Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Healthy Indulgence: Turkey Meatballs

A few years ago I started experimenting with turkey as a healthy alternative and something that wasn't quite as "chicken-y" as well... chicken. It quickly became a fan favorite in my chili, and I use it fairly consistently to replace any recipe that calls for ground beef or pork. It's healthy, it's tasty but yet not an overpowering flavor and you can usually find it as either just white meat or a combo with some dark meat (my preference). Yes, the meat can be a little dry, but try some part skim ricotta as a healthier alternative to adding a whole egg, to keep it nice and moist.
Turkey meatball salad, with slow roasted tomatoes, sauteed onions,
quinoa, arugula and a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt

And as I'm sure most of you know well enough already, meatballs aren't just for Italian. Almost every cuisine features meatballs in some form or fashion, and I for one grew up eating the Peruvian kind, which could always include a touch of aji. Simply adjust your seasonings accordingly. For Asian inspired meatballs I love to use panko for the bread crumb and throw in chinese 5 spice or garam masala. For a Mediterranean meatball (like I made above) I'd throw in some oregano and rosemary, with a squeeze of lemon, and a Moroccan meatball (to use in a tagine perhaps) I'd put in some tumeric, ginger and cinnamon. Za'atar, paprika- smoked or not, curry or chile powder, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, and any kind of herbs are welcome additions to move the flavor profiles in a number of directions.

Below are 2 turkey meatball recipes, one more traditional and the other a southwest take on a meatball, inspired by my favorite chili recipe, but as always I encourage you to use your imagination. The great thing about these too is that you can cook them in large batches and then freeze back for a quick weeknight meal.

"Traditional" Italian Meatballs
1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 Tbl. fresh and finely chopped basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 c. breadcrumbs
1/4 c. part skim ricotta
1 Tbl. red wine- optional
Pinch or 2 of salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Place herbs, wine and ricotta in a medium bowl. Add in the ground turkey, salt and pepper and mix well. If wet (usually not) add in some of the breadcrumbs, a tsp at a time. Meatballs should be wet and sticky to the touch and not feel dry, and if they do add more wine.

2. Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Shape the meatballs and roll in the breadcrumbs. Set aside until all are formed and ready.

3. Heat a large pan at medium heat and add 1-2 Tbl. olive oil. Add in the meatballs, spacing them out well and in batches if necessary. Cook on all sides until golden- and when sliced open the center isn't pink. Let drain on a towel. For a healthier option, bake at 400 on a broiler- so any fat drips away- for 20 minutes, turning at 10.

Turkey Chili Meatballs
1 lb. ground turkey
2 strips of bacon- precooked and crumbled- optional
1/4 c. part skim ricotta
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp shaved dark chocolate
1 tsp. molasses
Salt and pepper- a pinch or 2 of each
1/2 c. breadcrumbs

1. Same as the above directions, combine all but the breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix well.

2. Form meatballs and roll in breadcrumbs.

3. Cook in a pan on the stove top or bake at 400 for 20 minutes, turning at 10.

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