Thai Basil Turkey Meatballs

by Andie Mitchell on January 20, 2011


Until last Friday, I had all but banished ground turkey from my life. Somewhere in the last two months, I realized it just wasn’t cutting the mustard- flavor-wise, texture-wise, you name it, turkey lacked it. So I did what any self-respecting eater would do: Wrote it a Dear John, sent it packing, and tried desperately to erase it from my memory and grocery list. And I’d just about come to grips with it, really.

But then it went on sale.

For close to one dollar a pound.

Something you should know about me is that when and if something is marked down so low that it’s at the same cost level as chewing gum, I will buy it. No matter what it is, I will without question be emptying the contents of my wallet on the conveyer belt of the check out line. Just ask Target.

You can imagine the kinds of company I keep in my cupboard.

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So this week, with a year supply of ground turkey in my refrigerator, I mustered all the energy I have in me to finesse such a lean, somewhat bland meat into meals that make me go ‘mmm…’

The key, I find, is blending it with just shy of twenty seven million ingredients. Some for flavor, some for texture, most for moisture.

It helps to not try and recreate the exact dishes you’d make with ground beef. That way, you don’t feel like your substituting something less flavorful, something a little too healthy for its own good. Because no matter how lovely Italian-style turkey meatballs can be when dolled up just so, they’re never quite as charming as those made traditionally with beef (so long as you’re a meat eater), right? The same goes for burgers and meatloaf, though I do bet there are turkey variations that can be quite delicious in their own right.

The fun is to create something new with the white meat. To use it in a recipe, and even better in a cuisine, that boasts lots of unique and bold flavor. Asian comes to mind immediately. Lots of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, spicy chiles, and scallions.

These are Thai basil meatballs and they taste fantastic. I was inspired by a recipe I spotted in the most recent issue of Cooking Light. Though that one called for ground chicken, turkey is a natural swap.

Despite the leanness of the meat, these cook up tender and moist. The flavor is booming, too. A zestiness from garlic and ginger, a kick from Sriracha, and a fresh hit of minced basil. The sauce is light enough to not intimidate the flavor of the meatballs, but bright and sweet enough to lend balance.

I’d recommend them as either an appetizer, served with toothpicks and the sauce on the side for dipping, or as a main dish alongside fluffy, steamed rice.

In a large bowl, I combined ground turkey, minced fresh basil, minced scallions, garlic, ginger, panko bread crumbs, Sriracha, and lightly beaten egg whites.

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I used my hands to blend all of the ingredients well, and then formed the mixture into balls roughly 1” in diameter.

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After placing them on a lightly oiled baking sheet, I brushed them olive oil and baked them for 12 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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Next, I made a simple sauce by whisking soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, scallions, and cornstarch in a small saucepan and then bringing that mixture to a boil.

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I let that bubble for about 3 minutes, until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.


When I was ready to serve the meatballs, I laid them on a bed of lettuce and drizzled the sauce over them.

Ready, set, eat.

Thai Basil Turkey Meatballs

(serves 4)

For the meatballs:

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

2 teaspoons hot chili sauce

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons fish sauce

1 lb ground turkey

2 egg whites

2 teaspoons oil, for brushing

For the spicy garlic sauce:

    • 1/4 cup soy sauce  

      2 teaspoons fish sauce

      2 teaspoons sugar

      3 gloves garlic, minced

      2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

      1 tablespoon minced scallions

      2 teaspoons hot chili sauce (I recommend Sriracha)

      2 teaspoons cornstarch


      Make the sauce: Whisk all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 2-3 minutes, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside.

Make the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except for the oil with your hands. Roll the mixture into balls roughly 1” in diameter. Place them on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray, brush the tops with the oil, and bake them for 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

Serve the meatballs with sauce and additional chopped basil and green onion, if desired.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali January 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

Oh, glory!!!! Will be trying this weekend! Very nice! Your blog is new to me and I’m beginning to look forward to them! Phew! Sigh…


Christie @ Abundant Self Care January 21, 2011 at 9:29 am

First it was turkey meatloaf on eat live run and now we have turkey meatballs here. I’m officially adding ground turkey to my shopping list.


