Classic Italian meatballs get a boost of fat and flavor from grated Parmesan, while breadcrumbs make the texture fluffy. And who doesn’t love them? Juicy, plump, and aromatic, little parcels of ground meat bubbling away in a rich sauce are irresistible.
Although I’ve always associated meatballs with Italy, it turns out that people throughout the world have their own version of this savory delicacy. From Turkey to India to Sweden to Iran, you’ll find delicious variations, many of which use no bread or cheese.
In Iran, for example, meatballs are made with white rice, which helps to bind the meat and make every bite tender and soft. Rice is a great jumping-off point for making meatballs that are flavored however you like, and are easy on the digestive system. At this time of year, when fragrant green herbs are everywhere, from farmer’s markets to backyards, make your meatballs stand out with a fresh taste of the garden.
Here’s an easy recipe for rice meatballs seasoned with basil, parsley, and oregano that will be a hit with gluten and dairy-free eaters, and anyone who enjoys a good meatball!
Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Rice
Makes 26 meatballs
- 1 white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh oregano
- 2 cups cooked white rice, any kind
- 1 pound ground turkey, chicken, or beef
- 1 egg, whisked
- 6 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 1/4 cups hot water
- Chile flakes, for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine the onion, garlic, herbs, and rice in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add the meat and egg, along with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Mix well. The mixture should be dry and easy to form into balls. At this point, you can cover the meat and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Form the meat into balls the size of heaping tablespoons. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add half of the meatballs and brown them for 6-8 minutes. Remove, and brown the rest in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil.
Caramelize the remaining half an onion in the oil that’s left in the skillet. Add the tomato paste, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and place the meatballs in the sauce. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with chile flakes. Serve warm, with salad and a fluffy cooked grain like rice or quinoa.
Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.