Last-Minute Vegetarian Meatballs: A Story about Spontaneous Spaghetti Dinners

Vegetarian Meatballs

I know, it’s an oxymoron to call a meatball vegetarian, but if you have guests who don’t eat meat, they’ll appreciate your effort!

It’s 9:20 on a blustery Saturday morning, and we’ve had a desultory debate for three hours about what we should do today. We wanted to find some place beautiful and warm and relax away from school (we live on campus at a boarding school), even if it meant missing church. Unfortunately, the eastern snowcopalypse has leaned towards northern Arizona, bringing high winds and cooler temperatures to the entire region.

“We’d have to drive three hours to find warm weather,” I whine.

“We could spend the night somewhere,” Pedro suggests.

“But we promised to show up for staff horseback riding lessons at ten in the morning.”

“Oh. We’d have to get up really early to make it back on time.”

We look at each other in disappointment. We could have gone somewhere yesterday afternoon—but we had promised to show up for the elementary school puppet show, AND have the first through sixth grade students over for cookies and conversation after the program.

“We should just invite some people over for lunch after church,” Pedro ventures.

“Yeah.” I shrug and mentally tick through a list of “What Must Be Done Before I Want People Over.” Clean bathrooms: check. No big chunks on the floors: check. Spare toilet paper rolls in bathrooms: check. Out loud I say, “I think I have some food in the house.” Most days I’m too busy (or too disinclined) to go grocery shopping, and with only two of us at home now, I only cook a few times a week…in large quantities, because I don’t remember how to cook for two (we eat a lot of leftovers).

“Ok,” he replies. “I guess I’ll go to Sabbath School.” I nod absently and wander to the kitchen to stare at the cupboards. While I text my parents and nephew to invite them over (we work at the same school), Pedro dresses for church and heads out the door.

I stand in the kitchen and look at the cupboards. My mind enters warp speed and I quickly decide that we don’t have much, but I can throw together spaghetti and vegetarian meatballs in less than an hour. I dive in, happy that I keep ‘emergency supplies’ on hand for those random, “Oh, let’s have company” moments.

I don’t have to worry about making a dessert, because we have leftover cookies from last night. I start grabbing ingredients that I think go into the meatballs (it’s been awhile since I made them and I have no time to look for the recipe). Last time I made them, I promised myself that I’d bake the next batch instead of frying them, but I don’t have time to experiment. I’ll fry the ‘meatballs’ and compromise my do-it-healthier credo.

By 10:55, when the church bells ring for the second time, the meatballs are smothered in the jar of homemade spaghetti sauce I had at the back of the cupboard and heating up in the oven. The salad sits in the refrigerator and a pot of water simmers, ready for the noodles.

I throw on wool pants and a sweater and head out the door, glancing regretfully at the unset table (no point in setting it if I don’t know how many people will show up) and the fact that I didn’t notice the pile of cookie crumbs on the floor left by last night’s little visitors. Not my favorite way to entertain, but I’m learning random.

Two hours later, a happy group of ten sits around the table eating healthy cookies (that makes up for the fried meatballs, right?) and ice cream that my mom brought over (which I notice has half the fat of regular ice cream—score—it’s a healthy-ish meal after all).

No one noticed the pile of crumbs under the table, or that fact that the meal consisted of just bread, salad and spaghetti (along with the dessert). And the meatballs? Everyone loved them.

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Meatballs
Yields about 6 dozen small meatballs (they almost double in size after they’re baked in the spaghetti sauce)

1 cup bread crumbs (I make my own out of whole wheat bread)
1 cup pecans (grind in the blender until they’re in small chunks)
1 cup shredded cheese
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground sage
4 eggs

Oil for frying—start heating the oil first, so that it’s hot enough to fry the meatballs by the time you finish mixing them (like I said, you could probably bake these and it would be healthier).

This time I used a small saucepan with about three inches of oil in it—some times (if I have enough oil in the house) I use my electric fryer.

Mix everything but the oil together in a small bowl. Use a melon baller to scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of mix and carefully drop them into the hot oil. Fry until golden and remove the meatballs to a paper towel-covered plate to drain.

Fill a four-quart baking dish with spaghetti sauce (home made or store bought) and mix in the meatballs. Cover and bake for an hour (or however long it takes for church to get out 😉 ) at 350˚. I’ve used a lower temperature and baked them for up to two hours before.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Sarah

    Yum! I love your healthy-ish recipes. That’s my favorite type of food. Love the story behind this one, too….I am no good at spontaneous entertaining so I could learn a few things from you!

    • I’m glad you like ‘healthy-ish’ :)–it’s been a long journey, but now it’s habit. It took me a long time to realize that God wants my attitude to be hospitable–he doesn’t care if my carpet is clean ;).

  • Yum! Definitely going to use this one…
    Katie recently posted…The grace of the ordinaryMy Profile

    • My husband (a some times meat eater) loves them…I have to hide the leftovers ;).

  • The meatballs sound delicious! I was a vegetarian in my late teens, and I still love the occasional meatless meal.

    I love the randomness too. Hospitality is something I need to do better at. I want everything just perfect before people come over, but like you said – they won’t notice if it’s not perfect. They will notice the love and warmth and friendship. Great post!

    • I so understand the perfect hostess syndrome…and you’re so right–it’s the attitude of the hostess, not the cleanliness that they’ll notice.

  • Laura Melchor

    Yum!! I wish I could have joined you!

  • I like how you ended up making something out of what could have been a wasted day when your first-string plans didn’t work out. We’ve had days like that where we mean to do something and then just didn’t do it or had little things that we committed to and we can’t get out of. That recipe looks amazing too! I like how you incorporated the story with the recipe!
    Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Quiz: Find Your Scent with Glade Wax MeltsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Kirsten :). Let me know if you ever try them! I’m always curious as to what meat eaters think about vegetarian food (my husband’s opinion doesn’t count, because he eats mostly vegetarian and he’s a very nice critic 😉 ).

  • As a vegetarian I want to try this recipe! Yum!
    Roxy recently posted…what i wore – downtown Bastrop, TXMy Profile

    • 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Roxy! There are more vegetarian (and vegan) recipes. I hope you enjoy them!