Simple Tempeh Meatballs
4.72 from 21 votes

A lot of vegan meatball recipes are made with a dozen or more ingredients. Not these! My recipe for no-hassle vegan meatballs is made with just 7 ingredients, including crumbled tempeh and nourishing raw walnuts. These baked tempeh meatballs hold their shape well and freeze wonderfully, making them a great option for plant-based meal prep!

A silver rimmed baking sheet is covered with a sheet of parchment and freshly baked tempeh meatballs.

There’s no easy comfort food meal that I turn to more regularly than spaghetti and meatballs.

In fact, I’ve frequently joked that my 2020 quarantine experience was sponsored by Gardein meatballs (it really wasn’t, but it could have been).

I had more dinners of Gardein meatballs, pasta, and marinara sauce than any other food. These meals were quick, easy, comforting, and rich in protein—my essential criteria for dinner.

There’s still a bag of Gardein meatballs in my freezer, and that will probably never change. But it can also be economical and rewarding to make vegan meatballs from scratch.

My ideal plant-based meatballs recipe results in meatballs that are high protein, flavorful, filling, and good for simmering in a pot of marinara.

These tempeh meatballs are it. They’re deeply savory and delicious, perfect for serving with spaghetti and red sauce.

Best of all, they’re easy to make.

Tempeh health benefits

Tempeh is and always will be one of my favorite plant-based protein sources.

As a dietitian, I love that tempeh delivers an ample amount of protein—eighteen grams per three ounces—along with fiber, iron, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

I recommend tempeh often to my nutrition clients, especially those who are trying to maximize vegan protein in their diets.

Tempeh may be a somewhat unfamiliar flavor or texture at first, but most people come to love its earthiness and density.

If you’re new to using tempeh, know that there are so many ways to enjoy this nutritious soy food. You can turn it into crispy strips of tempeh bacon or hearty air fryer tempeh nuggets.

Tempeh can become part of an easy sheet pan meal, or you can make a simple baked tempeh that functions as a versatile protein all week long. Add it to bowls, salads, or even use it as a “crouton” in soups.

The Vegan Week

Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.

Whether you have three, two, or even just one hour of time to spare, The Vegan Week will show you how to batch cook varied, colorful, and comforting dishes over the weekend.

In fact, I find that having one excellent, prepared plant protein in my fridge is key to a successful week of home cooking and meal assembly.

I’ve got many more vegan meal prep tips, for those of you who like to plan ahead!

How to cook tempeh meatballs

When I was testing these meatballs, my goal was ease.

No homemade recipe will ever be quite as quick or effortless as something from the store. But I wanted big reward for relatively low effort.

To that end, some perks of this recipe include:

  • No chopping onions or garlic. I know it’s a little silly, but this step can be a real deterrent for me when I’m not in the mood to cook!
  • A short ingredient list. As you’ll see below, the meatballs don’t require a ton of filling ingredients.
  • Oven preparation. These are baked vegan meatballs! Less work than hands-on than sautéing, and a perfectly crispy texture that results from oven-baking.

Here are the recipe steps:

Season the tempeh

I used to be on the fence about whether or not it was necessary to steam tempeh before using it in a recipe.

It felt like a lot of extra work, and I like the earthy flavor of tempeh enough that I usually skipped this step.

Lately, however, I’ve come around to steaming tempeh. I really do think that steaming removes a little bitterness from the protein.

Plus, I find that tempeh soaks up marinades and their flavors better when it’s been steamed beforehand.

Sometimes, instead of steaming, I simmer tempeh in vegetable broth for 15 minutes before cooking with it. This seems to combine steaming and seasoning in a single step.

This is an especially good approach for a crumbled tempeh recipe, including tempeh meatballs and my tempeh tacos.

To begin making the tempeh meatballs, you’ll simmer crumbled tempeh in broth and tamari. The tempeh absorbs all of the liquid, at which point it’s seasoned and ready to be shaped into meatballs.

A black, cast iron skillet is filled with crumbled and seasoned tempeh.

Prepare the meatballs

To prepare the meatballs, you’ll grind up walnuts, nutritional yeast, fennel, and oregano in a food processor. This mixture gives the meatballs flavor and helps to bind the tempeh together.

Then, you’ll add the tempeh and pulse to combine everything well.

In the past, when I’ve made vegan meatballs, I’ve always used combinations of cooked grains as well as nuts or flour or bread crumbs for binding. That’s true for my tofu bulgur meatballs, white bean balls, chickpea oat balls, and the quinoa meatballs from Choosing Raw.

