Vegan Italian Meatballs

Crispy and browned vegan lentil meatballs on a bowl of spaghetti. Marinara sauce and vegan parmesan cheese on top.

Welcome to Pasta-based! This blog has been a growing idea in our heads for a while now. Since the beginning of our relationship, five years ago, we loved cooking and creating recipes together.

A couple weeks into our relationship, Matt cooked a homemade Penne alla Vodka dish for Valentine’s Day. Shortly after that, I taught Matt how to make my mom’s sauce and traditional Italian comfort food.

Spending so much time cooking together, I think it’s safe to say that we fell in love in the kitchen.

Vegan Meatballs Recipe by Pasta-based. Lentils, Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs, cremini baby bella mushrooms, fresh onion, fresh garlic cloves, flax egg, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper in a small wooden bowl.

We transitioned to plant-based eating over a year ago. At first, it wasn’t easy because food was such a big part of our relationship. Italian food was also a comforting memory from growing up and eating with family. So we set out on a mission to re-create the recipes we love, but only using plant-based ingredients.

Overhead view of the food processor with the meatball ingredients in it, not yet mixed. Breadcrumbs, mushrooms, onions, lentils, parsley and a flax egg. Garlic, parsley and mushrooms are scattered around in the blurry background.

I grew up in an Italian-American family, in a neighborhood where there was a pizzeria on every corner. A lot of my cooking has always been focused around Italian cuisine. That’s why this blog will have mostly traditional Italian recipes, all vegan and keeping taste a top priority.

Hands hovering over a red mixing bowl full of lentil vegan meatball mixture. Hands are rolling the mixture into a perfect ball. The other half of the photo is a frying pan with oil that is frying rolled meatballs.

Starting with the most traditional Italian-American recipe – spaghetti and meatballs. In my house, sauce and meatballs were standard for Sunday family dinners. Before switching to a plant-based diet, I don’t think I’ve gone a week in my life without eating spaghetti and meatballs.

White plate with spaghetti and vegan meatballs covered in red sauce and parsley garnished.

The heart of this post – the FOOD!

We put our own spin on Italian meatballs to make them vegan. This recipe uses lentils for the bulk/protein and mushrooms for the savory flavor. For binding, we used a ground flax + water mixture – which is an awesome substitute for egg.

You can fry these vegan Italian meatballs in olive oil for a crispier result, or you can bake them if you want to go the healthier route.  Either way, the taste will bring you right back to meatball bliss.

Crispy and browned vegan lentil meatballs on a bowl of spaghetti. Marinara sauce and vegan parmesan cheese on top.

If you like this recipe, you might also want to try our cauliflower vegan meatballs!  You could even sub these lentil meatballs instead of using the cauliflower meatballs on our vegan meatball subs!

Lastly, please come back often for updates and plenty more vegan and vegetarian Italian recipes! 

Oh, and if you make these vegan Italian meatballs and love them, please comment below or tag us on social media @pastabased!

4.2 from 78 votes
Vegan Italian Meatballs
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
45 mins

Vegan Meatballs, Italian-style, made with savory mushrooms and bulky lentils. Baked or fried until crispy on the outside. A classic Italian plant-based dinner.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 9 golf-ball sized balls
Calories per Serving: 121 kcal
Author: Pasta-based
  • 1 cup cooked brown/green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil *
  • 1 cup yellow onion chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 3/4 cup cremini mushrooms chopped
  • 1 flax egg **
  • 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs vegan
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt + pepper (each)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (for frying, skip if baking)
  1. To cook dry lentils (skip this step if using canned lentils): Cook 1/2 cup (54 g) dry lentils on stovetop, using 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) water. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until they are tender. About 15-20 minutes. Drain if needed and measure out 1 cup (192 g) cooked lentils for the recipe.

  2. *Make a flax egg by mixing together 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 2.5 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes to thicken. 

  3. Meanwhile, chop yellow onion, garlic and cremini mushrooms. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, add chopped veggies to pan and sauté until soft. About 5 minutes.

