Tempeh Cheatballs with Marinara Sauce

Today is the day I’ve been waiting for. I’m forever waiting for reason to bring up Bill Murray, but this one was just handed to me on a silver platter:

Make / eat some thing inspired by a book or film

You got it MoFo gods. Ever heard of a little film called Meatballs?


I said film, dammit!

That’s better!

Meatballs is an early Bill film, about a pretty average summer camp at which he plays a camp counsellor. It’s certainly not award-winning, it’s more like a film you’d expect to see at midday on free to air TV when you’re at home sick, but hey, for what it is it’s pretty amazing. And did I mention Bill Murray? He is hilarious and he makes everything great. The end.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what dish was inspired by this one. Let’s call them ‘cheatballs’, as they certainly ain’t meat.

Nope, these bad boys are made with a combination of tempeh, walnuts and oats – among other goodies. They are very similar to the filling of my sausage rolls – I like the idea of tempeh, but texturally and taste wise prefer it in things, rather than just in chunks by itself.

For this recipe I’ve baked the meatballs, but I’m sure they will work just as well if you pan fry them so do whatever works best for you.


Tempeh Cheatballs with Marinara Sauce
(makes about 24)

1 tsp oil
1 small brown onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
300g tempeh
2Tbsp flax meal + ¼ cup water
½ cup walnuts, pulsed in food processor to crumbs
½ cup oats, pulsed a few times in food processor to resemble crumbs
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp thyme
¼ cup flat leaf parsley
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp chili powder (optional)

Marinara sauce:
1 tsp oil
1 small brown onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red wine (optional)
800g tinned tomatoes
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
2 Tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper

If you plan to bake them, preheat the oven to 200C and line a tray with baking paper.

In a small bowl, combine flax meal and water and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and add onion. Saute until translucent – a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Crumble the tempeh with your hands into the bowl along with the onion and garlic. Add flax mix and remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. If you’d prefer a smoother texture, feel free to try doing this in a food processor, but for this kind of thing I personally prefer a bit of chunkiness. The mix should come together, and while it is a bit sticky, you should be able to handle it without too much mess. If it’s too sticky, try adding some more oats.

Get heaped teaspoons of mix and roll into balls, placing each one on the prepared tray. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn over (the best you can with a spherical object) and cook for a further 10 minutes. You’ll see the balls become visibly browner.

While they’re cooking, prepare the sauce – heat oil in a pot over medium heat and saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add wine, basil and oregano and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously, until most of the wine has evaporated.

Add tomatoes and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and stir in tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper. Since I left the cheatballs chunky, I popped the sauce in the blender and gave it a quick whizz until it was smooth. Return to pot and add cheatballs. Eat as is, or serve over spaghetti with some vegan parmesan (classic!)




    1. littleveganbear says:

      Thank you 🙂

  1. lysette says:

    Yeaaah! Meatballs! I loved that movie! Along with Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds and Slapshot! Golden era of American movies! Like the addition of tempeh so it’s not as nut heavy like a lot of other recipes 🙂

    1. littleveganbear says:

      Haha how good is it? Classic! Omg…I haven’t seen Revenge of the Nerds since I was a little one, I need to go and rewatch that!

  2. Rose says:

    I love that film…it’s one of my all time favs!

    Your pasta looks so good; I’m craving spaghetti now.

    1. littleveganbear says:

      Thank you! Me too, I’m obsessed with Bill Murray 😉

  3. The VegHog says:

    Love the name cheatballs and these look very good as well!

    1. littleveganbear says:

      Thank you 😀

  4. ha ha Meatballs!!! And Stripes!!!

    1. littleveganbear says:

      And What About Bob? !!!

  5. Susan says:

    I have never seen this movie, however I love your enthusiasm for it and the topic and your delicious looking cheatballs.

    1. littleveganbear says:

      Haha, thanks Susan!

  6. Joey says:

    I agree that Bill Murray makes everything better, even middle of the road summer camp movies. And if he’s the inspiration for tempeh meatballs, he goes up still higher in my estimation!

    1. littleveganbear says:

      Totally! Right there with ya!

  7. I haven’t seen Meatballs but now I’m intrigued…I do appreciate movies with Bill Murray, I especially loved Groundhog Day 😀

  8. Jennifer says:

    Oh! Awesome dish! Total WINNER!

  9. shaheen says:

    My husband want to come on over for dinner at yours 🙂 And I can see why, can I come with him. Your tempeh meatballs look darn good, I have seen the movie long long time ago.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I should save this recipe! I made so much tomato sauce this year and froze it. I should make some these balls and freeze them so I can just takes some sauce and balls out of the freezer for dinner!

  11. Wow- these look much better than any ‘cheat balls’ that I’ve ever managed!

  12. these look fantastic – I love “cheatballs” – hope you don’t mind if I use it! They look beautiful but I have never seen the film – however I have seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs which features scenes (in cartoon) where it is raining meatballs – quite amusing

  13. Your balls look wonderful!

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