Spaghetti & Meatballs is one of those dishes that makes you wanna sit aside your favorite loved one, sip a glass of red wine, and indulge in a warm bath. Red marinara sauce lends romantic flair, as if it’s means to allude to the color of roses. Memories of mom cooking it sends nostalgic memories of comfort to the brain. The stuffed feeling received after enjoying a “small plate” encourages us to lean back in our seat, exchange conversation, and move past daily rigor into a state of awe-encompassing bliss.
Then again, maybe that’s how all Italian food makes us feel.
Rest assure, we’re going to talk meatballs, but before we get there, I want to talk about the component that brings this whole dish together: this. marinara. sauce. tho.
You’re probably thinking “what’s so special about some red sauce?” In most cases, I would probably say “nothing,” because marinara is often far too salty, too bright & acidic, or just too bland. This recipe – based off of the one my mom so often made for me growing up – is a sweet take on marinara that melds savoriness, seasoning, and brightness into a perfect tastebud tango.
In my mind, proper marinara sauce needs time, which is why the base of our variation is created by deeply caramelizing minced red onion over medium-low heat until its sugars and onion-y essence have been turned all the way up over the course of 45 minutes. (The sugars in which by the way are primarily fructooligosaccharides, the type of sugars that comprise alcohol sugars like erythritol, not glucose, fructose, or sucrose which have potential to spike blood insulin levels.) When it comes to caramelizing, time and low heat are the two most important factors responsible for converting a sharp, spicy red onion into a golden, sweet & deep sensory delight.
Quickly sautéing & slowly caramelizing onions result in two drastically different end-products – neither of which are bad, I may add. For instance, you’ll notice that the meatballs call for sautéed onions – signifying browned edges, light crunch, and sharp flavor – which is important because we want the onion’s punch to stand out when paired with the other ingredients. With the sauce, however, we want to transform the onion into an ingredient that registers invisible when compared to its original identity because it’s now slipped into the role of another, completely unique character.
If you’re still unsure about cooking your onion for 45 minutes, then let me let you know that this isn’t going to take up extra time – simply begin cooking them at the start of your process then continue to prep the rest of your meal. They don’t require much stirring while cooking. I assure you that caramelized onions are the addition to this sauce that’ll make you lean back in your seat after your first bite, close your eyes, exclaim “ooohhh mmmyyyy gggooooddd” out loud, and convince every one around you that they “need to try this.”
To support the role of caramelized onion, the addition that separates this marinara from the crowd of bottled, canned, and restaurant sauces is Worcestershire Sauce (pronounced kinda like wish-da-sheer). Worcestershire Sauce contains a substantial list of ingredients that makes up its unique flavor, which traditionally includes: molasses, anchovies, tamarind paste, vinegar, onions, garlic, and much more. Its flavor profile is difficult to explain if you’ve never had it before, but I can tell you that it contains elements of citrus from lemon & orange, deep savoriness from tamari & mushroom powder in vegan variations (to replace anchovies), malty sweetness from molasses, bright tang from vinegar & tamarind, and spice from cloves, onion, allspice, & garlic.
Being that my mom was born in Wales and grew up in a British household, it makes sense that she would add this unusual component to her red sauce, because Worcestershire Sauce was founded in the UK. And while this addition doesn’t adhere to the dish’s Italian nature, come to think of it, spaghetti & meatballs isn’t exactly an Italian combination to begin with; I’ve been to Rome – didn’t see the stuff anywhere. But more on that later in the post.
Before I continue, let me a defunk a curiosity you may have floating around in your head: yes, Worcestershire Sauce does contain sugar, as it’s made with molasses and cane sugar. However, there’s only one gram of sugar per teaspoon and two total teaspoons in our marinara sauce, which is a negligible amount by my standards; Worcestershire is so potent that a little goes a long way. To give you an idea of how little sugar that is, there’s more sugar in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar than in a teaspoon of this Worcestershire Sauce! But, if you’re unable to have even tiny amounts of sugar because of an autoimmune disorder or other illnesses, substitute it for 1 tsp of tamari & 1 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice; the effect won’t be completely identical, but it’ll be similar enough.
Now, let’s roll the ball over to the reason you clicked on this link: MEATBALLS! Or vegan balls, or veggie balls… or, or whatever you want to call them.
We have two variations of meatball recipes on the blog already – one made out of stuffed mushrooms and one as part of gushtaba curry – however, this recipe is most similar to what most of us think of when we think about meatballs. By that, I mean that its heritage is Italian, even if it’s origin isn’t. And by that, I mean that while meatballs – at least the ones Americans think of – aren’t from Italy, they do originate from Italian immigrants who moved to the US between 1880 – 1920, which is the same period of time that bolognese (meat sauce) was created as well.
Aw man, if Donald Trump only knew the great food that immigrants have crafted over the last 200 years, maybe he wouldn’t be so strict on travel regulations. Who knows, maybe we could be eating the most bomb Syrian food in 50 years if the US accepted their people in!
Anyways, these meatballs take after the ones you probably ate growing up at Olive Garden & Carrabba’s. No doubt, to come anywhere close to the texture of conventional meatballs, our base has to be made from protein, in this case, a mixture of pressure-cooked beans & tempeh. Beans alone would create a mixture that needs a lot of dry ingredients to counteract their mushiness while tempeh alone creates a consistency that’s too crumbly. By combining the two we have a base that’s coherent without being too moist. However, some of that moisture will still need to be absorbed, which is where bread crumbs are typically implemented, but – knowing that it’s nearly impossible to find breadcrumbs that fit a lectin-limited, vegan diet – I figured it’s best to swerve completely out of the lane of breadcrumbs and into a lane that houses an ingredient that’s more accessible & healthy: nuts.
