Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ottolenghi's Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs with Tzatziki Sauce and Sumac (Low-Carb, Gluten-Free)

Ottolenghi's Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs with Tzatziki and Sumac, finally perfected!

Ottolenghi's Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs with Tzatziki and Sumac found on

I'm a long-time fan of Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi.  I have all his cookbooks and love his signature style of cooking with an emphasis on Middle Eastern flavors and herbs.  So when I saw a recipe for Turkey and Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion and Cumin in Jerusalem, I couldn't wait to experiment with it.  And then I tried over and over and over again to get the recipe to work as Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs, and no matter what I did my meatballs fell completely apart when I tried to cook them. 

If the flavor combinations in this recipe hadn't been such a wow for me, I would have just given up on the idea, but I devoured every batch of meatballs that wasn't quite blog-worthy (and definitely not photo-worthy), so I kept pondering what made my meatballs so fragile compared to the burger patties in the book.  And I'm glad I persevered and cracked the meatballs code, because the final version of this recipe was such a keeper.  I did three important things to get the recipe to work as meatballs in my American kitchen.

First, after three tries it finally struck me that the turkey Ottolenghi gets in London is probably nothing like the water-infused turkey that's sold in so many American stores, so I went to the best store near my house and got freshly ground turkey from the butcher.  Then I used the food processor to grind the herbs, zucchini, and meat together for a slightly denser mixture that when I combined it by hand.  Finally, I cooked my meatballs under the broiler so I didn't have to handle them so much, which had the bonus of making them a little lower in fat as well. And how I loved the final incarnation of these meatballs!

Ottolenghi served them with a sauce made from lemon, garlic, olive oil, sumac, sour cream, and Greek yogurt, but I served mine with simply a bowl of Tzatziki Sauce sprinkled with a generous amount of Sumac

I bought 1 1/4 pounds of fresh ground turkey from Harmons, my new food store crush.  (I just wish it was closer to my house.)

I used the food processor grater to grate up two small zucchinis.

Then I spread the zucchini out on paper towels and pressed with a heavy pan to get out most of the water.

I wanted to use the food processor to chop the herbs, but I coarsely chopped the green onion, mint, and cilantro before it went in the processor.

Give the herbs a few pulses in the food processor, enough that they're starting to get finely chopped.

Then add the grated zucchini and buzz it just a couple of times, so the zucchini is chopped a little smaller.

Add the garlic, ground cumin, Vege-Sal (or salt), black pepper, Aleppo (or Cayenne) pepper, and an egg.

Pulse just enough to get the meat mixture combined well.

I transferred the mixture to a bowl and used a small Cookie Scoopto form the meatballs.

I rigged up this rack from thrift-store parts so the meatballs could drain out while they cooked.

I broiled them for about 10 minutes on the first side, about 4-5 inches below the broiler.

The meatballs weren't winning any beauty contests at this point, but they hadn't fallen apart!

I turned them carefully and broiled about 10 minutes more on the second side.  (I used a meat thermometer to be sure they were cooked through.)  Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce sprinkled with Sumac.

Ottolenghi's Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs with Tzatziki Sauce and Sumac
(Makes 4-6 servings; recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's fabulous book Jerusalem.  When I was typing up this recipe I discovered my friend Elise at Simply Recipes also made Ottolenghi's Turkey Burgers and loved them as much as I did.)

1 1/4 lbs. freshly ground turkey (I used freshly-ground turkey thigh meat)
2 small zucchinis, grated and water pressed out
3 green onions, sliced
small handful coarsely chopped fresh mint
small handful coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. crushed or minced garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin (or a little more if you like cumin)
1 tsp. Vege-Sal (or a slightly smaller amount of salt)
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp. Aleppo Pepper (or use about 1/4 tsp. of Cayenne Pepper if you don't have Aleppo.)
1 egg
Tzatziki Sauce, for serving (optional but recommended)
Sumac, for serving (optional but recommended)

Make Tzatziki Sauce, if using and let it chill in the fridge for several hours.  Preheat broiler and lightly spray a baking rack or baking sheet with non-stick spray.

Take meat out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature while you grate the zucchini and chop herbs.  Use the grater blade on the food processor to grate the zucchini, or grate by hand.  Put grated zucchini between a double layer of paper towels and use something heavy (like a cast iron pan) to press down on it and press the water out.  Slice the green onion and coarsely chop the mint and parsley (enough to make about 2 tablespoons each finely chopped mint and parsley.)  

Change the blade in the food processor to the steel chopping blade, add the herbs and pulse until they're starting to be finely chopped.  (They will chop more with the other ingredients.)  Add the grated zucchini and pulse a couple of times until it's chopped.  Then add the garlic, ground cumin, Vege-Sal (or salt), black pepper, Aleppo (or Cayenne) pepper, and egg and pulse just enough times to get the meat mixture combined well.  Transfer to a bowl for easier access in forming the meatballs.

