Creamy and Comforting VEGAN Swedish Meatballs (GF/V)

Vegan Swedish Meatballs

Let me just start by saying this: yes, it is possible to make delicious “meatballs” that are vegan. Don’t believe me? Just try these ultra-delectable vegan Swedish meatballs. Oh, and they’re gluten-free too!

We start with nutty walnuts, and combine them with cooked lentils, brown rice, a flax egg, and breadcrumbs to make these vegan Swedish meatballs perfectly chewy with a texture just like regular meatballs. Then we top them with the most savory, creamy, velvety mushroom gravy we could dream up! Seriously, I could eat this meal every single day, and I would be totally and completely content. Want to make them?

Let’s party!

Why make these vegan Swedish meatballs.

vegan meatballs in a cast iron pan.

Ryan and I both come from Scandinavian families, and we’ve always viewed my grandmother’s traditional Swedish meatball recipe as a huge treat. I mean, who doesn’t love savory, meaty meatballs smothered in delicious, rich gravy?

This recipe for vegan Swedish meatballs came about after we’d been vegan for about a year, and we were still learning how to substitute vegan ingredients for traditional protein sources. I missed my grandmother Mimi’s Swedish meatballs desperately, but wanted to find a way to “plant-ify” them to coincide with my vegan diet. However, I didn’t want to compromise on the flavor, texture, or wholesomeness of Mimi’s recipe. Oh, and they had to be gluten-free, too, because of my allergy.

Over the next year or two, we must have tried about five or six different formulations of vegan “meat” for these meatballs, including store bought stuff, and gradually got closer and closer. Finally, we got the combination just right! Then, we set about making a sauce that would be mostly savory with a slight tang to keep things interesting and light on the palate. I’m confident that what we ended up with would make Mimi and all the other Scandinavian “mormors” (grandmas) out there proud, even if they might be a bit skeptical of vegan meatballs. 😉

Why this recipe works.

Vegan Swedish meatballs

Vegan meat substitutes can be a bit daunting. There are tons of different ways to make them, and lots of store-bought options out there. And, I’ll admit that things have gotten a lot better over the years. However, I still get weirded out by some of the unpronounceable ingredients in the ultra-processed vegan meat options. I may get flak for this, but they make me wonder how much healthier and better for the environment they actually are when compared good quality, minimally processed, locally sourced meats. Of course, anything is better than factory farmed animal products, so I’m all for doing whatever it takes to cut those off your menu. But, for me, I personally like to make my own meat substitutes using ingredients that are responsibly sourced, familiar, and packed with good nutrients.

Thus, the resulting recipe is really simple. Let’s break it down:
  • Walnuts: Walnuts are the key to adding beautiful, chewy texture to your meatballs.
  • Lentils: To me, lentils are the most savory bean. We simmer our lentils in vegetable broth and a dash of soy sauce for extra umami. Lentils also tend to stay moist during the cooking process, so they help ensure your meatballs won’t be too dry.
  • Cooked, chilled brown rice: This is “Part 2” of your texture. If you really wanna go all “Bill Nye” on this recipe, try poking a cooked hamburger or meatball gently with your finger (I know it sounds weird). You’ll notice that if you press on it, it actually bounces back a little. Therefore, you’ll want to recreate that bouncy elasticity in your vegan meat substitute, if you’re into that. Adding cooked (but not overcooked!), chilled brown rice to your recipe will basically reproduce that texture.
  • Panko breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs are used in traditional meatball recipes, too. I use gluten-free panko here, firstly because I’m GF, but also because I like how light and fluffy panko is. It will prevent your meatballs from being dense little edible golfballs. No one likes that.
  • Flax tapioca egg: This plant-based egg substitute will do the exact same thing as a regular egg. You don’t want your meatballs to fall apart, so be sure not to skip out on using this awesome, plant-based binder!

On top of those base ingredients, we add a combination of garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil for delicious, additional flavor.

For the sauce:

Meatballs and mushroom gravy with parsley on top.

Our sauce is even simpler than the meatballs. Mushrooms are the key because of their meaty, umami flavor. You know how much I love mushrooms if you’ve spent any time poking around on this site, too. Just sauté those beauties alongside onion and garlic, then add some vegetable broth and simmer.

