This take on arancini is totally vegan, totally delicious, and fills all those comfort food cravings with some added protein. I have been a vegetarian since I was 5 years old, and Italian all my life. One of the few foods I looked forward to on our annual family visits to New York was a good Italian rice ball, also known as arancini. Topped with red sauce and grated cheese, it was a perfect kid-friendly meal that happened to be vegetarian, most of the time, amongst a meat-rich menu. The rice balls I grew up with were far from vegan and typically used egg, arborio, mozzarella and parmesan, and a couple of peas nestled in the gooey center.
Where to Buy Vegan Rice Balls
As I grew up and turned vegan, I basically gave up my search on where to buy Italian rice balls that met my vegan requirements. I was surprised on a single occasion in London. Arancini Brothers is a fast food stop specializing in vegan riceballs of an untraditional nature of sorts. These are not the rice balls I grew up with, but they were excellent, and also an inspiration in that, you can make riceballs any way you want to.
So let’s get you started on making your own at home. It’s going to be messy, but it’s going to be worth it.
You can make your own bread crumbs easily by toasting some vegan bread until dry and slightly browned and crushing with a mortar and pestle, and adding some dried herbs like oregano, ground rosemary, or parsley. You can even throw a little garlic or onion salt in there. It’s worth making extra, just because you’ll find yourself looking for ways to use vegan breadcrumbs like vegan buffalo wings, vegan stuffed mushrooms, vegan stuffed zucchini, vegan cauliflower poppers, really the list is endless.
What rice to use?
I decided to go for a long grain rice simply because arborio wasn’t available to me the day I decided to make these. Arborio is a much stickier rice, higher in starch and lends to the creamy texture you get when you make risotto. I use long grain jasmine in this recipe and had to add an extra sticky element. This was a true experiment, and I was so excited about the results. We ate rice balls for days. Even the ones I froze “for later”. So I am going to say, use whatever rice you can get your hands on. If you have arborio, that will work, just skip the flax (that extra binder), if you have a less sticky, starchy rice, go ahead and keep the flax.
What to Stuff Your Rice Balls With
This is up to you. If you have vegan mince, peas, or simple vegan cheese, like this recipe, it all works. I decided on only adding vegan cheese because I added the lentil element to the rice base and I didn’t want to get too crazy. This recipe makes a lot of vegan rice balls, so consider that when you decide what you want to use to stuff them with. This is also an opportunity to experiment and try a whole bunch of different options. Here are some ideas on what you can stuff your arancini with:
- Vegan mince. You can get store bought or make your own out of tofu very easily!
- Fresh or frozen peas, two or three will do for each ball.
- A small cube of vegan block cheese like mozzarella or parmesan.
- A small dab or marinara sauce with any of the above.
- A seasoned small tofu cube.
How to Prep Your Space:
Once you cook the lentils and rice, you are going to want them to cool down and the best way to do that is to spread them out. I like to use a basic silpat sheet to do that. While the rice mixture is cooling, I move what’s left of my mise en place to line up around the silpat. The set up is so important because you will be making a lot of rice balls and it will be messy and your hands will be covered in sticky rice. You want to set up where you are going to store your “ready to fry” rice balls before you start.
How to Mold a Rice Ball:
I use two methods, depending on if they are stuffed or not. I make mine about the size of a ping pong ball. I find this size much easier to handle and also they can be used for an appetizer or main meal this way. If I am not stuffing them, I just use my hands. If I am stuffing them I use a half-circle ceramic tablespoon to scoop some rice and then stuff it with the vegan cheese cube, I scoop it out of the mold before I add the other half of the rice ball to its counterpart.
What to Garnish and Pair With Your Vegan Rice Balls:
Naturally, you are going to want some fresh tomato sauce on hand and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan and oregano really pulls it together and helps with the plating. These can also be eaten plain! If you want to go crazy, you can put it on a roll with some vegan ricotta, or top them with some caponata.
How to Store and Reheat:
These freeze exceptionally well and you can keep them a few months. Though I doubt they will last that long. All you need to do is thaw and pop in the oven for about 20 minutes. You can do a little fork test and cut one in half and see if your vegan cheese has melted.
This recipe makes a lot, and you don’t need any really hard to find ingredients to get started. I think you are ready to start! Let me know how you enjoyed this recipe and if you have any questions!
Using pantry staples, you can make delicious, vegan italian rice balls to use as an appetizer or main dish. This recipe includes lentils to the rice mix to add an extra serving of protein, but boasts the same crunchy exterior and gooey inside of a traditional rice ball.
- 1 cup of long grain rice
- ½ cup of split red lentils
- 2 tablespoons of crushed flax seeds
- 2 tablespoons of egg-replacer
- 1 cup of breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon of grated garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of oregano, most of it chopped leaving some leaves for garnish
- 1 cup of white flour
- 1 cup of cubed vegan Parmesan (leave some of your block in tact to grate for garnish)
- ½ cup shredded vegan cheese
- 2 cups of vegetable broth
- Oil for frying
- In a cast iron pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil and add your rice. Mix around until it’s well coated and gets slightly brown. This can take a few minutes. Add water and boil until mostly cooked.
- In a separate pan, boil your lentils with one of the bay leaves until slightly tender and set aside.
- Drain both the rice and lentil mix and marry together in the dutch oven. Add new bay leaf and all of the vegetable broth. Set to medium and let reduce.
- While you are waiting for the rice mixture to reduce, mix your egg-replacer and flax seed together with ½ cup of water and set aside.
- Once all the liquid is gone and the rice and lentils are fully cooked, set aside and let cool.
- Lay your cooled mixture out. I like using a large Silpat or baking sheet for this. Line up the rest of your mise en place (other prepared ingredients) around the perimeter of the sheet and place a large pan or dish close by your workspace to put your soon to be ready-to-fry rice balls.
- Sprinkle a little bit of flour over your rice and lentil mixture
- Use most of your chopped oregano and spread evenly over laid out the rice mixture.
- Evenly spread your vegan shredded cheese over rice mixture.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.
- Use your hand to scoop a ping pong ball size amount of rice and shape it into a ball. If you are stuffing, scoop a ½ ball worth of your rice mixture, place your stuffing in the center and then add the rest of the mixture and shape into a nice, round little ball.
- Roll ball in flour.
- Dip ball in egg replacement and flax mixture.
- Roll in breadcrumbs.
- Set aside to fry.
- In a fryer or dutch oven, add your vegan rice balls to hot oil and fry until golden brown. A slotted spoon makes transferring the balls much easier.
- Now they are ready to dress!