Delicious Eggplant Meatballs made with roasted eggplant, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs then topped with fresh cheese and baked in your favorite marinara sauce. So tender and flavorful, you won’t even notice they’re completely meat-free.
Vegetarian Eggplant Meatballs Recipe
These meatless meatballs are so much more than just eggplant meatballs. I mean, yes, they are made with eggplant. And, yes, they are meatless. But these tasty eggplant-filled meat-free meatballs are actually super delicious, super juicy, completely vegetarian, and filled with amazing Italian flavors thanks to fresh herbs and parmesan cheese.
Versatile and easy to make, you can make these eggplant meatballs ahead or make extra and freeze the leftovers for later. They make an awesome appetizer, snack, or main for all your meatless Monday needs, and kids love them, too!
How to Make Eggplant Meatballs
1. Cook the eggplant:
When using eggplant in meatballs, we need to first cook it so that it is soft and mushy, and the skin easily separates from the flesh. For this recipe, I roasted my eggplant whole.
To do this, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Wash and dry your eggplant(s), then use a knife to prick little holes in your eggplant. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and roast for approximately 45-60 minutes, or until very soft.
2. Peel the roasted eggplant:
Fortunately, this part is easy (or will be if your eggplant is cooked long enough). All you want to do is gently peel away the skin from the flesh. Toss the eggplant skin (unless you want to eat it as a snack, it is totally edible) and transfer the soft and mushy eggplant flesh to a large bowl. Use a fork to break apart the eggplant flesh into small bits and pieces.
3. Make your own breadcrumbs (optional):
If you have a few cups of crusty, dry bread, you can use them to make your own breadcrumbs. If not, storebought breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs (preferred) work just as well. To make your own breadcrumbs, transfer approximately 3 cups of cubed bread to a large food processor. Pulse until pulverized into tiny bits of uniform breadcrumb-size pieces. Measure out 2 cups and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
4. Assemble the eggplant meatballs:
Add the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper, fresh parsley, fresh basil, and milk to the breadcrumbs. Mix well. Then add the whisked eggs, cooked eggplant, and parmesan cheese. Use your hands to mix everything together until fully combined.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the prepared eggplant mixture into approximately 24 meatballs (or as many as you’d like to make) rolling tightly between the palms of your hands. Place them on the prepared baking sheet.
5. Bake and serve:
Bake the meatballs in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and enjoy with your favorite store-bought or homemade marinara sauce, arrabbiata sauce, or spaghetti sauce. A side of soft, toasted bread (for dipping) is recommended.
Eggplant Meatball Ingredient Substitutions
To make gluten-free eggplant meatballs use either almond flour, coconut flour, rolled oats, or cornmeal in place of regular breadcrumbs.
To make vegan eggplant meatballs:
- Instead of using eggs as a binder replace each egg with either 1 tablespoon flax or chia seeds whisked with 3 tablespoons boiling water OR 1/4 cup of avocado.
- Omit the cheese or replace it with a plant-based cheese alternative.
- Use plant-based milk such as oat milk, soy, almond, or coconut milk.
How to Serve
I like to serve these eggplant meatballs the same way I would regular meatballs:
- In my favorite homemade marinara sauce or arrabbiata sauce
- Dipped in ranch dressing
- On pizza or in sandwiches
- Covered in cheese
- Over pasta or low-carb spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles
Have you tried making these Eggplant Meatballs?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.
For the Meatballs
- 1 large eggplant - (approx. 1½-2 pounds total)
- 2 cups breadcrumbs - homemade or (store-bought okay)
- 2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon fresh parsley - minced
- 2 tablespoon fresh basil - minced
- ½ cup milk - (cow or plant-based)
- ⅓ cup parmesan cheese - grated
- 2 large eggs - whisked
For baking (optional)
- 1 (16 oz) jar marinara sauce - (see notes)
- 1.5 cups fresh mozzarella - shredded
- fresh basil leaves - to garnish
- fresh parsley - chopped
- Fresh bread or cook pasta - to serve
For the Meatballs
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry your eggplant(s), then use a knife to prick little holes in your eggplant. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for approximately 45-60 minutes, or until very soft.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before gently peeling away the skin from the flesh. Discard the skin and transfer the flesh to a large mixing bowl, using a large fork to break it apart into small bits and pieces.
- Meanwhile, prepare the breadcrumbs (if making your own). Transfer approximately 3 cups of crusty day-old bread to a large food processor (fresh and fluffy bread will not work). Process until all of the bread has been chopped into tiny uniform little bits and pieces. Measure out 2 cups and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- In the same bowl as your breadcrumbs, add the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper, fresh parsley, fresh basil, and milk. Mix thoroughly to combine. Then add the whisked eggs, cooked eggplant, and parmesan cheese. Use your hands to mix everything together until fully combined.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the eggplant mixture into approximately 24 balls, rolling tightly between the palms of your hands, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until firm and golden, approximately 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and enjoy as is, with pasta and pasta sauce, or baked in simmering marinara sauce and melted cheese (instructions below).
For Eggplant Meatballs with Marinara Sauce
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Add approximately 1 cup of prepared marinara sauce to a large oven-safe skillet followed by a single later of pre-cooked eggplant meatballs (depending on the size of your meatballs, all the meatballs may not fit in the same skillet). Spoon the remaining tomato sauce on and around your meatballs, top with freshly shredded mozzarella cheese, and freshly torn basil leaves.
- Transfer your skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 15-25 minutes, or until pasta sauce is hot and bubbly and the cheese is melted.
- Serve immediately with cooked pasta noodles or fresh, warm, buttery bread.
- If you love sauce or plan to serve this recipe with noodles or pasta, you may want to consider having an extra jar of pasta sauce on hand.
- Double the recipe and freeze extra meatballs in a ziplock bag after they have been cooked and cooled.
- Swap the pasta for lower-carb spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles.
- Leftovers are fantastic the next day. I recommend storing the meatballs and the sauce separately to prevent them from turning soggy.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)