Grain-based Italian meatballs

I’ve been waiting a long time to share this recipe with you – one month and three days shy of an entire year, to be exact.

grain-based Italian meatballs(1)tossed with a rich marinara and best-quality gluten free spaghetti

I’m a very impatient person – it’s felt like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.

I think it’s worth it, though, and not just because I’m excited about these grain-based meatballs. You see, my dear friend Kathy just also happens to be a fantastic cookbook author – and she lets me test and develop recipes for her – and this particular recipe is on page 17 of her latest book, Vegan Slow Cooking – For Two – or Just For You.

deciphered for the massesAren’t you glad I didn’t just scan my original notes and make you try to decipher them?

Did I mention this is her third book? You should visit her site to see what she’s been up to, and to check out the other recipes being shared on this tour. Psst – I’m also giving away a copy of this book! Details in the recipe notes…

grain-based Italian meatballs(2)meatballs always taste better with a hunk of focaccia bread

Back to these meatballs. They are vegan, gluten free, made out of wholesome pantry staples, and free of any binders. They come together in less than 10 minutes, bake in 20, and work just as well as links. I prefer meatballs, though, so that’s what I’m sharing with you today.

meatballs in the makingmeatballs in-the-making
grain-based Italian meatballs-preready for the oven
grain-based Italian meatballs-postleftovers, for a repeat meal in 24 hours // the only reason I saved any was to show you how well they hold up // we always gobble these up in one night
grain-based Italian meatballs Day 2gently simmered for 5 minutes on day 2 // I think they held their shape nicely

Grain-based Italian meatballs

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These don’t have any binders – no ground flax or chia, no psyllium husk, no xanthan or guar gum. Why? Because when I create something new, I always start as simply as possible, and then go from there. I have no idea how they would do if fried, because I don’t like to fry things. I have no idea how they freeze, because I don’t like to freeze this sort of thing. But they’re damned good straight out of the oven. Want to win a copy of this book? Leave me a comment between now and midnight on Sunday, 29 September 2013, and a winner will be randomly selected. Fair Winds Press is letting me give away a print or digital copy, winner’s choice.

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1/2 cup cooked brown lentils, drained
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup cold, cooked long grain brown rice
1/2 cup cold, cooked quinoa
3/4 cup almond meal (not flour)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C and place a rack in the center position. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or oil lightly.

In a food processor, puree the first nine ingredients (lentils through black pepper) into a paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

In the same food processor (no need to wash between steps), combine the grains, almond meal and nutritional yeast. Pulse until coarsely ground but not pureed.

Add the rice mixture to the lentil mixture and stir until everything is completely incorporated. It will have the texture of veggie loaf. Wet your hands and shape into links or meatballs. Space evenly on the try at least 1 inch apart.

If making links: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, leave the tray inside for 10 more minutes, and then remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

If making meatballs: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

Links are great for slicing into coins and reheat nicely in a dry or lightly oiled skillet. They can be layered in a dish a few minutes before serving, but won’t hold up if baked in something like a lasagne. If I’m making a baked pasta dish, I like to nestle them in the top just before the final broil – drizzled with a bit of additional sauce and sprinkled with gluten free breadcrumbs, they heat through but don’t fall apart.

Meatballs (or whole links) hold their shape well and can be gently simmered in a sauce for up to 5 minutes. They also reheat well, as long as you refrigerate any unused meatballs in a covered dish without sauce; the moisture will make them disintegrate.

Yield: 15 – 30 links or meatballs, depending on size; I usually end up with 20 medium-sized meatballs

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes


It’s been a busy summer.



We camped our way to the Upper Peninsula, stopping in Chicago to catch a Cubs game before spending nearly two weeks on lake Superior.



There was a bear cub sighting, a killdeer nest, and ten straight days of sand and sun.




zucchiniWe returned home to find out it rained every single day we were out of town. My kitchen garden? Completely overrun with basil and shiso. My vine garden? Completely overrun with melons. Even my zucchini and patty pan plants survived, despite the annual squash bug plague.

pearsPears are in season. Tip of the iceberg. I suspect a few pear recipes may make an appearance once I get out from under these knobbly green pomes.

blueberry_oatshakeThe past five years we forgot to net our blueberry bushes, which made the local deer happy. This summer we finally got around to it, and have been picking berries every day for over a month. Most of them go straight into Nina’s mouth; any stragglers she leaves behind make it into the kitchen. She has recently declared herself a superhero-in-training*, and we came up with this shake to keep her healthy and strong.

