I grew up in a city and at a time where fast food started to become a rage, nobody understood what vegetarian meant (they would offer fish!) and school canteen lunches were meat-topped pizzas, sugary juice boxes, packet crisps and spaghetti with meatballs!
Due to this very reason, my brother and I were forced to bring packed lunchboxes and a health freak mother didn’t help make things anything better. And typical child psychology worked completely against her – we always wanted what other kids were eating instead of a healthy brown bread sandwich with veggies, an apple and bottled water! She even once tried to send us roti rolls – which did not amuse us one bit. Lunch break was not a keen favourite for us, to say the least!
As with most of my childhood food memories of mine – and there are many – even though I was told I cannot have it, my mouth watered at the sight of spaghetti with meatballs. Decades later this particular memory still stays with me. I still couldn’t believe I was denied a delicious looking bowl of pasta in thick tomato sauce with some interesting looking mini balls.
So today, in one of my heat-savaged moments, I craved a good tomato sauce pasta with some meaty veggie meatballs! (Did you ever imagine those two words together?)
These meatballs are made mainly with potatoes, paneer and spinach. You could replace the potatoes with yellow yams (suran in Gujarati) if you wish to. They tend to give a fleshier texture to the meatballs. With a good amount of spinach, carrots and peppers, you’ve got the veggie quotient filled. The paneer softens the texture while binding the mixture.
I use a traditional South Indian paniyaram pan, which is used to make south Indian small vadas from leftover idli batter. This is a healthier option than frying and can be made using minimum oil. It does take a while to cook, but the no frying part certainly makes up for it.
Dip the balls in some milk and then breadcrumbs to give it a firmer consistency. You could also just add the breadcrumbs into the filling and create the balls without the milk.
Now, every house is different but for me, I never seem to have bread lying around when I need some breadcrumbs – and I have used this method for many years – I always keep rusk toasts at home – they stay well for very long in the store room and of course can be served with afternoon tea. If you crumble up 2 or 3 of those toasts, you’ve got all the breadcrumbs you would need. I hate using up my fresh multigrain bread for this purpose and the rusk toasts are a convenient option.
Measuring spaghetti – this is always a tough part and measuring dry pasta and cooking it are two very different amounts! I once saw on TLC to measure the right amount of spaghetti per person is the amount of spaghetti (uncooked) fits between your thumb and index finger when you round your thumb. I usually round my thumb to the first part of my index finger to account for one person.
So here it is – a veggie meatball!
The meatballs can be made beforehand and reheated before serving. The same goes with the pasta sauce! If you do not have any breadcrumbs on hand, crumble up a few dry rusk toasts, they work just as well.