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Meatball makeover: Turkey and zucchini and herbs

Recipe: Shredded squash adds texture, moistness

Turkey meatballs on a blue plate with yogurt sauce in a bowl
Serve the yogurt sauce on the side of the turkey meatballs, which can be an entree, an appetizer or filling for tortillas or pita bread. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Zucchini is the all-purpose "what you will" vegetable. It can be spiced up, sweetened up, buried in chocolate or turned into pickles . Ground turkey, meanwhile, is equally bland yet flexible: It adapts to any food style with ease.

Chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi put these two malleable ingredients together for his cookbook "Jerusalem," in a spiced dish he called burgers. But a food blogger, Lisa at Panning the Globe , notes that they should be called meatballs  -- even though they're not classic meatball shape. She likes them as appetizers with dipping sauce, but I found them to be a wonderful summer entree, served with the yogurt sauce along with a quinoa-grain blend and a green salad.

I did not have the cilantro or sumac called for in the original recipe, and only a bit of the yogurt, so I substituted freely. Note to cilantro-haters: Parsley filled just fine in for the cilantro. The sumac was replaced by a combination of ground coriander and za'atar spice mix, along with a bit more lemon juice. (My suggestion: Try lemon zest.)

I had a full cup of sour cream, so that all went into the sauce along with the last of the yogurt. This made a lot of sauce; it was also a bit too thick so I added more lemon juice. The recipe below reflects what I'll do next time.

I did have a nice mix of mint from my garden for the meatballs, but if you are buying mint, go for something in the spearmint end rather than peppermint, which is too strong.

The leftovers made a great lunch, wrapped in tortillas (I'd have used pita bread if I'd had it) with bay lettuce and dolloped with that yogurt sauce.

Turkey zucchini meatballs with yogurt sauce

Serves 4-6

Raw ingredients in a bowl
Two colors of zucchini went into my version of the meatballs.

For the yogurt sauce:

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 garlic clove, pressed or finely minced

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon of sumac or a combination of coriander, za'atar and lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the meatballs:

1 pound ground turkey

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 large or 2 medium zucchini, grated

4 to 6 scallions, sliced thin

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves or Italian parsley leaves

2 to 3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Vegetable oil for sautéing

Blended ingredients
Blend everything together before forming the meatballs.

Combine all the ingredients for the yogurt sauce. Stir and taste, correcting the spices, and set aside or refrigerate.

Mix together the turkey, egg, zucchini and scallions. Mix in the mint, cilantro or parsley, garlic, cumin, salt, cayenne and pepper.

Prepare a large rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Form the meat mixture in oval meatballs, using about 2-1/2 tablespoons for each. To keep the mixture together, form the meatballs by gently squeezing them and tossing them back and forth in your hands 3 or 4 times.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put several of the meatballs in the pan, and brown all over, about 5 minutes. Remove the browned meatballs to the baking pan and repeat with the rest of the meat mixture until all the meatballs are browned.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cook the meatballs in the oven for 6-8 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve hot or at room temperature with the yogurt sauce. Meatballs are easily reheated.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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