The holidays are just around the corner, and I know many of us are looking forward to tucking into a plate of Swedish Meatballs, complete with mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumbers.
But what what if you or someone in your family doesn't eat meat? 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 a surprisingly tasty and satisfying alternative to traditional meatballs.
I did my research on this recipe before starting, and even tried a few different methods for creating the meatballs before landing on this one which is adapted from the outstanding vegetarian food blog, Cookie and Kate. Her recipe offers more traditional Italian flavors, but I figured with a little tweaking it wouldn't be too hard to find my way into a Swedish version.
So What Makes Meatballs Swedish?
Swedish meatballs, vegetarian or not, have certain characteristics that set them apart from meatballs from other cultures:
- 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 gravy with Stirred Lingonberries and Fresh Pickled Cucumbers alongside. This trio of savory, sweet and tangy is an unforgettable combination that hits all the right flavor notes.
- Swedish meatballs are often served alongside mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles. Both are delicious!
The ingredient list here is a little longer than some of my other recipes, but each one plays an important role in these delicious Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs, Here are a few of the essentials:
- 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.
These Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs involve a two step process, but the result is well worth a little extra effort:
- Simmer the lentils 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.
- 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 and add to your creamy gravy to warm 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.
To Make Ahead
You can make these Swedish Meatballs ahead and they freeze beautifully for about a month. Skip the sauce and just pop them in a Ziploc bag and take them out as you need them. The recipe makes about 45 meatballs so I will often serve half right away and stash the rest in the freezer for another time. I like to defrost them in the fridge overnight and then just add them straight to the gravy.
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 stirred lingonberries or store bought lingonberry jam and fresh pickled cucumbers to go with! It's a classic (and delicious) combination. If you do give them a try, 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.
- Add meatballs to gravy and simmer briefly to reheat. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives if desired. Serve with Lingonberry Sauce or store-bought lingonberry jam and Quick Swedish Pickled Cucumbers.
Sounds absolutely delicious . I will try this recipe as soon as possible.
Yay! Let me know how they turn out for you!
Sounds yummy. How integral is the sugar... can it be omitted?
Hi Tess, you can definitely omit the sugar. I hope you give them a try! Kristi
A Christmas Eve staple and I will DEFINITELY add this version for our vegetarians! Thank you so much for this recipe.
That's so good to hear! They are a staple at our house on Christmas Eve, too. Enjoy!
A lot of vegetarian substitute recepies take more time than the carnivorous counterparts (eg veggie burgers) but this one is about the same or less, not to mention less cleanup. I will double the gravy next time but the flavors and textures are spot on! Thank you!
Thanks so much for your comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed them. I totally agree with you on doubling the gravy, and I will probably change the recipe to reflect that helpful feedback. I was on the fence about it when the recipe was published so it's super helpful to know you felt the same way. Thank you again for taking the time to leave me a note. It is greatly appreciated!
So is the sauce recipe, as currently posted, doubled now? Or should we double it if we want to take Art’s advice?
Hi Luke, you should double it.
This looks good. Can I substitute light cream or half and half bc they are cheaper or do I need the thickness of heavy cream?
You can substitute light cream or half and half BUT you have to be careful not to let the mixture come to a boil. Because of the lower fat content of these dairy products, the sauce will have a tendency to separate if it boils. So once you add the light cream or half and half, simply heat the mixture until it is beginning to bubble around the edges and then turn off the heat. Hope this helps!
I made triple with this recipe and bhoy they're not just good, they're delicious . Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, your effort and unselfish talent really appreciated very much. As I said I tripled the recipe so I can just freeze them. But I didn't made just for meatballs though.I made it to 3 different kind of dish. Meatballs, meatloaf and a hamburger . They're all wonderfully made. Thanks again.
Thanks so much for your feedback! I'm so glad you enjoyed the meatballs (and hamburgers and meatloaf)! I really appreciate you taking the time to drop me a note and let me know how they turned out for you. Happy cooking and baking!
Thanks for the recipe! What is the best way to re-heat these after freezing?
Thanks for your question! If you plan to make the gravy, the best way is to just pop them directly in the sauce, cover the pan, and let them warm through on low heat. You can always add a splash of water if necessary to keep the gravy from becoming too thick. If you are not making the gravy, you can put them in a glass baking dish and cover it with foil. Bake the meatballs in a 300-325 degree oven until warmed through. Hope this helps!
OMG SO delicious!! Thank you for this recipe! We've been to Sweden a couple of times and their meatballs are always my husband's favorite meal. I'm a vegetarian, so this recipe suits us both. He really loved these veg meatballs and, holy cow, that gravy is amazing. The nutmeg really makes it delicious! The only problem I had was that the mixture was too loose after I added the eggs, for some reason, so I couldn't pick up the mounds to roll in my hands. I just tried to shape them on the parchment paper as best as I could and they ended up holding together. So they were flat on one side - ha ha, but just as yummy! 🙂 Will definitely make this again. I may try the vegan butter and half and half next time to see if that is just as good. Tack!
Thank you for your feedback! I'm so glad you enjoyed the meatballs. They are a bit loose, but shouldn't be impossible to roll. Maybe try cooking the mixture for a longer period of time so that it dries out a little more and make sure your eggs are the large (rather than extra large) size. Happy New Year to you!
I loved the "meatballs". I know this is two years later, just found it two weeks ago. I am making them again but not cooking them in gravy, that will be separate. The meatballs by themselves are luscious. To solve the looseness, I have a frig that is a little bit colder than usual. I put the mixture in there a couple of hours until it cools and then they are less likely to fall apart.
Amazing recipe!! The gravy is seriously the best thing I have ever tasted!! I made the mistake of doubling the meatballs because I love leftovers, t was a bit unmanageable with the food processing. Will definitely be making again soon.
Thanks for your comment! I bet you had A LOT of meatballs! Luckily they freeze well so you should be good to go for awhile. Thanks again for taking the time to let me know how they turned out!
These were incredible from the texture through to the flavour - thank you so much 🙂
Thanks so much for your comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed the meatballs.
Are you suppose to measure lentils before or after you cook them?
You measure the lentils dry, before you cook them. Hope this helps!