Going to ground: Turkey beats beef



“Let’s give ground turkey a try,” I said to my husband. “It’s better for us than beef.”

“But it’s so dry,” he replied. “You have to pour half a bottle of ketchup on a turkey burger just to make it moist.”

I’d recently compared 4 ounces of raw ground beef to the same portion size of raw ground turkey, both of them 85 percent lean, 15 percent fat. The beef had a hefty 243 calories and 77 milligrams of cholesterol, whereas the turkey scored a diminutive 153 calories and 66 mg of cholesterol.

I was eager to say farewell to ground beef, especially since we were knee-deep in January, the month when people promise to eat healthier and lose weight. I began experimenting with meatballs, chili and burgers, substituting ground turkey for beef. I infused the turkey dishes with tomatoes, mushrooms, wine and even an apple to compete with the richness of beef.


My efforts proved successful. My husband asked for second helpings of these lightened recipes. He didn’t complain about dryness. He left the ketchup bottle alone.

“Who needs ground beef when you can have ground turkey?” he said.

Note: In these recipes, do not use ground turkey that has been frozen, as it turns watery and falls apart.

Turkey Meatballs with Fast and Fresh Sauce
Serves 6

For the sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, diced fine
9 Italian plum tomatoes, diced and then chopped
Kosher salt to taste
⅓ cup pinot noir, merlot or Chianti wine
For the ziti and meatballs
1 pound ziti
1½ pounds ground turkey
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced


For the sauce

In a large pot, briefly heat oil on a low flame. Add the garlic and onion and sauté them until fragrant and wilting, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle in the salt. Sauté until they begin to release their juice. Stir in the wine. Cover the pot and simmer on the lowest flame possible while assembling the ingredients below. Stir occasionally.

For the ziti and meatballs

Set up a second large pot. Fill it with water and bring it to a boil for the ziti.

Meanwhile, place the turkey in a bowl and sprinkle it with salt. Using your hands, form the turkey into meatballs about the size of golf balls. Place them on a large plate.

In a large skillet, heat the oil briefly over a medium-low flame. Place the meatballs in the skillet and sear. Using tongs, turn the meatballs until they are seared on all sides. Then place them in the tomato sauce. Stir and return the cover to the sauce pot. The sauce will be chunky.

When the water boils, place the ziti in it. Follow the instructions on the box. When ready, drain the ziti in a colander. Pour the ziti into the sauce and stir for a minute or so. Move the contents to a pasta bowl and sprinkle the basil on top. Serve immediately.

Ground Turkey Chili
Serves 4

1 15½-ounce can pinto beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
2 Italian plum tomatoes, diced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
⅛ cup pinot noir, merlot or Chianti wine
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili
¼ teaspoon oregano
⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more if you like it hot
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon basil
1 bunch scallions
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro or parsley


In a colander, rinse the beans under cold water. Reserve.

In a large pot, briefly heat the oil over a medium-low flame. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until wilting and fragrant, about 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the ground turkey a half-teaspoon at a time, stirring a couple of times until all of the turkey is added. Sear the turkey. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.

Spoon in the tomato paste. Fill the can twice with warm water, stirring each time to dissolve the paste stuck to the can. Pour it into the pot, along with the wine. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the tomato paste.

Sprinkle in the seasonings (salt through basil). Add the pinto beans and stir to combine. Cover the pot and simmer over a low flame, until the beans are softened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut away the green fibrous part of the scallions and discard. Slice and then chop the white part.

Serve the chili in soup bowls. Sprinkle the scallions and cilantro or parsley on top.

Sephardic-style Stuffed Peppers

Serves 4

½ cup raw rice
4 peppers, any color or a combination
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 large apple, skinned, cored and diced
Kosher salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon each of cumin, curry and turmeric
1 pound ground turkey
Nonstick vegetable spray
4 tablespoons skinless slivered almonds, plus 8 more tablespoons


Prepare the rice according the directions on the package. Reserve.

Cut a wide circle around the stems of the peppers, large enough to easily stuff them with the filling. Pull out the pith and seeds inside and discard. Rinse the peppers under cold water inside and out to remove any remaining seeds. Pat peppers dry with paper towels inside and out. If the peppers do not stand straight, slice a sliver off the bottoms so they do not wobble. Do not cut through to the cavity. Reserve.

In a large skillet, briefly heat the oil over a medium-low flame. Add the garlic and onion and sauté briefly.

Add the apple, salt and three spices. Stir to combine and sauté briefly. Add the turkey a half-teaspoon at a time. Stir to brown, breaking up the turkey with a spoon until the turkey is no longer pink. Remove the skillet from flame and cool to room temperature.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a roasting pan or Pyrex pan with nonstick spray.

Into a large bowl, place the turkey mixture, rice and four tablespoons of almonds. Mix together until well combined. Stuff each pepper with a quarter of the mixture. Press down on the mixture as you stuff the peppers to fill the entire cavity. Using the remaining 8 tablespoons of almonds, cover each pepper with 2 tablespoons of almonds.

Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the peppers are puckered and soft. Serve immediately.

Linda Morel is a food writer in Philadelphia.

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