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When food fads collide...

Posted Feb 05 2010 12:00am
...the results can be entertaining, to say the least.

Take the current bacon craze, for example. These days, there’s seemingly nothing chefs won’t put bacon in, or on. It was only a matter of time before a San Francisco coffee shop thought to combine bacon with fancy coffee. I give you... the bacon latte. (And a doughnut topped with Bac-Os to go with it.)

Or how about the rage for acai? Mix acai berries with... well, any food fad you can think of. Energy drinks. Yogurt. Gummy bears. Ever since acai became the superfood du jour, it’s found its way into thousands of products. There’s even acai in my cats’ premium cat food.

Here’s an intersection of food trends that actually works out surprisingly well: Quinoa meatballs. The two trends are 1) hiding ground-up vegetables in other foods so your kids will eat them unsuspecting, and 2) quinoa.

Cooking with pureed vegetables became popular a couple of years ago with the publication of two best-selling cookbooks, The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious, both of which offer advice on how to camouflage vegetables inside kid-friendly foods like brownies and macaroni & cheese.

(By the way, I’m not a big fan of this approach, for two reasons. First of all, most stealth-health recipes only manage to include a few tablespoons of vegetables, so the amount of veggies per serving is pretty slight. More important, though: when are kids going to learn to eat vegetables, if not now? There won’t always be someone around to sneak pureed spinach into their brownies.)

Next, let’s look at quinoa. It’s an ancient grain, native to central America, and it’s gained favor recently because it’s unusually high in protein and gluten free to boot. Quinoa has a unique taste and texture, and it can play the role of pasta, rice, or even morning porridge, depending on how you cook it.

The marriage of these two food trends produces the recipe for Quinoa Meatballs, courtesy of the Whole Foods website and recommended to me highly a few weeks ago by my sister-in-law. I tried making them, and indeed, they’re easy, healthy, and delicious.

No, there aren’t impressive amounts of either quinoa or grated vegetables in these meatballs. Still, the grains and vegetables take the place of the bread crumbs other meatball recipes would use instead, so they’re more nutritious than average.

When I made this, I reduced the salt to 1/4 teaspoon (there’s plenty of sodium in the ketchup and soy sauce), and I used grass-fed organic ground beef. Leftovers freeze well.

Beef and Quinoa Meatballs

1 pound lean ground beef
3/4 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup grated zucchini
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 egg

Preheat oven to 500°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil, then grease with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together beef, quinoa, onions, carrots, zucchini, ketchup, garlic, soy sauce, pepper, salt, oregano, thyme and egg until well combined. Shape beef mixture into 16 balls and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Roast until cooked through and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

(Note: To cook quinoa, bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot. Pour in ½ cup quinoa, cover and simmer until water is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.)
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