Eat Well Oct. 6. 2015

Spaghetti Squash and Chickpea Meatballs

Oct. 6. 2015
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

A hearty gluten-free chickpea meatball served in al dente spaghetti squash boats.

It’s fall and I feel like we’re all about comfort food right now. I know you can relate to getting back into routines of fall, but for me, life has been going a million miles a minute lately. I’m feeling like so much is going on, NS is growing, and my time is being stretched to the max leaving me wanting nutrient-dense food that’s fast, simple, and satisfying. I often talk about how food is far more than fuel in my book; it’s social, it’s comfort, it’s love, it’s fun, it’s all of those things if we manage from a place of balance. So naturally when things get a little crazy and all I want is a hearty, warming bowl of pasta with meatballs…I turn to this one. I thank my mom for inspiring this recipe because she makes a mean spaghetti and meatballs, yet I haven’t had them in like 10 years since being meat free. I hope you get the same enjoyment and nourishment from Spaghetti Squash and Chickpea Meatballs as I have lately!

What is spaghetti squash?

Depending on where you live, you might’ve never had this fun squash before. I hope that you can get your hands on it at least once, especially with this recipe since it highlights the whole “spaghetti thang”. You could guess that just like other squash, spaghetti squash is a great source of fiber (about 5g in 2 cups cooked) and is perfect for when you’re really craving a huge bowl of pasta yet don’t want to go overboard on carbohydrates, which is so easy to do with regular pasta. Spaghetti squash is yellow, which is a good indicator of which antioxidants and vitamins it has (think carrots) and contains vitamin A, C, B vitamins, manganese, copper, potassium, iron, and calcium. The seeds, just like a pumpkin, can also be roasted and used as a topping or garnish if you like. After the squash has been baked, you take a fork and scrape the flesh of the squash starting from the sides towards the middle. This breaks up the fibers (aka noodles) from the squash and gives it it’s famous texture! It’s that simple. Bake, scrape, eat.

The spaghetti squash is one thing…but these chickpea meatballs are on a whole NOTHA level. I first made this recipe, scratch that, I first attempted to make a chickpea meatball recipe in college and could never get the texture just right. It wasn’t until I started experimenting with putting eggs in the meatball (just like my mom does) that I found the perfect texture. You can make these completely vegan if you like by using a flax egg, or use the 1 egg I highly recommend here.

A couple of things to keep in mind with these chickpea meatballs: traditionally when my mom makes meatballs she’ll bake them for a bit and then pan fry them with a touch of olive oil until they’re crispy on the outside. Then she adds in the marinara sauce and lets them finish cooking and soak up more moisture from the sauce. Since these are completely meat free, you have to think about the loss of fat when cooking which means a loss of moisture without the naturally occurring fat from those animal proteins. No worries, though, since it’s super simple to add in healthy fat from olive oil, use eggs as a binder, and keep the herbs and spices relatively traditional. The chickpeas and nutritional yeast that I use in these meatballs also make these packed with protein!

You can also make this recipe into boats by using the “shell” of the baked squash as a serving bowl! I love making boats out of food… like stuffing sweet potatoes for dessert, filling fresh papaya with more fruit, loading up zucchini with pizza toppings, and now one of my fall favorites–the spaghetti squash!

Other ways to enjoy these Chickpea Meatballs…which I highly recommend you try out:

  • Make a meatball sub with bread or low carbohydrate using a lettuce wrap (best to serve the meatballs chilled in this example)
  • Ditch the marinara sauce and make them Indian style with my Mint Chutney (trust me it’s crazy good!)
  • Crumble on top of a hearty salad for a boost of protein
  • Serve as an appetizer with friends and a side of hot marinara sauce for dipping
  • Sliced in half for a meatball sandwich

Let me know what you think when you give this recipe a go! Leave a comment and rate it. I love seeing what you come up with so don’t forget to take a picture and tag it #nutritionstripped on Instagram!

xx McKel

The Recipe

Serves 18 meatballs (3-4 servings)



1 spaghetti squash

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped sweet onion

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup hemp seeds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup chopped dry sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, adjust to taste

Pinch of red pepper flakes, adjust to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, adjust to taste

1, 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a sharp knife, poke holes all around the entire spaghetti squash. Place the squash directly on the rack of your preheated oven and cook for 45 minutes or until a knife easily goes through the skin. Take out of the oven and slice the squash in half, longways, be careful it’s hot! Scoop the seeds and center out, discard or roast the seeds as an option. Using a fork, gently scrape the sides of the squash until all the flesh is in ribbons. Set aside.

In a medium heated skillet, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and onion. Saute for 2-4 minutes until they start to soften; add minced garlic with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes until fragrant.

In a food processor or blender, combine the sauteed onions and garlic with nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, egg, chopped walnuts, oats, basil, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, remaining olive oil (2 tablespoons), and chickpeas. Pulse together until the mixture comes.

Pour this mixture out into a large mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste before you start rolling these into about 1 tablespoon balls. Use a little olive oil or water to coat your hands to prevent the chickpea meatballs from sticking, repeat until all of the batter are in balls.

Using the same skillet you sauteed onions in, add in 1 tablespoon olive oil just to cover the bottom of the pan, add chickpea meatballs to cover the bottom and cook on medium until the outside is golden brown, about 5 minutes each side. Be gentle when flipping over each chickpea meatball so it doesn’t lose form. Use a baking sheet with parchment and paper towels to drain any excess oil

To serve: Place chickpea meatballs into the center of the squash halves with the spaghetti squash noodles inside already, pour your favorite heated marinara sauce on top and garnish with fresh torn basil

Another option, to take out all the spaghetti squash noodles into 1 large serving bowl and mix all the chickpea meatballs and sauce on top. This is great for serving a large group at once. Otherwise, serve individually and reheat meatballs in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes or until warm.


Chickpeas: may use dried beans that have been soaked and cooked overnight. Organic canned beans are a quick, simple, and affordable option
Bake: You can bake the chickpea meatballs instead of pan searing them, bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until firm and golden brown.



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