Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs have it all! Sweet and tangy sauce, over the top flavor, and completely plant based! Did we mention they are meal prep friendly, too? These healthy sweet and sour meatballs will have you looking forward to lunch all day long!

Bowl with rice, chickpea meatballs, and onions and bell peppers.

How is this Hawaiian Meatballs recipe healthy for my heart?

I packed tons of nutrition in this meal for your heart from the bottom up! We started with a whole grain – brown rice – with lots of fiber and some healthy fats.

I made a slight change from your typical Hawaiian meatballs recipe and packed in the veggies! I’m talking several large spoons full of peppers and onions instead of that sparse piece of sad green pepper you’re hard pressed to find in some other versions. This makes the meal more filling for fewer calories but more nutrition – especially vitamin C.

I also used only pineapple juice to sweeten the sauce, and completely forwent any sugar. It ended up having the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess, and no sugar was needed at all.

I used chia seeds to hold the balls together instead of eggs. Chia seeds contain a type of omega-3 fat that the body cannot make on its own, alpha linolenic acid. This is a precursor to heart healthy omega-3s like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Chia seeds are also being studied for their more widespread benefits to the cardiovascular system. The tiny seed is high in antioxidants, giving it it’s super powers. Chia seeds seem to have an antihypertensive effect, which may help to lower blood pressure. We also know what chia seeds can play a role in blood sugar regulation, weight loss, and improving blood cholesterol concentrations (1). I try to use chia seeds in all the recipes I can! (Read more about eggs and the heart.)

I suppose the biggest, and most obvious change I made is in the meatball itself. Which isn’t really a MEATball, but a BEANball. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? Anyway, I substituted the usual beef or chicken with chickpeas, and added tons of flavor. The result is a ridiculously tasty little meatball, that actually stays together, and is high in protein AND fiber! Yay! You MUST try these. And since most people don’t eat nearly enough of either beans or vegetables, this is the perfect, balanced meal to boost your intake of both! Healthy sweet and sour meatballs that are also delicious!

What to serve with Sweet and Sour Meatballs

To serve with these delicious sweet and sour chickpea meatballs, I definitely recommend rice. Brown rice specifically, but you could also go for black rice or red rice. White rice would certainly work, but is less nutritious. If you use that option, just make sure the rest of your day is more nutritious. One meal won’t undo you!

Other options to serve with sweet and sour meatballs are whole grain pasta, cauliflower rice, whole grain biscuits or rolls (try my Buckwheat Biscuits), or another type of whole grain like quinoa, wheat berries, whole wheat couscous, or millet. Mashed potatoes or spaghetti squash would also work. You want something to soak up that delicious sweet and sour sauce for sure!

If you’re not into peppers, and wondering what vegetable to serve with sweet and sour meatballs, you have a lot of different options here! Broccoli or cauliflower would work nicely, because the floret tops would soak up the sauce. You could use green beans, carrots and/or celery, mushrooms, zucchini, or even some hearty greens like kale or collards. If you like, you can leave the veggies out of the sauce all together and go for a large side salad.

Tips and Substitutions

Make it low carb!

Make this meal low carb (and lower calorie), by using cauliflower rice instead of regular rice. A frozen option will work just great!

No chickpeas?

No problem. Use any type of cooked dry bean or lentil you have!

What is a replacement for oats?

I used oats to make these vegetarian chickpea meatballs without breadcrumbs. But you can absolutely use bread crumbs (look for whole wheat if you can – or make your own breadcrumbs!) instead of oats as an easy replacement. You can also use any whole grain flour, almond flour, etc. Cooked grains, while I haven’t tested them, I feel are unlikely to work well. You want something to absorb liquid to help hold the meatballs together.

What is Chinese five spice, and where can I get it?

This is the star of the meatball, so don’t leave it out! You can get it at most retailers now, and both McCormick and Simply Organic have a version. If you can’t find it, you can make your own, if you have the spices. Here is a great recipe for Chinese Five Spice.

What to use instead of peppers?

If you’re not into peppers, try broccoli or cauliflower, green beans, carrots and/or celery, mushrooms, zucchini, or even some hearty greens like kale or collards. You want between 2-3 cups of chopped veggies total. Or leave the veggies out of the sauce all together and go for a large side salad.

Glass meal prep containers, filled with rice, vegetarian chickpea meatballs, and onions and peppers.

