Walnut-Pecan Balls – and Reminiscing

My very first recipe for a vegan meatball was in The Everyday Vegan. That recipe isn’t a traditional meatball, more of an asian-fusion with flavors of hoisin, miso, cilantro and paired with a sweet and sour sauce. It’s actually one of my favorite recipes from TEV, though I rarely make them now (new recipe development has its drawbacks)!

Walnut-Pecan Balls from Let Them Eat Vegan by Dreena Burton, plant-powered kitchen

I started writing that book 15 years ago, and I still remember grappling with what to call a vegan ‘meatball’. The recipes in that book didn’t replicate many traditional omnivorous dishes. But, still, when you have a meatball that’s not meat, what do you call it? Many vegan recipes rhyme or use wordplays on the original name. I settled on Sweet and Sour Neatballs, and still like that name. It hints to a different flavor profile, and – hey, it’s easy to say!

Now when I create recipes that take similar forms as many meat-based dishes (ex: meatballs, burgers) I tend to refer to the main ingredients or flavor profiles of the recipes (Mediterranean Bean Burgers, Umami Almond Quinoa Burgers, etc) rather than use wordplays.

So, when I developed this recipe for Let Them Eat Vegan, the recipe naming was simple and obvious – Walnut-Pecan Balls. The walnuts and pecans are just the beginning, however. There are other flavorful and savory elements in these balls that they probably deserve a more glorified name! At the end of the meal, the name is not what counts – it’s all about how it tastes and how it makes you feel. This recipe delivers both great flavor and good nutrition. Pair them traditionally with pasta and tomato sauce – or try some of the other serving suggestions in the recipe (below).

Walnut-Pecan Balls - from Let Them Eat Vegan by Dreena Burton, plant-poweredkitchen.com

walnut-pecan balls, all photos by: coconutandberries.com

These Walnut-Pecan Balls are also one of my husband’s favorite meals. We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary just last week. We were wed in San Diego, California on January 16, 1994. We enjoyed a simple ceremony – sincered and intimate, unfussy and relaxing. We flew out of Los Angeles that evening, just before the 1994 earthquake. I remember hearing the news as we were toasting each other in-flight. We have many lovely memories of our wedding – and have created many more since, especially with our three girls.


I was feeling particularly emotional about our anniversary. Twenty years is a long time, and we were together several years before we were married. We were just kids, really. Yet, we knew our connection and commitment was real, true, and strong. I took some time to create a playlist of our songs that hubby could listen to commuting to work that day. Songs from when we first met, our long-distance relationship, through marriage, having children, and other milestones. As I listened to these songs over a couple of days, it really hit home how much we’ve been through as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.

Some songs made me feel a little sad. Not just because they reminded me of some of our harder times, but also because it brought me back to those early days, when it was just us. We both work so hard, and are so busy as parents. It’s easy to get caught up in our roles and routines, not taking time to remember that connection… why we first fell in love. After the sadness passed, I felt filled with gratitude and love.


When I woke on our anniversary, I had an email waiting from hubby. He had written a letter, reflecting on our years together. It recalled sweet and joyful memories, as well as how we’ve endured more challenging times. He also reminisced about my journey as a cookbook author, saying:

I am so proud of everything you have achieved. That includes your accomplishments in business and your amazing publishing career.  I vividly remember all of your effort into those early proposals and the rejections coming back one by one. Then when you accomplished your goal, what a time that was, just seeing the first book in print, the Toronto tour and Canada AM.

Our eldest daughter was just six months old when we took that trip for the book tour and Canada AM appearance. I recall nursing her in the hotel, toting baby food (she had just started solids), and trying to pull it all together to be on national television!

I also clearly remember writing and mailing those proposals with return envelopes. Knowing that I needed just one “yes”! I believed it would happen, and it did. Now, our eldest is now almost 13, with two younger sisters, I have published 3 more books, one ebook, and working on my 5th cookbook.

Much like how our relationship has grown, changed, and evolved over 20+ year – so has my food knowledge, recipe development, and recipe naming. (Mostly for the better, I think!)

