Best Vegan Meatballs

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!

4.7 from 14 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. Hayley

    Just curious as to whether you think short grain or long grain brown rice would be better here. I’ve heard short grain is more starchy and might hold together better?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Short grain – it’s stickier so these will hold together better (updating that in the recipe!)

      • Hayley

        Thanks, Jeanine. I was going to make your spaghetti Bolognese this weekend, but my family wanted to try vegan meatballs instead, so I’m going with this!

  2. Nadia F

    When does the garlic come in? I can’t seem to find it in the instructions.

  3. Susan

    This is a good recipe and I followed it but used Kidney beans because that was what I had at the moment. I wish they could be a bit firmer, but the taste was fantastic. I did add a “vegan savory spice Blend” which is basically dried herbs and nutritional yeast. I also followed your marinara recipe, adding only roasted garlic…as I had some, and some ground fennel and red chili flakes. My omnivore spouse loved his with a little mozzarella, for me vegan parm.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m glad you both enjoyed them!

  4. Sarah

    These are INCREDIBLE. My fiancé, roommate, and I all scarfed down our sandwiches and regretted that we couldn’t go back in time to eat them again. Oh man. Heavenly.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Ha ha, I’m so glad you all loved them! Oh man, I know that feeling of wanting to go back in time to re-eat something 🙂

  5. Natalie Ellis

    A vegetarian meaball dishes fits perfectly a healthy dinner. I also love eating meatballs with bread and vegetable, they are so good together 😋 Looking at yours, I’ve just came up an idea that what if making a meatball pasta, it would be amazing!! I have to try soonnn 😋

  6. This is great, That’s a great website, it really is what I was looking for, thank you for sharing!

  7. Jan

    When does the garlic go in?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      after the black beans – just updated it, thanks for pointing that out!

      • Alletta Tate

        The garlic still doesn’t show up in the recipe body. What a great recipe, though. Even my picky vegetarian daughter liked it and asked for it again!

  8. Katie

    Has anyone tried freezing these meatballs after baking and before marinara-ing? Just wondering how they hold together. Looks amazing, and I’m envisioning a big batch in the freezer for impromptu meals!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Katie, I haven’t tried – I’m not sure if they’ll fall apart upon thawing. I’ll report back next time I make them. If you give it a try, can you let me know?

      • Roma

        I just saw these are dated 2017… anyone try to freeze these? In the summer I made a zucchini version of meatless meatballs and they froze well and were the perfect emergency dinner. Looking for a similar fall version.

        Also, okay to sub out brown rice for quinoa?

        • Jeanine Donofrio

          Hi Roma, short grain brown rice should work (I use it in my veggie burgers and it’s a great binder). I think they will freeze well, but I haven’t tried.

  9. Kacy from

    I love meatballs, will try this for sure

  10. vivian

    These were very good, and would be a great use for leftover brown rice. We had them for sandwich and cocktail night and they were a big hit. Thanks!

  11. Jen @

    I’m so excited to try this recipe. Meatballs are the one meaty food I missed the most when I became vegetarian over 20 years ago and I’ve been creating different veg meatballs for years. But I’ve recently decided to mostly cut out dairy and eggs and all my veg meatball recipes contain one or the other or both, so your recipe came at just the right time. My one other issue is with onions (my mouth loves them, but my digestive system hates them!), and almost every recipe starts with onions. Any suggestions on how to replace onions in a recipe like this?

    I also liked reading what you said about your husband, I can totally relate. My husband is a meat eater, but happy to eat whatever plant-y food I make, he’s the least picky eater I know, except don’t try to feed him cabbage (although I keep trying!).

  12. Caitlin

    Can I use soy sauce instead of tamari?

      • Caitlin

        Okay great! I am definitely making these soon! Thank you for sharing the recipe 🙂

  13. because I hate when mushrooms stick to the bottom of the pan and love knowing the surface they’re cooking on is completely toxic-free.” <3

  14. caren yeo from

    great! both my sons are vegetarian!!!! so gonna try this

  15. Sabrina from

    sounds like this passed the taste test for a veg meatball! that’s exciting since a lot of the meatless substitutes just don’t work and might as well just be what they are instead of trying to mask themselves as meat! So am intrigued by this one, thank you!

  16. I’m so stupid! I’m very hungry and I’m browsing your recipe blog! :)) this one looks amazing, I’ll try it today!

    • I did make the recipe, to be honest most of the work whas done by my lovely wife, but I have to say, I helped a little in the end. :))

  17. Your meatballs in the book are still on my list to make, so now I have to decide which version I’m going to make! Sounds like you hit the mark perfectly getting glowing reviews from family.

  18. Leah

    These look delicious? Would it be possible to sub something different for the walnuts?

  19. Natalie from

    How did you know I’ve been craving meatballs, I’m all about spaghetti and meatballs and now I can share with my veggie bf! Thank you!

    – Natalie

  20. These mushroom sandy’s sound SO satisfying and hearty. I love how simple the meatballs sound, packed with flavour. Next time I need meatballs, these babies are going in!

    • Katie

      I made these and while they’re tasty, they didn’t hold up at all. When I scooped them out of the pot, the spoon went right through them instead of picking them up. I didnt sub any ingredients. Other recipes have worked better for me, I may try making these again and add breadcrumbs to the mix

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.