Spinach or Chard Meatless Meatballs
This vegetarian meatball recipe evolved from the Italian Spinach Fritters that my mom has been making lately. I took the basic recipe, made it dairy-free and wheat-free, and used the oven to bake them as meatballs, since standing over the stove frying things is not my favorite activity.
With fresh greens as the base (spinach and/or chard), these healthy meatballs are very easy to make and can be used in many ways. Try them on top of pasta (regular or gluten-free), on quinoa, on rice, with roasted vegetables, and in sandwiches or wraps. I like them best topped with some tomato sauce, just like regular meatballs. You can make your own easy fresh tomato sauce, or use a jar that you like.
If you prefer to make fritters, just turn these into patties and lightly fry until cooked on each side. You can also make little veggie burgers by baking them as patties instead. The form is very flexible.
I have made these many times now using spinach and chard. Either way, the trick to firm (and not soggy) veggie meatballs is to wilt the greens, let them cool enough to handle, then squeeze out at much liquid as is possible. You can use a large, broad spoon and a fine sieve to press out the liquid; or I have taken to squeezing the greens in my hands over the sink. It is the easiest and most effective method, so long as they are not too hot!
If you’ve dealt at all with greens, you’ll know that it takes a VERY large bunch to get three cups wilted and drained. Literally a giant, tight-packed bouquet that I could cradle like a baby.
If using chard, I remove, chop, and sauté the large stalks with the onion. See the recipe notes below.
This recipe would be vegan, if not for the eggs. If you have a binder that would work instead, I would love to hear about it. However, I like eggs, and they are very handy for holding things together. I enjoy them as a regular part of my ‘ovo-vegan’ diet
Meatless Meatball Recipe with Spinach or Chard
Makes 14-16 veggie meatballs, or 7 patties.
3+ cups wilted, drained/squeezed, and chopped fresh spinach or chard leaves
1 large onion- finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil + more for greasing the baking sheet
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2+ cup finely minced fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, cilantro, marjoram- your choice)
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup oat flour
2 eggs whisked
#1- Thoroughly wash the greens. This is the primary step in the recipe. Everything else comes together very quickly.
If using SPINACH: I cut off all the big stalks at once, then dump the leaves into the sink. I rinse the leaves under running water, removing any large stems I missed, and any bad leaves or clumps of dirt. Then I plug the sink, fill with water, and agitate well. Remove the leaves, drain the sink and rinse to remove all grit. (A double sink works great here, placing the wet leaves in the other, empty basin. Or you could use a large bowl.) Repeat one or two more times until the water is no longer gritty.
Then I place the leaves, with any water that is still clinging to them, in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, they only take a few minutes to wilt. Turn the spinach once or twice for even wilting (kitchen tongs work great here). As soon as all the leaves are soft, turn off the heat and move the wilted leaves into a strainer/colander in the sink to cool and drain.
If using CHARD: First I rinse each leaf individually under the tap. Then I cut off the large stalks and chop finely to sauté with the onion. I boil a half full pot of water and place the leaves in the boiling water until wilted. Then I remove and place the leaves in a strainer/colander in the sink to cool/drain.
Once cool enough to handle (either the spinach or chard), take handfuls of the greens and squeeze until no more liquid comes out. (Or press and press in the strainer until and dry as possible.)
Turn out onto a cutting board and chop very thoroughly.
Heat oven to 350F/175C.
In a sauté pan, bring the chopped onion (and chopped chard stalks, if using), olive oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg to medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
Add the teaspoon of lemon juice and stir to deglaze the pan.
Turn off the heat.
Add the chopped greens to the pan. Then the minced fresh herbs (my preferred blend is flat-leafed parsley, basil, thyme and marjoram).
Then toss in the chickpea and oat flour until thoroughly combined.
Lightly whisk the two eggs with a fork (I often do this in a regular drinking glass for ease) and combine well with the rest of the ingredients.
Form into balls with your hands. Approximately the size of golf balls works well.
Place on a well-oiled baking sheet. (I use a generous amount of olive oil.)
These don’t spread at all, so you can place them as close as 1 inch apart.
Bake 20-22 minutes until fully set. When touched with a finger they shouldn’t smush at all.
Let cool to room temperature and serve as desired!
Also, I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m pretty sure these would freeze well.