These vegan tempeh meatballs are spiced like tandoori and easy to prepare. Enjoy straight from the oven dipped in cilantro-yogurt sauce or toss them in a pan with the optional tandoori-yogurt sauce. These versatile meatballs make a great appetizer or main course. Vegan with gluten-free and oil-free options.
You'll love these flavors AND how easy it is to pull these tempeh meatballs together. And I promise, even though the ingredient list looks long, it's mostly just spices.
In fact, if you have access to a store-bought tandoori blend, you can simplify things by using that instead of the individual spices.
This recipe is easy to prepare. You'll need a food processor, a sauté pan, a baking sheet, and a couple of bowls. Let's get to it!
How to Make Tempeh Meatballs
I like to give an overview of the recipe, to hopefully demystify the cooking process for beginner cooks. Scroll through these next few photos to get an idea about the recipe, or jump ahead to the recipe card at the end of the post.
This recipe begins with a basic sauté. Cook the onion and tempeh over medium heat.
Next, slide the mixture to one side of the pan, and add a bit of oil to the open space. Add the garlic and spices directly to the oil, then stir to incorporate into the tempeh mixture.
Now we're ready for the food processor. Add the sautéed mixture, and pulse 5 or 6 times until it's broken down and fairly uniform (pictured above).
Next add the breadcrumbs, salt, and yogurt, and pulse again to combine.
Grab a spoon or a small cookie scoop (this 1.5 Tbsp cookie scoop is great for making meatballs). Scoop up the mixture, rolling each meatball between your palms to form a smooth ball.
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 28 minutes, flipping at the halfway point.
While the meatballs are in the oven, toss together the simple cilantro-yogurt sauce. You can use the food processor for this, or chop the herbs by hand and whisk the sauce together in a bowl.
The cool, tangy yogurt sauce is a really nice contrast to the warm, spice-forward meatballs.
I tested this recipe with homemade breadcrumbs, once made from a slice of whole-grain sandwich bread and once from a whole-wheat bun. I used ½ cup. If using store-bought crumbs, you'll want to use the lesser amount mentioned in the recipe, ¼ cup, as they're not as large and fluffy as homemade.
Optional Tandoori-Yogurt Sauce
If you plan to serve these as a main course with rice or another grain, the creamy tandoori sauce is a delicious addition. So sauce it up! Start with plain yogurt as the base, or use a portion of the Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce you already made. Easy peasy!
To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite GF bread to make the crumbs. Also, make sure the tempeh you purchase is 100% soybean, and not one that includes grains.
The small amount of oil used in the sauté enhances the flavor of the spices, but if you strictly avoid added oils in your diet, feel free to omit. Use a splash of water or broth as needed for the sauté.
As an appetizer, load these tempeh meatballs onto a platter, and serve alongside one or both of the sauces.
Lemon wedges and fresh mint or cilantro are nice additions. The recipe makes approximately 14 meatballs, so you'll want to double or triple it if serving a crowd. As written, the recipe serves 4 to 5 people as an appetizer.
You can also turn these meatballs into a delicious wrap or sandwich, or add them to a bowl of rice or a large green salad. This recipe serves 2 to 3 people as a main dish.
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Tandoori Tempeh Meatballs
- ½ small red onion, chopped
- 8 ounces tempeh, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon oil, divided - See Notes.
- 3 tablespoons plain, unsweetened vegan yogurt
- 1 slice whole-grain bread or ¼ to ½ cup breadcrumbs - Large homemade crumbs = ½ cup; smaller store-bought = ¼ cup. See Notes for GF.
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Tandoori Spice Blend (makes approx 3 ¾ teaspoons):
- 1 ½ teaspoons paprika
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
Cilantro-Yogurt Dipping Sauce:
- 1 cup plain, unsweetened vegan yogurt
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves, optional
Optional Tandoori-Yogurt Sauce:
- ½ cup plain, unsweetened vegan yogurt - Alternatively, use ½ cup of the cilantro-yogurt dipping sauce.
- 1 ¼ teaspoons tandoori spice blend
- ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- pinch of salt
- In a small bowl whisk together the 8 ingredients that make up the spice blend. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C), and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Use a food processor to pulse the bread into large crumbs. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
- Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil, and cook the onion and tempeh 5 to 7 minutes or until the tempeh is golden. Reduce heat to medium-low. Slide tempeh and onion to one side of pan, and add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to other side of pan. Add the garlic and 2 ½ teaspoons of the spice blend directly to the oil. Stir, then combine with the tempeh and onion. Stirring frequently, cook for 1 minute and remove from heat.
- Transfer tempeh mixture to a food processor. Pulse 5 or 6 times or until mostly chopped and uniform. Add the breadcrumbs, salt, and yogurt, and process until well combined.
- Use a spoon or small cookie scoop to portion out meatballs (about 1 ½ tablespoon per ball). Roll between palms, and place on lined baking sheet. Bake 25 to 28 minutes, flipping at the halfway point.
- To make the yogurt dipping sauce, either use the food processor (rinse first), or combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk by hand (make sure cilantro and mint are finely chopped). Transfer to a serving bowl.
- If making the tandoori-yogurt sauce, preheat a saute pan over medium-low heat. In a bowl whisk together the yogurt, remaining 1 ¼ teaspoons spice blend, turmeric, water, hot sauce, and a pinch of salt. Add to the pan, and immediately add the meatballs. Toss to coat. When the sauce is hot, remove from heat and serve.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.