Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lighter Meatballs: How To Make Them Healthier

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Pasta and meatballs are one of my favorite comfort food dishes, however, they can really be incredibly unhealthy depending on how you make them (or how many you eat!). I try to swap in ground turkey whenever I can for ground beef, but sometimes that really sacrifices a lot of flavor and you run the risk of having meatballs that are dried out and flavorless.

I found this fantastic recipe that uses ground turkey and a swap of cooked quinoa for breadcrumbs recently and had to share it. Now, before you read "quinoa" and immediately check out or make a fake gagging motion, know that I am not the biggest quinoa fan. Honestly, most of the time I can identify with Jim Gaffigan: Quinoa is an ancient sure tastes like it! There are a few recipes I like that use quinoa, usually in salads with a great vinaigrette and lots of other veggies or as part of a "skillet" meal with sweet potatoes and black beans. I had never tried using it as a binder before and was a little skeptical, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

The meatballs actually turned out really well and I plan on making them again. If you don't want to take the time to brown them on top of the stove like I did in the recipe, try placing them on a greased baking sheet and baking at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, just until they are "set". This will keep them from forming a giant meat wad in your slow-cooker when you simmer them with the tomato sauce.

Serve up these meatballs over penne the way I did or use your favorite pasta or veggie noodles if you're really trying to earn extra healthy points!

Slow-Cooker Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

2 pounds lean ground turkey
2/3 cup cooked & cooled quinoa (to add extra flavor, cook your quinoa in broth instead of water)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. Italian Seasoning (I like to use Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Kosher salt & black pepper
1 large sweet onion, sliced into thin crescents
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

In a large bowl, combine the turkey, quinoa, garlic, beaten egg, olive oil, cheese, Italian seasoning and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Mix so the ingredients are just combined (overmixing makes tough meatballs!) and roll into small balls. I like to use my small cookie scoop for this, that way you make sure they are all the same size!

Layer the sliced onions on the bottom of the slow cooker and add 1 can of the crushed tomatoes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a good splash of olive oil. Add meatballs in batches, searing on the top and bottom until golden, about 1 minute per side. After they're seared, add them one at a time to the slow cooker. Repeat with remaining meatballs - it is okay to stack them on top of each other in the slow cooker.

Once all the meatballs are in the slow cooker, add the other can of crushed tomatoes, completely covering the meatballs. Cook on low for 4-6 hours and serve hot over pasta or use these to make meatball subs!

Recipe barely adapted from

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