If I say turkey meatball, please don’t run away!

We’ve all had them, turkey meatballs or burgers that were inedible, hard and dry, especially when using the almost fat-free ground. But’s no use making something lighter and healthier if no one wants to eat it. Even when I lighten a recipe, it has to taste good and be satisfying.

Satisfy the craving

Although we were eating a healthy and balanced diet, since my husband’s heart attack last fall, we’ve had to make more changes. We have to think twice about those little treats, or try to find a way to reduce the saturated fat. While I usually make a plant-based meatball and am perfectly happy not eating any meat at all, my husband had a real craving for spaghetti and meatballs with real meat. Since he has been trying hard to stay on track, I set out to make a meatball that wouldn’t kill him.

Oh that hidden saturated fat

Use the lowest fat turkey you can find, 99%, and be really careful about the rest of the potential fat carriers in a traditional meatball; the Parmesan, the egg yolk, and milk usually tucked inside. My mother always made her panade from fresh bread crumbs and milk, but I actually left the dairy it out because I didn’t have any in the house. I’ve learned in the past that water is really all you need for a moist meatball or meatloaf! The bread here was a thick slice cut from a whole wheat boule. If you have sliced bread, you might need two slices.

Boost the flavor

Without the fat, ground turkey can be fairly bland and dry. Here, I used a healthy amount of fennel seeds and garlic to lend lots of flavor. You could add other herbs that you like, or a simple Italian blend. The mushrooms and onions add a lot of moisture. I also used the baking soda trick to keep moisture in meat and aid in browning. All you need is a quarter teaspoon, and it really makes a big difference, especially with so low fat a ground turkey.

Bake and save yourself some time

The mix is a bit soft, and I was afraid they would fall apart if I fried them, so I opted to bake them. This saved even more fat and time at the stove, and kept them intact. Yes, they had a flat side, but no one cared about that at all. I guess you would technically call these meat hemispheres. I used a two-tablespoon cookie scoop, but you could use a one-eighth measure cup or coffee scoop.

Will make again

The result was a really delicious meatball that was tender and moist, full of flavor, and pleased everyone. Four balls contain 108 calories, 5 grams of carbs and 1 of fiber, and less than a gram of saturated fat. My sister said it was one of the most tender and moist meatball she ever had.

If you don’t eat meat, you can easily make this vegetarian by using a plant-based product, there are lots of good ones out there.

(Really moist) Turkey Mushroom Meatballs

30 balls

  • 1 thick slice hearty whole wheat bread
  • 2 -3 tbsp. or so, water
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 ½ cup minced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. water
  • 1 lb. ground 99% lean ground turkey, local, organic if possible
  • Salt and pepper
  • Favorite pasta or marinara sauce
  • Favorite whole grain spaghetti or other pasta

            Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Liberally grease a rimmed baking sheet.

            Heat your pasta sauce and have it simmering, ready for the meatballs.

Trim off the crust from the bread and pulse in a food processor for a few seconds to make fresh bread crumbs. Place in a small bowl and add the water, mixing well until moistened and adding a bit more water if needed.

            Mince the onion and mushrooms and sauté in the oil until very soft. Add the garlic and fennel seeds. Continue to sauté for a minute or so until the garlic is fragrant. Place mixture in a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.

            Add the egg whites and the bread crumb mixture, season with salt and pepper, and mix well. 

            Gently break up and add the turkey on top of the mixture. Mix the baking soda and water and sprinkle over the meat along with another pinch of salt, then using your hands gently combine everything. It will be a bit loose.

            Using a small 1/8-cup cookie scoop, form the balls by filling the scoop and pressing against the side of the bowl to kind of pack it in. This made 30 balls. Release the scoop right on the cookie sheet, you won’t need to form or roll. Drizzle or spray with a bit more oil and bake for 10 minutes. Check the temperature, you a looking for 160. Do not overcook the balls.

            Place in your hot pasta sauce, cover, and remove from the heat. Let this sit for about 10 minutes for the flavors to mingle.

            Serve over spaghetti or any other pasta delight where meatballs will be the star.

            And yes, you can of course use a plant-based ground meat substitute.

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55 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenna says:

    Dorothy, you continue to amaze and impress with your abilities to make food healthier, your husband is a lucky man!

    1. I keep telling him that all the time! ☺️

  2. Bernadette says:

    Thanks for this recipe Dorothy. I am bookmarking it. I imagine this mix would also make a good meatloaf. Sometimes I substitute low sodium and fat chicken broth. What is the baking soda trick?

    1. Thanks Bernie.
      The baking soda trick I’ve seen a lot lately. Just a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a teaspoon of water and mixed in the meat. It changes the pH, and the meat will hold onto moisture and brown easier. I’d seen it on cooking shows, and thought I’d give it a try with the turkey. It worked really well.
      I think this would be a perfect meatloaf!

  3. Michael says:

    That is a great idea, and it also looks so yummy! Thanks for sharing! Best wishes, Michael

    1. Thank you Michael! This one is definitely a keeper!

  4. Suzassippi says:

    I switched to turkey to make the meatballs some while ago, and with good results, until this last time. Indeed the turkey was dry and flavorless, even with the use of the Italian herb mixture I have been using for some while, along with garlic. Let’s just say spaghetti and meatballs never go to waste around here, but I threw it away after it sat in the refrigerator untouched for 3 days. Not that I blame the guys–I wasn’t eating it either! I will give this one a try if I decide to make it again–I am perfectly happy with just the pasta and sauce.

    1. I think it all depends on the fat content too.
      My granddaughter is staying with us for a week and she saw the photo of the meatballs, and I had to promise to make them for her this week. I’m sure my husband won’t mind!