Shanna, like Banana January 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

Good job infusing flavor into the turkey meatballs. It’s no easy feat. I love Siracha!


Apicius' Apprentice January 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I’m actually a fan of ground turkey, so this is a welcome recipe to try out! It sounds like you were able to find a flavor combination with enough “umph” to convince a skeptic! Looking forward to trying it out :)


gratefulgirlgoesglutenfree January 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I totally agree that turkeys flavor doesn’t really cut it. But, these look amazing. I am SUCH a meatball fan!


Jenn January 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I’ve never really been a fan of ground turkey, but those look sooo good! I think I’m going to have to give them a try. Thanks for sharing!


Can You Stay for Dinner January 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Thanks Jenn!


thecompletecookbook January 22, 2011 at 2:46 am

*blush* – I have never used ground turkey before – only ground chicken.
Your meatballs sound fabulous! :-) Mandy


Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) January 22, 2011 at 5:55 am

Sometimes I feel that ground turkey makes an even better meatball than ground beef, but maybe that’s just personal preference. This recipe sounds absolutely fabulous and I most definitely plan on making it. Thanks for sharing the recipe! :D


Lisa @ Dishes of Mrs. Fish January 22, 2011 at 7:18 am

We love Thai flavored anything, so these are a must make for us very soon!


Jackie @ Baking Charms January 22, 2011 at 7:26 am

Haha I can not resist as sale either, on food items or otherwise ;)


Autumn @ Good Eats Girl January 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Oh, wow. I’m definitely going to try these. They sound SO good!


Kaori January 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Hi Andrea,
I’ve been checking your site from time to time since you were featured on Wordpress, I think. (These days I have a hard time remembering how I found who. :) ) You have a wonderful blog and great recipes! I tried this yesterday and it came out fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing!


johnny January 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I started reading your blog after seeing your article in a magazine while waiting in the docs office.(he was about to tell me I had to loose 90lbs!) All the blogs (and articles) seem to be for women, but I couldn’t stop reading yours. I have laughed so loud, your humor and advice is the best and has motivated me to start loosing.You’re making loosing weight fun! Your recipes are great and I can’t wait to try this one.Looking forward daily to your blog!


Linda January 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Just got finished making this recipie. It’s wonderful! A little heat a little sweet and just right! It was a little labor intense, but like you said…if I made this ahead over the weekend it would be a snap. I’m serving it with some leftover Chinese rice, left over green beans and a salad. Can’t wait till dinner!!


Lilli January 26, 2011 at 4:25 am

Poor disparaged turkey ;) I cook with it frequently; but always in a dish with tons herbs, spices, sauce of some sort etc. because you’re absolutely right….dulls-ville otherwise. These look absolutely delicious! The sauce alone has me drooling just a little and wondering if I should change tomorrow’s chicken lettuce wraps to thai basil meatballs. Yum!


Judy H January 29, 2011 at 8:05 am

They look YUMMY! My hubby loves Thai flavors, so I’m sure he’d love these. One quick question – I noticed that in the top portion with the step-by-step picture instructions, you say to bring the sauce to a boil and reduce it unitl it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but then in the written section you say to just mix the ingredients and set it aside. I’m guessing it can be served either way? Or maybe you just forgot to tell us to reduce the sauce in the written section? Thank you for the recipe! I’m sure I’ll be making it soon! :)


Can You Stay for Dinner January 29, 2011 at 8:15 am

Hi Judy! Thanks for catching that error! Yes, you should reduce the sauce as I said in the step by step tutorial, my mistake. I’m editing it now!


