Much as we love them on top of spaghetti (all covered with cheese), we tend to make meatballs the same way, every time. And that’s a shame because one quick Google search, and we discovered endless ways to mix up the flavor, top, and serve these little bites. You don’t even need meat!
Check out our favorites below. Enjoyed with noodles, stuffed into a sandwich, or passed as appetizers, trust us: You’ll have a (meat)ball discovering how versatile the humble food can be.
Lemongrass and mint take these meatballs on a culinary jaunt through Southeast Asia—plus, the herbs are known to have antibacterial properties for gastrointestinal health Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. Thompson A, Meah D, Ahmed N. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 2013, Nov.;13():1472-6882.
. Adding a further twist to tradition, fish sauce and honey act as the binding agents here in place of breadcrumbs, making these both Paleo and gluten-free.
This recipe had us at “stuffed.” Better yet, the filling it’s referring to isn’t of the predictable cheesy variety—it’s heart-healthy avocado! A cube hides at the center of each meatball like an adorable jade-green treasure; bursting with vitamins E and B6 for blood and skin health, it upgrades each little sphere from standard to superfood status.
With no pasta or other grain to hog the spotlight, meatballs go from supporting role to star in this dish. Using little more than beef, an egg, and breadcrumbs, they’re as straightforward as meatballs can get—and aren’t those recipes often the most satisfying? Bake with veggies, then top with feta for a complete meal.
With high-fiber coconut flour standing in for the breadcrumbs and coconut aminos replacing the soy sauce, these beef meatballs fit nicely into a Paleo plan—but try them out even if you aren’t adhering to the “caveman diet.” Not only are they easy to make, but the sweet and sour sauce is positively addicting.
Can’t do without meat but hate how traditional recipes seem to forget that vegetables exist? This one gives you the best of both worlds, packing an entire cup and a half of shredded squash and carrots into the beef, which helps keep the meat moist. Here’s to extra natural color and fiber!
The ingredient list for these no-egg meatballs is not only reassuringly short, it’s also nutritionally efficient. Each of the eight ingredients lends a unique flavor and health benefits, whether it’s the vitamin A from the spinach, the iron from the beef, or antioxidants from the dried oregano Antioxidant capacity and phytochemical content of herbs and spices in dry, fresh and blended herb paste form. Henning SM, Zhang Y, Seeram NP. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 2010, Dec.;62(3):1465-3478.
. Blitz them away in a food processor and bake—that’s all there is to it!
Beef teriyaki is a natural choice at Japanese restaurants, so why not turn it into a meatball? These aren’t just a bite-sized spin on the restaurant staple: With a fraction of the sugar and sodium of bottled teriyaki sauce, this recipe gives your blood pressure a break too.
Chicken and Turkey
Famous for its ability to add much-needed moisture to lower-fat baked goods, zucchini works its magic to keep these turkey-based meatballs from drying out too. And we love the secret ingredient to bind everything together: chia seeds! Served with a basil-infused dipping sauce, the only thing rock-solid about these is how reliable the recipe is.
Channel the traditional izakaya (Japanese tapas bars) with these chicken-based meatballs. Brushed with traditional ingredients like sake, mirin (rice vinegar, easily available at most grocery stores), and miso, they’ve got a sweet and savory element that will have you hooked. And they’re served up on bamboo skewers, which makes them taste that much more authentic!
Ground turkey can seem so boring, but not these meatballs, seasoned generously with Thai curry paste, basil, and ginger. The morsels are topped off with a creamy coconut sauce that’s laced with lime for added zing. Best of all, they’re super, super easy to make, so you have time to toss together a salad to serve with your protein.
The best thing about orange chicken is the finger-licking sauce, but most are so sugary they could be dessert. This recipe uses orange marmalade but no other added sweetener, so it has all the flavor and isn’t as bad for you. (Use all-fruit marmalade for an even healthier version.)
OK, so these aren’t exactly like the breaded, fried appetizer, but you’ll love the flavor anyway thanks to cheddar cheese, cream cheese, cilantro, and cumin. Serve with a smoky salsa-like sauce atop zucchini noodles, or fold them into tortillas for a new twist on Taco Tuesday.
It’s often the funkiest-sounding combinations that work best. That’s definitely the case with these meatballs, which successfully combine fresh blueberries, ground chicken, and basil (scoring major points in the creativity, antioxidant level, and yumminess departments). A sweet and tangy white balsamic reduction takes the whole thing over the top.
With plenty of butter, egg yolks, and uninhibited pours of heavy cream, traditional Swedish meatball recipes can easily go overboard on the fat. This alternate version uses only two tablespoons of light cream cheese for the sauce and lean ground turkey instead of beef or veal, dramatically cutting down on the cholesterol that’s in original.
Pork, Lamb, and Fish
Of course you can make meatballs with fish! This recipe, featuring the nutritional king of seafood, salmon, proves it can be done and done well. The omega-3 oils in the fish keep the meatballs nice and juicy, while the avocado-based sauce they’re served with makes the meal a super way to get in your healthy fat fix for the day.
