greek turkey meatballs with couscous and dill yogurt sauce
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Okay, okay, now onto what to cook when you don’t feel like cooking this week.
It can be difficult to capture the collective mood of an audience that is spread across as many different time zones and weather regions — not to mention completely different shutdown/quarantine regulations — as you, the readers of What To Cook. I’m writing from Carmel Valley, California, where it’s so warm that on a hike yesterday I had to strip down to just a tank top. On the flip side, my sister-in-law’s home in Connecticut is buried in snow, and my family in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is hopefully waking up to a powder-covered backyard for my nephew to enjoy.
So I decided to create a recipe this week that captures a mood we are all longing for: SPRING. Beautiful, COVID-vaccinated spring! I am longing for a time where it is warm enough and light enough to play outside with my kids until bedtime. And I am positively desperate for a time when at least George’s and my parents are vaccinated and can come visit their grandkids, who are growing up way too fast, no matter how much I beg them to slow down.
And what says spring to me? Dill! Dill reminds me of Easter, and warm but still sweater-appropriate weather, and going to the North Carolina beaches before it’s totally warm enough to be in a swimsuit all day long, but doing it anyway and wrapping up in a towel to hide from the wind.
These bright and springy dill and lemon meatballs are packed with my secret meatball ingredients: panko breadcrumbs, an egg, and Parmesan cheese. The panko helps them hold their structure and binds with the egg to make them nice and light. The Parmesan adds fat to the very lean turkey or chicken, which could otherwise easily dry out in the oven.
Here’s the gist: roast some zucchini while making meatballs. Throw the meatballs on top of the zucchini, broil it all to get the tops nice and golden then roast. Add some couscous, cover, and bake a little longer. Make some delicious dill sauce while all that’s in the oven. Dumpster dive through your fridge and pantry and throw more stuff on top to make it look ridiculously beautiful. Take a pic and tag me on Instagram. Devour. Be amazed by how many meatballs your picky toddler and/or husband eats. Let’s do it.
greek turkey meatballs with couscous and dill yogurt sauce
Serves 4 to 6
Mixing bowls — one small, one large
9x13-inch roasting pan, or 12-inch skillet, or braiser, or literally anything ovenproof and wide enough to fit all meatballs in an even layer
Optional: microplane, for zesting the lemon and garlic (you can also use the smallest hole on a box grater)
Meatballs, Zucchini, and Couscous:
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, 1/4-inch sliced
1 tablespoon neutral oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or basil/parsley)
1 cup couscous
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons butter, cut up into little cubes
Dill Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, grated or minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces (1/2 cup) feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons of whatever nut! (I like toasted pistachios or chopped almonds)
1 to 2 cups of greens! (I like baby arugula. If you use kale or another big leaf, be sure to slice it very thinly.)
Dumpster dive: You know the drill! Dig into your fridge and grab any crunchy veggies such as bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, or fennel, slice very thinly, and throw on top with the arugula!
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place one oven rack on the center rung (for baking and roasting), and one on the top rung (for broiling).
In a 9x13-inch baking dish or a 12-inch ovenproof skillet (such as a cast iron), toss the 2 chopped zucchinis with 1 tablespoon neutral oil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper until evenly coated.
Roast zucchini for 7 minutes on the middle oven rack.
While it roasts, make the meatballs.
Crack 1 egg into a large bowl and whisk. Stir in 1 pound ground turkey (or chicken), 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, 1 finely minced shallot, 2 grated garlic cloves, the zest of 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon), 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir it all to mix well, then use your hands to form 8 to 10 meatballs. No need to dirty up another plate here — just shove the meat to one half of the bowl and start forming and piling the meatballs on the other side.
Remove the zucchini from the oven and raise the oven temperature to broil (on high).
Stir the zucchini. (It will not be finished cooking yet and might be watery looking, etc. Don’t worry! It’ll get there). Place the meatballs on top. Drizzle some neutral oil over the meatballs, or spray them with cooking spray.
Slide the dish onto the top oven rack and broil the meatballs for 3 to 4 minutes, until slightly golden-brown on top. Reduce heat to 425°F and continue cooking for an additional 8 minutes.
