Ground turkey gets the star treatment in bright, cheesy meatballs

While great made of pork and cooked in tomato sauce, meatballs made with ground turkey can also be wonderful, especially when, as in this case, they’re flavored with feta and caramelized lemon paste.
(Hanna Carter / For The Times )

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With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So, we’re here to get you started.

Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go in detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.


Lesson 44: Meatballs
After we’d published a few recipes with ground beef, several readers asked: “Can I use ground turkey instead?” The answer, in most cases, is no.

Lean ground turkey is the ground meat of choice for the health-conscious because there is a perception that it is healthier than ground beef. You can get 99% fat-free ground turkey breast — but where there’s less fat, there needs to be more flavor.

The assertive flavors of grilled Greek meats — that characteristic grill char mixed with lemon — is the play in this situation to add maximum flavor. And since we’re going Greek, let’s make meatballs, perfect for grilling on skewers (or to bake in the oven, as I do). Mixing feta into the turkey meat adds saltiness and creaminess to the lean meat; to make sure they taste great inside and out, I turned to my old pal caramelized lemons.

I’ve utilized them before in pasta and chicken thighs — even caramelized blood oranges in cake — but always as chunky pieces. To get the flavor to suffuse the ground turkey evenly, I blend the lemons — fried in olive oil until blackened and caramelized, then blended with fresh zest and juice — until smooth and then stir in spoonfuls to give the meat an undertone of sweet-bitter brightness.

I bake, then broil all the meatballs on a baking sheet to keep things easy and mess-free, but grill them if you’re looking for an excuse to fire up the Weber — they’ll only taste better with that extra char. A simple mix of parsley and mint leaves dressed in a red wine vinegar and dried oregano vinaigrette keeps the dish firmly in the Greek realm, but the meatballs are great on their own and don’t need the salad if you don’t feel like making it.

Do, however, serve them with more of that lemon paste mixed with some yogurt. The cooling sauce intensifies the creaminess from the feta and the intense brightness of the lemon paste, all while allowing the clean flavor of ground turkey to shine through. It’s a fitting treatment for an ingredient with more to offer than just playing backup.

Caramelized Lemon and Feta Turkey Meatballs

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 4