  4. Once vegetables are soft and lentils are cooked, add to food processor along with breadcrumbs, fresh parsley, flax egg, and salt + pepper.  Pulse ingredients until combined. Use a spatula to scrape down sides as needed. You’ll want the mixture to be well-combined, very mushy and sticky.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

  2. Roll each ball between your hands to form golf-ball sized balls. Place evenly spaced on a lightly greased baking sheet. 

  3. Bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes. Rotate each ball and reshape if needed every 10 minutes. (The longer you leave them in the oven, the crispier the outside will become).

  1. If frying, heat 1/4 cup (54 g) olive oil on medium-heat in a large skillet. Roll the mixture into golf-ball sized balls and add to hot oil – be careful because it can splash. Carefully turn balls as they start to brown on each side. 

  2. As each ball gets browned, place them on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb some excess oil.

  3. Serve warm or freeze for later.***

Recipe Notes
  • *If you plan to bake the balls and you don’t want to use olive oil, you can substitute the oil for a few tablespoons of vegetable broth or water instead.
  • ***This recipe is SO perfect to make ahead and freeze! Bake or fry first, then freeze in tupperware for another time. Reheat in oven at 350°F (177°C) until warm (about 15-20 minutes), the outside will be slightly more crispy but this makes me LOVE them even more!
  • Serve over pasta with tomato sauce.
  • This recipe makes about 9 golf ball-sized balls.

Nutrition Facts
Vegan Italian Meatballs
Amount Per Serving (1 ball)
Calories 121 Calories from Fat 71
% Daily Value*
Fat 7.9g12%
Saturated Fat 1.1g7%
Sodium 28mg1%
Potassium 18mg1%
Carbohydrates 9.8g3%
Fiber 1.7g7%
Sugar 2.8g3%
Protein 3.4g7%
Vitamin A 200IU4%
Vitamin C 5.3mg6%
Calcium 27mg3%
Iron 1.5mg8%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.



  1. Reply


    May 31, 2017

    5 stars
    This was my first go at homemade meatballs and they were delicious!!! I do have one question I was hoping you might have some advice for: I made a bulk version of it by following the recipe x6 (that’s how many cups of lentils I made) because I like to make and freeze. While they were super tasty, they were a tad soft after cooked and mixed with sauce. Do you think with me making such a large batch I should have added more flax egg or breadcrumbs? I do want to make it very clear that these are delicious meatballs and it was probably an oversight on my part. I will never buy store bought again. Just hoping you may have some insight on this SMALL dilemma. Thanks for your time. With the success of this recipe, you are def one of my go-to’s now.

    • Reply


      June 1, 2017

      Hi Keith,

      That’s great news that you had success multiplying the recipe like that! We haven’t had an issue with them being soft when added to the sauce, but maybe that’s because we eat them all too fast haha! It might be hard to avoid them going soft, since they are only browned on the outside. My only suggestions would be to either cook the lentils a little less so they are a little firmer (but still cooked), or brown them a little longer so the outside is crispier.

      If we experiment with this, I will let you know the result. Let us know if you end up making again and if there was any success 🙂 Take care and thanks for checking us out!

  2. Reply


    June 24, 2017

    5 stars
    Hi there! This looks delicious! I was wondering if these could be made in advance and then frozen? If so, would you freeze them before or after frying?
    I am trying to transition to a plant based diet, and I’m trying to make it as easy as possible 🙂

    • Reply


      June 27, 2017

      Hi Kailey – thanks for your kind words!

      Your best bet would probably be to fry them, let them cool and then freeze. You can either fry again, bake them or warm them in pasta sauce when you want to eat 🙂

      • Reply


        June 28, 2017

        I did the recipe for 3 servings & my mix is way too soft. I cannot roll it into a ball. What can I add more of to make it firm?

        • Reply


          June 28, 2017

          Hi Micaela!

          If the mixture is too moist, then you’ll want to add more breadcrumbs. Add slowly until the mix seems to be the correct consistency to roll into balls. We haven’t had an issue with this before, so let us know how it turns out! 🙂

  3. Reply


    July 4, 2017

    Can these be baked? The mix is delicious but frying did not go well for me.

