Meatballs: The Easiest of Comfort Foods

Gluten-Free Chicken and Ginger Meatballs with Spicy Dipping Sauce and Marinated Turnips

Meatballs are one of the world’s great comfort foods. And they’re one of the world’s most versatile foods. You can work with any type of ground meat, beans, or grains. Add seasonings to suit your mood. Bake, grill, pan roast, or simmer in a sauce. Eat.

Meatballs are also quick to make. The hard part is getting your ingredients lined up (ye old mise en place). Still, since meatballs generally cook up in about 15 minutes or so, it’s not hard to get them done in under thirty minutes. This makes them an attractive option for weeknight meals.

Meatballs are also a great party food. Make them small enough to serve as finger food, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly the platter of food disappears. To satisfy a variety of guests, serve a variety, including vegetarian meatballs.

Needless to say, it’s easy to make gluten-free meatballs. Just about any recipe you find can be converted to gluten free in moments. Substitute gluten-free panko for the breadcrumbs in the recipe. Heck, if you want, you can even make your own breadcrumbs from leftover pieces of gluten-free bread swirled in your food processor (since it dries out so quickly, this is the work of moments!). Season and bake for a few minutes to add even more flavor.

Below are a few great recipes to get your creative juices flowing. Some, like the Chicken Ginger meatballs are household and friend favorites. Others are just delicious. And a few are, of course, on my to-try list:

  • Broccoli Balls: No meat here, just lots of veggie goodness! These use ground almonds as a binder and flavor enhancer.
  • Buffalo Chicken Meatballs: Spicy is the key here. Serve with ranch dressing for dipping. These are a fun alternative to chicken wings. Ground turkey would work well here as well.
  • Chicken Ginger Meatballs: Make them big for home meals, tiny for parties. The ginger adds a tone of great flavor, and the hint of sesame oil amps up the flavor!
  • Classic Italian Meatballs: I believe good Italian meatballs require a mix of meats. I like Anne Burrell’s recipe, though I tend to substitute sausage for the veal since I don’t have a good source for ground veal.
  • Green Goddess Turkey Balls: You’ll note right away that this recipe says “burgers”, but I like it much better in meatball form. Skip the bun, obviously.
  • Quinoa and Cauliflower: These meatballs are perfect for vegetarians! If you can’t find halloumi cheese, substitute Jack for creaminess or Parmesan for major umami.
  • Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings: Yes, I have found yet another way to work MORE spinach into my weekly diet. I do love the stuff so much. To make these gluten free, substitute all-purpose gluten-free flour or garbanzo flour for the wheat stuff. Make extras…you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Vietnamese-Style Pork Meatballs: I love these. Ground pork is flavored with fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper. Serve over rice noodles with a sauce or in lettuce cups. Try these on the grill!

As I’ve combed through my favorite recipes (many of these are saved in the Plan to Eat meal planner, which I really love for the way it organizes recipes), I realize there are many more great recipes to try. For example, while not exactly a meatball or main course, this carbonara arancini fits the bill. And, liked the Green Goddess Turkey Balls, various shrimp and fish cakes would work just as well in ball format.

What are your favorite meatball or veggie ball ideas? Please do share!

Tip of the Week

The key to keeping meatballs moist is the panade, or, if you will, soaked breadcrumbs. Gluten-free panko, which I prefer because it’s so light, or breadcrumbs can get expensive, particularly if you only need a bit. I often substitute plain instant oatmeal or cooked quinoa in my meatball recipes. Both do the trick of holding the mixture together for cooking.

Menu of the Week

What I love about meatballs is how versatile they are. And by versatile, I mean — in addition to the above — how easy they are to cook on the grill. For outdoor meals, I toss my meatballs into a slightly greased perforated grill pan, turning them once (carefully) during the cooking process.

And, obviously, I toss lots of veggies onto the grill as well. For a super-tasty side dish, halve or quarter a couple of whole zucchinis and grill them for about seven to eight minutes, turning once. You want a bit of char on them. Then, after they’re grilled, dress them with gluten-free ponzu sauce and let them sit while the rest of the meal cooks. They’ll absorb the sauce, making them even more amazing!

If you’re cooking indoors, the zucchini can be roasted on the stovetop or in oven. Bake the meatballs.

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