Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Chard and Bulgur

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After Thanksgiving, you have absolutely zero motivation to go grocery shopping and make dinner again, right? You feel satisfied that dinner was success. The dishes got done while you were still tipsy, so cleaning up all those pots and pans didn’t feel like such a chore. You enjoyed leftovers for a few days and yup, you had pie for breakfast and mashed potatoes with gravy for lunch because hey, it’s still a holiday weekend, and besides, you don’t want all that food to go to waste!

It’s when I finally come home and look at my own messy house and empty fridge that the real aversion to cooking sets in, albeit temporarily. It puts me in a bad mood to think about having to pack my lunch for the week, and the only thing that makes me at least scrounge around for a passable meal is the knowledge that if I don’t make something, I’m stuck eating high school cafeteria food for lunch. Not to mention having to go to the cafeteria when it’s packed with students and then trudge back up to the workroom with a ridiculous pinkish-red styrofoam tray and the obligatory carton of milk. I’m not sure which would be worse, the food or the experience.

I finally was compelled to put something together as an act of productive procrastination—you know, when you do a more tolerable chore in order to avoid facing the completely unbearable task that really needs to gets done (in this case, unpacking and laundry). (Usually, the only time my house gets cleaned is when I have papers to grade.) I was hoping to make one of those good post-Thanksgiving dishes, where you’re not ready to go cold-turkey (haha, no pun intended) to a strict post-holiday diet free of meat and cheese and other delicious things, but you want to make something a little on the healthier side.

I had some ground turkey in the freezer (I always buy it when it’s on sale, and then I never get around to using it), an unopened package of feta in the fridge (ditto), all sorts of grains in the pantry, and some red chard and herbs still clinging to life in the garden since it’s been so unseasonably warm. I decided to go the turkey meatball route, and the feta made me think about Middle Eastern spices. You can get za’atar pre-made, but since I still had fresh thyme, I decided to flavor the meatballs with the components of za’atar—thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt—instead of using a mix. You can find sumac at places like Penzey’s spices. I bought mine a year or so ago to make a Lebanese dish, and it’s still very flavorful. I rounded out the meatballs with some coarse bulgur and the chard since they are both common in Middle Eastern cooking.

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Note: I would use more greens next time. I didn’t get as much as I expected out of the garden, and the bunch I supplemented from the store was on the small side. I used a combination of red and white Swiss chard, but you can use whatever you prefer, as long as you don’t mind that the red stems can get muddy-colored when cooked. Lastly, I call for coarse bulgar because I prefer its larger size, but fine or medium bulgur (or honestly probably any other grain…) would work fine; just adjust the cooking time.


Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Swiss Chard and Bulgur

serves 4

  • 1 lb. ground turkey (I used 93% lean)
  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp. ground sumac
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 c. fresh soft breadcrumbs made from a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread (I freeze the slice then whir it in the food processor)
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of cayenne flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus some
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. oil, divided
  • 1 c. coarse-grain bulgur
  • 2 c. + 1 Tbsp. water
  • 2 small bunches Swiss chard (about 3/4 lb), stems removed and chopped into 1/4″ – 1/3″ dice, leaves coarsely chopped
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.
  2. Gently mix the turkey, 2 oz. of the feta, 2 of the cloves of minced garlic, and the next 9 ingredients (onion through 1/2 tsp. of salt) in a medium bowl. Do not overmix. Form into 16 evenly-sized balls.
  3. Cook the meatballs in 2 batches. Turn every 3-4 minutes until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes for each batch. They will lose their shape and come out more like pyramids than balls. Keep the cooked meatballs warm on a plate tented with foil, or in a low oven.
  4. While you’re cooking the meatballs, put the bulgur and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add salt to taste. Bring to a boil, put a lid on it, reduce the heat to low, and cook until all of the water is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat when done, and let sit with the lid on.
  5.  After you have cooked the meatballs, add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil and the chopped chard stems to the skillet. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. water and stir to scrape up all of the browned bits. Continuing stirring frequently until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining clove of minced garlic and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the chard leaves and salt to taste and stir until wilted, 3-5 minutes.
  6. To serve, fluff the bulgur with a fork and divide it among 4 plates. Top each with 1/4 of the cooked chard, 1/2 oz. of the remaining feta cheese, and 4 meatballs.
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(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

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I did not make this (sort of) frittata from (mostly) egg whites because I wanted it to be healthier and threw away all the yolks. (That will happen after I enjoy holiday food.) No, it has mostly egg whites because I had a ton of them leftover after making lemon curd, pastry cream, and tart crusts. Why the glut of decadent desserts? Well, I’m not above bribing my students, so every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I give them raffle tickets when they participate, and then we have a drawing for prizes on the last day of class before winter break. This year, tartlets, eclairs, madeleines, and—the most prized possession of all—homework passes were in the mix.