With that story I hope you enjoy this recipe. Maybe it’s one you will love for 20+ years too. 😉 Yeah… some things never change. You can always count on me to throw in a good dose of corny.

My thanks again to Emma of Coconut and Berries for these delectable photos! Visit her blog, she shares some incredible recipes and ideas on her site!

Walnut-Pecan Balls from Let Them Eat Vegan by Dreena Burton, Plant-Powered Kitchen

Walnut-Pecan Balls gluten-free option, oil-free option

ReciPage link to print/share

These savory balls have a buttery taste from a combination of walnuts, pecans, and sautéed vegetables.  They are delicious topped on pasta with a good quality pasta sauce, but can also be used as finger foods to dip in a warmed marinara sauce, or formed into patties and eaten as plant-strong veggie burgers! Makes about 17- 20 balls.

1 tbsp water or olive oil (to saute – use water for oil-free version)

1 cup onion, chopped

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1¼ tsp dried oregano leaves

½ tsp dried thyme leaves

1/4 tsp sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup pecans

3/4 cup walnut

1 cup + 2 tbsp rolled oats (use certified gluten-free for a gf option)

2 tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce (use gluten-free for wheat/gluten free option)

1 tbsp tamari (can use coconut aminos)

½ tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp blackstrap molasses

1/2 – 1 tbsp olive oil (or less/more as needed for frying), optional (see note for oil-free option)

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the water/oil, onion, celery, dried oregano, thyme, sea salt, and pepper. Cook for 10-14 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions and celery are nicely softened and golden brown (add extra water if needed to prevent sticking). Once onions and celery have softened some, add them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except last 1 tbsp of olive oil for frying), and process until the mixture becomes crumbly, and then scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Process again to incorporate any larger pieces, and just as mixture becomes sticky and/or forms a ball, stop processor.  Refrigerate for at least 1⁄2 hour (chilling will make it firmer and easier to form). Take small spoonfuls of the mixture, about 1 tbsp (using a small cookie scoop is helpful, but otherwise form with your hands, rinsing hands when needed to keep mixture from sticking to your palms).  If cooking in a non-stick skillet (see note for oven-baking), heat the oil over medium-high.  Add the balls and fry for 5-7 minutes (reduce heat if burning), shifting the pan to turn sides of balls every minute or two to form a golden crust fairly evenly around the balls.  Remove, and serve.

Serving Suggestions:  Most obvious, serve these warm with tomato sauce and pasta.  But, also try as an hor d’oeurve with a warmed sauce (ex: a marinara or other sauce such as my Raw Tomato Sauce, or Living Caesar Dressing for dipping. Also try adding them to a salad to transform a light salad into a full meal.

Oven-Baking Note:  If you prefer baking these in the oven, place balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes, turning once or twice during baking, until golden brown.

Idea: These mixture can also be formed into patties and pan-fried as a burger patty.   Or, it can be placed in a loaf dish and baked.

Leftovers? Refrigerate them and use another day as a sandwich filling, simply mashing and stirring in a sauce or condiment of choice, and chopped veggies if you like.

Please feel free to share your feedback about this recipe, how you liked them and/or how you served them! Thanks for indulging my personal ramblings as well, maybe some of you relate from a relationship or parenting perspective. Have a delicious plant-powered week! xx Dreena


  1. Mandy says

    So funny had this recipe waiting for a long time to make and made today, on my 20th wedding anniversary….
    Loved the meatballs will become a fast favorite. So easy too.
    Love your blog and your books!

  2. Corrin Radd says

    Made these today and was impressed by how well they held together compared to other ball recipes I’ve tried. I dipped them in marinara, but the rest of the family preferred them un-sauced.

  3. Susie H. says

    Hi, Dreena!
    First of all, congratulations on your anniversary! I can quite relate to how you felt that day. I too get emotional when reminiscing about the good times with my dearest ones. You have such a lovely family and it must be great to really feel the support of your husband concerning your career. It is inspiring to see that with dedication and passion success will come.

