I’ve made these meatballs twice in the past week. The first time, I made regular meatballs as a main course dish for a dinner that my roommate, Lea, and I hosted at our place with about 8 other girlfriends. The second time, I made a mini-meatball version that you could eat using a toothpick, when we hosted a welcome home and happy graduation party for Freddy with about 20 people. Let’s do some quick math: I fed meatballs to about 30 people, rolled 3 kg of ground chicken meat between my hands and made a hundred or so meatballs in less than a week. If the validity of my recipes is based on the experience I have making them, then this one takes the cake (note the little cooking pun right there).
The sauce is a product of my imagination and iterative “lab testing” in the kitchen based on these kumquats I found on sale at the market the other day. I turned my Asian-culinary-creativity on and thought kumquats were probably used all the time in sweet and spicy dipping sauces in Asian cuisine. A quick Google search proved me wrong. There were recipes for cranberry-kumquat sauce, kumquat-mango chutney, kumquat confit, but NO kumquat dipping sauce. If I wanted this sauce, I’d have to figure it out for myself. The first try last Friday was good but not nearly as satisfying as the second shot I took at it yesterday which had just the right balance of kumquat tartness, honey sweetness, soy sauce tang and chili spicyness. The magic ingredient, however, is the apple cider vinegar, which works like a perfect liaison between all the different tastes. Nossa Senhora da Copacabana, this sauce is an absolute revelation, and you can probably try it out with similar citrus fruit or tamarind if you can’t find kumquat.
One note on the appropriate cooking method for the meatballs. There’s a debate. I’ve tried three different methods for them, all are great but I do have a slight preference. My opinion is that they hold better and are a tad moister if they are oven-baked (+ healthier), but I will agree with the upholders of the pan-frying method that they do have an extra crispyness if they are cooked that way that you don’t get in baking. The third option which is a little more time-consuming but completely doable if you’re feeding a normal-sized posse is a combination of the two: baking the meatballs in the oven according to the instructions below and then giving them a light 2 minute fry in the pan to make them crispy right before serving.
In any case, whichever cooking path you choose to venture on, they WILL be delicious because the flavors and textures in these are truly amazing. Chicken and squash, albeit surprising for a meatball combination, pair very well together, and the peanuts and sesame add a very pleasant toasty crunch. Finally, they are grain-free and gluten-free (I used almond flour to bind) so everybody’s happy! These will be the star of the party. I’ve rarely got so many compliments – and marriage proposals – based on a recipe . Maybe there’s our recipe validity criteria!
Makes 25 regular meatballs or 60 mini meatballs
1 kg (~2 lbs) of ground chicken meat
1 cup of roasted squash, mashed (I used Japonese Kabocha squash)
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons of almond flour
1 clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup of roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (omit if you want to make this recipe paleo)
1 tablespoon of curry powder blend
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup of sesame seeds
1. Cut squash in half and place it in a baking dish to roast in the oven at 400°F (220°C) for 45 minutes. Don’t bother with pealing it, the flesh will come right off with a spoon once it is cooked.
2. Chop the onion finely in very small cubes. In a small skillet, cook the onion in olive oil for 5-6 minutes, until translucent.
3. In a large mixing bowl, season the ground chicken with the salt, pepper, curry powder, chili powder, minced garlic and parsley. Add the cooked onion, the pureed squash, the egg and the almond flour and mix well using your hands until the mixture is homogeneous (about 5 minutes). You can also use a food processor for this purpose.
4. Add the chopped peanuts to the mixture. If using a food processor, do not process the peanuts with the rest of the ingredients as it is important that they remain as “chunks”.
5. Using two tablespoons (see photo below), shape meatballs the size of small golf balls. Alternatively, use a tablespoon and your hands.
6. If using the frying pan method: heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat and drop the meatballs in the pan. Cook for 8 minutes on each side until crispy brown, sprinkling with sesame seeds when they are halfway done. Remove from skillet and place on absorbant paper to remove excess oil.
7. If using the oven method: sprinkle the meatballs with sesame seeds and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 220°C for 15 minutes, then turn over, sprinkle the other side with sesame seeds and bake for 12 more minutes.
Note: the cooking times are based on regular-sized meatballs. If you’re making mini meatballs, adjust the times slightly (6 minutes on each side for the pan-frying, 10 minutes on each side for oven-baking).
For the Sweet & Spicy Kumquat Dipping Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups of dipping sauce
2 1/2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of soy sauce (or coconut aminos as a paleo-friendly substitute)
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
2 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of spicy sesame oil
Chopped scallions for serving
1. Bring the water to boil in a pan.
2. Thouroughly wash the kumquats and chop them in quarters, carefully removing the seeds. Add them to the boiling water with the freshly minced ginger, the soy sauce, fish sauce , vinegar and spices and let simmer on low-medium heat for 20 minutes.
3. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the content into a blender. Blend on high for 1 minute, until the sauce is smooth.
4. Return the sauce to the pan. Add the honey. Bring heat to high and let the sauce thicken and reduce by about 1/3 for 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid burning.
5. Transfer sauce to a bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours. When serving, add in the sesame oil and decorate with chopped scallions.