The Vegan Answer to the Meatball Sub

Show me a non-vegetarian who claims not to like meatball subs, and I’ll show you a liar.

Meatballs, marinara sauce, cheese.  All on a sub roll.  To those not averse to eating animals and animal products, heaven on a bun.

If I had to bet on it, I’d say more than one conscious diet has been ruined when a drunken vegetarian or vegan stumbled by a late-night Italian sub shop, only to be drawn by the irresistible call of the meatball sub which rivals that of Homer’s mythical Sirens.

But now, my vegetarian friends, heaven on a bun is no longer forbidden to us.

Meet the Wheatball

This one comes from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap, and cheap it is.  According to Robin, these “wheatball” sandwiches come in at less than $1.50 per serving.

Of course, that’s if you make your marinara sauce from scratch and use Robin’s recipe for Cheezee sauce instead of paying for vegan mozzarella cheese.  When Erin and Christine tag-teamed this recipe last night, they did all of that.  (Our splurge was on the Ezekiel sprouted buns.)

But Robin recommends getting ready-made marinara and vegan cheese if you’re strapped for time (and your budget can handle an extravagant two dollars per serving).  At the end of this post, I’ve provided her recipe for Cheezee sauce, but figured I’d let you insert your favorite marinara sauce, storebought or homemade.

These are called “wheatball” sandwiches, but don’t let that name turn you off.  The base of the wheatballs is mainly chickpeas and mushrooms, with some breadcrumbs and wheat gluten included to provide the right texture.

And you know what?  These subs are really good.  You can’t go into it expecting a meatball sub, because it’s not that.  But it’s a great sandwich that seems like a meatball sub, and I’m very happy with that.  We’ll be making this recipe again.

My biggest gripe is one that applies to nearly every veggie burger or veggie meatball—they’re not firm the way real burgers or meatballs are.  But I’m used to that by now, and you probably are too.

So make these and enjoy a little bit of animal-free heaven.  Then head to Robin’s blog to tell her thanks.

Wheatball Sandwiches

From Vegan on the Cheap, by Robin Robertson, Wiley, 2010

  • 12 to 16 Wheatballs (recipe below)
  • 2 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Cheezee Sauce (recipe below)
  • 4 small sub rolls or other sandwich rolls

1. In a large saucepan, combine the wheatballs and marinara sauce, and heat over medium heat.  Use a potato ricer to smash and flatten the balls, retaining some shape and texture.  Cook stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Keep warm.  Preheat the broiler.

2. Heat the cheezee sauce in a small saucepan and keep warm.

3. Split the sub rolls and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet.  Toast the rolls, then arrange them on plates.

4. Divide the wheatball mixture and drizzle each with some of the cheezee sauce.  Serve hot.


Makes about 28 wheatballs

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped white mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup wheat gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley and pulse until coarsely ground, but not pureed.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine.

2. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixture into a large bowl and knead the mixture until well blended, about 2 minutes.

3. Pinch off a small piece of the mixture, press it together in your hand, then roll into a 1 1/2-inch ball.  Repeat with the remaining mixture.

4. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat.  Add the wheatballs, in batches if necessary, and cook until browned all over, moving them in the pan as needed for even browning, about 5 minutes.

5. Repeat until all the wheatballs are cooked.  They are now ready to use in recipes. If not using right away, cool completely, then cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.  Properly stored, they will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 to 4 weeks.

Cheezee Sauce

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

  • 2/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups plain unsweetened soy milk or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the yeast, cornstarch, salt, and garlic powder.  Turn the heat on medium and whisk in the soy milk.  Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and mustard.  The sauce is now ready to use.  If not using right away, refrigerate the sauce in a container with a tight-fitting lid, where it will keep for several days.



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

The Nutrients You Need (With Nothing You Don't)

complementNo Meat Athlete has helped develop Complement™, the perfect nutrient formula for plant-based athletes. Complement brings together, in one place, the three essential nutrients that are missing from a reasonably diverse, whole food plant-based diet:
  • B12
  • D3
  • DHA/EPA Omega-3s
It's everything you need to complement your diet, and nothing you don't.

Click here to learn more.


  1. These sound delicious and they use things that are staples in my pantry anyway.

  2. wow, those look really good! i need to make these.

  3. WOW! What a fabulous meal. I’ll tell you- strangely the only thing I’ve really craved (and it is once in a blue moon) since going veg is a hamburger…and I used to not even really eat them? Maybe its been on days when I’m low in Iron or something haha. Homemade marinara? Sounds just incredible.
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Cookbook Giveaway: Emeril’s Farm to Fork =-.

    • Erica, yeah maybe that is days when you’re low on iron. I’ve heard it said that our cravings are often there for a reason. So that’s a good excuse to eat junk food sometimes! But no meat, of course. 🙂

    • Is it necessary to cook them before cooling, freezing? Would like to make a few batches and freeze.

  4. You are my favorite for posting this… seriously. I absolutely cannot wait to try this out!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Slaw & salad =-.

  5. Wow, that looks great! Sort of like an Italian take on falafel.
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Vega Shake & Go Smoothie Review =-.

  6. Years and years ago – when I used to freely and ignorantly consume meat – I was never enticed by the look or smell of a meatball sub. This, though – this I may try.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Tight Squeeze =-.

  7. This place in SF mission makes the most amazing Seitan philly “cheese steaks”

  8. I love this! And I love that I have all those ingredients (aside from the nutritional yeast which I could buy in bulk) on hand too. Sounds wonderful! 😀
    .-= Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down)´s last blog ..Summer, Beans and Life’s To Do List =-.

