These spicy vegan Harissa Meatballs with a cooling but dashingly flavorful Cilantro Yogurt Sauce are the perfect snack or appetizer. And they are, of course, great for you. Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free recipe.
I love adding harissa to unexpected foods, and one of my favorite ways to eat this spicy North African sauce is by adding it to vegan meatballs that can be served as a hors d'oeuvre or snack.
And because you've already done all the work of packing flavor into your harissa sauce, the meatballs themselves literally take minutes to throw together, that too in a food processor.
This is what you want to serve your hungry little ones when they get home from school, famished. Or what you want to serve when you're kicking back with drinks and good company and conversation and want something tasty to nibble on. Or when you wake up in the middle of the night wanting something tasty to eat without losing your sleep from the guilt.
I usually make meatballs with pinto or red kidney beans, but in this case I went with chickpeas, which work really well. You can use any other bean you have a mind to.
What makes these meatballs healthy, in addition to the beans, is that the only other major ingredient they have is oats. Make sure you get gluten-free oats if you want these to be truly gluten-free. And make sure you get rolled oats.
I love, love, love the cilantro yogurt sauce that accompanies this recipe. It is sparkling and bright and so delicious, you'll want to eat it by itself. With the meatballs it's mindblowingly good and it complements them perfectly.
On to the recipe then. It's Saturday and I don't want to spend all my time at the computer, do you? Instead, let's get cooking and eating.
How to make the best vegan harissa meatballs
- This is a really easy recipe so there's not a lot to share. One of the key things to remember is to soak your chile peppers for the harissa before you use them. Use the soaking water to grind your harissa paste. I make my harissa oil-free, but if you want a more traditional version, add ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil to the chiles and garlic and cumin and coriander seeds and then blend.
- How much harissa you use in the meatballs is a matter of taste. I find two heaping teaspoons to be just enough for me and my family, but you can use more or less. It's a spicy sauce so after making your meatball batter taste it, then add more if needed.
- You can make the meatballs without oil--use just cooking spray to coat the skillet. The crust won't be as golden-brown and slightly crunchy, the way it is when you use some oil, but the meatballs will nonetheless be amazing.
- I love the cilantro yogurt and how tangy and bright it is. My vegan cashew yogurt, which I make at home, is quite tangy, so I add only the lemon zest and not the juice. You can add the juice if your yogurt is not tangy enough.
Vegan Harissa Meatballs
For harissa sauce:
For the harissa meatballs:
- 16 oz chickpeas (canned or cooked. Or use pinto beans or red kidney beans or any bean)
- 1 ½ cups rolled oats
- 2 heaping tbsp harissa sauce (Use more or less based on your taste. Recipe on my diy spice mixes page linked here)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoon parsley (finely minced)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil (or use cooking spray to coat the bottom of the skillet. You won't get the same golden crust, but they'll be nice)
For the cilantro yogurt sauce:
- 1 cup vegan cashew yogurt
- 2 tablespoon cilantro (finely minced)
- 1 green chile pepper (like serrano, finely minced. Deseed and use less if very sensitive to heat)
- Zest of 1 lemon (I don't use the juice if the yogurt is really tangy because the zest adds enough lemony flavor. But if your yogurt isn't tangy, add some juice too)
- 3 teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt to taste
- A dash of extra virgin olive oil for garnish (optional)
Make the harissa sauce:
- Soak the chile peppers in water for 30 minutes. Place the cumin and coriander seeds in a skillet and toast until they start to change color and are really fragrant.
- Place the drained peppers in a blender with the garlic and toasted coriander and cumin seeds and process into a fine paste. Use the chile soaking water, a little at a time, to keep the blades moving.
Make the meatballs:
- Place the oats in the food processor. Pulse 3-4 times until broken into tiny bits but not a powder. Then add in the chickpeas and other ingredients and continue to pulse until everything has broken down into small bits. The mixture should come together when you ball it up, but if it's still too dry add a tiny bit of water of vegetable stock, a little at a time, until it does. If you just made the harissa, you can use the soaking water of the chiles for this too)
- Shape the mixture into 24 meatballs.
- Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet with the oil in it. If using cooking spray, spray the bottom of the skillet to coat.
- Place the meatballs in the skillet, taking care not to crowd (do in batches if your skillet is small). Cook, turning the meatballs over until they have a nice, golden-brown crust on all sides.
Make the cilantro yogurt sauce:
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl. If using olive oil, add a dash of it to the top before serving. I like the olive oil because it adds a nice mellowness to the tangy sauce.