Zucchini turkey meatballs (with no breadcrumbs!) topped with an easy roasted red pepper sauce and served with broccoli cauliflower rice. This is light and easy dinner for two that takes around 30 minutes (even less with some smart shortcuts) and is perfect for nights when you want something light but satisfying.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a meatball I didn’t like and, despite my best intentions, I always seem to come back to meatballs after swearing I will wait ten years to share another recipe. I mean, one look at the archives of this site and I think I need to be done with meatballs. Between spaghetti and meatballs, classic meatballs, braised meatballs, easy turkey meatballs, and at least three types of chicken meatballs, including citrus-glazed chicken meatballs, honey BBQ chicken meatballs, and chicken and spinach meatballs, it all seems a little excessive. But, I can’t help myself. I love meatballs.
And I love them even more during times like these when I’m trying to eat a little better most nights. A lean meat, like ground turkey, combined with some healthy filler, like fresh zucchini, is hearty and comforting and doesn’t taste like “diet food” to me. Add a simple roasted red pepper sauce, some veggies masquerading as rice on the side, and just a sprinkling of cheese on top and you get a spring-fresh dinner that just feels regular. And by that, I mean you don’t feel deprived because if there’s one thing I hate about “dieting” it’s those tummy rumbles that whisper “feed me” an hour after I actually ate dinner. Diet food sucks. These zucchini turkey meatballs do not.
How to Make Zucchini Meatballs
And there are a few things to know about these zucchini turkey meatballs before diving in. First, a few ingredients you’ll need:
- Ground turkey
- Fresh zucchini
- An egg
- Pantry seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, and dried Italian seasoning
You might notice there are no breadcrumbs, which may be controversial as most standard meatball recipes call for some kind of breadcrumb to help tenderize the meatballs and prevent them from being too firm once they’re cooked. For the sake of keeping things simple (and bread-free), I just left out the breadcrumbs confident that the egg would help keep them light (it did) and the grated zucchini would impart moisture as the meatballs cook (it did).
One warning, however: because there’s not much holding the balls together they are quite delicate. I had no problem cooking them in a skillet but did use a thin spatula to turn them carefully while they browned. They ended up with a sort of “rustic” look as opposed to perfectly round meatballs, which was fine. Rustic says “homemade.” Perfectly round meatballs say “factory food.”
That said, you could skip the whole meatball situation and just cook the ground turkey in a skillet with the grated zucchini and spices, like a meat sauce. I’ll add some notes about this in the recipe because, I get it, some nights there just isn’t enough energy to mix and form meatballs.
How to Make Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
If all you left with today was the turkey meatball recipe you would be in fine shape for dinner because all you need is a sauce to go with them and sauces are easy to come by at the grocery store, but if you want something a little more special, please, may I tell you about the roasted red pepper sauce?
A few ingredients you’ll need:
- Jarred roasted red peppers
- Fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- Garlic and onion
- Fresh basil
Instead of sauteeing all of the sauce ingredients in a skillet and pureeing them once cooked, I tossed all the raw ingredients in the blender, whizzed them until smooth, and then brought the sauce to a simmer in a skillet. At first, the raw garlic is quite strong and spicy but as the sauce simmers all of the ingredients mellow out and meld and, in the end, taste like they cooked together much longer than they actually did.
How to Make Broccoli Cauliflower Rice
I also guess I could have stopped with the zucchini turkey meatballs and sauce – you could easily serve them with pasta or regular rice – but the broccoli-cauliflower rice situation on the side is really a nice way to take this from a “main course only” recipe to a complete dinner. Here’s what you need:
- Olive oil
I must stress that a food processor makes this easy work unless you want to finely chop broccoli and cauliflower florets by hand. The goal is to process them until they resemble rice and doing this by hand can take a while and create a big mess, so use the food processor. Or, look for cauliflower “rice” in the produce section. You will pay more, but all the work is done. If you go the pre-prepped route omit the broccoli (unless you can find broccoli rice – my store doesn’t have it) and use all cauliflower – it will work just the same.
While the zucchini turkey meatballs simmer in the sauce you can make the veggie rice in a separate skillet. The rice doesn’t take long – you cook it with the lemon juice just until the veggies are tender. Once the veggie is rice is done serve it up with the meatballs and sauce on top.
So, this marks another meatball recipe on the books and that’s okay because if you’ve read this far into the post it must mean you love meatballs, too.
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These turkey meatballs skip the breadcrumbs and, instead, are made with fresh zucchini and pantry spices. They’re topped with an easy roasted red pepper sauce and served with broccoli cauliflower “rice”.
For the Meatballs (see note)
- 8 ounces ground turkey
- 4-ounce zucchini, grated
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Sauce
- 1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen brand)
- 2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped yellow onion
- 3 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Broccoli Cauliflower Rice (see note)
- 4 ounces broccoli florets
- 8 ounces cauliflower florets
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the Garnishes
- 2 tablespoons feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon sliced fresh basil
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the turkey, zucchini, garlic powder, onion, powder, Italian seasoning, salt, and egg together. To form the meatballs, scoop approximately 3 tablespoons (approximately 1 1/2 ounces) of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
- Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch non-stick skillet. Place the meatballs in the skillet and brown them on one side. Carefully turn the meatballs using a spatula and brown on the other side. Keep rotating the meatballs until they are mostly browned all over. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and turn the heat off the pan while you make the sauce.
- Place the red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, and salt in a blender. Blend until the sauce is smooth. Transfer the sauce to the pan that you cooked the meatballs in. Turn the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer. Place the meatballs in the sauce, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer the meatballs, turning them once, while you make the broccoli cauliflower rice.
- Place the broccoli and cauliflower in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Pulse the vegetables a few seconds at a time until they are broken down and resemble rice. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the veggie rice and stir to coat it with the oil. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper and stir. Cook the veggie rice for three to four minutes, or just until it starts to turn tender.
- To serve, spoon the veggie rice onto a plate. Top with meatballs and sauce. Garnish with the feta cheese and fresh basil.
Notes about the meatballs: Because there are no breadcrumbs in the meatballs they are pretty delicate. I used a thin spatula to turn them in the pan as they browned to keep them from falling apart as they cooked. If you want to skip the whole meatball-making part, you can cook the ground turkey with the zucchini and spices (omit the egg) to make a meat sauce. Brown the turkey first for a couple of minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients. Once the sauce is pureed just add it right to the pan with the cooked turkey and simmer it while you make the veggie rice. Notes about the veggie rice: If you don’t have a food processor look for cauliflower “rice” in the produce section. I haven’t seen broccoli rice at my store, so if you don’t want to finely chop broccoli just omit it and use the same amount of cauliflower rice in its place.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Saute
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/2 of recipe
- Calories: 514
- Sugar: 16g
- Sodium: 3881.7mg
- Fat: 29.9g
- Saturated Fat: 7g
- Unsaturated Fat: 20.2g
- Trans Fat: 0.1g
- Carbohydrates: 32.6g
- Fiber: 11.3g
- Protein: 34.8g
- Cholesterol: 179.6mg
Keywords: zucchini meatballs, red pepper sauce
The nutrition information in this recipe is an estimate only and was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.