    • Reply


      July 6, 2017

      Hi Alyssa,

      Yes, they can be baked! Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes, flipping halfway through. 25 minutes does the trick, and 35 minutes will be a little crispier. Hope that works out well for you!

  4. Reply


    July 8, 2017

    Hi Steph & Matt,
    I’m located in the Springs and serendipitously found your blog today! Yay! My boyfriend and I saw the new “What The Health!” on Netflix over the 4th and now we, too, are switching (well, he’s still “unsure” if he can do it…) to a plant based diet. I have also begun a wellness blog recently and will def be advocating recipes and the like! First I have to try and make some… 🙂 And we can empathize with your story, food lovers to the core– we first fell in love over our mutual fondness for deserts. I’m from the east coast (Chris is a Colorado native) but so I love that you brought the Italian cuisine out here to Colorado! Thank you for your beautiful blog of helpfulness and inspiration. Wish you both the best!

    • Reply


      July 15, 2017

      Hi Alicia!

      Thanks for the awesome comment 🙂 !! I’m so happy you’re liking our blog and getting inspired. We watched “What The Health!” recently too – it’s soooo interesting and eye-opening. Italian food is what I know best so it’s fun to play around with ingredients and show that you can eat vegan without sacrificing flavor or giving up on traditional meals. It can be a little tough to begin eating plant-based but it’s really fun once you get used to it. If you have any questions about it, please feel free to reach out! I’d love to check out your blog too, what’s it called?

      – Stephanie

  5. Reply


    July 12, 2017

    5 stars
    Wow!!! Super delicious. Fed this to my husband who loves meat and he really enjoyed it.

  6. Reply


    July 12, 2017

    5 stars
    Wow!!! Super delicious. Fed this to my husband who loves meat and he really enjoyed it. I baked mines and they were still very moist and a bit crunchy which we enjoyed.

    • Reply


      July 12, 2017

      Thanks for the great review, Angel. The baking method has been working out very well for us, too!

  7. Reply


    July 14, 2017

    5 stars
    The taste of these was amazing the only issue I had was when I baked them they flattened all the way out. Would adding more bread crumbs help? Maybe my veggies were to moist. Please help I really love these and will eat them flat if I have to ?

    • Reply


      July 15, 2017

      Oh no! That’s really odd, I’ve never had that happen when I made these. Hmmm.. the side that’s down on the baking sheet might turn out a little flatter. I’m really not sure! I’m sorry I can’t help more. I’m happy you like the flavor though! Please let me know if you try it again and if they come out any better.

      • Reply


        August 27, 2017

        Same thing happened to me…they flattened! Can’t figure out why????

  8. Reply


    August 10, 2017

    Hello! I was wondering if the mushrooms added anything that effects the texture and are a “must-have” for the recipe? I’m not a big fan but didn’t want to mess up the meatballs if they were a necessity in the consistency or anything like that!

    • Reply


      August 10, 2017

      Hi Patsy!

      I’ve actually disliked mushrooms my whole life, and have more recently started using them more. I promise that the mushrooms in this recipes do not stand out and meld together perfectly with the other flavors! We haven’t tried making them without the mushrooms, so I’m not exactly sure how it would work without them since it’s quite a bit (3/4 cup). Maybe give it a go with the mushrooms or you could try adding extra of the other veggies to replace the 3/4 cup mushrooms. Hope this helps!

  9. Reply

    Lorelei Hancock

    August 29, 2017

    5 stars
    Found this recipe on Pinterest and made them today. They were absolutely fabulous! The only problem was we didn’t have any leftovers. Next time I will double the recipe. Thank you!

    • Reply


      September 3, 2017

      Hi Lorelei,

      That’s awesome! It makes what we do very fulfilling when we get comments like this. Thank you for trying it and your great feedback – we hope you have a chance to make another recipe on our site sometime 🙂

  10. Reply


    December 3, 2017

    5 stars
    AMAZING! This is a GREAT recipe! For health reasons I am not permitted to eat loads of animal protein, so I am always looking for vegetarian or vegan recipes to try. This one is a keeper! Thank you and have a great day.

    • Reply


      December 3, 2017

      Thank you, Ariane! So glad you liked the meatballs.