Love plant based meatballs? You’ve GOT to try my Italian Style Black Bean Meatballs! Also look for our other heart healthy meal prep friendly recipes: Thai Salad with Peanut Dressing, Mushroom Chili with Sweet Potato Cornbread, Teriyaki Soba Noodle Bowls, and Healthy Burrito Bowls with Cilantro Lime Quinoa.

If you make Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs, let me know in the comments!

Bowl with rice, meatballs, and onions and bell peppers.
4 from 2 votes

Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce

These Chickpea Meatballs have it all! Sweet and tangy sauce, over the top flavor, and completely plant based! Did we mention they are meal prep friendly, too?

Course Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine American
Diet GlutenFreeDiet, LowFatDiet, LowLactoseDiet, LowSaltDiet, VeganDiet, VegetarianDiet
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 5
Calories 493 kcal
Author Laura Yautz


For the Meatballs

  • 3 Tbsp No Added Salt Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp ground Chia Seeds
  • 1 15 oz can Chickpeas, no added salt, rinsed and drained
  • cup Rolled Oats
  • ¼ cup minced Onion
  • ¼ cup chopped Parsley
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • ½ inch piece fresh Ginger, grated
  • ¼ – ½ tsp Chinese Five Spice
  • Cooking Spray or Oil for baking

For the Vegetables and Sauce

  • 3 Bell Peppers, any color, chopped
  • 2 large Onions, chopped
  • 20 oz can Pineapple Chunks, in 100% Juice
  • 1 cup Water
  • cup Rice Vinegar
  • ¼ cup Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh Ginger, grated
  • 2 Tbsp Cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp Cold Water

To serve:

  • 2 ½ cups cooked Brown Rice


  1. If you haven’t already made the rice, get that started first, and let it cook while you prepare the rest of the meal.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  3. Mix the tomato paste, olive oil, and chia seeds together in a small bowl, and set aside.
  4. Into a large food processor, add the chickpeas, rolled oats, onion, parsley, garlic, ginger, and Chinese five spice. Lastly, add the tomato paste mixture.
  5. Pulse the food processor until the mixture comes together in sort of a lumpy dough. You will probably have to scrape down the sides of the food processor a few times.
  6. Using a tablespoon, form small meatballs with the dough, placing them on a lined (or greased) baking sheet. You should get around 20 meatballs.
  7. Lightly spray each meatball with cooking spray, or brush with oil.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crispy on the outside.
  9. While the meatballs are baking, make the vegetables and sauce.
  10. In a large skillet, add the chopped peppers and onions, canned pineapple (both solids and liquid), water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, and bring to a simmer.
  11. Reduce heat if needed, and continue to simmer for at least 12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  12. Mix the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl with a fork, and pour into the vegetable mixture.
  13. Continue to simmer and stir for a minute until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.

For immediate consumption

  1. Gently stir the meatballs into the sauce, and serve hot over rice.

For meal prep

  1. Measure ½ cup of rice into each bowl or container. Divide the vegetables among the 5 bowls and top with any extra sauce. Place the meatballs on top of the rice, out of the sauce. The meatballs will hold up to sauce for a few hours, but not days. Mix them into the sauce right before eating.

Nutrition Facts
Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 493 Calories from Fat 96
% Daily Value*
Fat 10.7g16%
Saturated Fat 1.5g9%
Polyunsaturated Fat 3.2g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Sodium 358mg16%
Potassium 1302.8mg37%
Carbohydrates 88.3g29%
Fiber 14.8g62%
Sugar 27.4g30%
Protein 15g30%
Vitamin A 39.3IU1%
Vitamin C 96.2mg117%
Calcium 143mg14%
Iron 4.9mg27%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Bowl with rice, meatballs, and onions and bell peppers. Text overlay: Hawaiian Meatballs; Meal prep friendly!
Bowl with rice, meatballs, and onions and bell peppers. Text overlay: Hawaiian Meatball Bowls; Made with chickpeas.
Glass meal prep container filled with rice, meatballs, and onions and bell peppers. Text overlay: Sweet and Sour Meatballs; for meal prep! Made with chickpeas.

2 thoughts on “Vegetarian Chickpea Meatballs with Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • February 18, 2022 at 9:41 am

    5 stars
    I made this for dinner last night and we both loved it! The meatballs are so flavorful, and the texture is just right. The Chinese Five Spice makes them a yummy surprise.
    Definitely a recipe to make again!

    • February 28, 2022 at 10:32 am

      Great to hear your dinner was a hit! Thanks for trying the meatballs! 🙂


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