The Best Italian Vegan Meatballs Ever are here! They're made with caramelized onions, rice, oats, mushrooms, and walnuts, plus an incredible combination of spices that bring the Italian flavor to life. Eat them over your favorite pasta with a delicious marinara for a classic weeknight meal!
A lot of people who decide to make the switch to vegetarian or vegan eating are sure they'll have to give up all of their favorite dishes. That's one of the things that gets me so excited about a recipe like these Vegan Meatballs! It's a plant-based take on an Italian staple dish that so many people love. I've created Italian meatballs from brown rice, oats, mushrooms, walnuts, and caramelized onions for a dish that will absolutely shock people with it's meat-free deliciousness! It is full of umami flavor and has the perfect meatball texture.
Vegan Meatball Ingredients
This ingredient list is actually really straightforward! It's mostly pantry ingredients and there are a few make-ahead tips to make it a speedy weeknight option.
- Cooked brown rice - Use microwave frozen brown rice to keep it easy!
- Caramelized Onion - Making caramelized onions takes a full hour, so I recommend making these ahead of time if you're able! I usually make it when I know I'll be spending time in the kitchen and just give it a stir every five minutes or so. The caramelized onions give these meatballs the most incredible umami flavor ever - do not rush this process.
- Shiitake mushrooms - These should be chopped before adding them in.
- Seasonings - salt, pepper, garlic powder, Italian seasoning
- Tomato paste - I love the squeezable tubes of tomato paste that you can keep in the refrigerator for optimal freshness.
- Walnuts - Make sure you're buying raw walnuts! Store them in the refrigerator for optimal freshness.
- Oats - Double-check that your oats are gluten-free if that's important to you.
Choosing and Storing Onions
When you’re shopping for onions look for ones that have crisp, crunchy skin that isn't broken or peeled off the outside. Pass on onions with mushy spots or large dents. It should feel heavy in your hand and pass the smell test: an onion with a strong, potent odor has probably passed it’s prime. No thanks! Store onions in a cool, dark place (a pantry is ideal) for up to two weeks. Once caramelized you can store onions in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week, and they can be frozen for up to two months!
Binding Gluten-Free Meatballs
I used cooked brown rice as a binder in these vegan meatballs. It also gives them a better texture and chewiness while making them filling and substantial. I use brown rice in veggie burgers for the same reason! Frozen bags of pre-cooked rice are the quickest way to go for a recipe like this one, but it's also really easy to prep rice ahead of time if you want to cook it yourself.
All About Walnuts
I love using walnuts in recipes that traditionally have meat! I make Vegan Walnut Taco Meat and it's a house favorite. Walnuts are full of plant-based protein, filling and when soaked and/or cooked have a slightly chewy texture similar to meat. They are my go-to nutritious swap for creating vegan ground "meat." Walnuts can control blood sugar levels and also contain omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s could lower your overall risk of heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, omega-3s also reduce joint pain and improve brain function and development. Walnuts are also a good source of magnesium, which can lower blood pressure.
Oats in Vegan Meatballs
I love using oats in recipes because it’s full of soluble fiber, and higher in protein and healthful fats than most other whole grains. I love getting an energy boost and feeling full a little longer after eating oats. This also makes your Vegan Meatballs a really filling dinner option. The oats help bind the meatballs together and give them a nice texture.
All About Mushrooms
Mushrooms are low in calories and high in dietary fiber and riboflavin. They are also a good source of niacin, copper and pantothenate. Look for firm, well-shaped mushrooms that do not have any spots or slime on them. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, you can store mushrooms in your refrigerator for up to one week but I like to buy them the day before if possible!
In this recipe I recommend using skiitake mushrooms because they have the best flavor and texture for a vegan meatball. Shiitakes have rich umami flavor and meaty texture and really make these meatballs shine.
These Italian Vegan Meatballs are made without meat, dairy, eggs, gluten, or soy. Incredible! I hope you make and enjoy them. Please tag me on Instagram if you do! You can also leave a review below to help out other readers who may want to make this dish.
More Italian Dinner Recipes
Skillet White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Garlic, and Basil
Parsley Pea Pesto Pasta
Easy No-Boil Baked Vegan Baked Ziti with Veggies
Vegan Creamy Pasta Primavera
Creamy Vegan Pasta al Limone
Easy Cast Iron Skillet Pizza Crust
Vegan Baked Feta Pasta
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
Quinoa Minestrone Soup
The Best Italian Vegan Meatballs Ever are here! They're made with caramelized onions, oats, mushrooms, and walnuts, and delicious spices.
- 1 cup cooked brown rice (tip: microwave frozen brown rice to keep it easy!)
- 1 caramelized onion
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 10 ounces shiitake mushrooms, chopped
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons garlic powder (optional)
- 1.5 teaspoons Italian seasoning (optional)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- ¾ cup oats (gluten-free if desired)
- Prepare brown rice ahead of time. I like to use frozen brown rice that microwaves in two minutes to keep this recipe quick and easy. Stovetop or instant pot brown rice also works.
- Prepare the caramelized onion in advance since this takes an hour to fully caramelize.
- Add oil, mushrooms, and seasonings to a non-stick, non-toxic skillet and cook over medium heat for 20-25 minutes until the mushrooms have released their juices and softened. I like to give them time to sear a bit and allow their umami flavors to fully develop. Set cooked mushrooms aside.
- To a 7-cup food processor add walnuts and oats and process for 20 seconds until crumbly. Add cooked brown rice, caramelized onion and cooked mushrooms. Add the tomato paste. Pulse until everything is well combined and no large chunks of anything remain. Do not over-process the mixture - you don't want it to turn into mush. A little texture is good.
- Use a 1.5 tablespoon retractable cookie scoop and form the mixture into small balls with your hands. You should have about 20 balls. Preheat a large non-stick, non-toxic skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom of the pan in olive oil. Once the oil is hot, place the balls in the skillet. The balls should not be touching. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in two batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook the balls about 5 minutes per side until ALL sides are seared, crispy and golden brown.
- Serve "meatballs" overtop spaghetti with marinara sauce, fresh basil or parsley and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan cheese if desired! Store leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Be sure to cook your mushrooms for the recommended time or it won't release enough of the juices and your vegan meatballs could end up slightly mushy. Same goes for the caramelized onions, if they are undercooked they retain more liquid and will make the recipe mushy.
- Prep Time: 20
- Cook Time: 25
- Category: Main
- Method: Stovetop and Food Processor
- Cuisine: Italian