Particularly almonds – blanched, slivered almonds to be exact. When ground up, they have the ability to absorb excess moisture. But why stop there, why not gently roast those almonds then crush them up with nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and salt. Well, then you would have vegan parmesan! A.k.a the best thing since Parmesan!
If I’m being honest, if I asked myself what 10 year old me would wanna eat (which is how half of our recipes come about), I would say “put a crud ton of parmesan on there, Mom!” And I gotta do right by 10 year old me.
Other flavor components come in the form of fresh parsley for herbal uplift, sautéed onion & garlic for onion and garliciness (duhhh), and tamari for savoriness. All in all, I can guarantee that you’ll be as satisfied with this plate of spaghetti & meatballs as much as you would with your mom’s – if not more. The marinara is lightly sweet, the spaghetti is al dente, and the meatballs are chewy, moist & tender. We hope this Valentine’s Day, you serve your significant other a plate of the most romantic dish on Earth.
P.S. all nightshades can be rid of their lectins by seeding and peeling them, as those are the only two components that contain lectins. Thus, tomato sauce is free from lectins because it’s only made with the meat of a tomato, where the skin and seeds are discarded. Although, be wary of canned crushed tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, and diced tomatoes as those likely contain the skin and seeds.
If you like what your taste buds are tellin’ ya, leave behind a nice rating, share your thoughts with us in the comments, or show us your creations by tagging @noeggsorham on Instagram.
Go Forth & Dine,
Ryan & Kim
Vegan Spaghetti & Meatballs (lectin-free & gluten-free)
Sweet caramelized onion marinara sauce, flavorful and chewy tempeh & bean meatballs, pasta that's perfectly al dente, topped with nutty blanched almond parmesan.
- 1 15 oz can organic tomato sauce*
- 1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp erythritol
- 2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp dried Italian herbs (oregano, rosemary, marjoram, basil, thyme, & sage)
- 1/4 tsp salt (plus more if using salt-free tomato sauce)
- 15 oz can Eden’s black beans, drained & rinsed*
- 4 oz tempeh, very finely diced
- 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced (1 1/2 tsp)
- 6 tbsp vegan parmesan, divided
- 3 tbsp, extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp coconut flour
- 2 tsp tamari
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- 1/2 tsp dried Italian herbs
- Start marinara sauce by heating a medium sauce pot over medium-low heat. To that, add in finely diced red onion, 1/4 pinch of salt, and 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the onions have greatly reduced in size and are extremely sweet; 45 minutes to an hour. If they begin to brown around the edges, reduce the heat to low.
- Once the onions are almost finished cooking (about 40 minutes in), add in the garlic and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes.
- While onions caramelize, pre-heat oven to 350° F. Heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and the onions for the meatballs. Cook until the edges begin to brown – about 4 minutes – then toss in garlic and cook for another minute.
- Place sauteed onions & garlic, 3 tbsp of vegan parmesan, and the rest of the meatball ingredients into a food processor.
- Pulse until mixture just comes together. You want it to be dough-y enough to stick together, but don’t want it to be smooth; there should still be pieces of beans, tempeh, and onions visible through out.
- Measure out 2 tablespoons of dough, roll into a boll then set on a plate. Repeat until they’re all rolled out.
- Add 3 tablespoons of vegan parmesan to a small bowl and add in a meatball. Toss and roll around to coat then transfer back to plate. Repeat for all meatballs.
- Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat (you can use an electric griddle set to 350° F or a cast iron skillet if you trust its surface). Once hot, add in 1 tbsp of olive oil and as many meatballs will fit without overcrowding the pan, which was half the batch for us.
- Brown them on at least 3 sides; about 2 minutes per side. If the pan starts to smoke or meatballs brown quicker in under a minute, reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Transfer meatballs to a parchment lined cookie sheet and repeat steps 9-10 until all the meatballs are seared, adding 1 tbsp of olive oil each time.
- Place tray of meatballs in oven for 20-30 minutes or until they’re sturdy but not crumbly and moist but not mushy. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- Once the onions for the marinara have finished caramelizing, add in the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasonings, erythritol, and extra salt if using (see note).
- Add 3 tbsp of water to the tomato sauce can and vigorously shake to get every last bit of goodness out then add it to the pot. Raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer while stirring constantly.
- As soon as a simmer is obtained, drop heat to low, clamp on a lid, and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, although preferably 30 minutes.
- Cook pasta according to package’s instructions. For Tinkyada White Rice Spaghetti, that means bringing a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat, stirring in the pasta, and cooking until tender; 8-12 minutes.
- Drain pasta into a colander and thoroughly rinse with cold water. When ready to serve, rinse pasta for at least a minute with hot tap water to remove excess starch and warm it back up.
- Then plate by adding on pasta, followed by marinara, meatballs, plenty of extra parmesan, and some fresh parsley.
- Store leftovers in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 4 days; it’s best to keep each part separate from one another if possible.
*If using salt-free tomato sauce, which is what we used, I would advise to add the full 1/2 tsp of salt to the sauce. However, if using regular tomato sauce, I’d advise to only add a 1/4 tsp of salt to the onions while caramelizing.
*Eden pressure-cooks their beans in the can ridding them of their lectins.