I started writing this blog nearly a year ago (first review posted August 24th, 2009), and I wanted to do something special to celebrate. So, welcome to the first installment of a four-part series of meatless meatballs! I got some friends together a few weeks ago, made them all eat a bunch of fake meat meatballs, and then take notes for me. So, not only will you get a bunch of meatball reviews, including two homemade meatballs (yes, you'll get the recipes!), I'm throwing in a couple meatball sauce recipes, and you'll get to hear opinions from people other than just me for once! I still get final word, though. It is my blog, after all.
Introducing your guest reviewers for the month:
April: My lovely wife, of course. She'll also be occasionally posting on here as my resident statistician, so be on the lookout for that.
Dan: My best friend from way back when he invited himself to my wedding in 2005. Not a vegetarian, but sometimes eats fake meat just for fun.
Ginny: One of my awesome pescetarian friends who inspired this project. She hasn't yet lost touch with the meat-eating experience, so I trust her judgment as far as whether things taste "like meat" or not.
Anonymous: Yes - one of my friends refused to let me use his name. I'm going to assume that it won't compromise his anonymity too much for me to say that he is also a pescetarian. If he would like to add anything to this, he can feel free to comment (or otherwise contact me) with whatever else he feels might be relevant here.
Alright, let's get to it! First installment is going to be a homemade meatless meatball. I got the recipe from this page. It's called Meatless BBQ Balls, but I did it a little differently, to suit my purposes. Disclaimer: the original recipe poster said that these do not taste like meat, and that wasn't her plan, but that "they are savory and rich and would make a good 'meat' part of a meal."
I guess I should explain my meatless meatball tasting party format. I cooked up four different types of meatless meatballs, and also prepared three different dipping sauces, just to get a full range of experiences. The three sauces I made were a basic marinara sauce, a homemade barbecue sauce, and a Swedish meatball sauce. I am not at liberty to share the barbecue sauce recipe, but I can definitely share the other two. Because I had three different sauces to test out, I cooked these balls with no sauce. Since I modified the recipe a little bit, I included my version below.
Something else that might be important to know is that I prepared these a few days ahead of time and then froze them after the first 20 minutes of baking time. I figured it wouldn't be terribly fair to serve two frozen meatballs alongside two freshly cooked meatballs, so I froze the two homemade meatballs to even the playing field, and also to make the meatball party run a bit smoother, with fewer stuff for me to put together last-minute.
On meatless meatball party night, I put them on a tray with the others, and baked them for roughly 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven and served them up with the sauces. I'll let my guests weigh in first:
April: Mushy and gluten-y with a wheaty flavor. Tastes like stuffing.
Dan: Very bready. Tastes very pleasing.
Ginny: Bready. Stuffing-y in taste and texture. Best with Swedish sauce, pretty good with marinara.
Anonymous: Texture of stuffing. Tasty stuffing. Best with Swedish meatball sauce, which is like gravy.
My own impressions were pretty similar, at least texture-wise. They were definitely mushy. I wonder if they maybe didn't get cooked enough in the foil versus the parchment that the recipe originally called for (but is just stupid-expensive and I don't keep around). The principle is still the same - it's basically steaming the balls, whether using foil or parchment, so I'm assuming it just needed more time. But maybe they would have been mushy anyway. Hard to say. I didn't think of a stuffing flavor until everyone else said it - it mostly tasted like onion to me, which is not a bad thing. I do agree, though, that the Swedish meatball sauce was the best, with the barbecue being also fairly good. I thought the marinara was a bad combo, though. Just didn't work for me.
All in all, these were definitely not meat-like, but they weren't supposed to be, so they shouldn't be punished for that. On their own merits, these were a little tough to eat, being so mushy, but not unpleasantly flavored.
Texture - very mushy
Flavor - like eating onion bread balls (or stuffing, if you're anyone else)
I wonder what these would be like with some actual stuffing flavorings - get some sage and thyme in there. Perhaps a future experiment is in order...
Final grade for this attempt: B
Meatless Pumpkin Balls
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
2/3 medium onion, finely chopped (or to taste)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 cup breadcrumbs
about 1/2 cup of desired sauce, if you're using any
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two fairly large pieces of aluminum foil. Mix all ingredients in a bowl--the mixture will be very thick. Shape into 18 balls and place half of them on each piece of the foil.
Fold edges of foil tightly to seal in the balls. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Unwrap and coat in sauce (if using) and allow to bake uncovered for 8 minutes. Add additional sauce if you think it needs more after you bake it a bit longer, and serve hot.