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Tags: lentil, soy, mushroom, meatball, marinara, tomato_sauce, sandwich, aquafaba, sauce

Vegan No-Meat-Ball Sandwich

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Substantial vegan no-meat-balls simmered in marinara sauce

This no-meat-ball sub has been on my to-do list for a while now. It's pure comfort food for me—how could it not be with the combination of Italian spices, tomato sauce and bread. The meatballs add substance, protein, fibre and no small amount of flavour. I'm impressed with how well they stay together after cooking, which I chalk up mostly to aquafaba.

I suspect that if you've been reading vegan recipes this year, you've already heard about the magical egg-replacing properties of aquafaba. It's simply the liquid from a can of chickpeas that you would normally be pouring down the drain. Turns out aquafaba has so many uses that I can't really do it justice here—a quick search will show all kinds of vegan main dishes and desserts (especially meringues and macaron cookies) that have come to depend on it. It's also quite good at sticking ingredients together, in a similar way to eggs. That's an issue in many vegan recipes that aim to replace some dish based on meat, whether it's sausage, burgers, or as in this case, meatballs. You don't want your meat replacement to fall apart, and aquafaba helps hold stuff together. It's particularly useful to me because *I Cannot Stand* vital wheat gluten, aka seitan, and I don't want to put it in anything that is going to be going anywhere near my mouth. But VWG is sticky, and sticky is a good quality, so we're looking for aquafaba to take its place and save me from having to cook with VWG.

The simplest way to get aquafaba is to strain the liquid from a can of chickpeas. Harvesting the aquafaba from dried chickpeas is a little trickier than getting it from a can, but only a little. If you're interested in doing this yourself, here's a tutorial video from Mary's Test Kitchen. What I do is similar, but I don't bother reducing the AF down at the end because I find that it's already very thick after chilling with the chickpeas in the fridge.

I make a huge batch of hummus pretty much every week, so I've got a ton of aquafaba. (The only thing I do differently if I'm planning on saving the aquafaba is I don't add 1/2 tsp salt when I'm cooking the chickpeas, but I add a little more salt when I'm making the hummus itself.) Following the recommendations of some AF geniuses, I pour my AF into ice cube trays and once frozen, transfer the cubes to a large freezer bag.

aquafaba cubes in a freezer bag

If the recipe calls for 1/4 cup of aquafaba, I thaw 4 cubes in the fridge, which is a little more than I need. Or you could just strain the liquid from a can of chickpeas.

aquafaba in a bowl

Other than that, this dish comes together pretty easily. I like giving things time to cool before I make the meatballs, and I like cooling the baked meatballs in the fridge overnight before I add them to the marinara sauce the next day, so I prefer to make these the day before I'm planning to eat them. Speaking of marinara sauce, if you have a storebought product that you like, feel free to use that. If you want to try something from scratch, I had a good experience veganizing the delicious sauce from Serious Eats a few blog posts ago and that would be a good choice for this.


Lentils and Rice

2/3 cup red lentils, rinsed

1/2 cup rice

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cups water


227 g (8 oz) button mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

1 Tbl olive oil

1/4 tsp salt


2/3 cup texturized vegetable protein (TVP, available at most bulk stores)

1/2 cup boiling water

Meatball Mixture and Spices

1/4 cup raw cashews (not soaked), ground fine in a food processor

1 Tbl canola oil

1 tsp onion powder

2 tsp basil

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 Tbl nutritional yeast

1/4 cup aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas)


2 1/2 cups marinara sauce

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

4 sausage or sub buns


Put water, rice, lentils and salt in a medium pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and let cook 15 minutes. Remove heat and let cool.

Rice and lentils in a pot Cooked rice and lentils

Clean, trim and coarsely grind the mushrooms in a food processor. Saute over medium heat in 1 Tbl olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt about 10 minutes until soft. Remove heat and let cool.

Mushroom pieces in a frying pan Cooked mushroom pieces

Put 1/2 cup of water on to boil in a small pot with a lid. When boiling, turn off heat, mix in TVP, cover, place on a cool element, and let sit 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

TVP in a small pot

Once everything has cooled, preheat oven to 375 °F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a small bowl with water to keep your fingers wet because they will definitely get sticky as you form the meatballs.

Process the rice and lentils in a food processor until fairly smooth (roughly the texture of mashed potatoes). It may be necessary to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. Transfer the processed mixture to a large bowl.

Ground rice and lentils in a large bowl

Grind up the raw cashews until the pieces are around the size of breadcrumbs.

ground cashews

Mix all meatball ingredients (mushrooms, TVP, cashew crumbs, spices, etc.) together in the large bowl by hand until everything is very well incorporated.

meatball ingredients in a bowl mixing the meatball ingredients by hand meatball mixture

The meatball mixture will be quite sticky, but if you wet your fingers in the bowl of water, you should have no trouble forming it into meatballs.

Forming a meatball

Place each meatball on the parchment covered baking tray. Depending on how big you make them, you should have anywhere from 12 to 18.

meatballs on a baking sheet

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

meatballs after baking

Allow meatballs to cool completely, at least 30 minutes, then (ideally) refrigerate them overnight.

Gently mix marinara sauce and meatballs in a large pot with a lid. Bring to a low simmer, covered, and let them warm up slowly over 30-40 minutes, mixing occasionally, until heated through.

meatballs in a pot with marinara sauce

Assemble the sandwiches, adding whatever extras you like. I used chopped green pepper and onion. I also really like this sandwich with a good vegan cheese (or "gary" as the vegan community has started to call vegan cheese after a hilarious rant from a dairy cheese lover about how vegan cheese should not be called cheese). One of my new favourites is Chao from Field Roast.


The finished sandwich

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Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

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