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!)



Music for your Mouth: The Smashing Pumpkins

I bet you were all waiting for these guys to come along. It was definitely one of the first foody bands I had thought of when coming up with the list. Yet another teenage discovery, the Smashing Pumpkins were definitely high on rotation back in the day. I don’t listen to them a lot anymore, but when I do I always feel reminiscent of those days. Just like getting on like a house on fire with an old friend you haven’t seen in years, the music just comes back to me.

For today’s meal, I’ve smashed some pumpkins (sort of? the blender smashed them for me I suppose..) into a creamy delicious risotto. This is actually the best risotto I’ve ever made. I think the taste is great, but I also really just cooked it to perfection – I have a habit of cooking risottos on high heat to try and get them done quickly. This time I was patient, cooked it slowly, and reaped the rewards.

So many songs, how to choose one for this post? I’m playing Tonight, Tonight, because it’s a great song and the film clip is awesome. It’s inspired by the Georges Méliès silent film, A Trip to the Moon. I looove Georges Méliès films, they are so whimsical and wonderful and absolutely captivating. If you haven’t seen any, look them up after watching the Pumpkins homage – you won’t regret it! (The ones with added soundtracks and hand colouring are especially magical!)


Creamy Pumpkin and Leek Risotto with Crispy Sage
(serves 4)

1/2 butternut pumpkin (about 1 cup once pureed)
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 brown onion, diced
2 leeks, white and green parts, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped sage
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp chili flakes
Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp coconut oil
Sage – approx 20 leaves
Pinch of sea salt

First up, you’re going to want to roast your pumpkin. Preheat your oven to 200C. Remove all bits of skin and seeds, and dice pumpkin flesh. Place in a baking dish, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Chuck in two garlic cloves in their skins as well, just because how can you roast a vegetable without adding some garlic? Exactly, you can’t. Roast for about 25-30 mins until tender.

When the pumpkin is about half done, heat up 1 Tbsp coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and half of your leek, and saute for five or so minutes until the onion is translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute.

While this is happening, bring your stock to boil in another pot, then turn down to a mild simmer.

Add rice to onion mix and dry fry for about a minute. Add white wine, and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, until most of the wine has been absorbed.

From here, start adding stock. I like to use a ladle and scoop it in one ladle-full at a time. Your rice should always be JUST covered by stock. Turn heat down to medium-low, so that it is never more than a slow simmer. DO NOT walk away from your risotto…this takes some time, but it’s best to be patient. Continue to add stock as needed to keep liquid above rice, then wait for it to absorb. Stir your risotto frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

When your pumpkin is done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Place in a blender, and squeeze your little garlic cloves out of their skins and into the blender too. Blend until smooth and set aside.

Once all your stock has been added, check texture of rice. If it is al dente – perfect! If it still has a little way to go, you may need to continue adding liquid until it reaches the desired texture.

Add remaining leek, sage leaves, nutritional yeast and chili flakes and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour pumpkin puree in and mix well.

For the crispy sage – heat 2 Tbsp coconut oil in a small pot until very hot. Have some paper towel on a plate ready next to you. One at a time, drop your sage leaves into the oil. Have a fork ready to scoop them out after about 10 seconds, when they become crispy. Follow this process with each sage leaf, then sprinkle the lot of them with a bit of crushed sea salt.

Remove risotto from heat, serve and garnish with sage leaves.