As minimalist as meatballs get. While a lot of recipes add a lot of buffers, like grated cheese, fresh herbs, and eggs, in reality all you need are ground meat and a starchy binder. In this case, that means chicken and quinoa. But not the ultra-lean ground chicken you’d find at the supermarket. Instead, we’ll turn to chopped-up chicken thighs, pulsed in a food processor until coarse. I learned this trick from chef Tyler Kord, who wrote our latest cookbook, Dynamite Chicken. Not only does “grinding” your own meat let you control the texture, but it means you get dark meat , which has more flavor and is less prone to drying out. The quinoa contributes a lighter, fluffier texture to the meatballs, and gives them a delightfully crusty crust. (Yes, you can bake instead of pan-fry these, but they will end up softer overall, with less browning.) Since we’re serving these with garlicky greens, we’ll add some more garlic to the meatballs for good measure, though you could certainly skip this if you aren’t as much of a garlic fan as I am. Bitter-ish escarole is particularly dirty green, so make sure to wash it really, really well. I like to add it to a salad spinner, fill the whole thing with water, swoosh with my hands, pull up the strainer to drain, then repeat until the water runs clear. If you can’t find escarole—or don’t like it—feel free to swap in kale, spinach, collards, or the like. —Emma Laperruque
Add the quinoa to a small pot with 1 ⅓ cups water. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low-as-possible. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until all the water has evaporated, and the quinoa is fluffy and tender. Dump onto a plate and spread out so it cools.
Pulse the chicken thighs and garlic in a food processor, in small batches, until finely ground (but not pureed!). Transfer to a large bowl and add the salt, 1 tablespoon cold water, and cooled quinoa. Stir gently to combine. Form into small, nugget-size meatballs (figure a heaping tablespoon each—yielding 25 to 30).
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to create a thin film. When the oil is hot, add about half the meatballs (pan-frying in batches means better browning). Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, turning as needed, until they’re crusty and golden-brown all over and cooked through (about 165°F internal temperature); transfer to a plate or wire rack. Repeat with the remaining meatballs, adding fresh oil if needed.
While the meatballs are cooking, sauté the escarole. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a super-large sauté pan or pot, then set over medium heat. When the garlic just starts to turn golden, add the escarole and toss. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until the escarole has wilted significantly, then uncover and cook for another 5 minutes or so until it’s tender. Season with salt to taste.
Serve the meatballs with the escarole—or on top of the escarole or whatever you want.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.