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A&E >  Cooking

Greek yogurt and feta make these chicken meatballs moist and tangy

Greek chicken meatballs with squash can be plated individually or served family-style.  (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
Greek chicken meatballs with squash can be plated individually or served family-style. (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
By Ann Maloney Washington Post

I don’t follow a strictly Mediterranean diet, but if I ever decide to, it would not be much of a sacrifice. I love all of the flavors and foods associated with that style of eating. And it is no problem for me to make the meat play a supporting role on my plate.

When I saw a recipe for chicken meatloaf that called for feta cheese, fresh mint, leeks, squash and kalamata olives and suggested serving all of that alongside a Greek salad, I knew I had to try it. And then, of course, tweak it.

The original recipe involved molding ground seasoned chicken into meatloaf, but I found even with careful handling, the four mini loaves turned out a bit too dense and dry and, frankly, not pretty because the chicken doesn’t brown as it bakes.

Instead, I tweaked the recipe, adding a bit of Greek yogurt, minced garlic and dried oregano and turning that meatloaf into meatballs. The feta cheese and yogurt give these meatballs a tangy flavor and keep them moist.

The meatballs are finished quickly and bake in about 15 minutes, sharing a rimmed baking sheet with sliced squash, leeks and halved olives.

While the meatballs are in the oven, you have just enough time to whip up a Greek salad of greens, red onion, tomato and, if you like, another little sprinkle of feta in your homemade vinaigrette.

One of the best parts of this meal was that the meatballs, tossed with the vegetables, ended up being a supporting player on the plate. We filled up on the vegetables and salad and had leftover meatballs that I enjoyed cold from the refrigerator dipped in a bit of that thick Greek yogurt. Tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce, would go wonderfully with these meatballs, too.

In its description of the Mediterranean diet, the Mayo Clinic says it should include “sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active.”

Until the pandemic is over, I cannot gather with too many people, but the wine and after-dinner walk, I can certainly manage.

Greek Chicken Meatballs With Squash

Adapted from “Chicken!” by the editors of Good Housekeeping (Hearst Books, 2019)

For the meatballs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking sheet

1 pound ground chicken

½ cup (about 2½ ounces) crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup plain Greek yogurt (about 2½ ounces), plus more for serving

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus whole leaves serving

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

1½ teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Greek

½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

For the vegetables

3 medium yellow squash (1½ pounds), trimmed and sliced a ¼-inch thick

1 large leek (about 8 ounces), trimmed, well-rinsed and thinly sliced

½ cup pitted kalamata olives (about 20 olives), halved

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (about 8 ounces), halved

1 cucumber (10 ounces), washed and sliced

¼ cup (a generous 1 ounce) feta cheese, crumbled, plus more as needed (optional)

¼ red onion, thinly sliced (optional)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Greek

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Fine sea salt (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Fresh mint or dill, for serving (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a large, rimmed baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, feta, yogurt, mint, garlic, oregano, pepper and allspice. Form the mixture into 16 equal-size meatballs, just under 1½ -ounce each, and place in the center of the prepared baking sheet.

In another large bowl, gently toss together the squash, leek, olives and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until everything is coated. Arrange the vegetables around the meatballs and transfer to the oven. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees.

While the meatballs are cooking, in a large serving bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, feta and red onion. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, oregano and mustard. Pour the dressing over the salad, lightly toss to combine and sprinkle with a few mint leaves. Taste and season with salt, pepper and more feta if needed.

To serve, smear a heaping tablespoon of Greek yogurt on the plate and place the meatballs and squash partially on top of the yogurt. Spoon the salad next to the meatballs and sprinkle the plate with the mint or dill, if using.

Alternatively, you can serve this family-style by arranging the meatballs and squash on a large platter and the salad in a large bowl and serving them with a small dish of Greek yogurt.

Yield: 4 servings

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