With quinoa joining the popular pork and cabbage combo, this might be what a typical meatball dish would look like if the Incas and the Irish had hung out more. Used as a gluten-free replacement for breadcrumbs, the ancient Peruvian seed adds a nutty bite, fiber, and tissue-repairing amino acids to the meal.
While lamb stands at the center of these meatballs, it’s really the herbs and spices that accompany the protein that steal the show. Mint and cilantro are joined by paprika and even pumpkin pie spice to jazz up not only the dish’s flavors but its antioxidant load too.
Applesauce and pork chops are a classic duo, so throwing chopped apples into the ground pork mixture for meatballs makes total (and delicious!) sense. This Paleo-friendly recipe makes a big batch, so stick whatever you don’t use in the freezer for a convenient meal when you’re pressed for time in the future.
Now that we’ve gotten you thinking about using fish for meatballs, give this tuna variety a go too. Don’t be too concerned about using canned fish—it’s totally safe in moderation, and you can use the light variety for less mercury. Serve it up with your favorite sauce and a vegetable and carb on the side, and dinner’s on the table in just minutes.
A tasty meal doesn’t need a lot of ingredients. Here six of them (including salt and pepper) combine to create a zesty appetizer. Lemon zest gives these lamb meatballs a vibrant punch of freshness plus a burst of vitamin C. Stick in toothpicks, and be prepared for these to go faster than even the chips and guac!
Pineapples and tomato paste give this meatball dish a distinctive tang plus a good dose of lycopene from the latter, which contains nearly three times as much of the cancer-fighting carotenoid as fresh tomatoes. Both the meatballs and the sauce are made by simply combining everything. Who said cooking was hard?
Two of our favorite veggies also happen to be soulmates: kale and sweet potatoes. The color contrast, textures, and flavors are made for each other. So why not turn them into balls, with coconut milk for a hint of sweet and garlic, parsley, and oregano to make it all pop. Top with hemp seeds for a little crunch too. Serve them as a side or pop ’em for a handheld baked potato meal.
Including chickpeas, parsley, and lemon, these Middle Eastern-inspired meatballs are reminiscent of their cousin the falafel. Crumbled feta cheese does double duty here, keeping the meatballs soft on the inside along with pumping up their protein count (and tasting incredible, obviously). It’s so simple yet so tasty, plus the recipe serves two, making it perfect for those who don’t want a ton of leftovers.
A nut-free alternative to the traditional vegan “loaf,” these meatballs get their hearty texture and tons of fiber from oats and mushrooms along with the lentils. Using the brown variety of these powerhouse legumes also makes this recipe super budget-friendly. Just be sure to under-cook them so your dinner doesn’t wind up mushy.
A whopping 3 1/2 cups of shredded beets not only make these beetballs a funky, almost psychedelic-pink, but the pigment responsible for their color, betalains, are anti-inflammatory and may help stave off cancer Antioxidant activity and phenolic content of betalain extracts from intact plants and hairy root cultures of the red beetroot Beta vulgaris cv. Detroit dark red. Georgiev VG, Weber J, Kneschke EM. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2010, Dec.;65(2):1573-9104.
. Pump them up with aromatic spices like cumin and garlic powder to give them an un-beet-able taste. (Yup, we went there.)
Known for being flavor sponges, low-fat ricotta and tofu make up the perfect protein-rich base for these vegetarian balls, which then soak up the aromatic saffron-infused sauce they’re submerged in. The meatballs, already straightforward with less than 10 ingredients, make life even easier with the genius idea of baking them in muffin tins for size consistency, which means everything cooks evenly.
Tofu’s meatier, more textured, fermented cousin tempeh gets a major seasoning boost from a handful of spices and a hefty five cloves of garlic here. With the steaming, food processing, and sautéing, they may take a bit of extra effort, but it’s really not that much. Plus they’re still less messy than deep-frying—and much better for you.
Even if you’ve tried carrot noodles, carrot meatballs probably sound crazy. But when you combine the veggie with cashews, sunflower seeds, whole-wheat breadcrumbs, and Asian flavorings, you get crazy delicious vegan meatballs. With a silky coconut milk-based sauce spiked with ginger to go over top, this screams to be served atop brown rice.
For such a light vegetable, eggplant dishes can often be annoyingly heavy, with their tendency to soak up gobs of oil. These meatballs make the most of the aubergine’s anti-aging, cancer-fighting benefits while satisfying a comfort food craving and sneaking in an additional serving of produce to your meal. Held together by breadcrumbs and white beans, they also prove that it’s possible to have a dairy-, egg-, and soy-free Italian meal.
Is there anything quinoa can’t do? This recipe proves the seed’s versatility yet again using them as the base for lightly cheesy, garlicky meatballs. Cooking them on the skillet makes sure they remain fluffy on the inside while perfectly browned and crispy on the outside.
Don’t let the ingredients list here turn you away—most of the items are pantry staples! Brimming with walnuts, oats, and kidney beans, these fiber-rich meatballs are super filling, so an accompaniment lighter than pasta, like spaghetti squash, makes for a perfect pairing. There’s so much flavor from all the herbs and spices, a simple tomato sauce is all you need to complete your dinner.