This soy-free, gluten-free vegan meatball or sausage is so packed with smoky, spicy flavor that you will never miss the meat!
When I heard that a food blogging conference was taking place in the state just next door, I was intrigued. When I heard that friend, cookbook author, and fellow blogger Kathy Hester was going to be there, I said “Sign me up!” So a couple of weeks ago, I drove the four hours to Birmingham, Alabama, to attend Food Blog South‘s second annual conference.
Though I don’t do blogging conferences very often, I’ve found that they’re a great way to recharge my batteries; having actual face-to-face conversations with people who share my enthusiasm for food, photography, and writing takes a lot of the isolation out of blogging. This particular conference left me super-charged because I was able to spend time not only with Kathy but also with two other vegan bloggers, Heather of Better With Veggies and Katie Cain of Bistro Katie. Dinner out with them at the vegan-friendly Bottletree Cafe was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Of course, the conference itself offered plenty of information and inspiration, but when you’re a food blogger, your main focus is on the food, and when you’re a vegan, that focus turns into concern, as in “Will there be anything for me to eat?” The answers in this case were “No, no, YES, and not really.”
Neither the pre- and post-parties nor the breakfast offered much for a vegan to sink her teeth into other than pickled okra, but the lunch, provided by Shindigs Catering, featured a vegan, gluten-free main dish that turned out to be the second highlight of the conference: Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and vegetable-based orbs that all of us vegans began calling Beetballs after conversations with the very gracious chef revealed that the ingredients included beets, almonds, chickpeas, smoked mushrooms, and smoked onions. I was sure that one, if not all, of us would wind up trying to recreate Beetballs.
Well, I may be the first, but I tested them enough for all four of us! In the course of a week, I made them four different ways, trying to get the consistency (firm yet crumbly when you cut into them) and the flavor (smoky yet not over-seasoned) just right. I didn’t have smoked onions or mushrooms, so I use dried porcini mushrooms for their deep, woodsy flavor and regular raw onions for all but one attempt, when I roasted the onions, beets, and garlic beforehand, making the texture very firm but not at all crumbly.
After my first attempt, using pecans, I decided to try using almonds and going for a more sausage-like flavor with fennel seeds, sage, and red pepper flakes. And of course I had to try a lower-fat version using quinoa instead of the nuts. Every variation I tried produced balls that held their shapes and tasted slightly meaty, but in the end the ingredients and seasonings I liked best are reflected in the recipe below. I expected the almond version to come out the winner, but overall I found that the pecans produced not only the best flavor but also the best texture–fitting for a recipe that originated at a Southern bloggers’ conference.
So what did I do with four batches of Beetballs? You would think I’d have so many that I would need to freeze some of them, but they disappeared very quickly. Besides a couple of Beetball and Spaghetti dinners (tofu shirataki noodles for me), both D and I enjoyed vegan meatball sandwiches (pickles and loads of hot sauce on mine), and twice I made Beet-zzas–both regular and pita pizzas with Beetballs and assorted veggies.
I think Beetballs could be used in just about any dish that calls for a meat substitute, though I don’t recommend cooking them in sauce. Heat them separately in the oven or microwave and then gently add the sauce just before serving–or do as I did for spaghetti and beetballs and pour the sauce over the beetballs.
Because they contain no gluten, corn starch, xanthan gum, or other “sticky” processed ingredients, they can’t take a lot of stirring or moisture without falling apart, so please handle your beetballs with care.
Beetballs: A Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Sausage Recipe
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup raw pecans, almonds, or other nuts (see note for nut-free low-fat alternative)
- 1 medium raw beet
- 1/2 medium red or yellow onion , coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (mild or spicy)
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon hickory smoked salt or Liquid Smoke (optional)
- Place the mushrooms in a small saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse them well and set aside. Strain the broth through a coffee filter or fine sieve and reserve it for later use. (Leftover mushroom broth can be used in any recipe that calls for vegetable broth.)
- While the mushrooms are cooking, put the nuts into a food processor and pulse to chop finely. Do not over-process--we want finely chopped nuts, not nut powder. Place the nuts in a large mixing bowl.
- Peel the beet and cut it into cubes. Add it to the food processor along with the reserved mushrooms, garlic, and onion and pulse to chop coarsely. Add the chickpeas and all remaining ingredients and pulse several times to chop the chickpeas, but do not turn it into a paste. All the individual ingredients should be recognizable.
- Add the processor contents to the nuts and stir well to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon of the reserved mushroom broth. Allow the mixture to rest while you preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a tablespoon or cookie scoop, measure out a heaping tablespoon of "dough." Using damp hands, form it into a ball, squeezing lightly to compact it. If the dough seems too dry, add additional broth (this should not be necessary--you don't want the dough to be too wet). Place the ball on the lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. You should be able to make about 18-22 balls. If you like, flatten some of the balls to use in sandwiches or on pizza.