Next, you add your secret weapon ingredient: plain vegan yogurt. A lot of Swedish meatball recipes use cream cheese in the sauce, and it makes sense why. It’s tangy, which is the perfect foil for the uber-rich mushrooms and broth. We used the same logic here, and added some generous dollops of Kite Hill’s SPECTACULAR plant-based almond yogurt. Mmmmm…

You may have to thicken the gravy slightly with some cornstarch or tapioca starch slurry (see the recipe) to reach your texture preference for the gravy, but this largely depends on how watery your mushrooms are. Otherwise, once you stir in the vegan yogurt, you’re all ready to garnish with some fresh parsley and serve!

These easy vegan Swedish meatballs are so satisfying, we doubt you’ll miss the meat. I turn to this recipe every time I’m in the mood for some indulgent comfort food, but prefer something that’s healthy and more sustainable.

This recipe will serve 4 people comfortably, but if you’re feeling like getting your meal prep on or are feeding the fam, you can easily double it. You can also freeze the meatballs and sauce together, or store them in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Eat up and enjoy! Leave us a comment and rate the recipe if you try it. Be sure to snap a pic, too, and tag it #savorharvest so we can see your handiwork!

Oh, and if you’re into more vegan comfort classics, try out our vegan mushroom lasagna, ultra-creamy plant-based mac and cheese, tender plant-based meat loaf, or Shuggie’s seriously southern slow-cooked lima beans.

Cozy and Comforting Vegan Swedish Meatballs

These chewy, meaty, plant-based Swedish meatballs are made with a base of rice, lentils, and walnuts. They're then baked to perfection and topped with creamy, velvety, rich mushroom and onion gravy. If you're looking for the perfect, plant-based comfort food, definitely give these easy vegan Swedish meatballs a go.

For the vegan meatballs:

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (chilled)
  • 1 cup cooked green lentils (*see recipe instruction #1)
  • 1 cup walnut halves and pieces
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 flax tapioca eggs (*see link to recipe)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (*use GF if needed)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. fresh garlic (chopped)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the Swedish meatball sauce

  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or vegan butter
  • 1 yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms (sliced)
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp. fresh garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup Kite Hill Plain almond yogurt (or other plain, non-dairy yogurt)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)

Optional gravy thickener (highly recommended):

  • 2 tbsp. tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • 4 tbsp. water

To assemble the vegan meatballs:

  1. Before preparing meatballs, cook rice and lentils. For extra umami flavor, replace half of lentils' simmering liquid with vegetable broth, and add 1 tbsp. of soy sauce. Cook lentils and rice according to package directions. Chill rice before using.

  2. Preheat oven to 400ºF. To the bowl of a food processor, add the walnuts, and process until very finely chopped (i.e. the texture of coarse sand).

  3. Add rice, lentils, flax eggs, Panko, soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to the food processor, and process until the mixture is completely combined and resembles the texture of ground meat.

  4. Oil a large baking dish or cast iron pan. Transfer the meatball base mixture to a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, form the meatball mixture into golfball-sized meatballs and place them about an inch apart in the oiled pan.

  5. Place meatballs in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, remove meatballs from the oven. Very gently use a thin metal spatula to loosen them from the pan and flip them over to the opposite side so that they cook evenly. Return them to the oven, and bake for another 15 minutes.

To make the sauce:

  1. While the meatballs are baking, make your sauce.

  2. Using the olive oil or vegan butter, oil a cast iron pan and place it over medium heat. Add onion and salt and pepper and sauté until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown (about 5 minutes). Add chopped garlic and stir until garlic is also beginning to brown (about 30 seconds).

  3. Add mushrooms and sauté until they have released their liquid and are beginning to turn tender and brown (about 7-10 minutes).

  4. Add vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the vegan yogurt, lower the heat, and stir immediately and vigorously until the yogurt is fully dispersed into the sauce.

For the optional gravy thickener:

  1. Depending on how much water your mushrooms contain or how thick your vegan yogurt is, you will probably need to thicken your gravy.

  2. Make a gravy thickener by combining tapioca starch or cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Make sure they are well mixed.

  3. Add the gravy thickener to the mushroom gravy just before serving, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the it reaches your desired thickness. If you like a thinner gravy, you can reduce the gravy thickener recipe by half.

To serve:

  1. Remove meatballs from the oven after they've finished baking. Spoon gravy over the meatballs and stir very gently to coat them. Top with fresh parsley. Spoon the meatballs and gravy over gluten-free egg noodles, or roasted potatoes, or serve alongside a freshly tossed arugula salad.

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