Reduce heat to 375°F.
Remove meatballs from the oven. Carefully pour 1 cup couscous between the meatballs, so that it’s all over the baking dish but not on top of the meatballs. Carefully pour 1 cup hot water (as hot as the sink will go) and the juice of 1 lemon over the couscous. Place 2 tablespoons of butter, cubed up, all over the top of the couscous. Season the couscous with 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Cover the pan tightly with a lid, baking sheet, or aluminum foil.
Bake for 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff the couscous. Is it fluffy and tender and delicious? Good, you’re finished. Is it still a bit hard? Re-cover and keep cooking for a few more minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dill yogurt sauce. Combine 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 garlic clove (grated or minced), 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl. Stir and adjust seasoning to taste.
Use a fork to fluff and combine the couscous and melted butter and zucchini together all around and under the meatballs. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Scatter 1/2 cup feta, a couple tablespoons of nuts, a few cranks of freshly ground black pepper, and a big handful of arugula over top.
Serve meatballs over top of the couscous with lots of dill yogurt sauce and toppings.
What’s couscous? Couscous is somewhere between a pasta and rice — it’s made from the grains of durum wheat. I absolutely love it as a quick and easy weeknight side. But be sure to get plain ole couscous — it’ll look like this — not Israeli couscous, which is a pasta and will not cook the same.
Make ahead: Do everything except the couscous ahead of time. Add the couscous, water, butter, etc., and bake to rewarm the meatballs and cook the couscous when you’re ready to eat.
Leftovers are a good thing: I highly recommend doubling the meatballs. My toddler, and many other toddlers, are obsessed with them. Freeze them, then reheat for 1 minute in the microwave when you need a quick protein. Toss leftover couscous with thinly sliced romaine, chopped up meatballs, lots of crunchy vegetables like cucumbers and bell peppers, and a red wine vinaigrette.
What to do when you really don’t feel like cooking: Buy any frozen meatballs instead - beef meatballs work because they’ve already been cooked so they won’t be greasy. Follow the instructions the exact same, but skip the broiling step. Instead of making the dill sauce, buy tzatziki.
Vegetarian: Use a ground meat alternative.
Gluten-free: Omit the couscous and cook rice in a separate pot instead. You’ll need to bake your meatballs for 3 minutes longer since they won’t be baking with the couscous. Use rice breadcrumbs or 1/3 cup almond meal instead of panko.
Dairy-free: Omit the feta. Use a coconut or almond milk yogurt for the sauce. Use dairy-free Parmesan such as VioLife. Use a plant-based butter.
Whole30: Double the zucchini, or add a red bell pepper into the mix as well. Omit the breadcrumbs. Use a dairy-free Parmesan. Use a coconut or almond yogurt for the sauce. Omit the couscous and serve over cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower instead.
Neutral oils: As a reminder, grapeseed, avocado, and sunflower oils are my faves.
Zucchini: yellow squash, red bell pepper, fennel (but if using fennel, roast it for 15 minutes instead).
Dried oregano: any dried green herb — thyme, Italian seasoning, dried dill…
Egg: make a flax egg instead.
Ground turkey or chicken: use either of these. Beef or pork will get too greasy for this recipe.
Parmesan: asiago, pecorino, or grano padano.
Panko breadcrumbs: rice breadcrumbs, almond meal, or Italian breadcrumbs will all work.
Shallot: 1/4 of a small yellow onion.
Garlic cloves: 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder per clove.
Lemon: omit the zest from the meatballs and use 1 tablespoon of a light-colored vinegar in the couscous.
Dill: basil or parsley and use the same amount. Or, you can use 1 teaspoon of a dried green herb in the meatballs. For the sauce, use 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano.
Couscous: there’s no alternative that can be used and cooked in this same way. But, you can omit the couscous and cook pasta or rice on the side instead! Just remember to cook the meatballs for an extra 3 minutes or so.
Butter: you can use 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil instead.
Feta: goat cheese or crumbled aged cheddar!
Greek yogurt: sour cream, or a coconut or almond yogurt.