    About the recipe, do you have any suggestions for vegans with nut allergies? Do you think a mix of sunflower and pumpkin seeds would work? I’m afraid they would end up being too oily. Any ideas appreciated! I have been craving meat(less) balls for ages and this dish looks really palatable and easy to make. Maybe even for 20+ years:) I went vegan about a year ago, but I still crave my dose of comfort foods now and then. There is a good spot for comfort foodies like myself, a vegan restaurant in Toronto that makes really good burgers. They are somewhat similar to your bean burgers. That’s what I order when dining out:)

    Not to forget, Emma did a great job with the pictures. I checked out her blog and started drooling:)

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • Dreena says

      Hi Susie, thanks for those thoughtful and kind words. :) Since this recipe is heavily based on nuts, I wouldn’t sub other things here. Some recipes it’s easier, just because there aren’t many nuts in the recipe, so a substitution doesn’t affect the overall taste/texture too much. You could try substituting seeds, for sure. I do find seeds taste a little more bitter at times, but here I think they could work. I’d suggest the same mix – pumpkin and sunflower – you could also try a little hemp in there too. These won’t be too oily in this recipe, as walnuts/pecans are oily nuts. I do have a new ball recipe that uses pumpkin seeds, but don’t have it ready to publish just yet.

      Another idea is to try one of my burger or loaf recipes that is nut-free and make them into balls – I know some readers have done just that with the ‘no-fu lentil loaf’ and also the mushroom-pecan burgers. Though the mushroom-pecan aren’t nut-free, that’s an example of where the pecans aren’t a big component in the recipe, so you could omit them or substitute easily with pumpkin seeds (toast them a little, that would be my recommendation).

      That help at all? Hope so! :)

  4. Laura says

    Hi Dreena,

    I just had to let you know that I finally made the walnut-pecan balls (I over processed them a tad, so I made them into patties instead of meatballs). Oh my gosh, the flavor is magnificent! Will definitely be making them again and will be recommending them to my plant based friends.

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing your romantic history with us, Dreena! I’ll never forget waking up to that earthquake and I’m happy to know you were safely in the air when it occurred.

    To another 80 years of wedded bliss!
    Vegyogini recently posted..LYFE KitchenMy Profile

    • Dreena says

      Thanks Stephanie. :) I really want to get back to San Diego – maybe for our 25th, but really I’d like to visit sooner!!

  6. Kristin says

    This recipe looks great…but is it possible to leave out the tamari? I try really hard to stay away from anything soy-based….but anything coconut-based sets off a migraine (I know, nightmare, right?). If the tamari is just for flavoring, I’m happy to experiment with just leaving it out. But I wasn’t sure if it was necessary for texture or holding the ball together. Thanks!

    • Dreena says

      Kristin, yes, it’s for flavor – not at all for binding. So, you can omit it, add some salt instead to taste, and maybe add another tsp of balsamic for flavor – up to you. :)

  7. Sferd says

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, Dreena. Really enjoyed it. My significant other and I (haven’t married yet!) have been together for a bit longer than you two. I’ve always been a bit afraid to get married lest we mess up what we have! 😉

    On this recipe, do you know if this could possibly work with other nuts? I really don’t like the taste of walnuts or pecans. Could I possibly swap out one with no detrimental effects?

    • Dreena says

      Awww, well, if it ain’t broke, right?! 😉 Yes, you can sub other nuts, but the texture will be a little different. Walnuts and pecans are a little oilier/softer than nuts like almonds/cashews/pistachios. So, if you do sub different nuts, you might need to add a touch more moisture to get them to come together, or maybe a teaspoon or two of tahini. Hope that helps!

