Photos by Lindsey Johnson
If you’ve made and enjoyed any of the vegetarian recipes I’ve created and shared in the past, you can thank meatballs, at least in part. Meatballs are largely responsible for converting me to a vegetarian diet. You see, I loved to help out in the kitchen as a kid. I also loved to eat meatballs. When it came to preparing meatballs, there was a little disconnect. The whole messy process of getting to know my food by digging my hands into a bowl full of meatball-to-be mixture just didn’t do it for me.
Interestingly enough, meatballs spent a long time on my vegetarian food wish list. Commercial vegetarian meatballs eventually became available, but like lots of meat substitutes, they were a bit disappointing.
Silver lining: homemade veggie meatballs are incredibly easy to make! There are a ton of options for replacing the meat part of meatballs, and my general rule is that if it works in a veggie burger, it’s at least worth a try in a meatball. The final dish that my meatballs end up in usually dictates what type of base I decide to go with. In this particular dish, sweet and sour flavors both come on pretty strong, as the name indicates.
These tempeh meatballs would work with most flavors and sauces, but with party season approaching, a pineapple sweet and sour seemed the way to go. (Sorry if you were holding out for grape-jelly meatballs!) In this recipe, just throwing some pineapple chunks into the sauce infuses it with loads of flavor. I also added a little Sriracha sauce, because if we’re doing sweet and sour, why not go all out and add some spicy to the mix?
Even better, these meatballs are incredibly quick and easy. The sauce is of the toss-everything-in-a-pot type, and it simmers for just a short time while the meatballs bake. It can also be made ahead of time, along with the tempeh meatball mixture. If you opt to go this route, just refrigerate everything until you’re ready to bake. When the time comes, roll your meatballs, bake them, and warm the sauce up on the stove just before the baking time is up.
Originally published on October 29, 2016.
For the tempeh meatballs:
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil, divided
- 1 small onion peeled and quartered
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 8-ounce package tempeh, broken into 1-inch chunks
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons unflavored soy or almond milk
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
For the sauce:
- 1 cup diced fresh or drained canned pineapple
- ½ cup vegetable broth
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce or to taste
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Make the meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet or large cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil.
- Place the onion and garlic into the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Pulse a few times until coarsely chopped. Add the tempeh and pulse a few more times until finely chopped. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, panko, milk, soy sauce and pepper. Pulse until mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Roll the mixture into 20 balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet or skillet and bake, turning twice while they bake, until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Make the sauce:
- Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the pineapple, broth, cider vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, soy sauce and Sriracha and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to maintain the simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
- Combine the water and cornstarch to a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir just until combined. Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce becomes thick and coats the meatballs, 1-2 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a serving platter and spear with decorative toothpicks for serving.