These vegan lentil meatballs are full of Italian herbs and spices. Currants offer a touch of sweetness, pine nuts add earthiness and bite, and red pepper flakes give a little spicy kick. Bake just 30 minutes in the oven and pair with spaghetti and marinara for a nostalgic Italian comfort dish.
There's just something so cozy and comforting about a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. But if you're vegan or trying to eat more plant-based meals, you'll need to leave out the meat. These vegan Sicilian-style meatballs offer a flavorful and hearty replacement.
This dish is inspired by a recipe I was given by a friend many years ago. When I decided to develop a vegan meatball recipe, I was trying to think of ways to add more texture (vegan meatballs can sometimes come out a bit mushy). As I was brainstorming what I could add to give the meatball a bit more bite, I remembered this old recipe that called for currants and pine nuts. By some luck, I still had the old recipe tucked away, so I dug it up and set out to
The original recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage, so I added a load of Italian herbs and spices, as well as a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, to try to replicate the flavor.
Are these vegan meatballs really Sicilian?
So often a recipe shares no true connection to its namesake. When I was researching this recipe, I decided to investigate if there was really anything Sicilian about this style of meatball. Thankfully, my uncle is from Sicily, so I asked if he'd ever eaten meatballs made with currants and pine nuts. To my delight, he said his mother used to make a dish like this. It was more of a loaf rather than individual balls, but close enough! So I stand by my title. These truly are a
How to Serve Sicilian-Style Meatballs
The obvious choice here is to serve with a simple marinara sauce over spaghetti topped with vegan parmesan cheese, but the sky is the limit. Be creative! Make a big meatball sub with vegan cheese, serve as a party appetizer, or pair with roasted potatoes and broccolini.
How to Prepare Sicilian-Style Meatballs
After you gather your ingredients, drain and rinse the lentils. Be sure to pat them dry to remove excess moisture. Do a fine dice on the onion. Then add the lentils, onion, herbs, and spices to the food processor. Pulse for 1 second eight to ten times. That's all!
The most important part of making these vegan meatballs is that you don't over-process! The mixture should still feel chunky, coarse, and loose after it comes out of the food processor. It should feel like it won't stick together. But it will. You have to trust me!
Add the breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast and mix. Then, add your currants and pine nuts and mix again. I prefer to mix with my hands because I think it helps the ingredients incorporate more evenly. Plus it's more fun that way!
Added vegan bonus: Since these "meat
When you're done mixing, you can start to form the balls. You don't really need to measure here. Just take 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture into your hands and press and squeeze, passing it back and forth between your palms and fingers. It will feel very coarse at first, but the more you press and squeeze, the more the liquid from the lentils and onions will release to hold everything together. As you can see in the video below, you have to be patient and continue to work the mixture until enough liquid is released to hold everything together.
When the mixture starts to feel like it's coming together, roll it gently between your palms until
Finally, place the balls on a parchment-lined tray and bake on 400° F or 200°C for 30 minutes. When the vegan meatballs are finished the outside should be nicely browned and a little crunchy. If the inside still feels mushy, you can cook for another 5 minutes.
The vegan meatballs might seem a little dry on the outside (this is the price for having a non-mushy inside), but if you cover them with marinara sauce the dryness will go away. If you plan to eat without sauce, you can bush with a little olive oil or soy milk to add some moisture back to the exterior. However you serve them, they're absolutely delicious! Enjoy!
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Vegan Sicilian-Style Meatballs
- 1 15 oz or 400 g can of brown or green lentils (You can sub with fresh lentils, but don't use red lentils for this recipe).
- ¼ cup diced white onion
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp salt (optional)
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs (or 2 pieces of whole wheat toast, pulsed in the food processor until fine)
- 3 tbsp roasted pine nuts
- 3 tbsp currants (or chopped raisins)
- 2 cups marinara sauce (recipe linked below)
- 8 oz dried spaghetti
- fresh basil for garnish
Vegan Meatball Directions
- Preheat to the oven to 400°F or 200°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a skillet over medium heat, roast the pine nuts until they are lightly browned. This should just take three to four minutes after the skillet is hot. Be careful that they don't burn.
- Peel and dice the onion.
- Drain and rinse the lentils. Pat dry to remove excess liquid.
- Add the lentils, onion, herbs, and spices to the food processor and pulse eight to ten times for about one second each pulse. You want the mixture to still be fairly coarse. If the mixture gets overprocessed, it will be too wet and the meatballs will stay mushy on the inside after they're baked.
- Scrape the meatball mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast. Use your hands (or a wooden spoon) to combine.
- Next, add the currants and pine nuts to the mixture. Use your hands (or a wooden spoon) to combine.
- Once the mixture is combined, take about 2 tablespoons in your hand. Squeeze and press the mixture, passing back and forth between your fingers and palms until some of the liquid starts to release and the mixture begins to hoild together. Once the mixture is holding together, form into a ball (a little smaller than a golfball). Place the ball on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat this process until you've used up all the mixture. You should have approximately 16 vegan meatballs.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook the meatballs for about 30 minutes. When they are finished, they should be crispy and nicely browned on the outside.
For the Pasta and Sauce
- While the meatballs are baking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook your pasta until it is al dente (about 9 minutes, see package for exact cooking time). Drain and set aside.
- Warm your marinara sauce in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. (For an easy homemade marinara, check out the link to my recipe below).
- When the meatballs are done, you can add them to the skilet with the marinara sauce and heat another 5 minutes before layering on your spaghetti. Or you can layer the meatballs and sauce seperately.
- Top your spaghetti and vegan meatballs with fresh basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan. Serve and enjoy!
- I always make my own breadcrumbs by pulsing toast in the food processor. Two standard-sized pieces of toast will give you about a cup of breadcrumbs.
- Instead of all the dried herbs listed above, you can use 6 tbsp of a premixed Italian herb seasoning.
- If you don't have pine nuts or want a more budget-friendly option, you can use sunflower seeds.
- Chopped raisins can substitute for currants.
- If you don't have a food processor, you can use a potato masher or fork to mash the lentils. This might take a few extra minutes. You will need to make sure the onions are diced very fine.
- These are a tad spicy, so if that's not your thing, reduce the amount of red pepper flakes or eliminate.
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