  9. We are cooking our way through VOTC. It is awesome. We are almost halfway through the book. Delicious recipes!

    • Krys, great idea. I’ve always wanted to do that. I thought about doing it with a Mario Batali book before I became vegetarian. I could be cooking pheasants and rabbits and such instead of vegan meatballs!

  10. Can’t go wrong with chickpeas! This recipe looks great.
    .-= Amber Shea (Almost Vegan)´s last blog ..Nut milk bag giveaway WINNERS! =-.

  11. OMG, this is my Vegan Kryptonite, It is the only meat I miss so I will definitely be trying this out this weekend.

  12. Okay, this totally reminds me of falafel…..which if hummus is used instead of the cheez sauce that would be one of the most incredibly delicious sandwiches ever! Those are practically falafel already!

  13. Alright. Made ’em for dinner and ate ’em up. The Cheezee sauce is unbelievably good. We’re going to use it in Mac-n-cheese to see how it works there.

    The wheatballs didn’t have quite enough “tooth” for us. Not quite firm enough. So, first thing we’re going to try is baking them for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven after they’ve been browned, but before they simmer in the marinara. Similar to making seitan. If that doesn’t do it, we’re going to increase the vital wheat gluten a bit.

    Either way, this is a keeper for us.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..andycampbell: Made these for dinner: having these for breakfast: Thanks @nomeatathlete !! =-.

    • Andy, thanks for trying it. I’d argree that the wheatballs are too soft. I have that problem with anything homemade that’s supposed to imitate meat. Baking them might work.

      Let me know if you do find a good way to do it. I’m sure it would work on similar meat-like foods, like veggie burgers, too.

  14. Made these for dinner tonight. SOOOO delicious!! Seriously. Anyone reading this post should run right into the kitchen and whip some up!! They were great! My girls (who are cheese-sauce-aholics) loved the cheeze….they didn’t guess that it’s not real cheese and we didn’t tell them! We will definitely be making these again!!!

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I have to share this recipe with my vegan friend. She’s coming to visit fairly soon and I may ask her to make these with me! They look delicious!

  16. I just came across your blog. As a budding triathlete and a vegetarian, I am looking forward to getting recipes, tips, etc.

    This recipe looks tasty! Fortunately, there are no good sub shops near here 😉

    If you’re looking for pre-packaged veggie meatballs that have great consistency, look for Veggie Patch:

    We use them in sandwiches and in soup, and they stay together really well and taste great!

    • Hey Heather, nice to meet you. I’m excited to hear that the Veggie Patch meatballs are good. They sent me some coupons to try and review their stuff; I just haven’t made it to a store that carries Veggie Patch. Soon though, I hope!

  17. I have Robin’s book, Vegan on the Cheap, and both of these recipes are very, very good! My daughters request the ‘wheatballs’ at least once a week. LOL

  18. I am so glad my friends showed me your site. My oldest son is a competitive gymnast (and all around energy ball) who prefers to not eat meat. I made this sandwich for the family last night and even my self professed meat loving 8 year old loved it…and asked for more.

  19. any non-vegans added egg as a binder to see if that would firm them up a bit? These look fantastic! Thanks for the recipe. 🙂

  20. Nicole G. says:

    I just made these substituting 3/4 cup tvp granules rehydrated with 3/4 cup hot water for the chickpeas and 1 15 oz. can of mushrooms squeezed completely dry in a dishcloth instead of the fresh mushrooms. I kept everything else the same except I baked them on a sheet pan coated in olive oil at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes on each side. They taste delicious and are quite toothsome-kind of like Nate’s(which I can’t find anywhere and is how I came across your recipe).

  21. I am interested to see the exercises! Many of the exercise programs don’t have any for the beginner. I have bought several videos for cardio that were nearly impossible for someone obese (and not terribly co-ordinated) to do. I know that the traditional sit-ups, leg lifts, and isometric exercises work, as I have used them, but I was not as overweight then as I am now and I need HELP!

  22. Angie Edmiston says:

    Just made these for my daughter who is vegetarian. Made traditonal meatballs for the rest of us that are NOT vegetarian. I found myself liking the wheatballs BETTER than the meatballs!! So did my other NOT vegetarian daughter! Excellent recipe…will make again!

  23. These wheatballs are amazing! I baked them in the oven at 375 for 15, then flipped them and for another 15. I ate them right out of the oven and had to stop myself, to save some for my family. I send them to school with my 10 year old. He shares them with other kids because they like them too! I am calling them Amazeballs.

  24. Melissa says:

    I tried these last night, and the taste was great, but the texture was very chewy. Anyone else have this issue? Was I too stingy with the breadcrumbs?

  25. Get Real and loose the oil. Oil is not a food…just pure fat. How about just giving up oil in your diet and your recipes. We would all be more healthy from this move.

  26. Just made these for the first time! 5/5 will be making again!!

  27. Just out of curiosity, I’m allergic to mushrooms. What can I use as a substitute? Thanks!

  28. Just made these, and they are yummy. I didn’t have parsley, so I used fresh basil. I also added some fennel seed. Thanks for a great recipe!

  29. My non-vegan family enjoyed these, and asked for seconds! I followed some advice in the comments and baked the wheatballs (350° for 8 minutes, turn over and 8 minutes again) after I cooked them in the skillet , which helped firm them up. They seemed to have the right consistency after that. I just finished making a second batch to go in the freezer for next time. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  30. Is there another ingredient I can use instead of wheat gluten flour or TVP? Something whole food plant based, nuts/seeds or perhaps even oats? Thank you!

Leave a Comment