Everyone loves meatballs- right? These were a healthyish version packed with cilantro and spinach. We ate them over rice topped with dollops of garlicky Greek yogurt sauce with roasted cauliflower on the side. Yum.
My husband was gifted a meat grinder for Christmas. 🙂 This was the first time he used it, grinding chicken thighs for these full-flavored meatballs. He plans to make burgers with blended meats next. Fancy!
This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by David Tanis. I prepared the seasoned meat about 6 hours ahead of time but it can even sit overnight in the refrigerator so that the meat absorbs the seasoning. I baked the meatballs (in the same oven as the roasted cauliflower) and used red pepper flakes instead of a serrano chile. I also added a yogurt sauce for serving. Fantastic.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound spinach, washed
- 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken (I used 5 freshly ground chicken thighs- medium grind)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (I used the zest from 1/2 lemon)
- pinch of ground cayenne
- pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (I crushed them using a mortar and pestle)
- pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish
- 1 serrano chile, with seeds, finely chopped or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup soft fresh bread crumbs, from about 4 slices of crustless sandwich bread (I used 3 slices of Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane, crusts removed, pulsed in a food processor)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, half-and-half, milk, or ricotta cheese
- extra-virgin olive oil, for the baking sheet
- lemon wedges, for serving
- cooked rice, for serving (I served the meatballs over white Basmati rice)
- yogurt sauce (or store-bought tzatziki), for serving (see below)
For the Sauce:
- 1 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
- pinch of ground cumin
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated or pressed through a garlic press
- fresh dill, cilantro or parsley, finely minced, to taste
- freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Blanch the spinach: Plunge leaves a handful at a time into a pot of boiling water. Leave just long enough to wilt, about 30 seconds, scoop out with a spider or slotted spoon and drain in a colander and cool under running water. Repeat until all of the spinach is wilted.
- Remove and squeeze wilted leaves into a ball. I used a potato ricer and squeezed out the excess liquid in batches.
- Using a large knife, roughly chop spinach on a cutting board — you should have about 2 cups.
- Squeeze into a ball again to remove excess water. (This may be done several hours or up to a day in advance and refrigerated.) Again, I used a potato ricer and removed the excess liquid in batches.
- If freshly grinding the chicken, grind into a large bowl using the medium grinding disc.
- Combine the ground chicken, salt, pepper, lemon zest, cayenne, nutmeg, fennel seeds, cinnamon, spinach, cilantro, chile (or red pepper flakes), egg, bread crumbs and cream in a large bowl. Using your clean hands, knead everything together, mixing well. Leave to absorb seasoning for 15 minutes or overnight. (I refrigerated it for about 6 hours.)
- Make the sauce: Combine all of the ingredients and refrigerate for flavors to develop.
- Test for seasoning: Take a small amount and flatten into a thin patty. Quickly cook in a small skillet, about 1 minute per side. Taste, then adjust the mixture’s seasoning if necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
- Using a large ice cream scoop or spoon, form 19 to 24 rough balls and place on a large plate. (The mixture will be soft.)
- Using a brush, coat a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.
- Lightly form the meatballs and position them on the prepared baking sheet. Along the long side of the pan, I placed them in rows of 5. (I had 19 meatballs.)
- Bake meatballs until well browned underneath, about 15 minutes. Using a stiff metal spatula, pry up and turn over meatballs (they may want to stick a bit). Bake until browned on second side and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of each one registers at least 160°, about 4 to 5 minutes more.
- Serve over rice garnished with chopped cilantro, if desired. Serve with sauce (or tzatziki) and lemon wedges.