Becoming vegetarian has made me soooo much more creative. Without meat as a crutch, I’m forced to devise other sources of proteins, and make them tasty and appealing to not only me, but my meat-eating boyfriend, family and friends. And that’s not always easy.
Sometimes you’re just plain lazy. It would be way easier to throw together a patty of beef, than it is to make a veggie and grain burger. It would be simple to roast some chicken in the oven, rather than a flavorful variety of beans and vegetables. And it’s certainly more of a hassle when you go out to eat – most restaurants that I’ve encountered don’t realize that “vegetarian” does not mean “must love mushroom caps.” (pssst, I HATE mushrooms – go ahead, try to find just one in an ingredient list on my blog!)
BUT this is not a complaint! I love being challenged, tested, forced into creativity. It awakens another part of the brain entirely. You have to think differently, react quickly, and learn what your options are.
Forgive the poor lighting and thus bad color. They’re really golden brown!
And that’s exactly how this recipe came about. Uncertain of what dinner would be, I happened to see Epicurious post a recipe for grilled chicken meatballs atop lemony pasta. “Well,” I thought, “I could easily replace the chicken with a mix of beans, and roast them in the oven instead of on a grill.” And alas! That’s what I did. And in a strange twist, I made this gluten free, too. For the first time ever I tried GF pasta. Honestly, it wasn’t great. It certainly didn’t ruin the dish, and I’ll gladly eat the leftovers, but I’m happy not to be forced to forgo gluten. I think I’ll stick with whole wheat pasta from now on. But at least I tried it!
What’s great about this recipe is that in addition to being vegetarian (with a vegan option), gluten free, and healthy, they’re SO FREAKING TASTY. Had I not been full from my first serving, I could’ve scarfed down 3 more after that. The flavor is well-packed into these “meat”balls, and are sure to impress vegetarians and carnivores alike.
After all, food is meant to be shared, and it’s even better when said food complies with everyone’s diets! Get to your kitchen, and get cooking. You’ll be happy you did 🙂
White Bean “Meat”balls with Creamy Pasta, adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4 with leftovers
For the “meat”balls:
In a small bowl, combine chia seeds with water. Stir well and let sit at least 20 minutes. This will create a thick gel, to replace eggs that are normally in meatballs.
Preheat oven to 400. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, spray with PAM, and set aside.
In a food processor, combine chia gel, oats, chopped onion, 1/4 C cheese (you can just cut a few chunks off your block of Parmesan), 2 tbsp olive oil, parsley, oregano, minced garlic, half the salt, half the pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Process until completely combined. You may need to pulse several times to blend fully. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl.
Now process the beans together. Use the “puree” setting and pulse until most of the beans are broken down – some whole beans are ok! Add this to the mixture in the bowl. Stir everything together to combine completely.
Using a spoon, make golf-ball sized balls of the mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet. You should get about 14 of them. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove and let sit while the pasta finishes.
For the pasta:
While your “meat”balls are in the oven, start your pasta! Bring a big pot of water to bowl, and cook pasta according to package directions, to al dente. Reserve 3/4 C of the pasta water before draining.
In a large saucepan, bring the reserved pasta water, one tbsp olive oil, and the milk or yogurt to a bowl. Add the drained pasta and toss to combine. Add the lemon zest and juice, basil, and the rest of the salt, pepper, and 1/3 C Parmesan. Toss again to combine.
Serve pasta onto bowls or plates. Top with 2 “meat”balls each. Enjoy while it’s hot!
You’ll undoubtedly have leftover “meat”balls. I would suggest you pan-fry these the next day, to make a marvelous meatball sandwich, with some tomato sauce.