Vegetarian Indian Curried Meatballs

I was never a fan of meatballs back when I ate meat, but the other day I remembered trying curried meatballs at an Indian restaurant many years ago and I couldn’t stop craving them. Since I wasn’t willing to eat meat to satisfy my craving (and since the one Indian restaurant in Jerusalem closed last month) I decided it was time to figure out how to approach meatballs in a vegetarian and, more importantly, cost-effective way.

I bought a bunch of “soya chunks” at a health food store in Jerusalem months ago and they have been sitting in a bag on a shelf. I had no idea what to do with them and figured I would just stick with tofu and beans until something came to me. Since then, my husband has learned how to make the most incredible seitan and our budget has become considerably tighter, so we no longer buy tofu more than once a month. After conquering my fear of homemade meat-replacements and deciding that I had to use the dried soy chunks for something, meatballs made sense.

“Soya chunks” (or “soy chunks”) are pieces of dehydrated soy, also known as “textured vegetable protein.” Horrifyingly gross name aside, they are weird, extremely unappetizing-looking pieces of dry, beige nonsense sold in bulk bins at health food stores and higher-end supermarkets. When soaked in boiling water and spices, however, these odd dehydrated pellets can become any number of things. And since they are really cheap (we pay between 5 and 8 shekels per 400 grams, which comes to less than a dollar for the amount used in this recipe) they are a perfect way to change up a typical weekly menu.

This recipe calls for rehydrating the soy chunks and pulsing them in a food processor with spices and onion, and then combining it all with flour (or breadcrumbs) and an egg, and then lightly pan searing each side before baking them in the oven. These meatballs are hearty and delicate at the same time, and the recipe I’ve included leaves the opportunity for you to add whatever additional spices you’d like, from fresh basil and fennel seeds for an Italian meatball to curry powder or chili powder for a south-Asian flavor.

Vegetarian Meatballs

  • 120 g dry TVP
  • 2 tsp broth powder
  • 3 tsp “chicken spice” (see note)
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • pinch of fennel seed
  • fresh basil (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup green onion, chopped
  • 4 tbs flour (less or more depending on consistency)

Put the dry TVP in a large bowl with the broth powder and 2 tsp of the “chicken spice,” setting the other teaspoon aside for later. Pour boiling water into the bowl until everything is covered, at least 3 cups. The TVP will float–push it down and mix it all up, making sure that there is enough extra water in the bowl for the TVP to absorb. Let it sit for 15 minutes.

While the TVP is soaking, sauté the chopped onion and bay leaf in oil over medium heat until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and spices, including the remaining teaspoon of chicken spice. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and set aside until ready to combine with the TVP.

After 15 minutes, drain the TVP and allow it to cool before squeezing out the excess water.  Put the TVP and the cooked onions (minus the bay leaf) in a food processor. Starting with a few quick pulses, process the TVP until it reaches a uniform texture.

Return the mixture to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I added about a half teaspoon of salt at this point) Cook until the TVP is heated through.

Empty the pan into a mixing bowl and add the egg, soy sauce, green onion, and flour, one tablespoon at a time, depending on how much moisture is left in your TVP. Mix by hand and check the consistency. Once it begins forming solid balls that stick together, you have enough flour. Put the mixture in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Form into meatballs, about the size of ping pong balls. Lightly pan fry each side in a pan barely covered in oil over medium-high heat for one minute or until browned. After frying, let the meatballs sit off the heat for five minutes.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and put the meatballs into the oven at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Cook for around 15 minutes, turning over halfway though. The meatballs are done when they feel “solid” on the outside. Allow them to cool and serve or simmer in a sauce of your choice.

Makes 14 meatballs.

Note: the “chicken spice” I make is equal parts sweet paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, and dried basil. I mix it well and store it in an air-tight container for up to 3 months (onion powder tends to pull moisture out of the air and ends up clumping).

Indian Curry Meatballs

  • 1 cup of chopped white onion (about 1.5-2 onions)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 4 tsp coconut cream
  • 10-14 meatballs

Heat a pot or dutch oven over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the cumin seeds and bay leaf, and allow them to sizzle until they brown and smell very fragrant. Add the chopped onion and stir well. Once the onion has softened, add the garlic, coriander seeds, and ginger. Mix together and cook for 1-2 minutes while stirring. Add the tomato paste and incorporate it into the onions. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a soft boil.

Put the wet curry into a food processor and process until smooth, adding up to a cup of water as needed. Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the garam masala and turmeric, another cup of water and simmer. Add as much water as you like to achieve the desired consistency, keeping in mind that it will thicken as it cooks and again when it cools. Place the meatballs into the curry and simmer for 10 minutes. Before serving, stir in coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a refrigerated can of coconut milk). Serve with rice.

Note: you could add beans and vegetables to this curry instead of meatballs. It would make a good channa masala with the addition of chick peas.

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