This copycat recipe is based on Ikea’s vegetarian plant balls, which are used in their restaurant as a meat-alternative option for their Swedish meatballs plates. This recipe combines the traditional ingredients of a Swedish meatball with plant-based protein options using ingredients commonly found in most grocery stores.
The meatballs in this recipe are light, moist, have a textured chew, and have that distinct Swedish meatball flavor. The secret to properly cooking these meatballs is steaming them before frying. Compared to hamburger meat which releases fats during pan frying, plant products just dry out and turn dark. Steaming binds the ingredients and allows for even, moist cooking prior to pan frying.
The best part of this recipe is that our in-house non-vegetarian skeptic liked it. He did not approve of previous attempts where the meatballs looked like balls of beans glued together.
Ikea Plant Balls
Ikea’s plant ball has the taste, texture and juiciness of a meatball, and according to their website is made with pea protein, oats, potatoes, onion and apple.
If you’re looking for Ikea’s original meat-based Swedish meatball recipe, it can be found here.
To get that meatball-like texture, Ikea likely uses textured pea protein rather than powdered pea protein. Pea protein is made by removing the starch and fiber from yellow split peas, which are field peas specifically grown to be split and dried.
Textured pea protein comes in chunks or minced form. The coarse minced form is ideal for meatballs. Textured pea protein allows it to be used as a base for meat alternatives and provides a fibrous structure and a spongey, chewy texture. The drawback to using textured pea protein is that it can be fairly pricey. Split peas are a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.
Unless you purchase textured pea protein, you will need to find a substitute. Despite what many websites say, you can’t make pea protein at home.
Can You Make Your Own Pea Protein?
Pea protein is manufactured by separating the starch and fiber from the protein of yellow split peas. It is made using either a dry process (milling and spiral air centrifuge/filtration) or wet process (the protein is chemically extracted). Unprocessed split peas consist of 27% protein, whereas pea protein powder can range from 40% protein to 70% protein. For reference, hamburger meat has approximately 20% protein.
If you grind up or mill dry yellow split peas, you will have split pea flour or powder but not protein powder. It is still nutritious, containing 27% protein and the 9 essential amino acids which constitute a complete protein.
Textured Pea Protein Substitute Options
In place of textured pea protein, you can use yellow split peas, green split peas, soy crumbles, or brown lentils.
Split peas have a light, sweet flavor. The earthy pea-like flavor mellows when cooked. Their outer skin has been removed, also allowing for a smoother texture when cooking.
Lentils have a hearty, earthy flavor and a paper-like outer skin. You can substitute lentils for split peas but the flavor and texture will be different.
Soy crumbles are also a possible substitute. You can also substitute using soy crumbles, but because they are flavorless you will need to add additional seasonings to bring out the desired flavors.
Both yellow and green split peas worked really well during testing and tasting. The main difference was the color of the inside of the meatball. As a meatball substitute for non-vegetarians, yellow split peas would be the better option for visually-appealing meatballs.
In this recipe, we used green split peas as the protein because they were readily available at local grocery stores and are a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.
Plant Ball Meatball Ingredients
Yellow or Green Split Peas
To use yellow or green split peas, pre-soak them in a bowl of water for 8-12 hours. They should double in size and be slightly tender yet crisp.
Drain the split peas. Place them in a food processor and pulse until there are no more pea halves and they resemble very small crumbles.
Potatoes are a standard ingredient in traditional Swedish meatballs. Potato has three purposes in traditional meatballs. It is an inexpensive way to add bulk and also acts as a binder for all the ingredients. It retains water, which contributes to the tender texture of the meatballs. Potato has a similar role to what breadcrumbs and egg would normally provide. We use potato flakes in this recipe to increase the binding properties.
Apple mellows the overall plant-based pea ‘flavor’ and adds a small amount of sweetness. By using unsweetened applesauce it increases the juiciness by providing additional moisture.
Oat bran is used as a binder. Unlike rolled oats, oat bran is made by milling the oat bran (the outer shell of oats) into a flour. You can substitute all-purpose flour if you don’t have oat bran or if gluten isn’t an issue for you.
If you are using lentils => Oats are a complementary protein (rice, oat, wheat, rye). Oat bran contains two amino acids (cysteine and methionine) that lentils lack. Adding oat bran helps make the meatballs a complete protein if you are using lentils instead of split peas.
Spices and Seasonings
The seasonings and spices are critical in re-creating a traditional Swedish meatball. The peas, apple, potato, and bran all have very subtle (if not bland) flavors. It’s better to have a slightly over-seasoned meatball than a bland, flavorless meatball. Paprika isn’t necessary, but it adds a slight pepper flavor and adds color (especially when using green split peas).
Plant Ball Swedish Meatballs Recipe
- 1 cup soaked green or yellow split peas (soaked for 6-12 hours)
- 4 TBSP mashed potato flakes
- 4 TBSP oat bran or flour
- 3 TBSP finely minced small onion (sautéed)
- 3/4 tsp garlic powder (or 6 crushed cloves of garlic – sautéed)
- 5-6 TBSP unsweetened applesauce
- 3 TBSP canola oil
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 4 Tbsp butter for sautéing (or substitute with your preferred oil or fat)
- Salt (1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and white pepper to taste
Swedish Meatball Sauce Recipe
This is the basic Swedish meatball sauce recipe provide by Ikea. Substitute as needed.
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 2/3 cups vegetable stock
- 2/3 cups beef stock
- 2/3 cups heavy cream
- 2 tsp Worcestershire
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Salt – to taste
Plant Ball Swedish Meatballs With Sauce Directions
To get the texture of a meatball, the prepared ingredients should be mixed by hand. Avoid using a food processor to mix the ingredients unless you prefer a dense, spam-like texture.
- Pre-soak the split peas 6-12 hours, until they double in size. Drain and then finely mince the peas in a processor. Set aside.
- Sauté the minced onion until transparent then remove from heat.
- Gently combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. The ingredients need to be well integrated, but avoid over-mixing or compressing the ingredients. The mixture should easily hold its shape and form a ball. Add oat bran or flour if the mixture is too loose. Add applesauce if the mixture is too dry. This is also your opportunity to test taste the mixture and add any additional seasonings.
- Form the mixture into 1 balls.
- Steam the meatballs for 20 minutes over high heat. Steaming activates the binders to firm up the meatballs. Steaming also uniformly cooks the split pea crumbles until tender, and mellows the overall pea flavor of the meatball. You can skip the steaming, but the meatballs will not cook evenly and will lose their shape during frying.
- Lightly coat the meatballs in flour. The flour is needed to help the meatballs get that crispy, brown texture during frying. Without the flour coating, the outer crust of the meatballs becomes dark and hard during frying instead of crispy.
- Preheat a cast iron skillet with butter or oil on medium high heat. Add your meatballs and cook until all sides are a uniform crispy golden brown. Place meatballs in a covered container (to retain moisture) and begin sauce preparation.
- Baking or airfrying: you can bake the meatballs but you will not get much of the brown, crispy outside texture that makes meatballs so pretty and tasty and the meatballs will dry out and lose moisture.
- Deep fry the meatballs if you want a uniform, crispy brown texture.
- Using the same skillet (over medium heat), deglaze the pan with water or wine. Add your butter and once it has melted whisk in the flour to create a uniform paste. Add all your liquids (stock, cream, Worcestershire, and Dijon) and continue whisking for 3-5 minutes until mixture has thickened.
Once your sauce is ready, reduce the heat to low. Add your meatballs to the sauce in the skillet. Cover until served.
— IKEA UK (@IKEAUK) April 20, 2020