  5. terrie gura says:

    I would NEVER run away from any meatball you make, Dorothy! I like your ingenuity for cutting out the fat but ensuring flavor and especially moisture. I did some turkey meatballs myself over here recently when my hubby made his big pot of sauce. I didn’t have mushrooms but found tiny diced eggplant served a similar purpose. However, mine still had egg and Parmesan so I’m dragging behind you in the saturated fats!

    Your husband is lucky that you find ways to help him enjoy the foods he has always loved in new, healthy ways! 💕

    1. Thank you Terrie! Necessity is the mother of invention! We were all really pleased at how these turned out.
      I think using eggplant is a great idea, I’d make it that way too except I’m, sadly, allergic to eggplant. Funny thing, I could eat it until I was in my 40s, then I developed the allergy. I used to love eggplant parm, and my favorite baba ghanoush! I now make zucchini ghanoush!

      1. terrie gura says:

        Oh shoot, I forgot you can’t do the eggplant! But now I’m intrigued about zucchini ghanoush and sure gonna have to try that next summer! Have you posted a recipe for that?

      2. I haven ‘t! I actually didn’t make it this year, but there might still be time….

  6. These sound delicious, especially with the mushrooms!

    1. Thank you! The mushrooms are always my favorite addition to any type of meatball.

  7. Ronit says:

    Such a tasty looking plate!
    Turkey can indeed be too dry and dense, so I also formed the habit of adding veggies to the mix. Mushrooms are a great choice. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I think it is pretty essential to add something juicy to the mix!

  8. I like ground turkey so I’d pull a chair up to the table for that plate any day. 🙂

    1. Thanks Judy! There’s a chair waiting for you!

  9. Spaghetti and meatballs – what could be better?

    1. Nothing Jovian, at least in my granddaughter’s boook!

  10. I’m not a meatball fan, but every now and then I enjoy them! These sounds delicious! I did not know about the baking soda trick! I’ll try it next time 😉

    1. Thanks Ribana! The baking soda trick really works, so I’m glad to pass it on!

  11. Amanda says:

    I like the hints here that I can adapt to making meatballs less dry – the baking soda, adding water instead of milk and also some fennel seeds for flavour.

    1. Thank you Amanda! You can use these techniques in any minced up meat!

  12. Nancy says:

    I love this healthier version of a meatball. I also was not aware about baking soda keeping moisture in… how interesting! This recipe has been pinned and I will try it the next time I make meatballs.
    I love your ways of making things healthier!
    Happy Labor Day!

    1. What I love about this recipe Nancy is that not only is it healthier, it is actually more tasty and moist!

      1. Nancy says:

        I’m so glad you shared it with us!

      2. 💕That’s what it’s all about!

  13. Ally Bean says:

    Baking soda in the meatballs, you say. I’ve not tried that but will do so. We make turkey meatballs, every so often.

    1. It seemed to help the meatballs brown a bit faster so I didn’t over cook them, easy to do with low-fat turkey!

  14. Hi Dorothy, I applaud your success in creating tasty meatballs that are so low in saturated fat. If exercise is an option, that would work even better to promote cardiovascular health.

    1. Thank you! Exercise is indeed part of it, and important component, so we are trying to cover our bases and do the best we can to keep things tasty and healthy. This one was a challenge!

  15. C.A. Post says:

    A woman was buying Laura Dean’s hamburger in our market, and I was intrigued because beside the three packs of LD’s beef, she had three packs of our local Kroger 85% lean hamburger (85% lean, meaning 15% FAT!).
    I asked her why she was buying both, thinking maybe she was picking up some cheaper stuff for a friend. Her reply left me staring like a deer into headlights: “Well, my family doesn’t like the flavor of the extra lean stuff, so I mix it half and half with the stuff the like.” 😳 Go figure.

    1. Ah, but a little olive oil might have done the trick!

  16. NativeNM says:

    I tried making ground chicken meatballs one time and they cooked too moist which is the complete opposite of using ground turkey. You’ve found a way to moisten the ground turkey in a creative way that adds flavor. Kudos Dorothy!

    1. Thanks Jan! This is my go-to recipe now for the meatball cravings!

  17. Thanks for sharing this one Dorothy! Looks mouth-watering delicious and healthy! A great combo. Hugs, C

    1. Thanks love! I made them this week for my granddaughter at her request and she said they were the best, and I’m accepting her as the 10-year-old meatball expert.

  18. Americaoncoffee says:

    We are passing this one around !🍽What a serve! So incredibly yummy looking! I must try your Turkish meatballs. Lately, I’ve been hooked on Italian sausage meatballs.

  19. nancyc says:

    This dish looks delicious and I love that it’s made with healthy meatballs! 🙂

    1. Thanks Nancy. I’ve made this dish several times for the family, and it’s always a hit!

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    I can’t imagine anyone running away from this dish. Now running to…

    1. Thanks Pete! It’s already been requested again by family!

  21. sunisanthosh says:

    It looks scrumptious and healthy way of cooking.

    1. Thank you so much! These in particular have proven to be quite popular!

  22. CarolCooks2 says:

    Thank you for the baking soda tip I will have to try it,,these sound delicious and healthy, Dorothy 🙂

    1. Thanks Carol! I had heard of this trick quite a few times and decided to give it a try. Really works!

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        I know the Chinese do it but thus far I never have but meatballs often need that bit of help so i’ll be guided by you, Dorothy.. Thank you for the tip 👌x

    1. Thank you! Everyone thought so.

  23. This is a fantastic recipe! I use ground turkey in spicy dishes and you can’t even tell it’s not ground beef.

    1. It is very versatile, isn’t it? My family is totally used to it.

  24. Rehoboth says:


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