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Sweet and Sour Tempeh Meatballs

Sweet and Sour Tempeh Meatballs Recipe

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.

Sweet and Sour Tempeh Meatballs
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.

Sweet and Sour Tempeh Meatballs Recipe

Sweet and Sour Tempeh Meatballs

The classic party appetizer goes vegetarian! Meatless meatballs made with seasoned tempeh and panko, baked until golden brown and coated in a spicy pineapple sweet & sour sauce. Definitely reason to celebrate.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 22 minutes
Total Time: 32 minutes
Servings: 20 meatballs


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
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons unflavored soy or almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup diced fresh or drained canned pineapple
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 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 1/2 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.


You can dice the pineapple as finely as you like. If you're serving these as an appetizer, you may want to cut the pineapple into about 20 chunks (or as many meatballs as you have) and skewer each chunk to the top of a meatball using a toothpick.
If you begin your sauce about 5 minutes after placing the meatballs in the oven, you should be well timed for the meatballs to go into the sauce right after coming out of the oven.
Craving more veg-friendly recipes? Shop our collection of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks!

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  • Reply
    October 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    These look so yummy. I love the little skewers. I think it’s the detail that makes food appealing. after all, you eat with your eyes first. Happy Wednesday!

    • Reply
      October 29, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      Thank you! Aren’t they the cutest? Lindsey did the photos and I love how they came out! 🙂

  • Reply
    October 29, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    These are so adorable and look delicious! I love that you make your veggie meatballs from scratch from tempeh.

    • Reply
      October 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Thanks Karishma! Tempeh worked out great as a meatball base – easy and delicious. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I was JUST craving sweet & sour take out yesterday…but wasn’t sure how go about it in a meat-free way; this is perfect and looks insanely delicious! Thanks for the recipe, I’ve got to try these! 🙂

    • Reply
      October 31, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      I know the feeling! I think these will definitely satisfy your sweet and sour craving – hope you enjoy them! 🙂

  • Reply
    October 30, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Has anyone served these at room temperature? I was wondering if they would work for a work potluck where I won’t be able to heat beforehand. Thanks for any input!

    • Reply
      October 31, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      I didn’t try them at room temperature, but I did eat reheated leftovers after making these, and they were still good. Like more things, they’re probably best hot but I think they’d still be tasty at room temperature. 🙂

  • Reply
    October 31, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I would happily make a whole meal of these! I really don’t cook with tempeh enough, but love the sound of it mixed into “meat”balls. It definitely has the right texture for it!

    • Reply
      October 31, 2014 at 10:47 pm

      Haha! I did make a meal of them and it was awesome! The tempeh worked perfect as a meatball base – it crumbles up really nicely.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Do you steaM the temps first or use right from package?

    • Reply
      November 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      You can use it right from the package! Some recipes call for steaming tempeh to cut the bitterness, but there’s a lot of other flavors going on here, so it’s not really necessary.

  • Reply
    Rachel Hayden
    November 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I really enjoyed making and eating these! I didn’t have breadcrumbs so I used chickpea flour instead. It came out nice and moist. I really like the sauce here too.. Great job!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Yay!!! Good to know that chickpea flour works as a substitute. Thanks so much for sharing – I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed them! 🙂

  • Reply
    Natalie RIZZO
    December 5, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Great idea. I’m definitely going to try these!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!
    We tried tempeh years ago and totally hated it – I thought of it as the most disgusting thing I ever ate. Thanks to your recipe, I became eager to give it another try and it turned out to be very delicious! Maybe I have to revise my opinion on tempeh 😉

    • Reply
      January 22, 2015 at 11:54 am

      Awesome! So glad you liked them! My husband is kind of finicky when it comes to tempeh – I think the key is to use it in recipes where it’s covered in really flavorful sauce, which is why I think it worked so well here. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply
    December 21, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Can you make this the night before then freeze?

    • Reply
      December 22, 2016 at 9:43 am

      You can make them the night before, and no need to freeze – everything should be fine in the fridge. I’d store the meatballs and the sauce separate, and then heat them up and combine on the day of serving.

  • Reply
    Ffaelan Condragh
    January 10, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    It would be nice if you included how firm they should be out of the oven. I think I just ruin everything because they were not that firm at all. Still moosh. I followed this recipe to the letter.

    • Reply
      January 11, 2017 at 10:13 am

      They should be pretty firm when they come out of the oven – about the firmness of regular meatballs. Make sure you’re not over-blending the ingredients in the food processor – that will make them too soft, and it’s usually where I go wrong myself! Also, if you roll them too big, they’ll be soft in the middle. Otherwise, I’d suggest just giving them a few more minutes of bake time.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Hi – the only tempeh I found where I was shopping today was maple bacon flavored, which I thought would be a terrible taste combo! I bought a sesame ginger marinated baked tofu package instead – do you think that would be firm enough for the meatballs, or would you recommend I go search for regular tempeh I need it?? I’ve never had tempeh and only occasionally tofu, so I’m not sure of all the differences. Thanks!

    • Reply
      January 16, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Hi Stephanie! I’d hold off until you can get your hands on some regular tempeh. Tempeh has quite a different texture from tofu – it’s grainy and much firmer. I’d be afraid they wouldn’t hold together with tofu.

  • Reply
    style streetstalker
    March 5, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Oh M G! yummy i have to try these!


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