But what what if you would rather have a vegetarian version? Are you simply out of luck? Absolutely not. Let me introduce you to my recipe for Really Good Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs. Made with lentils, mushrooms, oats and the right mix of warm spices, these Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs have that quintessential flavor of traditional Swedish meatballs but in a plant-based form.
Even if you are not a vegetarian, I would recommend giving these a try. They are an incredibly tasty and satisfying alternative to traditional meatballs.
Why This Recipe Works
This will be your go-to recipe for Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs because:
- The combination of mushrooms, oats and lentils creates a very meatball-like texture.
- Brown sugar, allspice and nutmeg come together to bring that quintessential Swedish meatball flavor.
- The sauce is deliciously creamy, savory and simple.
What Makes Swedish Meatballs Different?
Whether they are vegetarian or not, Swedish meatballs have certain characteristics which set them apart from other meatballs:
- A blend of warm spices, usually allspice and nutmeg (and sometimes ground ginger). This is what gives Swedish meatballs their unmistakeable flavor.
- Swedish meatballs are quite small, at most about an inch in diameter.
- They are usually served in a creamy sauce with lingonberry jam or Lingonberry Sauce and Quick Swedish Pickled Cucumbers alongside. This trio of savory, sweet and tangy is an unforgettable combination that hits all the right flavor notes.
- Swedish meatballs are usually served on top of mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles. Both are delicious!
For the Meatballs:
- Lentils. Regular brown or green lentils are the meaty plant-based backbone of this recipe.
- Mushrooms. Bringing their uncommonly meaty, umami flavor, mushrooms are essential to the dish. Even if you claim not to like mushrooms....they are chopped fine and not at all distinguishable in the final result. My daughter who dislikes mushrooms ate 6 meatballs straight from the pan proclaiming them as good as the real thing.
- Allspice, nutmeg and brown sugar. You will find this same combination of sugar and spice in my recipe for Easy Swedish Meatballs, and they bring the same quintessential flavor to this vegetarian version.
- Oats. Instead of bread crumbs, this recipe uses oats to help bind the mixture together. They also make the meatballs gluten-free if you use gluten-free oats.
- Eggs. Eggs also act as an important binder here, helping the meatballs maintain their form once they are baked.
- Onion. For aromatic flavor.
- Parsley. For a subtle herby, brightness.
- White wine. The first time I made these meatballs I didn't include the wine. They were still delicious, but much improved by the inclusion of the wine. It brings just enough acidity to heighten all the flavors in the final dish.
For the Sauce:
- A vegetable broth creates a nice base for the sauce.
- Just a touch of soy sauce adds a welcome savory note without any sort of soy sauce flavor in the final product.
- Flour is the thickener, and a touch of cream brings the perfect amount of richness.
- A shower of fresh parsley (chives are good, too) adds a bright herbal note and welcome color to the final dish.
For the full Swedish Meatballs with Gravy experience, serve them with store bought lingonberry jam or homemade lingonberry sauce and Quick Swedish Pickled Cucumbers. This trio of savory, sweet and tangy is an unforgettable combination and is the traditional way to serve this dish.
How to Make This Recipe
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Simmer the lentils with the bay leaf until they are about half-way done, about 10 minutes. The lentils have more cooking to do later in the recipe, and this short cooking time keeps them from becoming too mushy.
- Coarsely chop the mushrooms in a food processor, and then add the cooked lentils, oats, sugar, spices and salt. Pulse until everything is finely chopped but not a paste.
- Sauté onions in oil and then add the lentil and mushroom mixture. Cook until the mixture becomes dry and is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and allow it to cool before adding the eggs.
- Once the mixture is just warm to the touch, add the eggs and combine.
- Use a 1 tablespoon scoop (I like this spring-loaded one. Works like a charm.) and portion the meatballs out onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Roll each mound of the mixture between your hands to create a smooth ball. If it's too sticky, dampen your hands slightly to keep the mixture from sticking as you roll.
- Bake until the meatballs are browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating the pans halfway through. Set meatballs aside.
- Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute. Add broth and soy sauce, whisking constantly. Simmer until reduced slightly. Add cream and nutmeg and return to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer briefly to reheat. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives if desired. Serve with Homemade Lingonberry Sauce (or store bought lingonberry preserves) and Quick Swedish Pickled Cucumbers.
- Use a small tablespoon scoop to portion out the meatball mixture. I like this one spring loaded-one. Otherwise it can be easy to end up with meatballs that are too large and/or uneven in size.
- Use damp hands to roll the meatballs into balls. This helps prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands.
- The sauce will thicken as it sits. If necessary, add a little more broth or water to the sauce before serving to loosen it slightly.
You certainly can! Simply bake the meatballs and store them in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to three days. When you are ready to serve, prepare the sauce and add the meatballs to warm through. To freeze, see the FAQ below.
Yes. Skip the sauce for now and store the baked meatballs in a Ziploc freezer bag or other freezer safe container in the freezer for up to a month. When you are ready to serve, prepare the sauce and add the meatballs (no need to thaw first) to heat through.
This recipe calls for both eggs and dairy. Should you want to make a vegan version:
*Substitute flax eggs for the large eggs (For one flax egg: Combine 1 tablespoon ground flax seed and 2 ½ tablespoons water. Stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes to thicken).
*Substitute vegan butter or olive oil for the unsalted butter.
*Substitute an unsweetened vegan half-and-half (Such as the Califia Farms Unsweetened Better Half Coffee Creamer) for the cream.
There are so many delicious options! You will definitely want to serve lingonberry jam or lingonberry sauce and Quick Swedish Pickled Cucumbers alongside for a traditional Swedish meatball experience. Mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles are typically served as a bed for the meatballs and sauce. Both are delicious, but the egg noodles are a little less work. Need some more ideas for side dishes and go-withs? Check out this post for an extensive list of dishes that go with Swedish Meatballs!
Looking for more vegetarian Scandinavian recipes? Give these a try:
I hope you give these Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs a try, whether you are a vegetarian or not. They are a fun, plant-based twist on the original. And don't forget the lingonberry sauce or lingonberry jam and fresh pickled cucumbers to go with! It's a classic (and delicious) combination. If you do make them at home, let me know what you think in the comments below!
Really Good Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs
For the Meatballs:
- 1 cup brown or green lentils picked over and rinsed
- 2 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms cleaned and quartered
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ½ teaspoon packed brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 onion chopped fine
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
For the Gravy:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1-2 pinches of ground nutmeg more to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped fresh parsley or chives
- Make the Meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the lentils, bay leaf and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until lentils are starting to become tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils, remove the bay leaf and set aside.
- Transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add lentils, oats, parsley, salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice and pepper. Process until mixture is very finely chopped, about 7 or 8 pulses.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add lentil and mushroom mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to dry out and is begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add white wine and soy sauce and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Set aside until it is just warm to the touch.
- Add eggs. Mix until fully combined.
- Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon measure, transfer spoonfuls of the mixture to the prepared sheet pans. Roll each spoonful into a smooth ball, dampening your hands if necessary to prevent sticking.
- Transfer the sheet pans to the oven and bake until the meatballs are browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating the pans halfway through. Set meatballs aside.
- Make the Gravy: Melt butter in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute. Add broth and soy sauce, whisking constantly. Simmer until reduced slightly. Add cream and nutmeg and return to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you loved this recipe, give it a star review! Also, snap a picture of your Really Good Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag #truenorthkitchen and tagging me @true_north_kitchen.