I was pleasantly surprised when walnuts + nutritional yeast alone were enough to hold these tempeh meatballs together. It saved me the step of cooking a grain and kept the recipe simple.

It also means that the recipe is easily gluten-free.

The bowl of a food processor has been filled with crumbled tempeh, herbs, and ground walnuts.

Shape

The next step is simple: just roll the mixture into meatballs! I made each of my meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The mixture will be very sticky, but that’s OK. The tempeh meatballs will crisp up as they bake.

The prepared tempeh meatballs should be transferred to a parchment lined baking sheet, then into a 375°F / 190°C oven for baking.

Bake

You’ll bake the tempeh meatballs for about 35 minutes, or until they’re browning and crispy on top and bottom. I always flip the meatballs halfway through baking, so that they brown evenly.

Cool

In order to firm up properly for serving, the tempeh meatballs should ideally have 1-2 hours of cooling time. It’s OK to skip the cooling step if you really don’t have time for it. But if you do have time, it’s worthwhile.

No matter what, any leftover tempeh meatballs will firm up in the fridge.

A parchment lined, silver baking sheet holds a tray of baked, crispy, plant-based meatballs.

Add to recipes

At this point, the baked tempeh meatballs can be stored in the fridge or freezer. Or, you can start to use them in whatever recipe you have planned.

The meatballs can be added to pasta, grain bowls, a vegan meatball sub, or served on their own, as an appetizer. If you’re looking for a tempeh dinner idea with tremendous versatility, this is it.

If you’re serving the meatballs as an appetizer or adding them to pasta, you can also simmer them in marinara sauce before serving.

Unlike most store-bought vegan meatballs, these will fall apart a bit if you simmer them for too long. But they do hold their shape nicely if you simmer them for about five minutes. I love preparing them this way.

A batch of bright red marinara sauce, which is being used to simmer plant-based ingredients for pasta.

Tempeh meatball ingredients

Tempeh

Tempeh is the star of this recipe. You’ll need 15 ounces of tempeh, total—that’s two approximately 8-ounce / 225g blocks.

You can use any variety of tempeh that you like; some are made with flax or whole grains incorporated, which is fine.

Fennel seed + oregano

I love the taste of fennel seed and oregano in the recipe, but you can skip the fennel if it’s not for you. You could also use dried basil, thyme, or rosemary.

Tamari

Tamari will add saltiness and umami to the tempeh meatballs. As an alternative to umami, you can use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or coconut aminos in the recipe.

Walnuts

I use raw walnuts in this recipe, but toasted walnuts will also work well. If you don’t have walnuts, you can substitute pecans or cashews.

Can the recipe be made without nuts?

Yes, it’s possible to make the tempeh meatballs without walnuts, or another tree nut. If you have a tree nut allergy, you can try substituting 2/3 cups of rolled oats or breadcrumbs in place of the walnuts.

Meal prep and storage

The meatballs are an easy make-ahead option for meal prep or weekend batch cooking. You can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.

In fact, I tend to enjoy them even more after a day or two in the fridge. They become a little less crispy, but they also firm up and have a more toothsome texture.

Reheating

You can heat the tempeh meatballs by simmering them in sauce. You can also heat them in the oven for about ten minutes at 350°F, or you can microwave them for two minutes on high, or until warmed through.

Can I freeze tempeh meatballs?

You can! The tempeh meatballs freeze and defrost really well. Freeze them in freezer-safe containers (lately I love these silicone bags) for up to six weeks.

A parchment lined, silver, rimmed baking sheet holds a vegan protein dish that's just come out of the oven.
A silver rimmed baking sheet is covered with a sheet of parchment and freshly baked tempeh meatballs.
4.72 from 21 votes

Simple Baked Vegan Meatballs with Tempeh

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Yields: 22 meatballs

Ingredients

  • 15 ounces tempeh, crumbled (2 7.5-ounce packages)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegan no-chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth)
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 2/3 cup raw walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. 
  • Place the tempeh into a wide, deep skillet or frying pan. Add the broth and tamari. Bring the liquid to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the tempeh crumbles until they've absorbed all of the liquid, about 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat. 
  • In a food processor fitted with the S blade, process the walnuts, fennel, oregano, and nutritional yeast till the mixture is a fine meal. Add the crumbled tempeh. Pulse to combine all of the ingredients well. The mixture should be dense and a bit sticky. 
  • Roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. You should have 22-24 total. Place the balls onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes. Flip them over, then continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until they're lightly browned.
  • If you have the time, allow the meatballs to cool for at least 1-2 hours before using. To simmer the meatballs in marinara sauce, bring 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce to a simmer in a sauce pot. Add the tempeh meatballs and simmer for 5 minutes. Otherwise, serve the tempeh meatballs with pasta, in vegan subs, in grain or pasta bowls, or pop one or two as a savory snack!

