I don’t know where the phrase “neatball” comes from, but it seems to have been universally applied to all vegetarian versions of the classic meatball.
I first saw a variation of this term at Victory’s Banner restaurant in Chicago, which serves “Neatloaf Sandwiches” (they are delicious, FYI). Since then, I’ve come across various recipes for neatballs, including the spaghetti and beanball recipe in Veganomicon and this impressive lexicon of vegan neatball recipes. But none of these satisfy my ball craving as much as this neatball of my own creation.
My neatballs are based on three ingredients: carrots, walnuts and tofu. What I love about this recipe is
- It uses no breadcrumbs or other bread products – many similar recipes use something floury to bind everything together, and you end up with more of a bread-ball than a neatball. And since neatballs are destined to go with pasta or a nice roll, adding more carbs to the mix seems like overkill. This recipe is all tofu and veggies – carbophobes rejoice!
- It’s a great use for frozen tofu which, when thawed, squeeze dried and crumbled, takes on a spongey, almost breadcrumb like texture
- Their flavor is heavenly – the aroma and deep flavor of the toast walnuts perfectly compliments the sweetness of the carrots
- The outside is nice and crispy but the inside is moist and firm
- They hold their shape very well, without crumbling apart as soon as you stab a fork into them
Of course, what makes these meatballs come alive is a good tomato sauce and some pasta or a nice roll to go with it. One of the best things I ate last week was this neatball sub sandwich:
Mind the mess – but isn’t that what a neatball sub is all about?
Also tasty is the classic spaghetti and neatball pasta meal (a glass of wine and a nice salad helps). I suspect this same mixture would also do well as a stuffing for cannelloni, pasta shells or manicotti. Or as a filling in vegan lasagna.
Carrot and Walnut Tofu Neatballs
A food processor really comes in handy for this dish. You can even use it to do all your chopping. But you can do without if you finely chop your veggies! Some fresh herbs really kick this up a notch – especially basil and pesto. Also, I’ve had pretty good success making these with unfrozen firm tofu and a little bit of breadcrumbs, and skipping the silken tofu completely.
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, grated
1 cup walnuts,
450g firm (not silken) tofu, frozen, then thawed
2 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
juice from 1/4 lemon
150g firm silken tofu (about 1/2 box)
olive oil for greasing
salt and pepper
Saute the garlic, red onion and carrots in the olive oil until soft.
While that’s going, take the frozen tofu and squeeze out as much water as you can (I suggest tearing it into a few pieces and squeezing each piece with your hands over the sink. Don’t worry if it crumbles apart – that is its destiny!)
In a food processes, blitz the walnuts until they are roughly ground.
Add the firm tofu, herbs, lemon juice and sauteed veggies. Blend until everything is about the size of breadcrumbs.
Now, with the food processor running, start adding the silken tofu a spoonful at a time. When it looks like things are coming together, stop, and try to make a test ball. If it all holds together well, you’re ready to go. If not, add a little more silken tofu. Also, you may need to scrape the sides and bottom of your food processor as you go.
Form the mixture into balls (I like to make mine fairly small, about the diameter of a quarter) and place on a well oiled cookie sheet or roasting pan.
Bake at 350F/180C for about 15 minutes. Rotate the balls and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Makes about 25 neatballs. Per ball: 58 Calories; 3.3g Protein; 4.4g Total Fat; 2.3g Total Carbohydrates.