  11. Reply


    December 19, 2017

    4 stars
    Just made these and followed the recipe. I decided to bake them and they turned out okay. I made 13 meatballs and baked them for 20 minutes. Since they were too soft to turn then, I sprayed them with olive oil spray and baked for another 15 minutes. I think next time I would leave out the pepper and make them smaller so that there is more crust because I found them to be a little too soft for my liking. I will try again!

    • Reply


      December 20, 2017

      Thanks for trying them, Kelly! I once made a double-batch and froze half of them. I found they were crispier after reheating. To do this, bake or fry first, then freeze in tupperware for another time. Reheat in oven at 350F until warm (about 15-20 minutes).

  12. Reply


    January 3, 2018

    These look great – but my intense hatred for lentils keeps me away. Do you think I could substitute them with chickpeas or another protein like beans?

    • Reply


      January 3, 2018

      I think chickpeas could work but they are not usually as mushy which makes me wonder about the texture. I would try using white beans instead, like cannellini, great northern, or navy beans. Let me know how it goes if you try it!

  13. Reply


    January 3, 2018

    Any alternatives to the flax? I have an allergy to flax seeds. Thanks!

    • Reply


      January 3, 2018

      Hi Vanessa, you can try using chia seeds instead. It’s going to be the same measurements for a chia egg (1 tbsp chia to 2.5 tbsp water). Let sit for a few minutes to thicken.

      • Reply


        January 4, 2018

        Thank you!

  14. Reply

    Bonita Mizejewski

    February 8, 2018

    So want to try this…….but not a big fan of garlic or mushrooms. Is there something I can use in place of? Thank you

  15. Reply


    February 23, 2018

    Do you think I could make it with red lentils, or would they get too soft. I have a huge bag of red lentils to use up. :). These look amazing! I can’t wait to try them! Thanks!

    • Reply


      February 23, 2018

      Yes, they will be softer with red lentils but the flavors should still be fine. It’s up to you if you’re okay with a softer bite!

  16. Reply


    February 28, 2018

    pouvez vous me donner les quantités en grammes au lieu d’une mesure d’un verre. car j’ai hate de réaliser votre recette.

    • Reply


      March 1, 2018

      Hello Ava! Thank you for the suggestion. I added the metric conversions on this recipe now. You can find the measurements by clicking “Metric” underneath the ingredients list.

  17. Reply


    March 23, 2018

    I was wondering how rice cakes would work instead of vegan bread crumbs? Run them through the food processor of course but I have some to use up.

    • Reply


      March 27, 2018

      Hmm.. sounds like that might actually work. Let me know if you try it!

  18. Reply


    April 7, 2018

    5 stars
    This looks super yum, I’m a vego but I eat eggs, so I just wondering if I can substitute for real eggs instead of the flax egg? Thank you! 🙂

  19. Reply


    June 28, 2018

    These look delicious! I’m going to attempt to make them today and only have baby bella mushrooms on hand, will they work as well?

    • Reply


      July 4, 2018

      Yes, baby bella is perfect.

  20. Reply

    Marco Della Corte

    August 6, 2018

    5 stars
    I love this recipe… except for the part where she says most authentic dish spaghetti & meatballs. Clearly she hasn’t been here to Italy they dont EAT that stuff. But recipe was amazing.

  21. Reply


    October 15, 2018

    For a gluten free version what should i substitute Italian bread crumbs for?

    • Reply


      October 16, 2018

      Hi Svetlana, you might be able to find gluten-free breadcrumbs at your grocery store. We actually used a brand of gluten-free breadcrumbs for this recipe.

  22. Reply

    Justin Smith

    December 3, 2018

    I am looking forward to trying this. I was wondering it the “meat” mixture would also be suitable for lasagna. Is there a way to make it form crumbles in a frying pan? Maybe add more flour/breadcrumbs?

    • Reply


      December 14, 2018

      I haven’t tried that before but it sounds like you got some good ideas there. I’ll have to test that one out, it might work really well.

