Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Middle Eastern Meatballs

For some time now people have been asking me to share my chicken meatball recipe. These same people say their turkey or chicken or turkey meatballs are dry as the desert. Their families shun their meatballs which sit untouched in lonely sections of their refrigerators. I sympathize. I've been down the dry-turkey-meatball- road too. Over the years, I've perfected my recipe for moist meatballs. I'm so eager to share it with you now.   

Who doesn't love a good meatball, right? I can never resist them. I've been making these bite-size meatballs for years in many different ways. The basic recipe always remains the same. But I like to change up the ingredients. I prefer using ground chicken, but ground turkey will work just as well. 

There are a few tricks to keeping turkey or chicken meatballs moist. I'll talk about that in The Notes section before the recipe. For now, remember to....relax...let all the nightmares of dry meatballs leave your're entering a New Year of many possibilities and moister meatballs now. Be patient when rolling the meat into balls, add moisture to the mix and last but not least....with all your will and might, resist, resist, resist the urge to overcook them into something that resembles sawdust marbles. This is going to be hard at first, but trust me, it gets easier with practice and letting go. Even if you overcook them a little (this happens from time to time) they'll still be full of flavor.

I learned about the joys of cooking chicken from celebrity and author, Anthony Bourdain. I always remember his abrasive but funny words of advice. He says that most people murderously overcook chicken. He urges us to remember that chicken is done long before most people stop cooking it. He begs us to have respect for the chicken and be gentle with it.  

Some Notes:

First lets talk about cooking these little gems. Be patient when rolling them into little balls. The small size gives you more control and less of a chance to overcook them. Remember, they'll continue to cook once they're out of the pan. They should be juicy but not raw inside. Test one. Some will cook faster than others. Take them out of the pan as they're done and place on a plate.

There are two options for these meatballs. Both options are high in flavor, elevating a rather boring protein to new heights. You can add either sun dried tomatoes or apricots to the meat mixture. Either choice will add much needed moisture to the meatballs.

A chili pepper gives a spicy kick. The sweet/spicy combo is always a winner in my book. Honey helps to caramelize and brown the outside of the meatballs. Herbs and lime lend freshness and tang. Grated onion lends more moisture helping to keep them from drying out. 

I like to serve them with low fat thick Greek yogurt for dipping. Sour cream, lite sour cream or cream fraiche would be great too. A cooling cucumber lime salad is a nice counter to the spicy sweet meatballs (recipe below). Rice, quinoa, pita or my toasted almond-orange couscous rounds out the meal (recipe below).      

 Serves 6-8 with salad and couscous. 

For the Meatballs You'll Need:

  •  2 lbs of ground chicken. I either use one package of regular and one of lean chicken breast or two packages of regular. Ground turkey will work too. 
  • 1 medium onion, grated. I use a box grater and grate the onion directly into a medium bowl. 
  • 2 garlic cloves minced. I use a microplane.
  • 1-2 tiny green or red Thai peppers, minced (optional). You could also use a jalapeno pepper or some dried red pepper or chili pepper flakes.  
  • Handful of fresh mint or Thai basil chopped or use an herb of your choice. Regular basil, dill or fresh parsley would be great too.
  • 2 limes, zest one of them and reserve the zest
  • 1/3 cup of diced sun dried tomatoes or 10 dried apricots diced, your choice. I buy sun dried tomatoes from Trader Joe's. They come in a small bag and can be used right away. You can also use the oil- packed sun dried tomatoes.   
  •  Drizzle of honey
  • Olive oil for cooking. 
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste.
  • Serve with lime wedges and Greek yogurt. I like Fage Greek Yogurt the best.

The Rundown:

Grate the onion with a box grater into a medium bowl. Add the ground chicken, garlic, Thai peppers (if using), basil (or herb of your choice), lime zest, sun dried tomatoes or apricots, drizzle of honey and salt to taste. Mix to combine all the ingredients. Wet your hands with cold water and form the mixture into small balls the size of large marbles or walnuts. 

Heat a large nonstick pan on medium high heat with some olive oil. Drop the meatballs in the pan and saute until they're golden brown on all sides and cooked through. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry in batches if you have to. Be careful not to burn them as the honey will help to caramelize the outside of the meatballs, helping them brown and crisp. You can cover the pan occasionally to cook them. But, keep a close eye on them and remove the cover when almost done. Try not to overcook or they'll become dry. Remove them from the pan as they're done cooking. Serve with lime wedges, yogurt, cucumber salad and/or couscous.      

For the Cucumber-Lime Salad: Take 6 small cucumbers and chop them. I like using small Persian cucumbers because they're seedless and their skin is smooth and soft. Put them in a bowl with sea salt, a pinch or two of dried spearmint and a drizzle of light olive oil and a couple of squeezes of fresh lime juice. Toss and serve. Note: If using regular cucumbers, remove the seeds and skin before proceeding with the recipe.   

Toasted Almond Couscous with Orange and Herbs Recipe:

You'll Need:
  • 1 box of Original Plain Near East Couscous, cooked according to package directions.
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted.
  • 2 oranges, zest one and reserve the zest. Cut one orange into segments and chop the segments into small pieces.  
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • Handful of parsley or herb of your choice, chopped. Basil, dill or cilantro would work well. I used parsley and dill.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
  • Drizzle of olive oil
The Rundown:
Toast almonds in a small fry pan until golden brown, be careful not to burn them.
Add the cooked couscous, toasted almonds, orange zest, orange segments, scallions, parsley and dill into a bowl. Add the juice of one orange, drizzle of olive oil and season with salt to taste. Stir and fluff with a fork to combine. Serve with Moroccan meatballs and Greek yogurt. Enjoy!   

Looking for Another Light Recipe? Try My Chickpea and Zucchini Fritters with Fresh Herbs Lemon and Yogurt: 


Want to end your Moroccan Meal with a Light Dessert? Try My Non-Dairy Coconut Milk Whipped Cream and Pair it with Fresh Tropical Fruit. 

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