- Bake until the balls are brown and slightly crisp on the outside, about 35 minutes. (Flattened balls will take a little less time.) Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
169 calories, 38 calories from fat, 4.5g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 751.6mg sodium, 386.5mg potassium, 26.6g carbohydrates, 7.3g fiber, 4.2g sugar, 8.2g protein. 1 point on WW Freestyle.
Nutritional info is approximate.
Looking for beet burgers? How about pickled beets? I even have beet chocolate cake!
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Dr. Cat, The Happy Rehab DocFebruary 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm
Susan this looks awesome. Is there anything you could think of that I could substitute for the flaxseeds? I seem to be food sensitive to both them and chia seeds! Thanks! 🙂
Susan VoisinFebruary 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm
You could use potato or corn starch instead of the flax–just something to help them stick together.
KApril 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm
if i were to add a tsp of corn starch to it along with all the other ingredients would that make them firmer/more together? I like really together sort of meatballs.
Susan VoisinFebruary 11, 2015 at 9:08 am
Yes, that should make them stickier. 🙂
RabynFebruary 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm
Hi Susan! I’ve been “silently” following you for a while (does that make me a stalker? 😉 ), but HAD to comment on this recipe. It was amazing! Me and the omni fiance (he calls himself an accidental vegan because I do most of the cooking and he’s surprised by how much he likes the food we eat) absolutely loved the beetballs. They were phenomenal! I’m going to play around with making a “beetloaf” soon from this recipe. We also really liked the scrambled tofu and kale… yum! Thanks for all your awesome recipes!
CarsonFebruary 23, 2012 at 1:48 am
Would you be able to use brown rice instead of pecans or quinoa?
Susan VoisinFebruary 23, 2012 at 7:30 am
I’m sure you could. The texture will be different, but the flavor shouldn’t be bad.
moonwatcherFebruary 23, 2012 at 11:25 pm
HI again Susan,
These are delicious! And the best part of all is that I am getting to alternate having them with brown rice pasta and spaghetti squash. When you posted about having them that way at the conference I thought that sounded great, so was thrilled to see a few spaghetti squash at my co-op. I made them with a red beet, and since I had only 1/4 cup pecans I used those and 1/4 cup cooked quinoa. I almost made the “dough” too wet in worrying it was too dry, but all turned out. They are so much fun!
Marie-PierFebruary 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm
I really don’t like mushrooms… Is there any substitue for it? thank you.
TrinkaFebruary 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm
just use veg broth or any you prefer. I’ve also used whte wine for a more “adult” flavor.
TrinkaFebruary 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm
use potato, or any vegi that adds moisture and texture.
Susan VoisinFebruary 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm
If I promise you that you won’t notice the mushrooms, would you give them a try? 🙂 if not, you can just use additional chickpeas, about an extra half cup.
KimFebruary 24, 2012 at 7:57 pm
Whoa, made these with red beets and they were wayy too beet-ey. They didn’t cook very well either, they were still kinda raw. I can see where these could work for me though. I think I just need a golden beet, more chickpeas and chop everything smaller in my food processor. I must have such a small food processor, I had to chop everything separately and mix in a bowl. Try try again!
LacieFebruary 26, 2012 at 10:13 am
so flippin’ good. I just made them and was amazed. i’ve got to follow a gluten, soy and dairy free diet because my daughter is breastfed and allergic to these things. I have not had a single meat substitute (though I love them) in 15 months! If you have any others, I’d like to try them 🙂 This was right up there with tofurkey or gimme lean soysauges. we had ours on millet toast, daiya cheese and tomato sauce sandwhiches. love your blog, thanks!
JordanFebruary 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm
Just made the beetballs version using the quinoa. These are SO good! They tasted a bit like a spicy italian sausage. The spices are so amazing! Thank you for the recipe!!
shirleyFebruary 27, 2012 at 8:08 am
Made these last night and they were delicious. Thank you for another great recipe.
AllyneFebruary 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm
Looks delish, I was wondering if you could sub the mushrooms for something else??? Maybe Cauliflower? I have a strong dislike for mushrooms! Any suggestions?
Susan VoisinFebruary 28, 2012 at 7:49 am
I would just use a little more chickpeas, though I promise, you probably wouldn’t notice the mushrooms. They just lend a background flavor. Plus, they’re extremely good for you!
lizFebruary 28, 2012 at 10:38 am
Thank you for your wonderful recipes. I want to make the beetballs for a dinner party. Is the beet raw, or cooked, when you put it in the food processor? Thank you for your help!
