VEGAN EGGPLANT MEATBALLS WITH ZA’ATAR & KALE PESTO

vegan eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto // thefirstmess.commy wild vegetable patch // via thefirstmess.comeggplant and kale in my messy garden // thefirstmess.comzaatar eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto // thefirstmess.com
Well hey there! Long time, no talk eh? If my vegetable garden is any indication of how my summer is going, you might think that it’s been busy and, frankly, a little messy too. My recipe work and shooting schedule for the book have been front and center, but also all over the place. It’s getting there and it’s really something to see all of the images clustered together on my little cookbook wall. My excitement to share this work with all of you is pretty much off the charts :)

Other than that? I’ve been riding around at night once the humidity settles, working at the restaurant here and there, drinking rosé and lots of coffee on the porch, hitting up my favourite antique spot for some sweet props, buying up hydrangeas at the nursery clearance sales (crazy hydrangea lady), catching up on the greatness of Bob’s Burgers etc. Nothing too wild, which is exactly how I like my summertime. The predictability of tomato and peach season, sundown drinks, and bonfire nights–I’m into the routine of all that.

Another summery thing. I’m not sure if you’ve read about this new vegan, internet-based phenomenon known as aquafaba, but it’s pretty great. It’s the leftover soaking liquid from cans of (preferably unsalted, BPA-free) chickpeas and it essentially acts as a wonderful replacement for eggs. I’ve been playing around with it all summer, making the obvious things like meringues and pavlova. Sometimes when a plant-based recipe needs a binder, I can already get a vibe that a flax/chia “egg” just won’t cut it. Enter the zero food waste superpowers of chickpea water. I’ve since employed it in various patties/veggie burgers, crepes, and shredded vegetable pancake-sorta things too, all with success. I’m trying homemade vegan mayonnaise next.

This vegan eggplant meatball recipe is seriously one of the better veggie meatballs I’ve had. They have a meaty texture and they hold together with minimal fuss thanks to the chickpea water and some almond meal. I was never terribly into real meatballs, but I’ve had some lentil and mushroom-based ones at restaurants in the past that I really quite enjoyed. I grew some Japanese eggplants this year and knew that the velvet-y texture would be appropriate for a dish like this.

zaatar eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto // thefirstmess.comzaatar eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto // thefirstmess.comzaatar eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto // thefirstmess.com
vegan eggplant meatballs with lemony kale pesto recipe
Print the recipe here!
serves: makes about 18 balls + a generous cup of pesto
notes: For the bread slices, I just used 2 slices of frozen sprouted grain bread from Silver Hills. I toasted them up and busted them into the food processor bowl with my hands. This mix held together really nice before I added the bread, so I feel confident that you could use 2 slices of a gluten-free loaf as well.

meatball ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, small dice (about 3 cups-worth of diced eggplant)
salt + pepper
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup almond meal/flour
1 tablespoon za’atar spice blend
2 garlic cloves, peeled + chopped
1/4 cup chopped flatleaf parsley
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest
big squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup chickpea canning liquid (aka chickpea brine/aquafaba)
2 slices of bread, toasted and roughly cut

kale pesto ingredients:
1/2 cup raw almonds
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled + chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 packed cups of chopped kale
big squeeze of lemon juice
salt + pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (+ more, depending)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Drizzle a bit of olive oil directly onto the parchment and spread it around with your hands, lightly greasing the paper. Set prepared baking sheet aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add all of the diced eggplant and sauté until golden on all sides and pieces are noticeably soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the chickpeas, almond meal, za’atar garlic, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and chickpea canning liquid until you have a smooth paste. Add the sautéed eggplant to the food processor and flip machine to high until you have a lightly chunky paste. Add the roughly cut toasted bread to the the food processor and some salt and pepper, to taste. Flip the machine to high once more until you have a chunky and unified paste-like mixture.

Form the eggplant mixture into balls with roughly 2 tablespoons per ball. Gently roll them and then place them on the lightly greased baking sheet. Once you’ve rolled all of the mixture, slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake meatballs for 25-28 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the cooking time.

For the pesto, rinse out your food processor bowl + blade. Then, add the almonds, garlic, and lemon zest to the bowl. Pulse the mixture until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Add the kale, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the food processor. Flip the machine to high until everything in the bowl is finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour the oil into the food processor until you have a nice paste-like consistency. You may have to use more oil than I specified, depending on how tightly you packed the kale. Once you have a consistency you like, season the pesto to taste and store in a covered container with a thin layer of oil on top to preserve the colour.

Serve the warm vegan eggplant meatballs with dollops of the kale pesto, some roughly chopped parsley, sliced tomatoes, and lemon zest.

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