One of my favorite activities is taking classic comfort foods and spinning them into a new, fresh, plant-based dish that holds strong as a family favorite. Making over your traditional main course meals can be fun and lets you stay on track to your health goals without sacrificing flavor or visual appeal. Tried and true hearty meals like Stuffed Peppers, Lasagna, and Enchiladas are perfect platforms to play with your new “recipe make-over artist” ideas.
What better dinner dish to transform into a healthy plant-based meal than… spaghetti & meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs as we know them, are truly an American classic, not staple Italian fare as commonly thought. According to an article in Smithsonian magazine, dish was essentially invented at the turn of the 1900s when Italian immigrants experienced a New World boost in income and were able to afford eating meat more often. The traditional polpette, aka mini-meatball, grew in size and proportion of meat to bread crumbs. The classic red sauce and tasty pasta, well, that’s 100% Italian, grazie!
In our home, cooking dinner can feel like being a restaurant chef catering to multiple needs, tastes and schedules. So I like to keep it simple, and of course healthy! With one son being vegetarian and the other with multiple food allergies, knowing they’re well nourished is paramount. This new classic can please your pickiest eaters, veggie-lovers and meat-lovers alike plus the meal reheats well for a busy weeknight dinner. Even when I make grass-fed meat balls for the carnivores in our family, I add plenty of veggies, herbs and spices–the same ones found in this recipe! This helps not only dilute the amount of red meat but also adds in loads of healthy nutrients. Mushrooms are an excellent source of immune supportive nutrients and 2 cups has almost 5% of your daily Vitamin D needs.
Since it’s summer in the US, I used zucchini to create my spaghetti-shaped “zoodles,” but in fall/winter months, spaghetti squash is perfect. I purchased an inexpensive spiralizer online for about $13, to turn summer squashes (and other veggies, like carrots) into noodle shapes.
Zucchini Noodles Ingredients:
- 1 large zucchini
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- pinch sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1/4-1/2 of a lemon)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 26 oz strained tomatoes in glass, tetra pak or BPA-free can (or make Fresh & Easy tomato sauce)
- Handful fresh basil leaves (or 1 tbsp dried)
- Handful fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tbsp dried)
- Dash of Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp honey
- Pinch cayenne pepper to taste
- Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cups mushrooms (button or cremini)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- ½ cup gluten-free or whole grain breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp gluten-free or whole grain flour
- 1 egg (preferably pasture-raised) or 1 flax egg**
- 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed (choose BPA-free brands)
- Sea salt & black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup fresh oregano (or 1 tbsp dried)
- ¼ cup fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 1 tsp cumin
- dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the zucchini noodles:
- Wash zucchini well.
- Insert zucchini into spiralizer and twist over a bowl to create noodles.
- Toss with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Set aside until sauce and meatballs are completed.
For the sauce:
- Heat the olive oil and garlic in a large pot over medium-low heat.
- Let cook for about 2 minutes, then pour in strained tomatoes.
- Chop herbs then add to sauce.
- Add cumin, Old Bay, cayenne, honey, salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low and let cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, tasting and adjusting spices as desired.
- Pour sauce over zucchini noodles, then top with more fresh herbs (if desired), and toss. Set aside until meatballs are completed.
For the vegan meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash mushrooms and herbs well, let drain.
- Place pot over medium heat with olive oil. Once warm, add chopped mushrooms, onion, herbs (save some for garnish) and garlic. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes until veggies are soft and onions are clear.
- In a large bowl, use a fork to smash half of the black beans into a thick paste.
- Add sautéed onion, mushrooms, herbs and garlic plus the rest of the whole black beans to the bowl. Add the egg (or flax egg).
- Gradually add in the breadcrumbs and mix gently with your hands until able to form 2-inch balls.
- Gently place each ball onto parchment paper, with some space in between.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the tops begin to brown, then flip over and continue baking another 8 to 10 minutes.
- Cut open one ball to be sure cooked through. Remove from baking sheet and let cool on rack or add directly to spaghetti and sauce bowl. Toss with sauce and noodles. Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon wedge, if desired.
Zucchini: spaghetti squash, summer squash or carrots (with spiralizer)
Mushrooms: I like to use baby bella mushrooms but choose any variety you like
Black Beans: Lentils, chick peas
**Flax eggs: In a small bowl, combine 1 tbsp ground flax seeds and 3 tbsp water. Let stand about 5 minutes before using.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
- Nutrition per serving:
Yields and nutritional information are estimated and will vary depending on produce size and equipment used.