Italian ‘Meat’balls

It may seem impossible to make meatballs without meat. But, I promise – it’s possible AND delicious!

In this version, I made Italian-inspired ‘meat’balls using mostly plant-based ingredients. Read on to learn how to make them yourself!

Ingredients you’ll need to make meatless ‘meat’balls:

  • White beans: I typically use cannellini beans, but you can use any white beans, such as Great Northern or chickpeas/garbanzo beans.
  • Rice: Or quinoa, farro, wheat berries or any other ancient grain you have on hand. Just be sure it’s cooked first! I like to use pre-cooked brown rice and/or quinoa that I can just pop in the microwave. Or I’ll use leftovers I have from another recipe.
  • Parsley: I grab a bunch of fresh parsley, chop it up and toss it in! This would also be good with some fresh oregano and basil.
  • Parmesan: I use freshly grated, but if you’re looking to make this recipe vegan, you can substitute with nutritional yeast.
  • Egg: Eggs act as a binder in meatballs and cannot be skipped or your meatballs will fall apart! However, you can try using egg replacer (such as Bob’s Red Mill) or try making a flax egg. See the recipe card for details!
  • Tomato Paste: This adds richness to the ‘meat’balls. Yum!
  • Herbs and Spices: Garlic, minced onion, dried Italian herbs and crushed red pepper flakes. This is where major flavor comes in!
  • Salt: As always, salt brings out the flavors of the other ingredients, but feel free to adjust the amount to make it work for you.

How to prepare the ‘meat’balls:

  • Simply place all of the ingredients in a food processor and give it a whirl until the mixture becomes a chunky paste. (It may not look the most appetizing at this point, but I promise they’re delicious once cooked!) If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all of the ingredients, mix them in a bowl and use a potato masher to make a paste.
  • Roll the mixture into 16 balls and line on a wire rack fitted inside of a baking sheet. Be sure to use cooking spray on the wire rack to avoid sticking!
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 22-28 minutes or until set.
  • Simmer the ‘meat’balls in marinara, then serve! Delicious!

I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry! Let’s eat.


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Italian ‘Meat’balls

  • Author: Julie Andrews
  • Prep Time: 15-20 mins
  • Cook Time: 25-30 mins
  • Total Time: 40-50 mins
  • Yield: Makes 16 meatballs 1x
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Baking, Stove-Top
  • Cuisine: Italian-inspired


Easy vegetarian meatballs made with white beans, whole grains, egg, Italian herbs and garlic in a bath of marinara sauce.


  • 1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa and/or brown rice
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + more for serving
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 24-ounce jar lower sodium marinara


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fit a baking sheet with a wire rack and coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the beans, quinoa or brown rice, parsley, Parmesan, egg, olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes until a paste forms.
  3. Form into 2-inch round balls and line on the wire rack about an inch apart. Optional: coat each ‘meat’ball with cooking spray.
  4. Bake 22-28 minutes or until the meatballs are golden brown and firm.
  5. Warm the marinara sauce in a skillet. Transfer the ‘meat’balls to the marinara and bring to a simmer. Serve ‘meat’balls and marinara with grated Parmesan on top.


Cooking Tip: To make the meatballs vegan, try Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer or a flax ‘egg’. To make a flax egg, mix together 1 tablespoons ground flax seed with 2 tablespoons water and let sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This replaces 1 egg.

Serving Tip: Serve with a green salad with vinaigrette dressing.


  • Serving Size: 4 meatballs + 3/4 cup sauce
  • Calories: 311
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 581mg
  • Fat: 16g
  • Saturated Fat: 3g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 13g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 28g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Protein: 11g
  • Cholesterol: 50mg

Keywords: vegetarian, plant-based, vegan, meatballs, beans