Cindy February 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm


I doubled the batch and after nibbling on a few of these heavenly bites, we decided to freeze them for a dinner soon to be announced!

LOVE the flavors. The ginger, the onion (I used Leek) and hot chili sauce!


Brigitte April 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Yum. These are really tasty. I used ground chicken since the store didn’t have turkey.

Thanks for the recipe!


Can You Stay for Dinner April 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Thanks Brigitte!


Ellen @ Black and White and Loved All Over April 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Oh man, I feel the same way about ground turkey! It has ruined one too many otherwise lovely dinners. The last lasagna I made with it went to the dogs. I’m sure that with all these yummy flavors they’re pretty tasty though!


Laura V June 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I made these, rolled them up and put them on a cookie sheet and froze them – then just dumped them in a freezer bag. Now They’re ready to go -just cook and serve with your sauce recipe and some rice.
I cooked a teaspoon of the meatball mixture to check the flavor -they’re perfect!!


Jeannette September 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’m not sure what I got wrong on the sauce, but even before reducing it was already plenty thick enough. I ended up adding some chicken stock and more soy sauce to thin it a bit.

BUT HOLY CRAP YUM! And I HATE ground turkey. But these meatballs rocked my socks. I also used a little less Sriracha (I’m a rooster n00b, also missing a galbladder) and it was still plenty punchy for my palette. My mom recommendation is to cut the Sriracha in half for kids’ consumption.

Nutrition info (according to, FWIW) is: (for 1/4) 292 calories, 13 g fat, 38 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 30 g protein.


Beverly {Flamingo Toes} October 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I wanted to let you know I made these for dinner last night – and they were a HUGE hit!! Definately one of our new favorites!!
Thanks for another fabulous recipe!!


Miss McBooty October 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Yum!! I made these last night… tasty, tasty, tasty!


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Veronica December 12, 2011 at 8:33 am

These are awesome! My family loved them. I will be making them again as an appetizer for a party I am hosting this holiday season.


Shan March 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm

I found this recipe on pinterest and would like to try it. One question…I have all the ingredients on hand except the fish sauce. Would they still come out good without it? Thanks.


Anna March 16, 2012 at 10:02 am

I didn’t use the fish sauce (don’t like it) and they came out delicious.


Stacy January 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Made these tonight with what I had in my kitchen (cilantro and red onion instead of green onion and basil). They were great! Thanks for another great recipe!


Tammy February 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm

What if you put these on skewers? That could be a fun twist. I even seen a recipe for Thai chicken on skewers and the ‘skewers” were lemongrass stocks. Just an idea. I have been making a lot of Thai food lately and the only thing in my freezer right now is ground turkey. I think I will give these a try. Thanks!


Shira June 24, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I’d love to make these this week, I bought the ground turkey and everything (because it was on sale actually) but I don’t have breadcrumbs! I couldn’t find them… Could I leave them out?? Or just grind up a few piece of toast?


Andie Mitchell June 25, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hey Shira!

Yes, you can just toss a slice or two of your favorite bread into the food processor and grind it into crumbs and use that. Just measure it out to get the same amount as called for in the recipe. I’m sure that since the fresh bread is softer than the dried store-bought breadcrumbs, the meatballs might be a little moister and less firm, but that might actually be a good thing :)



Kristin October 18, 2013 at 7:09 am

I had my ground turkey all set to make stuffed peppers and forgot to buy the peppers! So I googled the ingredients I had and stumbled across your recipe. So glad I did they were FANTASTIC! I was blown away by how flavorful and moist list they were using the leanest of ground turkey. Thanks for the recipe I’ll be bookmarking your site :-)

Kristin Todd


Maria October 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I made these last night after reading the great reviews – not sure what I did wrong (I followed the recipe exactly) but they were not good at all. The turkey still was flavorless – needs salt and there was way too much garlic in the sauce, the result being a spicy, overly garlic-tasting, meatball that drastically needed some plain salt and pepper.


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