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Vegetarian meatballs recipe

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Adjust Servings:
200g Firm tofu (tau kwa) mashed
1/2 big pc Seaweed cut to 1cm x 0.5cm strips
6 slices Lotus Root Roughly chopped (quantity up to you)
handful Goji Berries
1 tbsp Sesame Seeds
2 stalks Spring Onion or coriander
1 Egg White
2tbsp All Purpose Flour or potato starch
1 tbsp Dark soy sauce with red yeast
1/2 tbsp Mirin
dash Hua Diao Wine optional
1/2 tbsp Sesame Oil Black sesame oil
Salt to taste
White Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp Sugar
For frying
as necessary Olive Oil

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Vegetarian meatballs recipe

All natural tasty vegetarian meatballs

  • 20m
  • Serves 4
  • Easy


  • For frying



Every year I am vegetarian for all the 15 days of Chinese Lunar New Year. It can be rather challenging mainly because it may be hard to find food to eat during the visitations to family and friends as this is the time when a lot of homes are loaded with meats and other “good” and expensive dishes. And friends have to accommodate me when we gather. Otherwise, I am actually fine. We eat enough of these “good” food the rest of the year, so I guess I can survive going vegetarian for these 15 days. As everyone is feasting, I feast too, but more mindfully and hopefully more healthily. I avoid eating processed food during this period and minimise “mock” food unless necessary (social events). Reason being these are usually made with quite a bit of artificial colouring and flavouring agents. Otherwise I have no major issues with seitan.

My dear mum, being the amazing cook she is, is happy to rise to the challenge and will accommodate me and cook vegetarian dishes for me during first day of Chinese New Year. This year besides making the popiah veggie vegetarian (no pork belly), she also made me a very delicious vegetarian soup and fried noodles plus a mixed veggie and quail egg dish and this delicious and simple “meatballs”.

This is one of my favourites and a classic – vegetarian meatballs using simple and healthy ingredients – firm tofu (tau kwa), seaweed and lotus root.

The firm tofu gives a soft minced meat like texture, and this is balanced by the crunchier lotus root. This is a super simple recipe and you can make it into patties or balls. You can also make various variations eg adding silvered or diced mushrooms, water chestnut or playing with the seasonings like using Italian herb blend to give it a Italian meatball twist.

Speaking of mushrooms, for the longest time, I always thought that mushrooms is a good replacement for meat when I am vegetarian but I was so wrong. Taste wise, it may satisfy your craving for meat with its firm bite especially for portobello or cremini mushrooms as this was commonly found on vegetarian menus. But later I discovered that mushrooms are actually pretty low in protein (portobello only has 4.3g for 100g as compared to firm tofu which has 11g for 100g.)

Don’t get me wrong, mushrooms are still really good for you but considering that vegetarians need to replace their animal protein with a plant based one, mushrooms is not the most efficient or effective source.

Firm tofu or as the Chinese call 豆干 or tau kwa, is like tofu, but with less moisture so it is firmer and more bouncy. Thus, making the meatballs hold its shape better. This is also higher in protein than soft tofu (less moisture) and 100g usually contains about 11g of protein. One big piece from the supermarket is usually 200g.

Lotus root is the crunchy root vegetable of the lotus plant. Benefits of lotus root includes being being cooling and promoting healthy bowels, and promoting blood flow. It is also a starchy vegetable that is great as a carb replacement. Though in this case, we are not using enough for it to replace carbs.

Another key ingredient is seaweed to add umami and nutrition. In this case, we use dried seaweed used for cooking. They come in round discs about 20cm in diameter. It is rich in minerals and vitamins and from a TCM perspective, seaweed is cooling in nature. It is good for your kidneys, black hair , nourishes blood and calcium, strengthening bones and teeth, and improves memory. It is also known to ease water retention and lowering blood pressures.

Other ingredients include spring onion or coriander, sesame seeds for additional fragrance and seasoning like mushroom sauce (though I use dark soy sauce with red yeast as I like this flavours better and the ingredients are all natural), pepper, salt and sesame oil, a little sugar or mirin. Binders used are flour and egg white. Always taste before cooking the entire batch. For real meatballs and dumplings, I always steam or boil or oven toast one before i wrap or cook the rest so I can still adjust the flavour if needed. For this vegetarian meatballs, everything is edible raw, so I will just taste a bit of the tofu. It should be just slightly under flavoured as the flavour gets stronger after cooking (loss of moisture) plus the combination with other ingredients gives more flavour too.