My test of a recipe isn’t only how good it tastes, but whether or not I’d cook it on a high-stress or busy day.

I can cook just about anything on a good day, but tough days are another story.

I cook more consistently when I stop to ask myself, would this recipe feel achievable on a tough day?

The more recipes that qualify as a “yes” to that question, the better. These tempeh meatballs are one of those.

Hope you’ll find them easy and tasty, too!

xo

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Categories: Recipes, Vegan Basics
Method: Oven
Ingredients: Tempeh
Dietary Preferences: Gluten Free, No Oil, Vegan
Recipe Features: Meal Prep

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4.72 from 21 votes (13 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating




    24 Comments
  1. Has anyone tried to fry them on the stovetop? I don’t want to heat up my gas oven unnecessarily—wasted energy!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve made these meatballs so many times, and I’m ashamed I’ve never left a review – they are so easy and delicious. Like a Gardein meatball dupe, but better I think. Like Gena mentions, they are a little fragile if simmered in pasta sauce, but we never mind if they fall apart a little – just makes for a “meaty” delicious sauce! And they freeze great – I’m always so grateful to my past self when I have some frozen to pull out on nights when cooking feels impossible.

  3. Do you happen to have a calorie estimate for the meatballs? Sorry- last question! Making them right now! Yum!

    • I’m sorry, I don’t! But I’m sure that you could use a program like MyFitnessPal or Lose It to calculate it.

  4. 5 stars
    These are so simple, so delicious, and SO perfect! Major win. They are hearty and filling but don’t feel heavy/meaty/greasy like some store bought meatless meatballs. They are the best veggie meatball I have tried! And I love the versatility of the recipe – lots of room to play with flavors. Your recipes are always a win for me – thank you!

  5. 5 stars
    Really enjoyed these! The fennel flavor was great, if anything I might increase it a bit. Great consistency, great flavor, perfect with pasta and red sauce.

  6. 5 stars
    These are great! I will definitely play with the spices a bit, but as is, I will be making them smaller and then slicing in half, after cooked and cooled, to put on my vegan pizza! The fennel and oregano lend such an “Italiano” flavor! Love them!!

  7. 5 stars
    The vegan Meatball recipe is great, I was trying for a long time to get a recipe based on plant based protein which is healthy and completes my protein needs as well.

  8. 5 stars
    Fantastic recipe! I made these a couple of days ago. I like them cold as well in a salad but I had originally made them for pasta. They turned out great! I’m not a big fan of fennel seeds so I omitted them and just put a bit of onion and garlic powder instead. Thanks for another great recipe!

  9. 5 stars
    These were a big hit. My husband preferred these to my go-to recipe for tempeh balls, which calls for panko and which he thinks are too dry. I used a mini ice cream scoop to portion them out and got exactly 2 dozen. I didn’t wait for them to cool completely, so we just plopped them on top of the sauced pasta. Delicious! The leftovers are in the freezer for another day.

  10. Hello again! No need to respond to my previous comment/question. I just reread your detailed post and see that the fennel seeds are really just there for taste. I apologize for reading too quickly and thank you for being so thorough in your recipes. I look forward to trying these!

    • No problem, Erin! Yes, the seasonings can be adjusted or omitted as you like. Hope you enjoy the meatballs 🙂

  11. Can’t wait to try these on a grain bowl! If I want more of a neutral flavor to go with a tahini-yogurt sauce, could I leave out the fennel seeds and oregano? I assume they’re just there for flavor, as opposed to structure, right? Have you experimented with other spices? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you 🙂

  12. 5 stars
    I too love Gardein meatballs, so thank you for creating this recipe! I currently have a batch cooling for the suggested 1-2 hours, but I did eat one right out of the oven and the flavor is great. I love the fennel. I also love the simplicity of the recipe. The most difficult part was removing that second wrapper around the tempeh 🙂 Thank you for this!

  13. I have wanted this recipe for a long time! Started thinking about tempeh meatballs during quarantine last year, but haven’t achieved the right mix. Everything about this sounds right. And really appreciate your recipe “test” criteria. Many thanks!