Everyone loves spinach balls. I thought this classic appetizer could use a little makeover to be a little more healthful, though. The usual spinach ball recipe calls for spinach to be bound together with butter, cheese, eggs and either stuffing mix or seasoned bread crumbs.
Here are my substitutions:
1/4 cup olive oil instead of lots of butter;
quinoa and brown rice instead of stuffing mix/seasoned bread crumbs;
ground flax instead of eggs; and
ground seeds or nuts and nutritional yeast instead of cheese.
Ground flax seeds combine with the excess moisture in drained spinach to make an egg substitute. As you mix the flax seeds and spinach, you can see the moisture around the spinach turn slightly viscous, as if the spinach were bound together with egg whites. When the spinach/flax mixture is combined with cooked whole grains, the mixture becomes firm enough to shape into balls. Lots of well cooked onion and garlic, plus generous seasoning give the spinach balls the flavor boost that they need in the absence of lots of butter and cheese.
With all the changes, the spinach balls are also gluten-free and dairy-free.
Combine in a baking dish (or square foil pan), cover tightly with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for an hour:
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup quinoa
1 2/3 cup water
While the grains are cooking, prepare the spinach and the sauteed onions and garlic, the other two components of this recipe.
Defrost and squeeze dry (you should have about 14 ounces of drained spinach after pressing out the water):
2 lbs. frozen spinach
In a bowl, combine the drained spinach with the ground flax seeds and seasonings:
4 Tbl. ground flax seeds
½-1 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
¼-½ tsp. ground pepper, or to taste
¼ tsp. poultry seasoning, optional (can also use 1 tsp. thyme or Italian seasoning)
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Place the bowl of spinach in the refrigerator while you saute the onions and garlic and wait for the rice and quinoa to finish cooking.
Saute the onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened and then continue cooking on low heat until caramelized:
large onion, chopped (about 9 ounces)
7 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil to coat bottom of pan (about4 Tbl.)
When the quinoa and rice is done cooking (you should have about 2 ½ packed cups of cooked grains.), the sauteed onions and garlic should also be done. Combine the warm cooked grains with the sauteed onions and garlic. Try to mash up the grains well because they replace the bread crumbs in the original recipe and you want them to start to clump together. Mix in the spinach, mashing everything so that it binds together nicely. Adjust seasoning to taste.
If desired, add:
2 Tbl. hemp seeds or finely chopped or ground cashews/almonds
1 Tbl. nutritional yeast
This addition of nutritional yeast and seeds/nuts replaces the Parmesan cheese in the original recipe. If you don’t have the nutritional yeast or prefer to leave it out, just adjust seasoning to taste without it.
Shape the mixture into 1″ balls and place the balls on a well greased baking sheet. Spray the balls with more oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Yields approximately 3 dozen spinach balls.
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