Northern friends, if you’ve been wondering where the cold weather is, wonder not. It’s here in sunny California where we’ve been freezing our tushies off ~ (my sons say I’ve gone soft).
Warming things up over here however are these fragrant little bites.
Some of my favorite meal experiences have been built from appetizers. Sometimes it’s by design but more commonly, it happens when we visit an eatery and everything on the menu sounds so good that we literally can’t decide on that singular appetizer – and nor do we want to! Happen to you too?
Variety is a big attraction when it comes to grazing but so is flavor; small plate foods often pack an impressive amount of taste and that’s what really makes them sing.
I had flavor in mind when developing these humble bites. Oven baked, they have a somewhat crispy exterior and a more delicate soft interior with endless seasoning possibilities. My eldest likened them to falafel and I think he’s spot on.
For this particular recipe, I decided to work with some warming Indian spices and serve them with a cooling yogurt dip flavored with mint and cumin. A delicious seasonal choice with flavors that permeate well. We love the combination of sweet and savory in this dish – especially in the company of a tangy dip – but you can use this base and play with your own preferred seasoning and add-ins to suit your taste and needs.
For instance, these quinoa balls work well as vegetarian ‘meatballs’ but in that context I might be inclined to move towards the oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary spectrum on the seasoning side and serve them in a delicious tomato sauce.
Though light as a feather, these balls hold together quite well given their gluten-free ingredients – well enough to serve with a toothpick which is a fun way to present them.
The longer you bake them, the darker and more seared they become, so you can play with the look and texture and even the size – the balls on the plate with cranberries are a little smaller – many ways to create small variations.
I hope you enjoy adding this appetizer to your roster and please let me know if you give them a try!
- For the Quinoa Balls
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2-4 garlic cloves, smashed and salted
- 1 + ½ cups cooked quinoa
- 1 + ½ cups pecans, skillet toasted
- 2 Tbsp coconut flour
- ½ cup golden raisins
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground clove
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp sea salt
- Pinch coarse pepper
- For the Yogurt Dip
- ¾ cup plain yogurt
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¾ tsp coconut sugar or brown sugar
- Salt to taste
- 3 Tbsp fresh mint, finely minced
- ½ tsp dried mint
- Preheat oven to 375 F
- Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with warm water to soften while you prepare remaining ingredients.
- Prepare dip by whisking together: yogurt, lemon, garlic, ground cumin, sugar and salt. Add dry and fresh mint, hand mixing to combine and set aside covered in fridge to allow flavors to permeate.
- In a small bowl, combine dry seasonings: cinnamon, clove, turmeric, salt and pepper and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a small dry skillet, sauté pecans on low heat just until they become fragrant and lightly toasted (about 2-4 minutes), being careful to watch so they don't burn. Set aside.
- In a separate large skillet set to low-medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in some olive oil until translucent (about 8 minutes). Sprinkle the onion-garlic mixture with dry seasonings (cinnamon, clove, turmeric, salt and pepper) as it is cooking, mixing well to combine. Remove from heat.
- When the onion-garlic mixture has cooled somewhat, add contents to a blender/food processor. Drain raisins, squeezing out excess liquid. Add drained raisins to onion mixture and process until the mixture is broken down and combined.
- Add quinoa, coconut flour and toasted pecans and process until broken down and mostly combined (there should still be some texture, bits and pieces).
- Carefully invert contents of blender into a large mixing bowl. Add egg and hand mix until well combined.
- The mixture will be moist and sticky. If it is too difficult to work with (to form into balls) place in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.
- Scoop mixture out by tablespoonful (or so) rolling into balls with the palm of your hands. Place balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25-35 minutes until tops begin to brown and desired color is achieved - shaking the balls gently around the halfway mark. Be sure to keep an eye on these delicate balls to prevent burning.
- Carefully remove tray from oven, allowing the quinoa balls to cool slightly before serving with the yogurt dip.
- Store balls in fridge for up to 3 days.
Flour: flour does assist in adding some bulk, absorbing water and browning/crisping so it's worthwhile but I did do the experiment without the flour and the balls still worked (and tasted delicious) - chickpea flour would be a good sub here as well.
Make Ahead Appetizer Balls: these balls can be made in advanced and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Make Ahead Yogurt Dip: the yogurt dip can be made up to a day ahead but it's best to leave the fresh mint out until an hour or two before serving. There will be some moisture accumulation, simply drain and mix - be aware that garlic will intensify in flavor over time.