Best-Ever Eggplant Meatballs

This eggplant meatballs recipe is truly amazing! The purple veggie makes a surprisingly juicy texture and a delightful Italian style dinner.

Eggplant meatballs

Ever tried making meatballs…with eggplant? We’d been hearing for years that eggplant makes great vegetarian meatballs, we just didn’t really believe it…until now. Try this amazing Eggplant Meatballs recipe! Garlic, herbs, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese make one insanely juicy and savory meatball. Roasted eggplant makes them moist and textured, vs dry or mushy like lots of vegetarian balls. Combine it with marinara sauce and it’s out of this world delicious. In fact, we took one bite and yelled “Wow!” (True story.)

Ingredients for eggplant meatballs

It’s a short ingredient list here! All you’ll need to make eggplant meatballs is the following:

  • Eggplant: you’ll need 2 pounds; 3 medium or 2 large (it’s helpful to weigh out exactly at the store!
  • Garlic
  • Jarred sundried tomatoes
  • Italian panko: Panko are large, fluffy breadcrumbs. You’ll need to locate the Italian version, which has added salt and herbs. See below for more!
  • Grated Parmesan cheese: Make sure it’s the powdery stuff: not shredded, which looks like little sticks!
  • Salt and pepper
Eggplant meatballs recipe

What’s Italian panko? Is there a substitute?

Panko is a flaky bread crumb mixture used in Japanese cooking for fried foods. It’s also made its way into international cooking because it’s the perfect breading and frying. Italian panko are made with seasonings and salt. Panko is available in most grocery stores and online. You can also find gluten-free panko or Italian panko online, to make this a gluten free recipe! If you can’t find Italian panko, here’s what to do:

  • Use regular panko and add salt and Italian seasonings. See the recipe below for quantities.
  • Look for coarse breadcrumbs instead, or make them! Some purchased breadcrumbs have very fine texture, which isn’t as ideal (but you can still use them). Italian breadcrumbs have the salt and herbs added, so they are a good substitute. If all you can find is plain, use the salt and herbs from the recipe below as well.
Eggplant meatballs

Roast the eggplant small diced, skin on (here’s why!)

The key to these eggplant meatballs is this. Roast the eggplant chopped very small, then mash it with a potato masher before forming the balls. Here’s why:

  • Roasting with the eggplant skin on makes the very best juicy, meaty texture that’s incredibly satisfying. You’ll have some chunks in the meatballs: but that’s good!
  • Using a food processor or blender or removing the eggplant skin makes a texture that’s gooey rather than meaty: not nearly as delicious. Speaking of…

A few tips on forming eggplant meatballs

These eggplant meatballs have lots of texture to the dough, which can make forming them a little different than say, falafel. Here are a few tips on the forming process:

  • Include the eggplant skin right into the the balls: try to evenly disperse them throughout each meatball.
  • You can also discard a few of the skin pieces if it’s hard to form the balls. But again, the skins and chewy parts are what you need for a meaty, interesting texture: so don’t worry that it’s not a smooth dough!
Eggplant meatballs recipe

You’ll need about 1 hour: or they’re great for make-ahead!

Keep in mind: in total, this eggplant meatballs recipe takes about 1 hour to make. We’re obsessed with fast and easy recipes around here, as you may know. But guess what: this recipe is so good, it’s absolutely worth the 1 hour prep time! Here’s what to know about planning and meal prep to make it fit into your lifestyle:

  • Eggplant meatballs save very well: you can refrigerate or freeze! If you can make them ahead, it makes dinner time a breeze! Store them refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months, stored in a single layer in a freezer safe container.
  • To reheat, simply warm them in a skillet with marinara. That’s it! So easy.
  • Or, make them on a weekend or when time allows. If you have the time, it’s a perfect recipe for a Saturday or Sunday dinner.

Make it a meal: main dish, pasta, and more!

Take one bite of these eggplant meatballs and you’ll be amazed by the amount of flavor going on with these babies. Don’t even think of them as a vegetarian meatball: they’re just DELICIOUS. Now, you don’t need to serve them with pasta: but you can. The only thing that’s required is the marinara sauce (use your favorite jar). Here are a few ways you can eat these eggplant meatballs:

How would you serve them? Let us know in the comments below!