  8. says

    Hi Dreena! Congratulations on your anniversary…thank you for sharing the details of your day! So much to reflect upon – wow! This recipe looks fab…I’m going to try a hemp version! 😉 thanks for sharing as always!
    Sarah recently posted..Happy 2014 & UpdateMy Profile

    • Dreena says

      Thanks for the anniversary wishes, Sarah. :) Do let me know if you come up with a great hemp version. I was playing with a hemp/grain version not too long ago, might revisit that! xx

  9. Rebecca Stucki says

    Dreena, since the day I “met” you, you have been nothing but kind and helpful and encouraging. You deserve all the success you have achieved (and more!). You and your husband are so lucky to have found each other and to be so happy together – congratulations! The world is a better, happier and more delicious world with you in it. :-) And here – ANOTHER recipe I haven’t tried – and now must! (It’s so fun now to read one of your recipes and say “I have all those ingredients!!” and be able to make them right away!) Love you…keep on keeping on!

  10. Jane says

    Hi Dreena! Lovely story – thanks! I posted this one following the other day when you face booked about the cinnamon bars, but then i realised the actual blog post and all the comments were from months ago and you probably don’t check back that far! So I’m putting it here instead! Also, When my daughter was little the maternal health nurse (who was very worried about veganism!) saw how she thrived and said “you should write a book!” I could not have done so, i found the demands of parenting too overwhelming to think of writing, but you did it, and you carried on doing it. You have helped so many people, I know and you should feel very proud!
    Here’s the older post:
    Hi Dreena – these cinnamon bars look great and as we swelter in 42˚, always happy to have no-bake treats. Funnily enough, I have been making the cocoa dough mixture as a base for the raw choc frosted b-rawnies (nuts may be aggravating partner’s headaches) as you suggested somewhere, and one day (just for fun) I threw in hemp seeds, and instead of all dates added in dried cranberries, apricots, pear, prunes, fig….It was really yummy and had something of the ‘panforte’ to it if you are familiar with that italian sweet treat. I think your recipes are marvellous, but i love how you inspire me to just go crazy in the kitchen with new ideas!!!! xx

    • Dreena says

      Hi Jane! Sorry I missed your comment – indeed I don’t often see comments on older posts, unless it’s a new reader and it requires moderation. How many times I’ve had that skeptical eye from health professionals. It’s understandable knowing how little nutrition information most have – but still! Thank you for that. And… pleased as punch that you have customized the raw brownies/cocoa cookie dough balls – I love those ideas!! (I’m familiar with panforte, but haven’t ever tried it.) Keep going crazy in the kitchen, just LOVE reading that! xx :)

  11. Tiffany says

    Dreena, your love story was truly beautiful to read. Thank you so much for sharing. I can definitely see the love you have for your husband, kids and work as a recipe developer. You really put love into each one of your recipes and I can tell you…your audience feels it! Thank you for your persistence, love, and support to the vegan community. You are inspiring us all! <3 xoxo

    • Dreena says

      Ok, I’m now getting teary reading your comment, Tiffany. Am I a soft touch or what?! 😉 I dearly appreciate that sentiment. Thank you ever so much.

  12. says

    I love your story about your life with your husband, it’s amazing the things we share with our mate isn’t it? My husband and I have been together for 16 years, married for 10. I can’t imagine what the next 10 years will bring!

    Love these balls, the flavor combination sounds wonderful. Emma did a fabulous job with the photos as always!
    Anna {Herbivore Triathlete} recently posted..Healthy Vegan Fridays Re-LaunchMy Profile

    • Dreena says

      Oh thanks, Anna. Wow, you have been together a long time too! This was the first anniversary that really had this emotional impact for me – not that I didn’t enjoy the others, obviously, but this one really made me reflect.

      Emma is a true gem, I think she has a photography career ahead!

  13. Krista says

    Aw, Dreena, this was so lovely to read. We married young, too, and have been through so much, good and bad – but I wouldn’t change a thing. We had seven years before kids, though, and I do wish we’d taken better advantage of that time.

    This recipe is one of my very favourites! I bake them, in double batches, and freeze half. We sometimes have them with pasta but usually just have them with a dipping sauce and sides. Cold leftovers also make a great after-school snack!

    Happy anniversary, again!

    • Dreena says

      Thank you Krista. <3 Funny, we were also married for seven years prior to starting our family. We were pretty immersed in our careers and did a little travel, but we probably could have explored the world a little more when life was more flexible! Love knowing this recipe is a fave for you. Thanks much for the note. xx

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge