like before you bake them – they will get nicely golden brown in the oven.

If you want to make these in advance, store the uncooked meatballs in the fridge overnight and bake them when you’re ready to eat. They firm up a bit in the fridge, so these vegan meatballs are a terrific make-ahead meal.

Vegan Meatballs Recipe

What to Do With Vegan Meatballs

We love stuffing these vegan meatballs into subs. Once baked, heat up marinara sauce, add the meatless meatballs, and then assemble them in buns with fresh basil. Note: this recipe is best when served in soft buns or baguette – nothing too crusty; these little veggie balls are more smush-able than a regular meaty meatball.

Of course, you could also make spaghetti and meatballs with these guys! Serve the vegetarian meatballs with marinara or pesto and your favorite pasta shape. They’d also be great with sweet potato noodles, zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash.

Vegan Meatballs

If you love these vegan meatballs…

Try my favorite veggie burgers, black bean burgers, vegetable lasagna, or spaghetti bolognese next!

For more vegan recipes, check out this post!

4.8 from 17 reviews

Best Vegan Meatballs

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
These vegetarian meatballs are full of veggies, but with tang from balsamic and tamari, even picky eaters will love their flavor. I love these balls tucked into subs, but they're good served over pasta, too.
Recipe type: Main dish
Serves: 6
  • ½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • ½ yellow onion (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, de-stemmed, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1½ cups cooked brown rice
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 6 soft sub buns or sliced soft baguette
  • 2 cups jarred or homemade marinara sauce
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • Several handfuls of arugula, optional
  • Parmesan (skip if vegan) or vegan parmesan cheese, optional
  1. In a large skillet, heat ½ teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, pinches of salt and pepper, and cook until browned and soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add ½ cup of the black beans, garlic, the balsamic vinegar and tamari sauce, and cook for 2 minutes or until everything is well browned and soft. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool slightly.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts. Add the mushroom mixture and pulse 2 to 3 times until just combined. Do not puree or the mixture will be too mushy. Add the remaining ½ cup of black beans and pulse briefly. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the brown rice, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Mix until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the panko breadcrumbs onto a plate. Form the mixture into 18-1½ inch balls and gently roll in the crumbs, using the breadcrumbs to pat the mixture into cohesive balls. Place on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes or overnight.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, carefully flipping halfway through.
  5. Heat the marinara sauce in a skillet and add the meatballs. Heat until just warmed through and serve immediately on the buns with arugula, basil, and parmesan cheese, if desired. (Tip: don’t let the meatballs sit in the sauce for too long or they will start to fall apart).


Special thanks to GreenPan for sponsoring this post!


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Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. Helene

    This meatball recipe is fantastic–my family loved it, and it’s definitely going into our regular rotation. I was a little hesitant at first, since I’m not usually a fan of ‘vegan’ recipes, but these meatballs were delicious. The only issue I had was that I’m not sure if I would use them as a substitute for regular meatballs. The texture is different, and they don’t have that ‘meaty’ flavor that I love. However, they’re still an excellent option for a healthy, hearty meal. Thanks for the great recipe!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m glad you enjoyed them!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      You could give this meatball recipe a try – I made it with Lightlife plant-based ground meat. The texture is definitely more meaty: (the recipe is in the Instagram caption)

  2. Stephapooh

    Looks amazing! Do you think it’s possible to skip the walnuts? I have a nut and seed allergy.

  3. Rikkina

    Delicious flavor, but the texture wasn’t very firm. I’ll make again but maybe add an egg or something to help (I know that changes the vegan status lol!). Big hit though!

  4. Towanda

    Pure Magnifique! Served them with sauteed onions and peppers on a bun. Great for game day food! Next time I will double them for spaghetti and meatballs next day. Go Pack Go!

  5. RG

    I’m trying out a vegan diet & made these last night with no variation on the recipe. They were generally good, but I don’t think they resemble a meatball in taste or texture. I would call them a Black Bean Croquette so as not to setup the expectation that this is like a meatball. It’s softer than a meatball & tastes like, well, black beans and rice. Which are still great tastes. I’m going to eat the leftovers with an avocado spread instead of marinara sauce. I’d make them again, but only on days I had 2.5hrs to make dinner. This is definitely not a 45min prep time when you factor in cooking the black beans & making the rice. For that reason I put this recipe at a 3, but the taste is generally good.

  6. Tanya

    I really loved this meatball recipe. There were plenty of them so ended up freezing a few as well.
    The only issue for me is I would have liked them to be a little firmer they are very delicate and after following this recipe mine basically collapsed in the oven. I felt the it was too long in the oven for something that was essentially already cooked? The next lot I used from the freezer I gently pan fried carefully turning them over with a spoon and also did a little experiment with a deep fry which also worked very well. Thanks for this recipe tho o will keep using it for sure but will cook them my ways.

  7. Lana

    This is such a yummy recipe. I love making it.

    I was wondering what you would think of substituting barley for the brown rice? I have a lot of barley and was wondering if it could be substituted.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Lana, I’m not sure, I haven’t tried. I’d say if it’s sticky when you cook it, it could work. The sticky brown rice is what helps hold these together.

  8. michelle

    Hello! Just wondering what I could use to substitute for black beans, as my partner has a hard time with legumes. More mushrooms and rice perhaps? Thanks! I love all of your recipes!

    • Elisa

      I have several vegan meatball recipes and some of them use tofu (very well drained and patted dry), tempeh, quinoa and even nuts like cashews instead of beans. Hope this helps!

  9. Amy Keys

    I made these tonight. The taste and texture really were meat like. I thoroughly enjoyed these meatballs.

  10. Linda

    I would this work without the nuts? I am allergic


  11. Jane Kang

    Do these freeze ok? Can I make a batch with all the eggplant I have and freeze?
    ( always my go to question- with kids- is it freezable?)

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Jane, I haven’t tried freezing these. I would just try to freeze them after they’re baked vs before. I hope that helps!

  12. margot

    These look delicious. Do you have any recommendations for a substitution for the walnuts? Thank you

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Margot, I don’t have a replacement off hand – but here’s another vegan meatball recipe that I love that has no nuts but uses plant-based ground meat instead. It’s in the caption of this instagram post: Hope that helps!

  13. Ashley B

    I made these last night and they were SO GOOD. I also made your marinara sauce to go with them. Thank you so much.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Ashley, I’m so glad you loved them!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.