Eggplant meatballs

This eggplant meatballs recipe is…

Vegetarian. For gluten-free, use gluten-free panko.

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Eggplant meatballs

Best-Ever Eggplant Meatballs


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 4.60 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 20 meatballs (4 servings) 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This eggplant meatballs recipe is truly amazing! The purple veggie makes a surprisingly juicy texture and a delightful Italian style dinner.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds eggplant (3 medium or 2 large, about 12 cups diced into 1/2-inch pieces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon jarred sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian panko (use gluten free as needed)*
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (not shredded)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For serving, 1 large jar marinara sauce, 8 to 12 ounces spaghetti or bucatini pasta or zucchini noodles

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch chunks by slicing 1/2-inch rings and then cutting the rings into cubes. The size of dice is important for the final texture! (If you weren’t able to weigh the eggplant, measure out 12 cups 1/2-inch diced). 
  3. In a large bowl, quickly mix the eggplant with olive oil and kosher salt (the eggplant soaks up the oil in an instant, so mix as soon as you add it!). Pour the eggplant onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spread it into an even layer.
  4. Roast for 25 minutes, then stir and roast 10 minutes more until browned and very tender. Remove and reduce the oven heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  5. Add the warm eggplant to a bowl and mash it with a potato masher until chunky and mostly mashed. Stir in the minced garlic, finely chopped sundried tomatoes, Italian panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Taste and add any salt to taste (we added only 1 pinch; remember that the marinara sauce will also add flavor after baking).
  6. Use your hands to form the dough into 20 balls. You’ll include the eggplant skin right into the the balls: try to evenly disperse them throughout each meatball.  You can also discard a few of the skins if it’s hard to form the balls. But the skins and chewy parts are what you need for a meaty, interesting texture: so don’t worry that it’s not a smooth dough! See the photos above. 
  7. Place the meatballs on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until lightly browned on top and very browned on the bottom. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, or longer if desired (the balls will firm up). At this point, you can serve immediately, refrigerate for 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months (in a single layer in a freezer safe container). While the meatballs bake, you can boil the pasta or prep the zucchini noodles. 
  8. To serve, add the marinara sauce to a skillet and add the meatballs in a single layer. Heat for 1 to 2 minutes until warmed. Serve over the noodles, then top with grated Parmesan cheese (and chopped fresh basil, if desired). You can also serve as a vegetarian main dish with a few sides, like broccoli and couscous, rice or quinoa.

Notes

*We recommend Italian panko for the best results. If all you can find is regular panko, use 1 1/4 cups regular panko, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (or 1 tablespoon dried oregano and 1/2 tablespoon each dried basil and thyme). If you can’t find panko at all, you can substitute coarse breadcrumbs — the texture of store-bought is very fine, so chunkier homemade breadcrumbs are ideal (but you can use either). Italian breadcrumbs work in a pinch; adjust the salt to taste. If you eat gluten-free, you can find gluten-free panko online.

  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Italian inspired

Keywords: Eggplant meatballs, eggplant meatballs recipe

More eggplant recipes

Eggplant is one unexpectedly delicious vegetable, when you cook it correctly! Here are some more eggplant recipes to try:

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

7 Comments

  • Reply
    Joy
    January 14, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    These are on my to make menu. Am thinking over polenta would be really amazing. I love that ingredients are few.

  • Reply
    Maeghan
    January 16, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    These were delicious and worth the time spent to make! They were full of flavor even with gluten free breadcrumbs and vegan Parmesan cheese. I will definitely make these again.

    • Reply
      Sonja Overhiser
      January 16, 2021 at 5:27 pm

      Ooo amazing! Thank you so much for making them!!

  • Reply
    Karen Hill
    January 17, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Delicious! I love these. I will be making them again and again.

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      January 18, 2021 at 11:16 am

      So glad you enjoyed!

  • Reply
    Mollie
    January 18, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    I made these last night…best veggie meatballs I’ve ever had! The recipe was fun to make and not too complicated and the results were DELICIOUS!!!

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      January 18, 2021 at 2:43 pm

      So glad you enjoyed! Thanks for making :)

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