Healthy, flavorful, and versatile these easy baked meatballs work well with ground turkey and freeze well, too.
People often ask me when I’m going to write a cookbook. Although I have plenty of recipes, I haven’t quite figured out how to pull off a book.
My friend, Sonali, has written three cookbooks and has another on the way. What’s more, this busy ER doctor with a culinary school degree moved across the country and had a baby in the process. Clearly, I have no excuses!
Sonali has included a few of my recipes in her books, which cover a variety of themes but all embrace the goal of eating healthy food that tastes great.
A few months ago, Sonali asked if I would like to review her latest book, Natural Pregancy Cookbook. It was certainly fun to see my recipes in her book, but beyond that, I was taken by the variety of recipes and their inherent approachability. Recipes ranging from Cuban Pork Tenderloin to Italian Lentil Soup, Spanish Garlic Shrimp, and Thai Red Curry call for easy-to-access ingredients and include clear instructions. That first night, I dog-eared no less than 20 recipes. Clearly, there is no need to be pregnant to enjoy this book!
A recipe called Greek Chicken Meatballs was the first dish I made from the book, and it seemed like a fitting recipe to share as we make our way through a holiday season full of party food and baked goods. These flavor-packed meatballs offer a nutrient-rich option to the popular cocktail meatballs and can be the basis of a variety of convenient weeknight meals.
Easy to make and loaded with flavor, a box of frozen spinach packs in important nutrients while adding moisture in this low-fat alternative to the traditional meatball. Boosted by their Mediterranean flavors, these small bites stand on their own as the main source of protein on a dinner plate—with or without a side of marinara sauce for dipping—and can be added to tomato- and broth-based soups or your favorite pasta and sauce.
Like me, Sonali subscribes to the timesaving “cook once, eat twice” philosophy and often prepares a double batch to freeze for a busy night or use the following evening in her favorite Greek Meatball Pita Sandwiches. For these, simply use two meatballs per pita half and stuff with sliced tomatoes, baby spinach, and tzatziki sauce. (I have a good recipe for tzatziki—a yogurt-based sauce of Greek origin–and would be happy to email it to anyone who may be interested.)
- 1 (10-ounce) package chopped, frozen spinach
- 1 extra large egg
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon, minced)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (for ease, I used a rounded 1/3 cupful*)
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (from about 2 slices or 2 ounces of bread), or 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs**
- 1½ pounds ground chicken breast
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Defrost the spinach according to package directions. Squeeze out all of the water–there will be a lot–and set aside. (I like to literally wring the spinach out in a clean tea towel.)
In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg, and then add the garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, crumbled feta, and breadcrumbs. Mix well, and then add the spinach, making sure to break up any clumps. (A dinner fork works well.) Add the ground chicken, and gently stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated, trying not to overwork the mixture. Form the mixture into 24 meatballs, about 1-½ inches in diameter.***
Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake for 14-17 minutes, or until lightly golden and just cooked through. (Internal temperature taken with a quick-read thermometer should read 165 degrees F. NOTE: Avoid overcooking as this will dry out the meatballs. Ground chicken breast is very lean.) Serve warm. These meatballs freeze well, too.
- *Sonali’s recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of crumbled feta, but more recently I have increased the amount to a slightly rounded half cup with good results.
- **To make fresh breadcrumbs, break the bread into pieces and pulse in a mini food processor until crumbs form. If using packaged dried breadcrumbs, decrease the amount to ½ cup. To make this recipe gluten free, you may substitute ½ cup ground oats (certified gluten-free) for the breadcrumbs. I have also used ½ cup Rice Chex crumbs, which are an excellent gluten-free stand-in for dried breadcrumbs and panko.
- Tip 1: To make consistently sized balls, I like to pat the mixture into a rough square and cut that into quarters. Divide the quarters in half, and then make three meatballs from each quarter.
- Tip 2: To prevent the chicken mixture from sticking to your hands, you may wish to rub them with a little olive or vegetable oil prior to rolling the meatballs.
With a side of marinara for dipping, these small bites make a great appetizer, too.
As Sonali points out in her book, spinach is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It’s packed with a wide variety of compounds that are beneficial for your health including several vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants. It’s a rich source of fiber and protein as well as Vitamins A, C, K, and folate. It’s also an excellent source of several minerals like calcium, iron and manganese.