Use your hands or a Cookie Scoop to form small meatballs, laying them on the baking rack.  (I got 20 meatballs, each about 1 1/2 inches across.  Broil meatballs about 4-5 inches away from the heat for about 10 minutes, or until the top is getting well-browned.  (Even if you have fresh ground turkey, some liquid will ooze out, but ignore it and persevere!)  Turn meatballs and broil 10 minutes or a little more on the other side, until meatballs are browned and cooked through.  (I used an instant read meat thermometer to make sure the inside of the meatballs had reached 160F/70C.)  

Serve meatballs hot, with Tzatziki Sauce sprinkled with Sumac if desired.  Meatballs will keep in the fridge for several days.  They can probably be frozen, but I didn't manage to keep any around long enough to do that!

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South Beach Suggestions:
These low-glycemic meatballs would be approved for any phase of the South Beach Diet.  South Beach recommends lean ground turkey, but I would not recommend ground turkey breast for this, since the meatballs don't have any added fat, and some of the fat will drain out while they cook.

Nutritional Information?
I chose the South Beach Diet to manage my weight partly so I wouldn't have to count calories, carbs, points, or fat grams, but if you want nutritional information for a recipe, I recommend entering the recipe into Calorie Count, which will calculate it for you.

More Delicious Ottolenghi-Inspired Food:
(Recipes from other blogs not always South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)

Ottolenghi's Perfect Lettuce Salad ~ Kalyn's Kitchen

Ottolenghi's Fried Beans with Sorrel, Feta, and Sumac ~ David Lebovitz

Fattoush-Inspired Chopped Salad with Tahini-Buttermilk Dressing ~ Kalyn's Kitchen

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice ~ Turntable Kitchen

Mediterranean Spinach Salad with Sumac-Lemon Vinaigrette ~ Kalyn's Kitchen

(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.)

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Posts may include links to my affiliate account at, and this blog earns a few cents on the dollar if readers purchase the items I recommend, so thanks for supporting my blog when you shop at Amazon!

More to Chew On:


  1. Glad you persevered Kalyn, these sound delicious with their side of tzadziki.

  2. I love the zucchini in these meatballs - always looking for ways to add more veggies into meatballs - I've used mushrooms, but not zucchini. I'm sure it adds some nice moisture to the turkey.

  3. Thanks Val, they definitely were good!

  4. Jeanette, we were writing comments at the same time. Yes, the meatballs were nice and moist from the zucchini!

  5. I love Aleppo pepper -that combined with these other flavors sounds awesome.

  6. Of course I've never met a turkey meatball I didn't love! I'd have to bake these rather than broil them, because my infrared broiler would get them too brown before the turkey cooked through. I think that would work, though.

  7. Alyssa, me too on the Aleppo Pepper!

    Lydia, that would work too; my broiled on the Thermador would have not worked either!

  8. I'm very excited because I'm thinking my very picky 10-yr-old (who's gluten-free), will love these! I know I"ll love them, but I can't wait to try them on him.

  9. Hi Kalyn,

    This a nice interpretation.Your meatballs look so yummy!


  10. Valentine, I hope they're a hit with the 10 year old!

    Thanks Chantal, definitely going to be repeated here.

  11. I love the look and sound of them. I'm sure to try this recipe soon. I'm also a big fan of Ottolenghi, makes sense that you are too. Thanks for working this one out.

  12. Thanks Doren, I think he has a brilliant way with ingredients!

  13. I absolutely love meatballs, but they are usually not remotely low-carb. I love that in essence the breadcrumbs are replaced with zucchini. I made these tonight and thought they were fabulous. I made the dipping sauce and the family loved that too. I served with some sautéed kale. The sauce was nice with that too. Probably one of my favorite low-carb meals to date. Thanks for introducing this recipe to my family. Will definitely be going in the rotation.

  14. I have all three of his cookbooks and I think this might be my favorite recipe out of all of them. It's been in my rotation for about a year now and I love, love, love this recipe.

  15. Jaye, that's exactly why I couldn't give up on it. Can't wait to cook this mixture on the outdoor grill.

  16. Kalyn,

    I have been meaning to make these, and finally bought all the ingredients--and noticed that in the step-by-step instructions you mention cilantro...but it isn't in the list of ingredients? I noticed that a similar recipe does have cilantro, so am curious whether that was in the original, and yours has parsley only, or--? Cilantro is a noticeable flavor, so I don't want to miss something!

    Thanks so much!

  17. Thanks for catching that, it should say cilantro instead of parsley. I'll fix it right now! Hope you enjoy.

  18. Thanks for the speedy reply, Kalyn! I'm sure I will :)


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