Spiced Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs with Basil Yogurt Sauce
Yoga and turkey meatballs are having a renaissance in my apartment this week.
In college, I used to do yoga all the time. The fact that it was “gentle yoga for beginners” and mostly involved me rolling around hungover on the floor of a hippie Cambridge gym (which I joined to avoid any of my peers EVER seeing me sweat) is beside the point. I did it a lot, it relaxed me, and I liked to think of myself as a yogi. I even did a stint at a yoga retreat in Thailand after graduation. I was that serious about “my practice.”
Then I got lazy and stopped exercising for like 5 years.
Recently though, I’ve been meaning to get back into yoga. Plagued by white girl insomnia, anxiety and strange body pains (most likely due to my underutilized muscles beginning to atrophy), I’ve decided yoga will save me. Knowing that I’m not going to get up every morning and make it to a yoga studio (bahhaha), I’ve committed to something much more manageable. I bought a subscription to yogaglo, and I’ve started streaming classes in my living room when I wake up.
I think it’s going rather well. Although I almost threw up once (defs because the yoga is magically detoxing me!), and I sometimes hang out in child’s pose when I’m not supposed to, I’m 100% on the road to inner peace and moderate core strength. So exciting!
What does this have to do with turkey meatballs, you ask? Well, like yoga, they’re something I used to do a lot but have been noticeably missing from my life for several years. And when a friend asked for a turkey meatball recipe a few days ago, I realized the only thing I could point her to were these Dude Diet balls. They’re obviously bomb, but a little heavy, and now that spring has sprung, we need a lighter, brighter option. So yesterday, after a very rousing session of “Rise and Shine Flow,” I whipped up Spiced Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs with Basil Yogurt Sauce.
These meatballs were an absolute revelation, which was mildly shocking given my tendency to dismiss ground turkey as the saddest of ball bases. Yes, it’s leaner/cleaner than beef, pork, veal, and even chicken, but that win usually comes with serious sacrifices in the flavor and texture departments. Not so with these bad boys. These bite-size wonders are the super MOIST (eek) meatballs of your food porn fantasies. And what do we have to thank for their surprising tenderness, friends?
Let’s do the slowest of slow claps for the king of waterlogged vegetables. Not to worry, this recipe requires no annoying/time consuming salting and draining of the grated green strands. They go straight into the turkey mixture in all their watery glory, along with a money combo of fresh herbs and spices. The zucchini both keeps the balls from drying out as they bake to golden brown deliciousness and adds a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Hallelujah!
In other exciting news, I’m thrilled to inform you that these balls involve zero breadcrumbs or grains. (Paleo and gluten-free peeps, do this dance.) How, then, did I bind these beautiful babies?
Pause for guessing/anticipation building.
CHIA SEEDS. Mic drop.
If you’re floored by this info, you must be new here (welcome!) because God knows I’ve a.) done this before, and b.) fangirled over these tiny superfood seeds an embarrassing amount on this site. Ever since Chia Challenge, I’ve been using the seeds to bind all manner of meatballs, and their magic never ceases to amaze me. (They’re particularly effective in this recipe, as the zucchini lends plenty of liquid to activate their gelling wonders.)
Don’t worry, I promise you can’t taste the chia, and the seeds don’t have the same alien egg texture here as they do in chia pudding. They simply hold the balls together, while providing extra fiber, protein and omega-3s. I’m sure Gwyneth and Beyoncé would approve.
As you can see, I chose to serve my turkey and zucchini meatballs with a light Basil Yogurt Sauce, which I’ve decided shall be my spring go-to. Cooling and tangy with a subtle herby sweetness, it’s the dreamiest of dips for these mildly spicy meatballs, and it couldn’t be easier to whip up. Just throw a handful of fresh basil in a food processor with some Greek yogurt, tahini, garlic and lemon juice, and blend away. You’ll have creamy pastel perfection in under 60 seconds.
Based on their simple, crowd-pleasing nature, I’m liking these turkey and zucchini meatballs as fancy finger food for all of your spring and summer soirées. With that said, they’re equally fabulous as a weeknight meal over quinoa, sautéed greens or salad, or thrown in a pita with some cucumber, sprouts and crumbled feta. (I did the latter last night. It was dank.)
And don’t be afraid to split up your leftovers! For example, serve the turkey and zucchini meatballs over whole grain pasta with your favorite marinara, and use the extra yogurt sauce (there will be a good amount) as salad dressing, sandwich spread, or dip for veggies. You know I love when you get creative.
Namaste, friends. May these balls fly at your face sometime soon.
Spiced Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs with Basil Yogurt Sauce: (Yields 18 meatballs)
1 pound lean ground turkey (I suggest 93% lean. You need that little bit of fat, you know?)
2 cups grated zucchini (about 1½ medium zucchini grated on the large holes of a box grater)
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (whites and light green parts only)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chia seeds (preferably white chia seeds for aesthetic purposes)
For the Basil Yogurt Sauce:
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons warm water
1 6-ounce container non-fat Greek yogurt
10 fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Preparing your Spiced Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs with Basil Yogurt Sauce:
-Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a medium mixing bowl.
-Mix with your hands (it’s not that bad, I promise) until the ingredients are well combined. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to let the chia seeds work their gelling magic.
-Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray a rack with cooking spray and place it on top of the prepared baking sheet. (As you’ll see in the following pictures, I didn’t use a rack, and I regretted it. The rack allows any fat to drain and gets the balls more uniformly brown. If you have one, use it.)
-Gently roll the meat mixture into balls roughly 2-inches in diameter and place them about an inch apart on the prepared rack. (The mixture isn’t overly sticky, but damp hands are always a good idea when rolling meatballs.) You should end up with 18 balls.
-Bake for 22-23 minutes until lightly brown and cooked through, or until the turkey and zucchini meatballs register an internal temperature of 160 degrees. (See what I meant about needing a rack?? Don’t worry, if you don’t have one, just use a spoon to wipe get rid of any fat attached to the meatballs. No biggie.)
-While the turkey and zucchini meatballs are baking, get going on the yogurt sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini and warm water until smooth.
-Transfer the tahini to the bowl of a food processor and add the yogurt, basil leaves, garlic, lemon juice, and a good pinch of kosher salt.
-Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times if necessary. (Yes, you can do this in a blender if you don’t have a food processor.)
-Serve the turkey and zucchini meatballs warm with plenty of yogurt sauce.
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