Monday, June 8, 2009

Bean and Bulgur Balls

(pictured: Bean and Bulgur Balls fresh out of the oven)

Meatballs are almost a religion to Italians. Everyone thinks their family meatball recipe is the best. We discuss meatballs like they are people. Can you tell I really miss meatballs? I love them when they are so tender that they almost collapse under the weight of my fork. Yes, I am somewhat meatball obsessed.

Sometimes I “need” a meatball. Today is one of those days. I am always playing around with new combinations of beans, grains and gluten to come up with the perfect faux meatball. I have my favorites, but the perfect faux meatball has still alluded me, but we are making progress.

This faux meatball has a nice mild flavor. The texture holds together like meat but is still a little firmer than I like it. But, I have a very defined opinion on the proper meatball texture. There are few meatballs that meet my standards. If you are Italian you understand this nuance. Most non-Italians find this meatball obsession to be absurd.

Unlike the traditional veal, cheese and fresh breadcrumb meatball this one won’t clog your arteries with plague and elevate your probability of a cancer diagnosis. The fiber from the beans, bulgur and oatmeal all work together to create a complete protein and keep you full longer and well as reduce your probability of colon cancer.

Bean and Bulgur Balls
Makes 50 balls


2 cups of kidney beans, soaked in 4 cups water at least 5 hours
1 cup of bulgur
2 cups of water
pinch of kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of oregano, dried
½ tablespoon of thyme, dried
1 tablespoon of hot crushed peppers (wet hots)
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 cup of rolled oats (uncooked)
2 teaspoons of koshers salt
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
10 tablespoons of vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil (to spray on balls before cooking)


On the morning I want to make spaghetti I put the kidney beans in a quart jar and cover with water. If it isn’t too hot I let this sit on the counter until a couple of hours before dinner. You can also soak the beans in the refrigerator if it is hot.

About an hour before you are going to need to make the balls cook the bulgur. I put one cup of bulgur in a covered saucepan with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Cook (covered) on medium low for 15 – 20 minutes (or until water is absorbed). Then turn off the heat and allow the bulgur to stand (still covered) for another 10 minutes.

To cook the beans I strain them of their liquid and give them a thorough rinse. Then I put them in a heavy bottomed pan with at least 4 inches of water. I cook them over medium for 30 minutes before I check their texture with a fork. When they are very soft drain them and move them to the food processor. Save a cup of bean cooking liquid in case you need it in the next few steps.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add everything else to the food processor, except the bulgur and vital wheat gluten. Process until the components are evenly distributed in the bean mixture. You may need to add a few tablespoons of bean cooking liquid to get all the mixture to process top to bottom.

Move the bean mixture to a large bowl and add the cooked bulgur. Using your hands (like you are making meatloaf) mix the ingredients together. Spread the bean mixture into an even layer and add the vital wheat gluten. Knead the mixture until the vital wheat gluten in thoroughly combined and not at all dry. If the gluten does not get completely absorbed into the mixture after a minute of kneading, add water a tablespoon at a time and mix until all the gluten is completely incorporated.

Using a small cookie scoop form the bean mixture into small balls. Once all the balls are formed roll each one in your hands so they are uniformly round. Put the balls on a parchment or silpat lined half sheet pan. Leave a little room between the balls as they will expand while they cook. Very lightly spray the balls with oil. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, and check to see if they are done. The balls are done when they have increased in size by approximately 20 percent and they are firm to the touch and a light brown on the outside. This took 25 minutes in my oven.

If you don’t need all the bean balls for dinner tonight they can be cooled and frozen for another meal. I don’t store them in the sauce, as I am not certain what that would do to their texture. These are great with pasta and sauce. They also make a nice vegetarian “meatball” for a sub.

Nutritional Information per ball (assumes 50):

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 33.66
Calories From Fat (14%) - 4.58

Total Fat - 0.53g
Saturated Fat - 0.08g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 112.09mg
Potassium - 53.35mg
Total Carbohydrates - 5.36g
Fiber - 1.36g
Sugar - 0.26g
Protein - 2.29g


This makes a nice neutral tasting meatball. It worked well this evening with pasta and tomato sauce. The texture was firm, but not so firm it didn’t cut with a fork. I would probably like these a little better if I had pan fried them in a little extra virgin olive oil. I didn’t want the extra fat tonight. However, I am going to try that with some of the leftovers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The bean/bulgur balls had a wonderful favor but a little more salt and pepper may have enhanced the flavor. Of course, holding back on the sodium is a good thing and I always like more pepper than most people. The texture was good but might be a little softer and closer to the "real thing" with slightly less gluten and the addition of bread crumbs but that would alter nutrition numbers. Overall, the balance between flavor/texture and the final nutritional numbers was nearly prefect.
    A two thumbs up recipe.

  3. I agree that they should be a little less firm to be closer to the original. I will keep working on it until we find the magic formula.

  4. I'm new to vegan cooking... can you please tell me why vital wheat gluten is used in this recipe? Does it make the mixture rise and become lighter?

    Also, I thought by "oatmeal" you meant cooked oatmeal and of course the mixture turned out too soft to knead, but I worked it with a spoon. (Did you use rolled oats?) The balls didn't seem to increase in size, but we thought they tasted good. As I told our omni guests, don't think of them as meatballs, just bean/bulgur balls!

  5. Laura,

    The vital wheat gluten is used to give the balls a little chew. Vital wheat gluten is what is used to make seitan. Gluten is found in flour and what makes bread dough more difficult to knead which activates the gluten.

    Sorry I wasn't more clear on the oatmeal. Yes, you are correct I did use uncooked rolled oats. The oatmeal is included to absorb some of the liquid from the beans. I could have used bread crumbs with a similar effect.

    Good description to your guests. They aren't meat balls, just resemble meat balls.

    If you have any other questions please let me know. We were all new to vegan cooking once. It will get much easier the more you do it.


  6. Laura,

    I forgot to mention that the vital wheat gluten also adds protein to the recipe. I always work to get more protein into our meals for health reasons.

    Thanks for letting me the recipe was not clear. I revised the ingredients to make it less confusing.



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