Meatless Mondays "Meatball" Soup

January  5, 2012
Author Notes

When I saw the words “earthy,” “clean,” and “flavors” in the guidelines for the walnuts & sage contest, I moaned out loud. I’m so over the heavy flavors everywhere during the holidays, going back to Halloween. Too, I’ve be ruminating about a vegetarian “meatball” for a while. Meatless Mondays have been on the agenda for some time. A current goal is to extend the practice to multiple nights of any week. So here we all are. —boulangere

Test Kitchen Notes

Boulangere’s Meatless "Meatball" Soup is a wonderful recipe. It is simple enough to make for a weekday dinner, it can be put together with mostly pantry ingredients, and, best of all, it is truly delicious. The unusual chickpea “meatballs” are filled with vibrant flavors. My husband, daughter and I all gave raves to the combination of fresh sage, toasted walnuts, golden panko breadcrumbs and chickpeas. It’s reminiscent of a falafel, but with sunny Mediterranean flavors. The only adjustment I made was slightly upping the amounts of sage and walnuts. The meatballs are served in a simple, but beguiling soup consisting of cauliflower and spinach simmered with broth (I used vegetable) and just a hint of Meyer lemon. It’s a fresh, healthy tasting, satisfying soup all on its own, but it also works splendidly as a condiment. My six year old daughter loved dipping the crunchy meatballs into the vibrant green sauce. This is the kind of dinner I want to make for my family—not just on Meatless Mondays, but pretty much every night of the week. I look forward to making this recipe again very soon! —cookinginvictoria

  • Serves 4 or 5
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced (or 1/2 large)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • Pinch cardamom
  • 10-12 large sage leaves, minced
  • 1/2 cup Panko (or your own breadcrumbs, or leftover quinoa, rice, or risotto
  • 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
  • Zest of 1 lemon (Meyer, if possible)
  • 1 large egg
  • Sea or kosher salt & pepper
  • 1 head cauliflower divided into small florets
  • 24 ounces chicken or vegetable stock (your own is best, but a good organic one will do)
  • 2 generous handfuls spinach, stems removed
  • Juice of 1 lemon (Meyer, if possible)
  • Additional chicken stock if needed for consistency
  • Sea or kosher salt and pepper
  • Olive oil for garnish
  • Crumbled Feta cheese for garnish
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. A note about lemons. When I suggest that you use Meyer lemons if at all possible, it is because of their tender zest, the sweet tones in their flavor, and their smaller size, all relative to regular lemons. That said, they aren't available year-round. If you need to substitute regular lemons, using half as much of both the juice and zest where called for. Also add the zest and juice of a quarter orange to add back some of the sweetness lost if Meyers aren't available. And if the flavor is still just a bit too tart, simply dilute it with some additional stock. Bon appétit!
  3. Film the bottom of a medium skillet with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a good pinch of salt. Sauté until softened. Add the garlic, walnut pieces, cardamom, sage leaves and Panko (or bread crumbs). Sauté, stirring often, until walnuts and garlic are fragrant, and Panko takes on a toasted color, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Transfer contents of skillet to bowl of a food processor. Add the garbanzo beans and lemon zest, and pulse until well blended, but not puréed. Add the egg and pulse until nearly a paste-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment. I use a small ice cream scoop that’s about 1 1/2” in diameter (#30) to scoop the “meatballs.” If you don’t have one, use a soup spoon to scoop up about the same amount, and roll them between your palms to round (you may need to dip your palms in some flour). You should get 16, and they will fit on one baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. They want to be a bit firm, and have a nice crust on the outside. While they are baking, prepare the soup.
  7. Trim the cauliflower. Quarter the larger florets. Add the cauliflower florets and the stock to a soup pot. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat to an active simmer. Cook until they are very tender (pierce a stem with a paring knife), about 15 minutes.
  8. When cauliflower is very soft, add the spinach. Replace the lid and steam until spinach has wilted, about 5-7 minutes more.
  9. Remove the pot from the heat. This is a job for an immersion blender. Add the lemon juice and purée the sauce right in the pot until it is as smooth as possible. Add stock as needed; the consistency wants to be pourable, not thick. Alternatively, use a food processor, or a blender. Though if the latter, be careful, as hot liquids tend to take on a life of their own in a blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Re-warm if necessary before serving.
  10. Serve in pasta bowls. Pour a couple of ladles of soup in the bottom of each one. Think shallow end of the pool; you don't want the meatballs to drown. Add 3 or 4 meatballs. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over, garnish with Feta, and please don’t forget the parsley!
  11. Serve with some good bread so you don’t leave a drop of sauce behind.
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