After the frenzy of baking, I made a mental note to collect money from my classes next year and buy treats from a local bakery in order to maintain my sanity. And then I tried to figure out what to make with the 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg (it didn’t want to separate nicely) that I had. Anything sweet was out of the question because I was on a sugar overload after all those bowls and beaters that I had licked, so a frittata seemed like the best way to go. And, as the title says, it’s not really a “frittata” because it’s cooked entirely in the oven and not at all on the stovetop. I supposed you could call it a “crustless quiche,” but “crustless quiche” makes me feel the same way a lot of people do when they hear the word “moist,” so I’d prefer to misname it a frittata. Also, it’s cooked in a cast iron pan, which is not nearly dainty enough for anything that calls itself a quiche.

I make frittatas pretty frequently; I usually use whole eggs and keep it vegetarian. I was afraid that the egg whites would make it bland, though, so I fancied it up a little more than I usually would. First, I found some Trader Joe’s chicken breakfast sausage links in the freezer, so I browned up a couple of them to add. Next, I harvested all the kale in the garden that’s threatening to die every time a frost comes around. It’s Red Russian kale, which supposed to be very cold tolerant, but it looked like it might be on its last leg.

I like my frittatas with a lot—and I do mean a lot—of vegetables. Even though my pile of kale was overflowing the salad spinner, it barely weighed 8 ounces, so I decided to use all of it.

Next, I usually just toss in some raw onion, but I caramelized half of a yellow onion instead. Finally, for the cheese, we had provolone but, oddly enough, it was a really nice provolone that was quite strong, and I found it to be almost overwhelming. So, I used just a bit of it and added some mozzarella for gooeyness and to let the other flavors come through.

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Note: I was double-checking the size of the skillet I used, and it says 5 on it, but it was about 7″ in diameter. And so I learned that the numbers on cast iron skillets correspond to certain standard pan sizes, not the actual diameter in inches of the pan.

You could make this in the same size pan with 4 whole eggs instead of egg whites. Also, my 8 oz. of kale didn’t need to be de-stemmed. If you have to de-stem your greens, you might want to start out with more than 8 oz., or just weigh them after you stem them instead of before. For the sausage,  I used 2 links of  breakfast sausage, and they weighed about 2 1/2 oz. before I cooked them. Lastly, this frittata reheats nicely in the microwave and will keep well for a day, but after much longer than that, the cheese will start to take on an unpleasant texture.


(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

serves 2-3

  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. kale or other cooking greens
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg
  • 2-3 oz. sausage, cooked and then cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 oz. provolone or mozzarella, or a combination of both
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil to a #5 (6.75″) cast iron skillet, and put it in the oven to warm up while you prep everything else.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the minced garlic and stir until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add a handful of the greens and a couple of healthy pinches of kosher salt and stir until the greens start to wilt. Keep adding greens by the handful until they’re all in the pot and are completely wilted. Remove from heat and let cool. This will happen faster if you put them in a different bowl instead of leaving them in the pot.
  3. While the greens are cooling, caramelize the onion. First, heat 1 more tsp. of the olive oil with the 1 tsp. of butter in a small pan over over medium-high heat. Slice the onion thinly crosswise. When the pan is hot, add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and keep cooking, stirring regularly, until well-browned, about 10-15 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  4. Dice the cheese into 1/4″ to 1/3″ cubes. You could grate it, but I like how it doesn’t disappear into the frittata if you leave it chunkier.
  5. By this time, your greens should be cool. Squeeze them out as much as you can. Seriously, put some muscle into it and get them as dry as you can; otherwise, it while make your eggs gross and watery. Chop up the squeezed-out greens.
  6. Whisk the egg whites and egg in a medium bowl. Add the sausage, greens, onion, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but keep in mind that you’ve already salted the greens and the onion, and that the sausage has salt too.
  7. Use an oven mitt ! to remove your hot cast-iron skillet from the oven. The oil should be nice and shimmery. Swirl the oil around or use a spatula spread it out until it evenly coats the bottom of the pan, and then add the egg mixture and smooth the top. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are done.
  8. Remove from the oven and run a rubber spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen up the frittata a little. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then use the rubber spatula to slide the whole thing out of the pan. Enjoy immediately, or wait until it cools completely and then refrigerate it for later.