Blueberry superhero oatshake

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This is more milkshake than smoothie, packed with all manner of things a growing superhero needs (…antioxidants, protein, fiber…). An equal amount of rolled or steel cut oats can be substituted for the groats, and 2 tablespoons cashew or peanut butter can be substituted for the raw cashews. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, there will be little flecks of oats and cashews in your shake. To avoid this, simply pre-grind the cashews and oats to a powder with a burr grinder before blending with the rest of the ingredients. I often combine everything in a large mason jar and pop it in the refrigerator before I go to bed, then blend it right in the jar with my immersion blender in the morning.

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1 large handful fresh blueberries
1 small handful baby spinach
1/2 Cup sprouted oat groats
1/4 Cup raw cashews
1/2 to 1 Cup almond milk
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses

Blend until smooth, starting with 1/2 Cup milk and adding more if needed to reach desired consistency.

Yield: 1 superhero or 2 mortal servings

Prep time: 5 minutes

*Awesome Girl. Is anyone even a little bit surprised? 

Top secret

A few months ago, I was testing recipes for Celine and Tami’s whole grain baking book.  This happened to intersect, timing-wise, with a little thing called the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale.

The bake sale I participated in was raising funds for a farm animal refuge in my neck of the woods, and we were getting a lot of preliminary buzz.  As this was our first fundraising event held for the sanctuary, we really wanted to knock people’s socks off.  I volunteered to make all of the gluten free items and wanted to offer something besides the requisite cupcake; something that both gluten freebies and gluten lovers would swoon over.

These bars – they sold out faster than you can say Himalayan sea salt.

When I first started getting requests for the recipe, I took a little bit of pleasure in telling them it was top secret.  After the umpteenth request?  Not so much.  I won’t be sharing any other recipes from the book before it gets published; but if you like what you see here, I promise you, you’ll love this book.

Salted caramel nut bars
adapted from Whole Grain Vegan Baking

The original recipe uses barley flour for the crust, but I wanted to make these gluten free. I had a lot of buckwheat flour taking up space in my freezer, so that’s what I used. As it turns out, it pairs perfectly with the heady caramelized filling and salty sweet chocolate on top.

For the crust:
Parchment paper (enough to line the pan with an overhang)
1 3/4 cups (210 g) buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (56 g) semi-solid coconut oil, melted

For the filling:
2 tablespoons (28 g) semi-solid coconut oil
1/4 cup (48 g) dark muscovado or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (84 g) brown rice syrup
1/2 cup (60 g) dry roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (70 g) raw cashews, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (30 g) raw pumpkin seeds
Generous pinch of kosher or Himlayan sea salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup (88 g) semisweet chocolate chips
Himalayan sea salt

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper (or lightly oiled foil), with a 2-inch overhang.
Place the flour, salt and maple syrup in a food processor. Add the oil, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, until moistened. The dough is ready once it holds together when pinched. You can mix in a bowl with a large wooden spoon if you’d prefer, but be prepared to give your arm a workout. Press down evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, with moistened hands if needed. Pre-bake 10 minutes.

To make the filling: In the meantime, place the oil, coconut sugar, and syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, add nuts and salt, and cook for an additional minute, until the sugar crystals are dissolved and the syrup has thickened just a little. Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds.

Remove the pre-baked crust from the oven. Place the nuts on top and use an offset spatula to evenly spread them all over the crust. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the nuts are golden brown on top. Keep a close eye on the nuts so that they don’t overbake!

Remove from the oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top, letting the residual heat melt them for you. Use an offset spatula to spread them over the nuts. Sprinkle with Himalayan sea salt.

Let cool completely before cutting into squares. The squares will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Yield: 16 squares

Prep time: 15 minutes (some of it while the crust pre-bakes), Cook time: 25 minutes