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Diversify Your Protein, Part II - Another winning recipe from our resident vegan athlete!

August 29, 2013

This is the second part of a three part series on the integration of plant-based proteins into athletes’ diets.  Just as diversification is an important element of effective triathlon training programs, the diversification of protein sources to include plant-based proteins in athletes’ diets is crucial for maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Chickpeas are versatile ingredients that provide an excellent substitute for non-vegetarian protein sources in comfort foods such as meatballs and hamburgers. The nutrient density of chickpeas, which are high in fiber and protein and low in fat, are gaining mainstream recognition as companies, such as New York City based startup Chic-A-Peas, are developing chickpea-based snacks as a healthier alternative to conventional snacks and energy products.  To continue your integration of plant-based proteins in your training diet, my delicious recipe for Mediterranean Chickpea Balls is provided below.

Mediterranean Chickpea Balls are a vegan alternative for Mediterranean meatballs. The addition of wholegrain breadcrumbs or gluten-free breadcrumbs combined with olive oil and a special Mediterranean spice blend result in dense chickpea balls with a similar consistency to meatballs. The accompanying tomato-based sauce provides a beautiful aroma, flavor, and visual appeal as the contrasting colors of the tomatoes, red onion, and peas, add bold colors to the dish.   

            As I mentioned in my previous article, vegan-based proteins are low in bad fats, contain zero cholesterol, are alkalizing foods, and contain many other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and phytonutrients, which are not found in animal-based proteins.

                  Each serving of Mediterranean Chickpea Balls includes approximately 9 grams of protein and provides essential amino acids, healthy fats, among other benefits. 

To learn more about Chic-A-Peas, visit:

Melissa Robbins teaches vegan and macrobiotic cooking classes in New York City.  Melissa apprenticed with renowned macrobiotic chef and counselor, Melanie Waxman.  Melissa graduated from Boston University with a degree in Biology. Outside of the kitchen, Melissa enjoys running, swimming, cycling, Yoga, and CitiBiking.  


Mediterranean Chickpea Balls

Preparation time: 45 minutes (+30 min cooling time)

for the Chickpea Balls

  • 2 Cans Chickpeas  or 3 cups Cooked Chickpeas
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil depending on pan size for frying
  • 1 lemon zested
  • 1/3 cup fine whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup parsley chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil for chickpea mixture


for the sauce

  • 5-6 large tomatoes diced or 1 can organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove mined
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup peas
  • ½ cup fresh parsley &/or cilantro, roughly chopped



  1. In a large bowl gently massage chickpeas until soft.  It is important that you want to be able to still see small chunks of chickpeas.
  2. Add spices, salt, garlic, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, parsley and ¼ cup olive oil to the mixture.  With your hands gently mix throughout and form a large mass.  If your mixture is too dry add more olive oil or lemon juice to get the desired texture.
  3. Once the mixture is combined roll out small ball of mixture, roughly the size of golf balls.  If time permits, let cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes before frying.
  4. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add chickpea balls to lightly pan fry until medium gold on all sides.  Place chickpea balls on a paper towel when complete.
  5. For the sauce, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onion and sauté for 2 minutes, add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  6. Add the wine and allow it to simmer for 1 minute before adding the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt and half of the parsley or cilantro.  Simmer for 10 minutes
  7. Add the cinnamon, cayenne pepper and peas and stir.  Gently add the chickpea balls and allow to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  The sauce will continue to reduce.
  8. Remove and garnish with remaining herbs. 
  9. Enjoy with brown rice and steam veggies!

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