Vegan “Neatball” Sandwich

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Vegan Neatball Sub

by guest blogger Gillian Francella, writer, editor, and newly converted vegan

Red-checkered tablecloths, laminated-yet-stained paper menus, and breadbaskets brimming with steamy hot rolls—ah, the classic setting for an East Coast staple: red-sauce Italian.

When I was a kid, there were few things my dad would take a break from work for. But the one thing my mom knew would get him to slow down? Lunch with his favorite/only daughter.

One of our go-to rituals was to pick up subs from the local pizza shop, peel off the paper wrapping, and nom, nom, nom on a meatball sub.

Now that I’m a little older, a little more health-conscious, and completely vegan, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this ritual has gone by the wayside.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy vegan: It’s helped me lose weight, learn to cook, and inspire my family to eat healthier. But every once in a while I get a yearning to relive some of my favorite “memory foods”—meals so good they take you back in time.

After my dad underwent heart surgery this winter, I went on a mission for a dish that would bring me back to when I saw him as invincible and I didn’t care about calories—or how much tomato sauce spilled on my shirt.

So, indeed, this sub is a lot more than just a sandwich to me. I took this typically inexpensive dish and remade it from scratch to be completely vegan (and completely priceless to me). It took a lot of love to make, and with each part of it—from the bread to that rich red sauce and non-meaty meatballs—I thought about how each aspect reminds me of my father.

I hope this recipe helps you create memories of your own—whether it’s because you’re cursing the seitan, spilling the wine, or slapping hands from dipping bread in your sauce before it’s done—there’s really no wrong way to make this dish, except to take yourself too seriously.

Recipe for staples are from The Homemade Vegan Pantry, a lifesaving new release from Miyoko Schinner.


  • 1 bottle of red wine (this doubles as a rolling pin for your bread)
  • 1 large bottle of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 8 ounces mixed mushrooms
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 container dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 head elephant garlic
  • 2 yellow onions
  • Aji-mirin (available in Asian groceries)
  • White miso
  • 2 boxes vital wheat gluten
  • Active dry yeast
  • Organic all-purpose unbleached flour
  • Himalayan rock salt
  • 1 can (38-ounce) plum tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Dried basil and rosemary
  • Brown rice
  • 1 can cooked lentils
  • Nutritional yeast (yeast flakes also work)
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Rolled oats
  • Chopped walnuts


Unsteak (Seitan)


  • 1 pound cremini, shitake, or button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 3 to 4 gloves garlic
  • 2½ cups water or vegetable broth
  • 5½ cups vital wheat gluten



  • 2½ cups red wine
  • 1¼ cups aji-mirin
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 head garlic


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. While the oven heats up, combine the mushrooms, soy sauce, wine, and garlic in a food processor and blend until liquid. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in water. Dump your wheat gluten in and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon. Be careful not to knead—that makes it chewy!

3. Divide the mix into 5 loaves. Stick them on your baking sheets about 4″ apart and pop ’em in the oven for 30 minutes, until they poof a little.

4. When you have about 10 minutes left on your loaves, bring two large pots of water to a boil. Once the loaves are done in the oven, you can plop them into your pots of water and reduce the heat.

5. Partially cover with a lid and simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour. Once their hour is up, let them sit in the pot for a bit to cool down.

6. While your loaves are cooling, make your marinade by combining all the ingredients in large bowl.

7. Remove your loaves from the pot, squeeze out the liquid (you can shortcut this by using a tofu press), cut them into chunks, and stick them in Ziploc bags with the marinade. I put a big bag with 3 loaves in the freezer (it’ll keep for several months). Reserve 2 loaves for your neatballs in the fridge.

An adorable cooking partner is always a good idea!

An adorable cooking partner is always a good idea!

Basic Baguettes


  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea or Himalayan rock salt
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2¼ cups water


1. In a large bowl, combine your flour, salt and yeast. Stir in the water to make a sticky-textured dough.

2. Cover your bowl with a towel and let it sit for 12 to 24 hours.


1. About an hour before you’re ready to bake, stick a pizza stone in the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees.

2. While it warms, pour some flour on your counter and roll your dough out on the surface. Divide the dough in two and roll the pieces into 12″ logs.

3. Cover with a towel until the pizza stone is toasty, then place on the stone and give ’em a brush with water. Stick those puppies in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

Porcini Bolognese Sauce


  • 1½ pounds of that unsteak you made earlier and stowed in the fridge
  • 1 cup hot water
  • ¾ cup (1 container) dried porcini mushrooms
  • ¼ cup olive oil or water
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons white, chickpea, or yellow miso
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, pulsed in a blender/processor, or a few fresh ones, chopped
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary (about a sprig)


1. Pour a cup of hot water over the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and let them sit for about 15 minutes, until they are reconstituted. Meanwhile, dump your unsteak chunks from the night before into a food processor and chop until they become ground beef–like in texture. Transfer this to a bowl.

2. Next, toss the mushrooms with their liquid into the processor and pulse until they become a thick slurry.

3. Heat your oil in a large, deep pan over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic till both are tender and a little golden.

4. Add your ground unsteak, soy sauce, miso, and mushroom slurry. Mix that well and let it simmer for 15 minutes, until the unsteak looks to have absorbed most of the liquid.

5. Add your tomatoes, red wine, tomato paste, and dried herbs. Partially cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, letting all the deliciousness soak in. If you can, let this sauce sit for a bit—the longer it does, the more flavorful it gets.

Italian Neatballs


  • 1 onion, diced
  • Oil for sautéing
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon white miso
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup ground walnuts (stick these suckers in a food processor to grind into a bread crumb–like texture)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. Heat a deep pot over medium heat and cook your onions using water or a bit of cooking oil to keep them from sticking. Meanwhile, put your mushrooms into a food processor and pulse until they’re finely minced. Add them to your onion and cook for a few minutes until they’re brown. Stir in your soy sauce and miso.

3. Next, add the brown rice and lentils, mixing well. Follow by mixing in your tomato paste, nutritional yeast, garlic, and herbs.

4. Grind the oats and add to your mix. Finally, add the walnuts and mix again.

5. Use a spoon or ice cream scooper and dollop your neatballs onto the baking sheets.

6. Place the sheets in your oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until they’re brown and holding a solid shape.


1. Slice your baguette in half, then cut horizontal again to form a top and bottom. Scoop out the bread guts with a spoon so they’re like a little boat for your neatballs.

2. Stick two neatballs on one quarter of a baguette and smother in sauce. Sprinkle a small handful of shredded vegan mozzarella on top and broil in the oven to melt for 30 seconds. (You can do this with or without a plate; just be careful grabbing it when it’s done—that sucker is hot!) Let your sub cool before enjoying!


Gillian Francella is a writer, editor, and newly converted vegan/vegetarian. By day, she’s an editorial assistant with Rodale Books. But night, through trial and error, she works through various cookbooks to discover delicious dishes that test the limits of her tiny kitchen. She strives to make cruelty-free foods and tweak classic recipes from her childhood to be healthy, vegan treats, all while ballin’ out on a 20-something’s budget. Chances are, if she can make it, so can you! 😉


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