Why is it that I don’t like meat, but I can handle meatballs? Maybe because it doesn’t resemble actual meat? Most people, both kids and adults, like meatballs. I have made many meatball-related recipes in my classes, and they are always quick favorites. I grew up thinking a meatball was only something simmered in a marinara (tomato) sauce and served with pasta. And it usually is, but there are Mexican-flavored meatballs in albondigas soup, sweet and sour meatballs, Swedish meatballs and Greek meatballs, so why can’t there be Asian-flavored meatballs? Indeed there can be.
When I came up with this recipe, they didn’t go into a soup or in a rice and veggie bowl, although those would be great ways to enjoy the meatballs. I served them taco-style, in a big lettuce leaf with crunchy cabbage and a spicy sauce. My family went nuts and the mamas in my classes all ran home to make these for their kiddos. I received lots of great feedback, so I am confident you will receive rave reviews.
One thing I was sensitive to with this recipe was being able to make a meatball without breadcrumbs. So many of my students need to cook gluten-free or grain-free at home and I wanted to accommodate their needs. But it’s hard to make a meatball without the bread to lighten it up, especially when using turkey or chicken which has much less fat than beef. No one likes a tough meatball. So I used my Tasty Turkey Burger recipe as a guide and used tomato paste for flavor and moisture, as well as shiitake mushrooms which have a lot of water and meaty flavor. You will not see the mushrooms or taste them, so don’t get all worked up before even trying this recipe. Mr. Picky devours these meatballs and he wouldn’t eat a mushroom if I bribed him with a ticket to the Super Bowl. They just have a little soy-sesame undertone to them and that’s all.
Some kind of sauce is key to making these a little more interesting, although you can certainly serve them on their own. I am obsessed with sriracha — a spicy, tangy chili sauce which is easy to find in the “International” aisle or Asian section of most supermarkets. It goes perfectly with anything creamy, like mayo or yogurt. I blended some into soy-free Vegenaise and wanted to dip everything in my refrigerator into it. You can adjust the heat in the sauce by using more or less sriracha. It’s just an option. A drizzle of a soy-based sauce would be a natural way to go as well.
I always bake meatballs. Who wants to stand over a stove frying each individual meatball? Baking is healthier, too. The oven temperature listed int he recipe may seem high, but it’s the best way to get these a little brown without drying them out
Here are some ways to serve these Asian Turkey Meatballs:
- in a lettuce wrap with a sauce of your choice and some shredded cabbage (another great sauce would be the dressing for either the Asian Noodle Salad or the Miso-Ginger Dressing)
- with cooked rice or cauli-rice and sauteed or roasted vegetables like carrots, zucchini, cabbage
- in a miso soup with or without noodles (here’s a recipe for Ramen Noodle Soup and one for Miso Soup)
- with an Asian noodle salad
- in a bowl with veggie fried rice
- with a soba noodle stir-fry (use this recipe and skip the tofu)
For your do-ahead prep, you can easily make this mixture the day before or the morning of and bake the meatballs later. I have a feeling the baked meatballs would freeze well. I’ve even eaten them cold out of the fridge in a salad and I though they were delicious!
- 4 medium shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps wiped clean and finely chopped
- 2 pounds ground turkey, preferably dark meat
- 8 scallions, finely chopped (you could also grate a shallot instead)
- ⅓ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 teaspoons toasted unrefined sesame oil
- 2 Tablepoons shoyu or GF tamari (wheat-free) or coconut aminos (soy-free)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, finely grated (I use a medium Microplane for this)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- couple dashes of hot sauce or sriracha (a couple dashes won't make these spicy, so you'll have to add a bit more if you do want them to be spicy.)
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.
- Gently mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Form 2 Tablespoons of the meat mixture into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture.
- Bake for 15-16 minutes or until cooked through. (If you're not sure, stick a meat thermometer in the center of a meatball and it should register 165 degrees. Otherwise cut one open and make sure it is no longer pink in the center.)
- Serve with lettuce leaves and sriracha aioli* and avocado slices, if desired. Or see my other suggestions at the end of the blogpost.
