CARMELA HAYES COLUMN: Try these delicious meat-free meatballs

I love a freshly rolled and baked, or pan-fried, meatball or 10, but whenever I think of meatballs, it always reminds me of that one time when mum tried to pass off Sainsbury’s meatballs as her own, as she was pressed for time and my dad would always like his dinner promptly at 6pm, writes Carmela Hayes.

Carmela's chickpea meatballs
Carmela's chickpea meatballs

Let’s just say she never did it again. Shortcuts often work, but no supermarket meatballs are a patch on mum’s pork, beef and veal meatballs. Dad could tell without even tasting them.

He was always a hard man to try to fool; believe me I learnt that the hard way on many occasions. But today I want to take away the meat and replace it with delicious chickpeas and loads of fresh flavours.

Back to basics and back to my well-stocked larder. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the use of aquafaba (chickpea protein water), when making vegan amaretti biscuits. This recipe uses chickpeas to make the most incredible meat-free balls of deliciousness.

I’m a little in love with the cost as well as the instant simplicity of this recipe. I urge you now to double, or even better triple, up the recipe, because they are addictive little devils.

Using tinned chickpeas echoes cucina povera (basic style) cooking from the south of Italy, and I find tinned beans never fail me and they take the hassle out of planning ahead.

If you prefer to use dried chickpeas, please soak them for at least 24 hours prior to use (changing the water every couple of hours; also add a pinch of bicarb to the cooking water as this can tenderise the chickpeas).

Stacked high in my larder, the tinned beans and pulses are a filler, my back-up to push the humble family dinners that little bit further, and when feeding a family of six every evening; all fillers truly help, especially with the continuing cost of food.

I made these initially for my pescatarian daughter as a substitute for my mixed meatballs, but now I find the rest of the family are asking for them too. Small blessings.

The chickpea fritters are incredibly quick and easy to make and are great for the purse strings too.

For diversity of taste and flavour, change the herbs to suit the season. Add wild garlic during April and May, or a squeeze of lemon and a finely-chopped courgette flower through the summer period. Allow the seasons to guide you when it comes to varying the flavour.

Eat them as a snack, a side, lunchbox filler, or top your pasta with a few and drizzle over a slow-cooked finto sauce. Batch cook and freeze, then microwave them from frozen for instant gratification.


Makes 16 walnut-size chickpea balls. Simply double the ingredients as required to prepare more for the freezer.

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained (retain the liquid and add it to bread or pasta dough)

60g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (or vegetarian substitute)

50g dried natural breadcrumbs

1 plump clove of garlic, peeled, halved

Salt & pepper to season, as required

Pinch of dried chilli

1/2 tsp dried marjoram

Small bunch parsley & basil, roughly chopped

1 tbsp celery leaves

Olive oil (for frying)

1. Place all the ingredients (excluding the olive oil) into a food processor and pulse for one minute.

2. Scrape the contents into a bowl, season, stir and taste. If the mixture is a little too firm, add a tablespoon of the aquafaba (chickpea water from the tin)

3. Pinch sections of the mixture and roll them into balls the size of a small walnut; press them into a flat pattie.

4. Use all the mixture and pop the patties on to a tray and chill for 30 minutes in your fridge prior to cooking.

5. Fry the patties in a little olive oil until lightly coloured throughout. This will take approximately 10 minutes. At this point the chickpea patties can be cooled and frozen. I like to serve mine dropped into a sugo (tomato pasatta) with extra seasoning and soft fresh herbs.

6. As an alternative, you can pop the chickpea fritters on to a lined baking tray, spritz with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes at 190C (fan-assisted) or until golden.