Dark Soy Sauce with Red Yeast

For flour, you can use plain or bread flour or potato starch. I have a leaning towards potato starch if you are doing deep frying as it will result in the oil being cleaner and a crispier “meatball”. Otherwise, plain flour is good.

I will also add goji berry in to give it an additional boost of nutrition and a burst of sweetness. Goji berry is a superfood commonly used in TCM and Chinese cultures for centuries to nourish the liver, brighten eyes, nourish liver and improve immunity. Rich in carotene, it is great for its anti aging properties. It is also a great snack by itself much like dried blueberries but has a milder sweetness.

This is a super simple recipe with minimal cooking skills required. The most challenging part for some may be the frying. If you look at the ingredients, you realise that everything is already edible as is. So at least this removes the concern of uneven cooking quite common in frying where the food browns outside but is still raw within.

To avoid too much splattering of the oil, one way is to make sure the mixture is not too moist. You will find that although the mixture looks very shaggy and loose, once shaped with a firm hand, they form a ball very easily and does not fall apart of stick to your hands. They need not be too round as the crispy bits that juts out of the ball are very fragrant too!

You can choose to deep fry, pan fry or oven bake (or air fry). I have attached photos of how the different methods yield balls that looks a little different.  for pan frying, I had to pack the meatballs a little tighter so that they don’t break apart when I am turning them around on the pan. Appearance wise, the deep fried one looks the best. Taste wise, the oven baked one is least crispy and lacks the fragrance from the browning. It may brown more given more time… maybe you can try and let me know.

The pan fried vs the deep fried ones were pretty similar but packing it tighter for the pan fried one probably resulted in a meatball with a firmer bite while the deep fried ones had a softer texture. All were moist and flavourful but the deep fried one was hottest within and has nice crispy bits outside.

Deep fried vegetarian meatballs
pan fried vegetarian meatballs
Baked in toaster oven (pardon the unfocused picture)










The vegetarian meatballs can be eaten on its own or with noodles (below with the famous kiki noodles), pasta or with sweet and sour sauce (deep fried meatballs will be better for this)

I had these vegetarian meatballs with wholemeal pasta tossed with puttanesca  sauce (marinara sauce with white wine, olives, capers and chilli flakes) and for additional protein, I added pink lentils. The dish was packed with loads of flavours and the vegetarian meatballs went really well.

After trying this vegetarian meatballs recipe, we do appreciate you sharing your experience with us and let us know your thoughts. Or if you have a recipe to share, do let us know too! You can also find other vegetarian or healthy and not so healthy recipes on this blog. Have fun cooking!

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Combine all ingredients

Combine all ingredients and keep mixing with each addition so that the tofu gets more mashed up. Mix evenly. Taste the mixture. As everything is edible raw in this recipe, it is fine to taste test raw. however note that it will be a little more flavourful after cooked so do not over season.

Note: Make sure that the mixture is not too wet or moist. If it is, add a little more flour. (Different brands of firm tofu have different moisture and tastes slightly different so adjust the recipe accordingly)


Shape and fry the tofu balls

Shape the tofu mixture into balls and place on a tray or plate.
Prepare another plate lined with paper towels for the fried meatballs.


Heat up saucepan or frying pan with oil

To deep fry, fill a small sauce pan half with oil and heat up till 160C.
Add a few meatballs into the saucepan taking care not to overload the saucepan. Once the meatball turns golden brown, remove and set on plate with paper towels.

To pan fry, coat a frying pan evenly and heat the pan till moderately hot. Add the meatballs on the pan and using a spoon, flip the balls to pan fry each side after 15 seconds of after each side is browned. Once all sides are brown, remove from pan and set on plate with paper towel.

To bake or air fry, set temperature to 200C and bake for 8-10 minutes. Add time if necessary.


Garnish and serve

The meatballs can also be stored in fridge for a few days and place in air fryer or toaster oven to heat up before serving.


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