Susan VoisinFebruary 28, 2012 at 10:41 am
Hi Liz–it’s raw. Just peel it and chop. Hope you enjoy it!
VegetariansFebruary 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm
Never thought beets can be so versatile and be used for recipes like this. The photos of the final dishes looks good to eat and that makes me really excited here to give it a try. By the way, if porcini mushrooms are not available for some reason, what can we use as a good substitute?
NiaFebruary 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm
Everytime I make a recipe from your site I just swear that it’s the best thing I ever had! But, this one was just the creme de la creme! So amazing! It was just delicious, easy and won my hubby over too! I didn’t even have all of the exact ingredients (I used chickpea flour instead of chickpeas, I used portabello mushrooms instead of shitake and dark soy sauce instead of liquid smoke). You really make healthy eating enjoyable! Thanks!
Kathleen @ KatsHealthCornerMarch 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm
Nom nom nom. <3
AmberMarch 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm
Totally tried these last week! They were absolutely delish and even passed a fast one on my 5 year old… he had no idea! 🙂 Thanks for posting this!
Jane ChesebroMarch 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm
Can you make the beetballs without yeast?? Thanks Christy.
Susan VoisinMarch 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm
Yes, they just taste a little more bland.
Jenn B.March 27, 2012 at 10:32 am
These beetballs were amazing! My husband and I gobbled them all up! I have to be honest I had my doubts, but I was pleasantly surprised at how nice this recipe comes together. I did however use 3 oz of fresh baby portobellos since I didn’t have any dried mushrooms, and the recipe still worked great!
Esther JApril 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm
Once again, one of your recipes was a hit in my omnivore household! My stepdad, steak-eater that he is, cleaned his plate. I myself appreciated the sausage taste (back in my omnivore days, I loved italian-styled chicken sausages).
Big thanks for this and all you do!
Esther JApril 11, 2012 at 7:12 pm
I should also add that my stepdad requested that the leftovers be left for him to take to lunch tomorrow.
Trust me, that’s a compliment (the committed consumer of the Standard American Diet he is).
LovisaApril 22, 2012 at 4:56 am
Thanks for this wonderful recipe Susan! I made them with quinoa which worked well, but they took a bit longer to cook as they were a bit too wet. I got some out for dinner and left the rest in and after about an hour (turning half way) they had a much better consistency and held together well after the longer cooking time. Either way, really tasty!
TriciaApril 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm
I made the nut version of these last weekend and they were awesome. My beets may have been a little large because I ended up with a few more than 22 beetballs, but the texture was perfect – they held together wonderfully. My only warning is do not try to make 2 batches of these in a food processor at once. I thought I had a pretty large food processor, but it was so full I ended up making more of a paste with the ingredients than advised. That’ll teach me to be greedy… but they turned out great anyway and now I have a nice stash of beetballs in the freezer!
eva @VegucatingMyKidsApril 26, 2012 at 11:07 am
i made these this week!…i have been vegan for 2 years now and i am always looking for alternatives to processed vegan ‘meat’…i make my own seitan, i make my own TVPish product (tofu frozen, defrosted, water squished out, and dehydrated), and now i have another alternative for eat-balls….this recipe was easy to make…although beets are not my kids’ favorite, they did eat these!! my 10 yr old loved them and my 8 yr old was on the fence, but i know with younger children it’s about repeated exposure–in this case to beets…but she did eat them…and i loved the texture…thanks for giving me the idea to use the other beetballs for a pizza topping–i had a ton of them leftover, which i froze and know they will come in handy…
thank you for this recipe! tasty stuff : D
tiSeptember 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm
I had never thought of making my own TVP!! Thanks for commenting about that! Great tips from Susan AND her readers!
All the best.
ErinMay 1, 2012 at 8:34 am
Do these freeze well? Would you recommend freezing before or after baking?
Susan VoisinMay 1, 2012 at 8:43 am
I can’t think of any reason why they wouldn’t freeze well either way. I would probably bake them first and then freeze them, so that all they need is to be defrosted and warmed up later.
Heather McCannMay 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm
This sounds fantastic!!! Nice job! I can’t WAIT to try these!
ShariMay 22, 2012 at 9:14 am
Hi – what is “rubbed” sage? I have sage growing in my garden, is that good?
Susan VoisinMay 22, 2012 at 9:21 am
Rubbed sage is sage that has been dried and then crushed to a powder. You could use chopped fresh sage, but you will probably need more (maybe 3 times more) of it.
ShariMay 22, 2012 at 10:33 am
ShariMay 23, 2012 at 9:42 am
Just to let you know, even though I probably ate half the mixture before baking (the quinoa version), they came out really good.
