Meatless Meatball Subs

Can I relate to you just how hard it is to photograph something as messy as a meatball sub?  It’s hard to get that balance between the meatballs, the cheese, the marinara, the basil, the bread….let’s face it: meatball subs have a whole heck of a lot going on.  Especially when the cheese is melting quickly, you have sauce all over your hands, and the plate keeps getting “contaminated” with red sauce.  Ha!  This has been, by far, the most difficult thing I have tried to capture (not steamy soup, brown food, or texturally-challenged dips).  What can I say?  This dish lives up to its reputation: messy, hot, and completely to-die-for-exactly, in my opinion, as a (meatless) meatball sub should be.

But, you know what?  I have been searching for a meatless meatball recipe for some time.  I came across this one and thought it sounded fantastic.  Paired with a spicy mushroom marinara?  Yes, please!  I added in some walnuts and mushrooms and adjusted the spices, and I was blown away at how incredibly delicious they were.  I remember how meatballs should taste, and I have to say that these, by far, top the real deal.  The mushroom marinara had just enough spice to satisfy me, and the fresh bits of basil tied it all together.  I don’t care what it looks like here-it’s too good not to post because it’s not as photogenic as a cupcake. 🙂

Now, I realize it’s Super Bowl Sunday.  And, I realize you probably already have your menu ready to go, but these are easy to mix, savory, satisfying, and completely appropriate for the Big Game.  Or a Meatless Monday.  Whatever you do, you have to make these.  Never before have I been a fan of “meat wannabes”, but these are definitely a must-make for carnivores and vegetarians alike.  If you want to make them, I would definitely advise making the sauce first, as it will be simmering while you prepare your meatballs.

So, please excuse the messy photograph.  These messy, spicy, ooey and gooey meatless meatball subs are incredible.

Meatless Meatball Subs

Servings: 20 meatballs (I made mine big, but if you made yours smaller, your yield would be much bigger)


For the meatballs:

1 cup walnuts

2 cups bread crumbs***I bought some Italian bread from the store, sliced it (7-8 slices), brushed on some olive oil and salt, and baked it for 10 minutes in a 250 degree oven to get it a little crispy.

1 tablespoon fresh basil

4 ounces button mushrooms

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 cup cottage cheese *I used low-fat

1 cup shredded Parmesan

1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 to 1 and 1/2 cups panko

For the mushroom marinara:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small yellow sweet onion, diced (I had about 3/4 cups)

8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

4 teaspoons garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh basil, torn

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt, to taste

For the subs:

Sub rolls

Shredded mozzarella (definitely not optional 🙂 )

Fresh basil, optional


1. For the sauce: In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil.

2. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring frequently.

3.  Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

5. For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking pan by spraying lightly with cooking spray, set aside.

7.  In a food processor, process the walnuts until they are coarse crumbs.

8. Add the bread crumbs (or pieces of bread) and process until completely broken down.

9.  Add the remaining ingredients, except for the panko, and process until smooth.

10.  If the mixture is too sticky at this point, add a few more bread crumbs until you are able to roll 2-inch balls.  I found that having my cooking spray nearby was key.  I would put a little on my hands to keep the mixture from getting too sticky.

11.  Place the panko in a separate bowl.

12. As you roll each ball, lightly coat it in the panko, then place each one into your prepared baking pan.

13.  Bake the meatballs for 40 minutes.

14.  Once the meatballs are cool enough to handle, assemble the sub sandwiches as desired.  Enjoy!

Recipes adapted from:  Meatballs from Nummy Kitchen, Mushroom Marinara from For The Love of Cooking

February 6, 2011 - 6:52 am

Aku - Thank you thank you thank you! I had quite a hankering for a gooey meatball sub after seeing someone else post one on their site, but being veggie I thought it’d be difficult to come up with anything comparable. So thanks for the recipe, I can’t wait to give it a go 🙂

February 6, 2011 - 8:01 am

Kenni - I’m a huge fan of regular meatball subs, but these make me wanna go meatless!

February 6, 2011 - 9:39 am

Lauren at KeepItSweet - Great job figuring out the photo because it looks amazing! I recently had a delicious meatless meatball that was mushroom based.

February 6, 2011 - 8:58 pm

branny - I’ve made meatless meatballs a couple of times: once using a vital wheat gluten base and another using a bean/spinach base. I’ve bookmarked this recipe to try as well. Thanks!

February 7, 2011 - 1:47 am

Jessica - These look delicious! Yum!

February 7, 2011 - 5:42 am

Medeja - Looks even better than meatballs ! 🙂 I would take such subway without even thinking 😀

February 7, 2011 - 5:51 am

Natalie - I don’t know what you mean I think your photo looks delicious! It’s got me wanting to make these anyway. Dinner for tonight I think, thanks!!

February 7, 2011 - 1:20 pm

Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking - Shanon, your meatball subs are mouthwatering! They look so good, and I love your meatless meatball concoction. Plus, I 100% sympathize how difficult it is to photograph a messy dish! I had a tough time with stuffed shells, so I recreated a plate of them the day after, specifically for a photo, haha. Thanks for sharing!

February 7, 2011 - 4:17 pm

Heather - Wow, this is so innovative and amazing looking!! This is immediately getting forwarded to my favorite vegetarian. 🙂

February 8, 2011 - 12:19 pm

Shelley in Scotland - Wow! These are FANTASTIC and it’s so great to find a meatless meatball recipe that not only beats meat filled meatballs, but that that doesn’t contain even a tiny bit of tofu, which I’ve been avoiding after reading that you shouldn’t eat tofu more than once or twice a week as it is seriously not good for you. Looking forward to making these again and hubby loved them too – and he’s a big meat lover.

August 1, 2013 - 5:02 am

Lentil Meatball Bites » The Curvy Carrot - […] now I have a nice meatball for you.  I’ve tried a nice walnut-based version before, which I loved, but here’s another version with a nice lentil base.  I’ve made […]