  23. Reply


    March 16, 2019

    4 stars

    I made these fornmy family tonight, followed your recipe to the T. But noticed that after frying them they were super soft in the inside. Not all a meatball texture which was a little disappointing. Very tasty i even added a bell pepper. I noticed a few other people commented that theirs were soft too. Perhaps you as the creater can shed some light.

    Thanks for sharing Vegan recipes.

    • Reply


      April 2, 2019

      I think it helps if the lentils do not have a lot of moisture in them. I always try to press the moisture out of the lentils through a colander and the meatballs do not come out mushy. Thanks for your comment!

  24. Reply


    October 14, 2019

    Hi there, just came across these and can’t wait to try!! Just wondering I usually pan sauté my meatballs first then add them to my sauce and let them continue cooking with the sauce to get more flavour and I find it makes meatballs more moist. Do you think the additional cooking with my sauce might cause them to fall apart?

  25. Reply


    January 8, 2020

    Hey there I wanted to try this tonight for the first time aaa vegan and Just wondering I usually (well use to) pan sauté my meatballs first then add them to my sauce and let them continue cooking with the sauce to get more flavor. Do you think the additional cooking with my sauce might cause them to fall apart?

    Thank you so much, Can’t wait to try it!

  26. Reply

    KC LaRova

    January 23, 2020

    I’ve read all the comments looking for an answer to my 2 questions, and while I found my questions, they were the two left unanswered, so I’ll give it a try asking. 1. Can real eggs be substituted for the flax egg? and 2. I also usually bake my meatballs in the oven and then cook them longer in sauce. Will these fall apart if I do that? I want to make these for a friend next week. Thank you!!!

  27. Reply


    April 14, 2020

    5 stars
    My husband and I really enjoyed these! I needed comfort food today and served these with vegan mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy and steamed broccoli instead of pasta and sauce. Definitely a keeper!!

    I baked them and they held together just fine. My recommendation to those who said they flattened in the oven: don’t overcook the lentils, make sure the flax egg has time to sit before you add it and rotate each 10 min during baking as mentioned in the instructions.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

    • Reply


      July 14, 2020

      Thank you so much for the pointers and we are so happy you both loved this recipe! That sounds like a deliciously healthy meal but also so comforting. You are very welcome and we hope you and your loved ones are staying safe during these crazy times!

  28. Reply


    April 18, 2020

    5 stars
    This recipe was great ! I was able to sub the mushrooms for 3/4c of onions,carrots, & red peppers. Instead of the breadcrumbs I used almond flour mixed in with Italian seasoning, but I made sure this mix didn’t exceed the 1/2c. They came out so good, I made extras to freeze for later.

    • Reply


      July 14, 2020

      That’s awesome, Lydia! Thank you for sharing your updates and we are so glad you successfully made extra to freeze for later! Who doesn’t love having homemade goodies ready to go in the freezer when we don’t feel like or have time to prepare fresh.

  29. Reply


    December 4, 2020

    5 stars
    Hello, I just want to thank you for this amazing recipe. We’re a Mexican-American family, and much like Italians, our lives revolve around family and food. My son (age 17) decided to become vegetarian about 2 years ago because he loves animals and couldn’t stand the thought of eating them. Since then, I’ve struggled to find delicious meatless recipes for him. He actually hates mushrooms, but he couldn’t even tell this recipe has mushrooms!! I owe you big time!!!

    • Reply


      December 6, 2020

      I’m so happy to hear that you tried the recipe and that your son liked it! I can definitely relate and that’s why I was so inspired to start sharing recipes here. I hope you come back and try another recipe soon. Thank you!!

  30. Reply


    January 23, 2021

    5 stars
    Very tasty “meatballs”. I’ve made them twice now. I double the recipe and freeze them. We really enjoy them. Thank you!

  31. Reply


    October 5, 2021

    do you think oat flour or rice flour would work as a gluten free replacement? Which do you think would be better?

    • Reply


      October 18, 2021

      Gosh I’m sorry Rebecca, I’m not that familiar with GF replacements. If you do try, please let me know how it turns out.

  32. Reply

    Sangeeta sethi

    August 12, 2017

    5 stars
    Awesum …recipe….wth loads of vitamins riched veggies


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