Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Eggplant Chickpea Meatballs with Tangy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

A so-called meatball should probably have some meat in it, but I’d say eggplant is like the meat of the vegetable world. Eggplant is versatile, hearty and substantial—it’s meaty. It’s one of the only vegetables that can stand alone as an entire meal for non-vegetarians like me. Grilled, fried, layered in eggplant parmesan, rolled up neatly for eggplant rollatini, or presented in the wonderfully dippable ways of babaganoush and caponata, aubergine is the star of so many of my favorite dishes and snacks. And I’ve just added these eggplant chickpea meatballs to the list.

This was my first experience making eggplant meatballs, or any kind of non-meaty meatballs for that matter, but as a concept it really just made so much sense. A combination of eggplant, chickpeas, roasted red peppers, and elements of traditional meatballs like fresh basil, garlic, and grated Parmigiano-Regianno cheese; it is literally all of the things I love rolled into one. Though breadcrumb and egg are also added, the chickpeas act as a great binder and give a bit of a falafel feel to the meatballs, which I’m sure many people would agree could never be a bad thing.

The tangy roasted red pepper dipping sauce takes the already-flavorful meatballs over the top. Being that I used all ingredients that I had in the house, I made the sauce with a jar of marinated roasted red peppers, which I think are already pretty awesome. Sautéed garlic and onion and a healthy dose of sherry vinegar add punch for a sauce that tempts double dipping. I presented the meatballs as an appetizer on toothpicks with the sauce on the side, but they would be just as good over a bowl of spaghetti.

Yield: 24 small meatballs
Tangy Red Pepper Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup jarred marinated roasted red peppers, drained & pureed in food processor
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Eggplant Chickpea Meatballs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus about ½ cup for frying
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups peeled & diced eggplant (about 1 small eggplant), minced fine in food processor
- ½ 15.5 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained & pureed to a paste in food processor
- ½ cup jarred marinated roasted red peppers, drained & diced fine
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1 ½ - 2 cups plain/unseasoned breadcrumb (can use panko, if desired)
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
1)  First prepare the red pepper sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the red pepper puree and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vinegar flavor is less intense, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar, salt and pepper, and taste to make sure the flavor is right. Add more sugar, salt, or pepper if needed. Set aside.
2)  To make the meatballs: In a small pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, add the cooked onion and garlic, eggplant, garbanzo bean puree, roasted pepper, basil, egg, breadcrumb, cheese, salt and pepper; mix until well combined. Form the mixture into small balls, about the size of ping pong balls.
3)  Heat ½ cup olive oil or more in a large, deep frying pan (the oil should reach halfway up the side of the meatball and sizzle when the meatball is placed in.) Cook the meatballs until browned on one side; turn only once and cook until evenly browned on the other side. Drain on a paper towel-lined tray. Serve the meatballs warm on toothpicks with the roasted pepper sauce or over pasta. Grate a little Parmigiano over the top, if desired. 

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