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Cathy's Lab: Mushroom meatballs

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While writing the blog "Shiitake the other White Meat" I became inspired to use mushrooms and veggies not only as an enhancer of meat flavors but also a as tasty meat like filler in meatballs. The mushrooms and veggies give these meatballs a light texture while boosting the flavor. I used Italian seasoning but this recipe can be adapted for Swedish meatballs by leaving out the herbs, garlic and fennel or add bread for a tasty meatloaf.

Many people assume from my blog posts that I'm a vegetarian. The truth is I try to only eat meat a couple times a week. My dietary habits first came from a consciousness of the environmental damage caused by large scale animal farming. Later I was educated about the suffering caused by the corporate meat industry to both workers and animals (Thank you Michael Pollan for standing on the shoulders of Upton Sinclair). I made a conscious decision to try to eat only locally farmed and humanely treated animals. I fall off the wagon sometimes but I try not to beat myself up about it. I enjoy it and pat myself on the back when I have enough will power to eat only the veg dishes.

There seems to be a fine line between people that are admired for their commitment to the environment and to those that become annoyingly smug. As well as being a personality thing I think it has mostly to do with your personal level of commitment to environmental causes. We all have levels of what we are willing to go without. As much as I admire vegans I know I could never achieve this level. I found this quote to be personally inspiring.

"Give up meat for one day [per week]... in terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions [CO2] in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity". U.N.'s Nobel Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


If a lot of people do little things, it can make a big difference. I developed this recipe for those meat lovers who want to cut back a little.

You will need:

  • olive oil
  • 2 small onions
  • ½ pound carrots
  • garlic cloves to taste
  • 2T soy sauce or tamari (gluten free)
  • a few dashes of Worcestershire
  • 6 cups dried mushrooms or 8 cups fresh mushrooms
  • 1t crushed red pepper
  • ½ T fennel seeds (optional)
  • ½ – 1 T dried Italian herbs or 2-4T Fresh (Basil, oregano, parsley, thyme with a little rosemary)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups bread crumbs or panko or gluten-free alternative (add only enough for meatballs to hold their shape).


Add vegetables to food processor and pulse until finely diced. Saute vegetables in pan with olive oil until lightly browned, remove from heat and stir in soy and Worcestershire sauces.


If using dried mushrooms soak in boiling hot water for at least 30 minutes (reserve drained liquid to use in stocks, soups or stews). Process fresh or re-hydrated mushrooms until finely diced, saute in olive oil until lightly browned. Towards the end of cooking add chili flakes, fennel seeds, dried Italian herbs (if using fresh add them directly to the meat mixture) and salt.


Combine meat, vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, seasoning and a half cup of bread-crumbs or panko. The mixture should be very moist but still hold its shape when rolled into a ball. If mixture is too wet add more bread-crumbs. Fry a bit of mixture in a pan to taste for seasoning. I dip it in marinara sauce to test if the seasoning is right, i.e. the meatball will stand up to the sauce. I usually end up adding more salt after this taste test. 


Roll meatballs and bake at 350°F for 15-25 minutes depending on size. Check to see if they are cooked all the way through. If the meatballs are for dinner tonight they can be mixed directly into the sauce. This recipe makes two full trays so there is usually enough to freeze for later or bring in to work to share.