Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Green Kitchen: Easy Meatballs and an Ethical Quandary

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Transitioning to the omnivore lifestyle from thirteen years as a vegetarian is not easy. Well, okay, in some ways it is fabulously easy – ordering at restaurants is a delight, and getting enough protein is a breeze. But, of course, there are complications.

My vegetarian menu was pretty ethically uncomplicated – I shopped local when I could, cooked for myself from mostly unprocessed foods, and bought my eggs from farmers I could chat with about the chickens. I wasn’t striving for sainthood, just trying to make the best choices I could. But with meat, those choices are much more complicated. And the implications are much more intense.

It crystallized the other night in the local supermarket aisle. My boyfriend and I were picking up a few things for dinner – we had kale in the fridge, so the main question was, my propensity for bowls of cheesy kale aside, what else we would eat. “What about meatballs?” he asked. “I liked those meatballs you made the other night. I can buy the meat”

The other night I’d come home with a bounty of on-sale local, grass-fed beef from Whole Foods. Now, under the C-Town fluorescent lights, I looked toward the meat case and paled.

“I have some of the Whole Foods beef in the freezer still. I can thaw that out.”

“But you bought that, that’s yours. Let me buy some for tonight.”

We walked over to the meat case. The ground beef told us it was Made in the USA, but not much more. The local butcher shop, where I get my miraculously cheap local, organic chicken, was closed.

I’ve ordered meat in restaurants. I’ve eaten chicken and beef and pork that lived who-knows-how. I know ethically-minded omnivores who eat no meat in restaurants, a restraint I’ve felt guilty for not having. But in that supermarket aisle, I found my personal line. We went home with a carrot, and I took the last of my grass-fed beef out to defrost.

This super-sale grass-fed beef was $5/lb (discounted from $8). Ground beef in the supermarket costs less than half that. I can’t always afford that. Paired with a nice pile of cheap, filling vegetables like onions and kale, you can still get a good serving of meat for under two bucks, which I didn’t even realize until I wrote up this recipe, and which I will remind myself next time my chest gets tight for budget’s sake when my boyfriend goes back for seconds.

The sale at Whole Foods ($5 for what costs $2 at the supermarket) is going on a little longer, and we’re going to stock up while we can. Beef I feel okay about eating is kinda expensive, but it’s also really, really tasty. (In case you pale at the slightly high fat count, by the way, keep in mind that grass-fed beef is much higher in super-healthy Omega-3s, that [nutrition nerd alert!!] the link between saturated fat and heart disease is in fact kinda dodgy, and that the nutrition counts are for uncooked beef – plenty of fat stays behind in the pan.)


If these look good, you will surely enjoy:

(serves 3)

3/4 lb ground beef (grass-fed/pastured if you can)
1/4 medium yellow onion
1/4 medium carrot
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
a few shakes/grinds of pepper
dash of paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1) Preheat your oven to 300. Line a baking sheet (or 9x12 dish) with aluminum foil and set aside.

2) Dice 1/4 onion and 1/4 carrot very finely.

3) Put ground beef in a bowl. Add onion, carrot, ketchup, marjoram, thyme, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika. Mix with your hands.

4) Shape the meat mixture into balls, about an inch in diameter. Don’t squish them – just gently shape them with your hands. Place these on a plate.

5) Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the meatballs – without crowding – you may have to do this in batches – to brown. DO NOT TOUCH THEM. (That’s how you get a nice brown crust.) Once the bottoms are browned, after a minute or two, turn the meatballs over to brown the other side. Once that’s done, brown a third side, if you can get them to balance.

6) Remove the browned meatballs to the foil-lined sheet, and stick that in the oven. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs, if necessary.

7) Cook the meatballs until they’re done – not pink inside any more. This time hugely varies for me, depending on how long the meatballs were in the pan, from 2-10 minutes.

8) If you’re cooking vegetables for your meatballs to nest in – I like kale and onions – cook those in the leftover meatball/olive oil, for extra deliciousness.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price Per Serving: 
250 calories, 17.5g fat, 0.8g fiber, 19g protein, $1.26

¾ lb ground grass-fed beef (85% lean): 640 calories, 45.3g fat, 0g fiber, 56g protein, $3.33
¼ medium yellow onion: 9 calories, 0g fat, 0.4g fiber, 0.3g protein, $0.07
¼ medium carrot: 7 calories, 0g fat, 0.4g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.10
1 T ketchup: 15 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0.3g protein, $0.05
1 t dried marjoram: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0.2g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.04
1 t dried thyme: 4 calories, 0g fat, 0.6g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.03
1 t dried basil: 2 calories, 0g fat, 0.3g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.03
½ t garlic powder: 5 calories, 0g fat, 0.3g fiber, 0.2g protein, $0.02
½ t dried oregano: 3 calories, 0.1g fat, 0.4g fiber, 0.1g protein, $0.02
¼ t salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
a few shakes/grinds of pepper: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
dash of paprika: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
1½ t olive oil: 63 calories, 7g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.05
TOTAL: 750 calories, 52.4g fat, 2.3g fiber, 57.2g protein, $3.78
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 250 calories, 17.5g fat, 0.8g fiber, 19g protein, $1.26

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