My very first recipe for a vegan meatball was in The Everyday Vegan. That recipe isn’t a traditional meatball, more of an asian-fusion with flavors of hoisin, miso, cilantro and paired with a sweet and sour sauce. It’s actually one of my favorite recipes from TEV, though I rarely make them now (new recipe development has its drawbacks)!
I started writing that book 15 years ago, and I still remember grappling with what to call a vegan ‘meatball’. The recipes in that book didn’t replicate many traditional omnivorous dishes. But, still, when you have a meatball that’s not meat, what do you call it? Many vegan recipes rhyme or use wordplays on the original name. I settled on Sweet and Sour Neatballs, and still like that name. It hints to a different flavor profile, and – hey, it’s easy to say!
Now when I create recipes that take similar forms as many meat-based dishes (ex: meatballs, burgers) I tend to refer to the main ingredients or flavor profiles of the recipes (Mediterranean Bean Burgers, Umami Almond Quinoa Burgers, etc) rather than use wordplays.
So, when I developed this recipe for Let Them Eat Vegan, the recipe naming was simple and obvious – Walnut-Pecan Balls. The walnuts and pecans are just the beginning, however. There are other flavorful and savory elements in these balls that they probably deserve a more glorified name! At the end of the meal, the name is not what counts – it’s all about how it tastes and how it makes you feel. This recipe delivers both great flavor and good nutrition. Pair them traditionally with pasta and tomato sauce – or try some of the other serving suggestions in the recipe (below).
These Walnut-Pecan Balls are also one of my husband’s favorite meals. We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary just last week. We were wed in San Diego, California on January 16, 1994. We enjoyed a simple ceremony – sincered and intimate, unfussy and relaxing. We flew out of Los Angeles that evening, just before the 1994 earthquake. I remember hearing the news as we were toasting each other in-flight. We have many lovely memories of our wedding – and have created many more since, especially with our three girls.
I was feeling particularly emotional about our anniversary. Twenty years is a long time, and we were together several years before we were married. We were just kids, really. Yet, we knew our connection and commitment was real, true, and strong. I took some time to create a playlist of our songs that hubby could listen to commuting to work that day. Songs from when we first met, our long-distance relationship, through marriage, having children, and other milestones. As I listened to these songs over a couple of days, it really hit home how much we’ve been through as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.
Some songs made me feel a little sad. Not just because they reminded me of some of our harder times, but also because it brought me back to those early days, when it was just us. We both work so hard, and are so busy as parents. It’s easy to get caught up in our roles and routines, not taking time to remember that connection… why we first fell in love. After the sadness passed, I felt filled with gratitude and love.
When I woke on our anniversary, I had an email waiting from hubby. He had written a letter, reflecting on our years together. It recalled sweet and joyful memories, as well as how we’ve endured more challenging times. He also reminisced about my journey as a cookbook author, saying:
I am so proud of everything you have achieved. That includes your accomplishments in business and your amazing publishing career. I vividly remember all of your effort into those early proposals and the rejections coming back one by one. Then when you accomplished your goal, what a time that was, just seeing the first book in print, the Toronto tour and Canada AM.
Our eldest daughter was just six months old when we took that trip for the book tour and Canada AM appearance. I recall nursing her in the hotel, toting baby food (she had just started solids), and trying to pull it all together to be on national television!
I also clearly remember writing and mailing those proposals with return envelopes. Knowing that I needed just one “yes”! I believed it would happen, and it did. Now, our eldest is now almost 13, with two younger sisters, I have published 3 more books, one ebook, and working on my 5th cookbook.
Much like how our relationship has grown, changed, and evolved over 20+ year – so has my food knowledge, recipe development, and recipe naming. (Mostly for the better, I think!)
With that story I hope you enjoy this recipe. Maybe it’s one you will love for 20+ years too. 😉 Yeah… some things never change. You can always count on me to throw in a good dose of corny.
Walnut-Pecan Balls gluten-free option, oil-free option
ReciPage link to print/share
These savory balls have a buttery taste from a combination of walnuts, pecans, and sautéed vegetables. They are delicious topped on pasta with a good quality pasta sauce, but can also be used as finger foods to dip in a warmed marinara sauce, or formed into patties and eaten as plant-strong veggie burgers! Makes about 17- 20 balls.
1 tbsp water or olive oil (to saute – use water for oil-free version)
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1¼ tsp dried oregano leaves
½ tsp dried thyme leaves
1/4 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup pecans
3/4 cup walnut
1 cup + 2 tbsp rolled oats (use certified gluten-free for a gf option)
2 tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce (use gluten-free for wheat/gluten free option)
1 tbsp tamari (can use coconut aminos)
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp blackstrap molasses
1/2 – 1 tbsp olive oil (or less/more as needed for frying), optional (see note for oil-free option)
In a skillet over medium heat, heat the water/oil, onion, celery, dried oregano, thyme, sea salt, and pepper. Cook for 10-14 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions and celery are nicely softened and golden brown (add extra water if needed to prevent sticking). Once onions and celery have softened some, add them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except last 1 tbsp of olive oil for frying), and process until the mixture becomes crumbly, and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Process again to incorporate any larger pieces, and just as mixture becomes sticky and/or forms a ball, stop processor. Refrigerate for at least 1⁄2 hour (chilling will make it firmer and easier to form). Take small spoonfuls of the mixture, about 1 tbsp (using a small cookie scoop is helpful, but otherwise form with your hands, rinsing hands when needed to keep mixture from sticking to your palms). If cooking in a non-stick skillet (see note for oven-baking), heat the oil over medium-high. Add the balls and fry for 5-7 minutes (reduce heat if burning), shifting the pan to turn sides of balls every minute or two to form a golden crust fairly evenly around the balls. Remove, and serve.
Serving Suggestions: Most obvious, serve these warm with tomato sauce and pasta. But, also try as an hor d’oeurve with a warmed sauce (ex: a marinara or other sauce such as my Raw Tomato Sauce, or Living Caesar Dressing for dipping. Also try adding them to a salad to transform a light salad into a full meal.
Oven-Baking Note: If you prefer baking these in the oven, place balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes, turning once or twice during baking, until golden brown.
Idea: These mixture can also be formed into patties and pan-fried as a burger patty. Or, it can be placed in a loaf dish and baked.
Leftovers? Refrigerate them and use another day as a sandwich filling, simply mashing and stirring in a sauce or condiment of choice, and chopped veggies if you like.
Please feel free to share your feedback about this recipe, how you liked them and/or how you served them! Thanks for indulging my personal ramblings as well, maybe some of you relate from a relationship or parenting perspective. Have a delicious plant-powered week! xx Dreena