Greek Meatballs with Zucchini (Recipe)
August 12, 2020
Today I'm sharing one of our favorite meatball recipes, as well as the reasons to add zucchini to any meatball recipe and tips for making it successful!
With a delicious flavor hinting at the exotic, these meatballs have a fantastic, light texture that our whole family loves.
And they happen to be free of grains and dairy, which are a show-stopper for many people when it comes to meatballs!
If you've been following us for a while, you've heard me talk about zucchini meatballs before. But it's such a great way to use some of the bounty of summer it bears repeating!
And of course you don't have to use monstrous zucchinis like the one shown here... Regular sized ones picked at the appropriate time work just as well. Haha!
It's just that I always seem to have an abundant supply of the big ones that somehow escaped notice under the leaves. :)
Believe it or not, grated zucchini makes an excellent substitute for the bread and liquid called for in typical meatball recipes.
It's a nice tip if you're low carb, gluten free, or just want to eat more vegetables. But in the One Straw kitchen we use zucchini in meatballs because it's delicious.
One of our favorite recipes is included below, but the substitution is easily made for any recipe. As a rule of thumb, for every 1 lb of ground meat use one really big handful (about 1 C) of grated zucchini, squeezed. Omit the bread/crackers and water/milk called for in the recipe.
Obviously even the hungry Farmer Frederickson Family is not eating enough meatballs in one sitting to use up a whole monstrous zucchini like the one pictured here...
Enter one of my favorite winter-prep tips. While you're making your meatballs, don't stop grating zucchini at one cup. Grate it all up and freeze it in 1 C portions on a tray (on parchment or a silicon mat for easy removal) then transfer to a freezer bag or container to use all winter.
Recipe Update 9/20/22 - While we still love zucchini as a complete substitute for the bread/liquid in meatballs, I have a new favorite secret ingredient that I often include - almond flour!
One of the purposes of bread in meatballs is to create a light texture. Without some sort of addition, you just have baked hamburger balls. The zucchini helps add the same light, fluffy texture as bread.
Zucchini also helps bind the meatballs together (an additional function of both the bread and egg found in most recipes).
Another purpose of the bread is to keep the meatballs from being dry. The bread (or substitute) performs this function by absorbing meat juices so they stay in the meatballs and don't all run out into the pan.
I find that zucchini is only marginally successful at performing this function - enter the addition of almond meal!
About 1/3 cup almond flour per pound of meat, along with grated & squeezed zucchini, is just about right.
Tip - If you don't want to include zucchini, 1/3 C almond flour plus 1/4 C water or milk also makes amazing meatballs. But if you're using zucchini, don't add the extra liquid. Even though you squeezed the zucchini, it still contains quite a bit of water.
Greek Meatball Recipe
1 lb ground beef and/or ground pork (we often make a triple batch with 2 lbs beef and 1 lb pork)
1 C grated zucchini, measured and then squeeze
1/3 C almond flour/meal (optional)
1/2 C onion, chopped fine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp fresh oregano (1/2 tsp dry)
1/4 tsp each cumin, cinnamon and coriander
Grate zucchini, measure it without packing, and then allow it to rest while getting the other ingredients together. Add all other ingredients to the bowl except ground meat. Squeeze some of the liquid out of the zucchini, add it to the bowl, and stir. Now add the meat and mix gently - with clean hands or a wooden spoon. Form balls or patties, using gentle pressure to help keep the meatballs light and fluffy. Moisten your hands with water if the meat mixture starts to stick. Bake at 350 degree for 20-30 minutes or dredge in flour and pan fry. Cook to an internal temp of 160 degrees. Remove to a platter and top with the following garnish.
Garnish for Meatballs
Normally I skip the garnish section of recipes, but in this case the finishing touches are an important flavor addition which I highly recommend you include. These few simple ingredients added just before serving really make the flavors of the meatballs come alive. Even if I used it for nothing else, I'd keep a mint plant near by kitchen door just to have fresh mint to snip for this dish.
- drizzle with olive oil
- sprinkle with lemon juice
- grind on some pepper
- scatter with torn fresh mint leaves
- dust with coarse salt
Farm Kitchen Tips
#1 Make extras to freeze! Meatballs freeze really well and there is no need to thaw them before cooking!
This makes them a perfect emergency meal for yourself and a great meal-train gift to have on hand.
Double or triple the batch of meatballs and freeze raw, formed meatballs on a parchment covered tray then store in a freezer bag.
Bake frozen meatballs at 350 deg for 30-40 minutes - no need to thaw.
#2 Save time by making larger meatballs. Do you balk at the bother of forming all those little meatballs? Make portion-sized patties instead!
My preferred meatball size is about 2" diameter when I'm baking them (which is my most common method of cooking them). When pan frying meatballs, I use about the same amount of meat but then flatten it into a patty before dredging and frying.
Unless you're making the meatballs for party appetizers, this cuts down on the time and tastes just as good!
#3 Zucchini Freezing Tips
- Grate all the zucchini and let it sit for a few minutes for the liquid to begin releasing.
- Measure your portions loosely in a measuring cup before squeezing.
- Squeeze out as much liquid as you can with your hands. There's no need to freeze extra water.
- Freeze the zucchini portions in a shape that fits nicely in your freezer container. For a zip top bag, I find that elongated, flattened patties work best.
- Use parchment paper, a silicon pad, or a flexible plastic cutting board on a baking sheet for easy removal after freezing.
I sure hope you love these meatballs as much as we do!