I might go for falafel-type seasoning next time, just out of curiosity.
VickiHJanuary 28, 2019 at 8:07 pm
I’ll bet that would be good. Almost like a kefka. If doing with Mediterranean seasoning is probably serve slight chilled with tzatzki sauce. And fresh Vega and hummus.
I’m also going to try heated with a blend of zucchini and spaghetti squash noodles, with a lemon, garlic and butter sauce and fresh Parmesan.
MinaJune 4, 2012 at 11:32 am
I’m in the middle of making these now…so excited!
MinaJune 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm
Ok, we just finished them and they are winners, for sure!
I used fresh button mushrooms (one cup, before slicing and “frying” without oil), subbed the fresh herbs for a couple of tsp of ‘dried mixed Italian herbs’ and instead of the mushroom water I added one tbsp of low sodium soy sauce to help it bind.
It was absolutely fantastic, but MY is it filling. I only had three small beetballs, and a little spaghetti and then had to power through my side salad (my other half, on the other hand had 5 largish beetballs atop a mountain of spaghetti then asked if there were enough leftovers for work tomorrow…maybe it’s just me)
Either way, they were fantastic. I might try tweaking the herbs and spices and use the mix for a burger as the texture is lovely!
MelissaJune 11, 2012 at 11:09 am
These recipes sound very good I can’t wait to try them. Are there any frozen meat substitutes that are gluten free. If so do you know where I can purchase them. I also was wondering if I could make the beetballs ahead and freeze them. Thank you.
Susan VoisinJune 11, 2012 at 11:26 am
These should freeze just fine. I’m afraid I don’t know of any gluten-free meat substitutes that you can buy.
Katy DJuly 9, 2012 at 9:56 am
Another fantastic recipe! Thank you so much! They fed my husband and I twice, were delicious on an open face sandwich with caramelized onions then again with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Amazing! Looking forward to trying these out on some non-veg relatives :).
MarisaJuly 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm
these look great! i love beets 🙂 do you think they would freeze well?
Susan VoisinJuly 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm
Yes, I don’t see any reason not to freeze them. Enjoy!
KCJuly 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm
I have these in the oven right now and OH MY they smell delicious! They don’t smell like beets (even though we like beets anyway). I didn’t have any fennel, but I personally don’t care for it anyway, so put in a bit more Italian seasoning instead. I also made them with regular white mushrooms, which I dry pan heated until they wilted (per another poster’s comment). I can’t wait to have them for dinner tonight. Thank so much for all the wonderful recipes! I have one more beet to use up and the chocolate beet cake recipe is tempting me…
NathalieJuly 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm
Excellent recipe… However, instead of making meatballs, I used the recipe to make veggie burgers, and modified it slightly. I added about 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs to the mix, and coated each patty with same. The patties were baked at the suggested temperature, but for 2x the amount of time. Half way through baking, the patties were flipped over.
I bought some good bread at whole foods, used a slice of tomato and some avocados and had the most delicious veggie burgers!
RSSeptember 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm
Having tried beet balls at Portland’s Portobello restaurant and falling in love, my jaw dropped when my cousin found your recipe. We immediately set forth on our first beet ball adventure, to delightful results. Using spaghetti squash as pasta, we made an edamame pesto (from Isa’s Appetite for Reduction cookbook) and topped with your beet balls. The beet balls were delicious and crumbly and SO flavorful! Those fennel seeds really are the key to a traditional meatball flavor, I think. Bravo! The whole family enjoyed these tremendously. By the way, we used pecans and fresh mushrooms (still cooked them though). Thank you for adding a great go-to recipe to our collection.
Donna C.September 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm
Hello, I have been making a list of many of your recipes to try. So far they have all been a hit. I am going to try these beetballs tonight. Do you think ground fennel seed would work as well and if so, should I do a bit less than you originally call for? Also, I am going to try this with chopped walnuts because that is what I have in my pantry. I am so excited to have an unprocessed meat substitute for my world famous oh-so-secret family spaghetti sauce recipe. I will let you know how they turn out. Keep up the good work!
Susan VoisinSeptember 25, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Yes, just decrease the ground fennel–I would use half. Hope you enjoy them!
MarylinOctober 4, 2012 at 8:04 pm
I wonder if this “meat” would do well for a shepherd’s pie?
AprilOctober 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm
I just put mine in the oven! Mine were quite wet- I think I might have used a bigger beet than I was supposed to. It made a lot of beetballs, too. I hope it doesn’t affect the taste >.< This is actually my first time cooking with beets (Koreans don't eat them very often) so I have no idea what to expect, but the description was irresistible! I'll update after I actually eat them!