If I make these a few days in advance should I cook them all the way, as instructed, and THEN freeze them, or should I bake them for half the time and finish cooking them the day I want to serve them? If I cook them halfway and then freeze them, can I transfer them right from the freezer to the oven? What method do you prefer?
If you want to make these in advance, you can bake them all the way up to 2 days in advance and refrigerate them and then reheat. I’m not a huge fan of partially cooking poultry – could be a bacteria issue. You can also cook through and freeze, defrost, and reheat.
I make this often they are so delicious. Wondering if this recipie would work the exact same using ground beef instead of turkey?
Ground beef has a bit more fat, but that will only benefit the meatballs and keep them moist.
I have made these and substituted peeled eggplant for the mushrooms. I don’t like mushrooms. They were delicious and I’m making again tonight. When I used the parchment paper in 500 degree oven, it became singed so I will not use it again. I’m gonna just bake on the baking pan. Thank you for this delicious recipe!
Great swap! I don’t make a habit of cooking on foil, but once in a while it’s fine. Like here.
Hi Pamela! Quick question – Do you think it would matter if I used thawed, frozen mushrooms? I have all the other ingredients for this recipe and don’t want to make an extra grocery run during the quarantine!! Thank you!
Go for it! Pat them dry beforehand.
These are phenomenal!
I have made these numerous times and love them! I also just made your Italian style meatballs last night – delicious!
Curious about the greek style meatball you mentioned. I would love to stick with turkey and stay healthy – what herbs would you suggest for a Mediterranean vibe? Thanks Pamela!!
I would do fresh parsley, garlic, dried oregano, maybe even a little lemon zest!
These meatballs are delicious, Pamela! Thank you! I’d like to freeze the meatballs; should I bake them first and then freeze OR should I form the balls and freeze without baking?
Hi Liz! I think you can freeze them either raw or cooked. Cook the frozen raw meatballs as the recipe indicates, adding a little extra time. Not sure how much, you’ll have to wing it. Reheat the frozen cooked meatballs in a 350 oven until warmed through.
I have made the frozen uncooked version, slightly thawed while I wait for the oven to heat up, and they cooked beautifully.
PS I’m making them for the second time right now, they are so good and yes, even the mushroom haters love them 🙂
Good to hear! Thanks for the feedback 🙂
I made these Monday night and they were a huge it. My husband loved them and said I could make them again. 🙂 I barely had enough to put in the kid’s lunches the next day and there are only 4 of us. I was running late with dinner so I didn’t get to do the lettuce with the sriracha sauce but I did make fried rice to go with them. Delicious! Both of my kids will always eat a meatball. 🙂
What is it about meatballs that everyone loves?! So true! Try them next with the sriracha sauce — yummers!
I plan to use the sriracha sauce next time. My problem was finding one that did not have a bunch of stuff in it but I noticed you gave some recommendations. Thank you for those!
Yes, and another reader wrote in her clean favorite, too. 🙂
We made these last night, and they were a big hit! We used Cholula for the aioli and it was very tasty. I chopped up some home grown sugar snaps and garnished the lettuce cups with them, plus shredded cabbage.
We’re trying the drunken beans next.
Perfect-o, Donita! So glad you enjoyed them. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the beans.
I LOVE Cholula aioli!! Make it all the time.
That would be amazing here, too!
Made these last night and they were delicious! They got a but burnt so might flip them half way through next time. I didn’t have vegeniase so mixed sriracha with greek yogurt which was amazing! Great recipe for cleaning eating!
Great! And love the sub with Greek yogurt. Also, if your oven is hotter on the top, make sure the baking sheet of meatballs is closer to the center of the oven and not the top. 🙂
What brand of sriracha do you use? I don’t want to end up with a “fake” one – lol!
The most important thing to do is read the ingredient list and make sure there aren’t any scary ingredients. Everyone loves Huy Fong, but it contains preservatives. Yuck. I also like to buy glass jarred sriracha instead of plastic, but you may not have tons of options. Thai Kitchen makes a clean one in glass and I like the one by Organicville, although it’s in plastic.
is the 500 degrees a typo?
Not a typo. If your oven doesn’t go to 500, go as high as it does and adjust time. You want it that high so it can brown the meatballs and keep them juicy.