by Ashley Morgan
A few days ago Earth Balance put out a post on their site about vegan-ized versions of classic American sandwiches, which made me think of one of my most favorite things I make: the eggplant “meat”ball sub. I’ve been making this sandwich long before I even thought about the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, however that version did have several different cheeses, which I have omitted for my new, completely vegan version.
I’m extremely excited to share this with you, as I’m chowing down on my sandwich as I type and, while it may be due to being the first “normal” food I’ve eaten since starting the detox, it tastes like one of the best things I’ve ever had. I think this version is even better than its previous, dairy-filled counterpart. I hope that you find it as enjoyable as I do.
1 large eggplant (I chose one about 12 inches long)
1 medium sweet onion
Bunch of fresh basil, to taste (I used five, 3-inch long leaves)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic (I used bottled, you can do it fresh)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 to 2 cups of panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup ground pine nuts
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (add little by little to feel)
1 cup canola oil (for frying)
1 cup marinara sauce (I used Whole Foods’ 365 Organic Brand, Mushroom Flavor)
Earth Balance butter
Vegan Mozzarella Cheese (I used Daiya brand shredded cheese)
Vegan hoagie rolls (I used Whole Foods’ Hearth Bread Petite French Rolls)
Makes about 20 large eggplant “meat”balls, enough for about 10 sandwiches. The eggplant “meat”balls freeze very well, so they are good to make ahead.
Heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high flame in a large frying pan (I used a large Paella pan that I love because it has high lips). Thinly chop the onions and add to the pan, along with the chopped garlic. While the onions and garlic are simmering, chop the eggplant into very small cubes, about 1/4 of an inch wide. Once the onions are translucent and are beginning to caramelize, lower the heat to medium and add the eggplant. Stir liberally while hand-tearing in the fresh basil.
Stirring frequently, add in all other spices. Continue stirring while adding 1/4 cup of olive oil, slowly, to the pan. Once the eggplant is translucent and mushing, remove pan from heat. Place a separate pan on the burner, filled with one cup of canola oil. Heat over medium heat.
While waiting for the canola oil to heat, let the eggplant cool slightly before beginning to slowly add the panko bread crumbs, ground pine nuts and nutritional yeast. Once cool enough, use your hands to mash the mixture together until you receive a uniform consistency that will stay together with minimal coaxing. Keep adding additional olive oil to the mixture until you feel the balls forming nicely. You may need a little more or a little less than two cups of panko. At this point, taste the mixture to make sure the spices are balanced. You can still add salt, pepper or any of the dried spices to increase flavor, just ensure to mix well.
Once you are happy with the flavor of the mixture, begin forming your “meat”balls using the palms of your hands. I like mine to be quite large, therefore I usually will form balls that are a little larger than a golf ball. The size is entirely up to your tastes.
Make sure to pack the balls well in the palms of your hands, smoothing them so that they will not fall apart in the frying process. Once you have formed the “meat”balls, check the oil by carefully putting a tiny amount of salt in the oil. If it sizzles rapidly, the oil is ready.
Fry the balls well in the oil, until they are crispy golden brown. They fry extremely quickly, so it’s best to only put one or two in the oil at a time, carefully using a metal slotted spatula or spoon to roll them around, giving them even color. Carefully pull them out of the oil once golden brown and place on a paper towel, to soak up any additional oil.
Once all have been fried, remove pan from burner and place in the cold oven, this will keep the smell of oil from permeating any more into your home. While your eggplant “meat”balls are cooling, spread Earth Balance on each of your split rolls and put into a warmed toaster oven until the spread has melted. While this is melting, warm your marinara sauce either in a saucepan or in the microwave (carefully, this splatters A LOT in the microwave).
Assemble subs by placing desired amount of eggplant “meat”balls on each roll (if you made them as big as I do, you will probably only need two per sub). Pour warmed marinara sauce over the balls and sprinkle with vegan mozzarella cheese, in my case, Daiya shredded cheese.
Place sandwiches carefully on a piece of aluminum foil and broil in the toaster oven until cheese has melted. Serve immediately and enjoy!
If you have made a large batch in order to freeze some of the eggplant “meat”balls, assemble the fried, but cooled, balls (without any sauce) into a freezer-tight container. I’ve frozen them up to a month without any problem, as long as your container really is freezer-tight. Warm up either in a toaster oven or traditional oven at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.
I hope you enjoy and please let me know how they turn out, if you decide to make them