Fresh and flavorful, Greek Turkey Meatballs with Orzo and Tzatziki has layers of flavors with warm meatballs, crisp fresh cucumber and creamy Tzatziki sauce.
My favorite place to go right now is the garden store. And I know I’m not the only one. It’s outside in the sunshine, full of color, and projects gardening confidence. No matter how I felt at the end of the summer the year before, by the following May, I’m googling unusual vegetables and buying 8 kinds of tomatoes. This year, I’m plotting a cage to put over my tomatoes (the neighborhood squirrels ate all but two last summer) and an epic cucumber trellis.
I’m already dreaming of those crisp fresh-off-the-vine cucumbers. And if you’ve ever grown them, you know that once they start coming in, they come in fast. In peak cucumber season, we put them in everything. This Greek-inspired meatball recipe uses cucumbers in two ways. First, they’re grated into a rich, creamy, yogurt-based tzatziki sauce. And then again, added to the bowls for fresh crunch.
This meal is perfect for warmer weather. Cool tzatziki, warm meatballs, bites of rice-shaped orzo pasta to round it all out. It can even be made ahead for super quick prep at meal time. (See below for tips.)
- Ground Turkey - We tested this recipe with lean ground turkey (white meat). It will also work dark meat ground turkey, but the higher fat content may make the meatballs more difficult to form. If using dark meat ground turkey, you may need to add extra panko bread crumbs (about 2-3 Tablespoons) if the mixture is difficult to roll into balls.
- Panko Bread Crumbs - Look for these Japanese-style bread crumbs in the international aisle of the grocery store. They come in gluten-free versions as well.
- Milk - Combine bread crumbs and milk for a few minutes. The bread crumbs will absorb the liquid and help the meatballs to stay moist and tender.
- White Onion - Grated white onion adds flavor throughout the meatballs and also releases moisture into the meatballs as they cook, helping to keep them moist.
- Dried Oregano and Ground Cinnamon - These pantry staples add distinctive Greek flavor to the meatballs. Don’t skip the cinnamon! It may sound strange, but it gives the meatballs just a hint of warm spice flavor and is common in some savory Greek dishes. Just a pinch is plenty.
- Egg - An egg helps to bind the meatballs together.
- Olive Oil and Chicken Stock - You’ll need these to cook the meatballs. Saute the meatballs in olive oil to give them a golden brown crust and then steam them for a few minutes with chicken stock to insure they are cooked through but don’t dry out.
- Tzatziki - This yogurt-based sauce is made with grated fresh cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, dill, and mint. It can be made up to 3 days ahead and leftovers are great as a dip for pita chips or fresh vegetables.
What is Orzo?
Orzo is a small rice-shaped pasta. It cooks quickly and makes a good substitute for rice and is great in soups. Orzo can be cooked ahead according to package directions and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Toss it with some olive oil before refrigerating it to help prevent it from sticking.
What are Panko Bread Crumbs?
Panko bread crumbs are a Japanese-style of bread crumb made from white bread that is larger and more crunchy than many standard varieties. When used as a breading, panko absorbs less oil and stays crunchier than more finely ground bread crumbs. In recipes like meatballs, the large airy texture of panko absorbs liquid well and helps to keep the meatballs more tender.
How to Keep Meatballs Tender
To help keep meatballs tender, start them with bread or bread crumbs soaked in milk. Also add grated or very finely minced onion to the mixture. Both of these ingredients will slowly release moisture into the meatballs as they cook, helping them to stay tender throughout.
Can this meal be made ahead?
This is a great make-ahead meal! I like to make the tzatziki, cook the orzo, and form the meatballs (store them on a sheet pan but don’t cook them) up to a day ahead. Then the only thing to do at dinner time is to cook the meatballs and reheat the orzo in the microwave. Easy!
- Make it Gluten-Free - To make the meatballs gluten-free, just be sure to grab gluten-free panko and use gluten-free pasta.
- Add Vegetables - This meal is great with roasted cauliflower, lemon roasted broccoli (this is my go-to method), or Parmesan Roasted Potatoes.
Love Meatballs?! So do we....
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- Slow-Cooker Hoisin Turkey Meatballs
- Meatball Taco Bowls
- Southwestern Meatballs in Easy Adobo Sauce
- Thai-Style Meatballs with Pork and Rice
- Turkey Meatball Subs
Greek Turkey Meatballs with Orzo and Tzatziki
- Mixing Bowls
- Skillet or Dutch Oven
Greek Turkey Meatballs:
- ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 2 tablespoon Milk, any type
- 20 oz Ground Turkey (see note)
- 2 tablespoon grated White Onion
- 1 ½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Pinch Ground Cinnamon
- 1 Egg
- 3 tablespoon Olive Oil
- ¼ teaspoon Chicken Stock or Water
For the Tzatziki:
- ½ cup finely grated Cucumber
- 1 clove Garlic, minced
- 1 cup Plain Greek Yogurt (for the creamiest result, use 2% or higher)
- 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 2 teaspoon chopped Fresh Dill
- 2 teaspoon chopped Fresh Mint
- ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
For the Orzo and Garnish:
- 2 cups Orzo Pasta (about 12 oz)
- 2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
- 1 Cucumber, sliced or chopped (preferably a seedless variety like Persian cucumber)
- Dill, for garnish
- Make meatballs: Combine bread crumbs and milk in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow bread crumbs to soak up the liquid. Add turkey, onion, dried oregano, salt, pinch of cinnamon, and egg. Use your hands to gently combine all of the ingredients. (Note: If the mixture sticks to your hands, try wetting your hands with some water or a bit of oil which should make them easier to shape.) Form into meatballs that are about 1.5 inches in diameter. Line the formed meatballs up on a sheet pan or plate. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes while preparing other ingredients (this will help them to hold their shape).
- Make Tzatziki: Place grated cucumber on a clean dish towel or paper towel and squeeze gently to remove excess moisture. Combine cucumber, garlic, yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, dill, mint, and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside.
- Cook orzo: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook according to package directions. Drain and toss with 2 teaspoon lemon juice.
- Cook meatballs: Heat a skillet or Dutch Oven (use any pan that has a lid) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and when it begins to shimmer, carefully add meatballs. Let meatballs cook on one side until golden brown, then gently turn meatballs until evenly golden brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Pour stock down the side of the pan and cover with a lid. Steam meatballs until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes more.
- Serve meatballs over orzo with Tzatziki, cucumbers, and dill.
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