Fresh, leafy spinach, courgettes, vegan cream cheese, pine nuts and firm tofu are some of the ingredients that make up these delicious spinach and tofu balls. Served with spaghetti, they are an incredibly satisfying and hearty vegan meal that gives you a good dose of nutrition at the same time. Although they do take a little bit of work (you need to blend some of the ingredients and mix in others), the final result is a delicious ball of goodness that has a real hard-earned and gratifying bite.
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These balls are a little too soft to shape with your hands, so it is best to spoon them into the oil for deep-frying. To do this I use two spoons: one to scoop up the mixture and one to shape them for cooking. A large teaspoon is ideal for the shaping part.
There is a lot of squeezing out water as part of the prep for this meal. The tofu, spinach and courgette all have to have as much liquid removed as possible to avoid adding too much moisture to the final dish. I have described the best way to do that in the recipe instructions. As I said, this one takes a little bit of work, but please don’t be put off.
If you don’t want to deep fry the spinach and tofu balls, you can spoon them out onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, brush with a little oil and then bake them in the oven. They’ll take about 20 minutes on gas 6.
The whole dish is gluten-free, depending on which spaghetti you choose.
What you need for these Spinach and Tofu Balls.
You need a large bag of fresh spinach for this recipe. The weight comes to approximately 450g, so if you’re buying it in bunches try to approximate that weight, allowing for the removal of the stems.
Any canned chickpeas will do for this, just make sure they are well drained before adding them to the mix.
Extra Firm Tofu:
I typically use the Cauldron brand of extra firm tofu for most of my recipes, and it’s perfect for this one. Press it for at least 30 minutes to remove as much water as possible. I use a tofu press but books or saucepans and a tea towel to absorb the moisture works perfectly well.
A medium-sixed courgette is ideal for these tofu balls.
You can get packets of pine nuts from all major supermarkets. They give this dish an extra crunch and depth of flavour. If you don’t want to go to the expense of pine nuts, then feel free to leave them out.
Vegan Cream Cheese:
There are a few vegan cream cheeses available now. Sainsbury’s has a nice range, but I got mine from Morrison’s. It adds a creamy, very slightly cheese taste to the tofu balls and goes very well with the pine nuts.
Vegan Cheese Sauce:
I’m using a fairly standard homemade vegan cheese sauce for this recipe, made with vegan milk, nutritional yeast, and vegan cheese. I have added additional vegan Greek-style yoghurt to give it extra richness, and a good helping of chopped basil for a full Italian flavour. Full details in the recipe instructions.
Spaghetti with Spinach and Tofu Balls
For the Spinach and Tofu Balls:
- 450 g leaf or baby spinach washed
- 1 medium courgette grated
- 1 x 400g block extra firm tofu pressed for at least 30 minutes to remove excess moisture
- 1 can chickpeas drained
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- A dash of black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic puree
- 175 g 1 tub vegan cream cheese
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 150 g chickpea flour or other flour
- 50 g pine nuts
- Enough vegetable or sunflower oil for deep frying
For the Vegan Cheese Sauce:
- 50 g vegan butter
- 2 tbsp chickpea flour
- 500 ml vegan milk
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 veg stock cube make sure it’s gluten-free if needed
- 300 g basil leaves chopped
- 100 g vegan cheese grated
- 18 cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp natural vegan yoghurt I used Greek style
- A dash of pepper
- 100 ml vegan cream
- 1 x 500g pack of dried spaghetti use gluten-free if needed
- First cook the spinach in a saucepan with a little bit of water, covered with a lid for about 2 minutes, or until it has wilted. Drain the spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Now grate the courgette using a regular cheese grater. Put the spinach and courgette into a clean tea towel and squeeze it out over the sink. Squeeze as hard as you can to remove as much excess water as possible. Set aside.
- The next step is to blend the tofu, chickpeas, spinach and courgette. You will probable need to do this in batches as the fuller your processing jug is, the less it will blend all the way through. Keep mixing and blending until the tofu, chickpeas, spinach and courgette are blended together. It doesn’t have to be completely smooth, just well chopped and thoroughly mixed.
- Once this is achieved, tip the mixture into a large bowl and add the rest of the tofu ball ingredients, except for the frying oil. Mix thoroughly with a spoon, until you have a fully incorporated mixture. It’ll be quite green in colour. You’re now ready to fry the tofu balls.
- Fill a medium-sized saucepan, no more than half-full, with the vegetable oil. Gently heat the oil to frying temperature (you can test this by putting a small amount of the mixture into the oil. When it bubbles and floats to the surface, the oil is ready for frying.
- While the oil is heating up, preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.
- Use a tablespoon and a teaspoon to shape the tofu balls. They will be a little too soft to shape with your hands (feel free to try though, you might have more success than me), so you’re better off spooning the mixture and shaping it that way. To do this, take a tablespoon of the mixture and then scoop that with the teaspoon to form a round about the size of a ping-pong ball. You won’t get a perfect shape, so just go for as smooth as you can. Gently drop the ball in to the oil and repeat the process until you have a sensible amount in your pan. Remember that the oil will rise as they cook, so do not overfill. You also need space for them to move around. Cook for about 6-7 minutes, moving them around occasionally, until they are browned all over, then train them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a baking tray. Repeat this until all of the mixture is used up and the baking tray is full, then transfer to the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.
- While this is happening you can cook your pasta and make the cheese sauce. Fill a large saucepan with water, bring it to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions (usually about 12 minutes). Drain when finished.
- To make the cheese sauce, melt the vegan butter in a saucepan and whisk in the chickpea flour to form a smooth roux. Gradually add the vegan milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming, until you have a smooth sauce. Add the rest of the ingredients, apart from the cream, and bring the sauce to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to create a smooth, thick sauce. Now stir in the vegan cream and simmer gently for another 2 minutes.
- Serve by piling the spaghetti into a bowl, adding some of the tofu balls and then pouring over the sauce.
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