I am an unapologetic carnivore. Steaks, ribs, loins, legs, wings, cheeks – bring it on. To my mouth, I mean; not to a cheerleading competition. My arteries are far too clogged by a lifetime of red meat for me to have the strength or motivation to climb a human pyramid, even if it is made up of sexy underaged girls in short skirts.
That said, I’m willing to keep an open mind about veggie-made foods that are supposed to taste like meat, or at least, a close enough approximation that non-meat-eaters can pretend like they’re not completely missing out on delicious, delicious animals.
Admittedly, I’ve only eaten veggie meat once – I was in college, and like any good Liberal Arts student, I was into Eastern philosophy, which culminated in a ten-day trip to the Shambala Center in Boulder, Colorado. While there, I learned things like ikebana, maitri, the fact that I could rock the Lotus position better than most of my peers, and how to make a bong out of an apple. That last one was not a University-sanctioned activity, but it was educational nonetheless.
It being Buddha Camp (my name for it, not theirs), there were meat-eater and vegetarian options available for every meal. I passed on almost every veggie dish, mostly out of animal-eating defiance and a general distrust of tofu, but on the day of our very last breakfast I had reached Enlightenment and decided to try some not-made-from-a-once-living-thing fake bacon (fakon?) and breakfast sausage (fauxsage?)
The fakon was like a delicious bacon-flavored cracker strip, but it could not hold a candle to the real thing. The fauxsage, however, was spot-on, and I had to admit that, if I ever watched a documentary about the inhumane treatment of slaughterhouse-destined animals that was horrifying enough to turn me off of meat, I could say goodbye to Jimmy Dean and be pretty satisfied with some fake sausage links to go with my organic free-range chicken eggs and the grapefruit from my local pesticide-free community garden.
It is with this experience in mind that I opened my chakras to Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Veggie Meatballs.
Each box comes with 15 meatballs, which gives you “about” three portions, according to the box. I’ve never been great at math, but dividing five into 15 should give you exactly three portions, unless someone’s being a ball hog. The Buddha frowns upon ball hogs.
The microwave instructions couldn’t have been easier: put five meatballs on a paper plate, cover, cook on high for two minutes, flipping after a minute. I’ve had Hot Pockets with cooking instructions more complicated than that.
The results, however, were what you might expect from two minutes in the microwave: they were kind of squishy, and not at all crisp on the outside. Despite the sponginess, however, I was pleased with the flavor – there was a definite meatiness to it, and the spices were plentiful. Although the list of ingredients only specify onion, onion spices, tomato paste, garlic powder, and “natural spices”, I swear I could also detect some fennel and sage in there, which were welcome additions.
I decided to try them using the oven instructions also, despite my aversion to actually having to cook anything. The directions here were to preheat to 350°F, spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray, plop down five meatballs, and cook for 17-18 minutes, flipping after 8 minutes.
I am, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am lazy bastard, so I long-ago learned the trick of placing a piece of foil on top of the baking sheet for easy clean-up. This ingenious “trick” backfired on me for obvious reasons: they tell you to use cooking spray to keep the meatballs from sticking when you flip them. My balls stuck to the foil like testicles to the thighs of a man going commando on a hot summer day.
I couldn’t unstick the balls without losing some meat, a sentence that I’m sure just made some male readers uncomfortable, but flipping them directly back onto the stuck parts prevented further meat loss, and the entirety of the meatballs’ surfaces actually turned out nice and crispy.
I found that the veggieballs cooked in the oven had a firmer texture on the inside and got some nice crunch and browning on the outside, making them less spongy and more meat-like.
Morningstar Farms Veggie Meatballs are called a Meal Starters; presumably, this means they are a means in which to start your meal, which in this case, would obviously be spaghetti and meatballs. Oh sure, I could have cooked up some whole grain pasta and got a jar of veghead-friendly sauce, but I took the phrase “Meal Starters” literally and ate them like an appetizer.
Oh, who am I kidding, I ate them with a plastic fork and a cup of Domino’s Marinara Sauce I found in my Drawer of Orphaned Condiments. I didn’t bother putting the oven-cooked balls on a plate or even leaving the kitchen. I again blame my laziness on the lethargy caused by eating too much real meat.
While Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Veggie Meatballs didn’t convert me to a vegetarian for life, I appreciate whatever dark arts they use to turn soy and spices into a meatless meatball that I would gladly eat if one of my filthy hippy friends invited me over for dinner. While the microwaved balls fell short in the texture department, the oven-cooked ones were quite pleasant, and the spices used were well-balanced, warding off any ideas of blandness.
These veggie meatballs get my Buddha Camp seal of approval. I’d try to sit Lotus in their honor, but I’m afraid my knee joints would pop because I am no longer a young, spry college student and my Enlightenment flew out the window once I started putting words like “synergy” and “dictation” on my resumé.
(Nutrition Facts – 5 meatballs – 130 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 390 milligrams of sodium, 180 milligrams of potassium, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, 14 grams of protein, 4% calcium, and 8% iron.)
Item: Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Veggie Meatballs
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 8.5 ounces (15 meatballs)
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Very well-spiced. The word “fauxsage”. Easy cooking instructions. Youthful college-Buddhist enthusiasm. Oven-cooked balls had a nice, crispy outside.
Cons: Spongy texture when microwaved. Being too old and rickety to sit in the Lotus position. Sticky (meat)balls. Ball hogs.