October 9, 2013

Chinese Five Spice Quinoa Meatballs

Pork Quinoa Chinese Meatballs

When’s the last time you had an Chinese Quinoa Meatball?


Because the answer is probably never, because I totally just made them up. (Please note: no official research was done to confirm this statement). So I guess the better question then is WHEN will you eat a Chinese Quinoa Meatball? Let’s just make that a resounding, SOON!

Chinese Meatballs 2

Because these meatballs are the perfect metaphor for satisfying low-sodium living.

They’re all about not just losing the salt and sodium, but replacing them with interesting, intriguing, and attractive tastes. Taking salty ducks and turning them into gorgeous low-sodium swans. Or in sum: using less salt and more flavor. Which is the key to making low-sodium food not just edible, but exquisite. And you can read all about it in this month’s issue of COOKING LIGHT MAGAZINE (YES! What?!? TOTALLY!) where my meatballs and I are featured as a Healthy Habits Hero! (Make sure to get your copy before my mom buys them all).

But before I get too ahead of myself, let me back up and answer another question: WHAT is an Chinese Quinoa Meatball?

Well, my curious friends, it is basically a meatball that uses quinoa instead of breadcrumbs to get rid of the high-sodium breadcrumbs while keeping the fluffy meatball texture. Not to mention, make them healthier and gluten-free.

Here’s where things get really wacky, though. Because instead of using traditional Italian spices, like oregano or parsley, these meatballs get an international makeover with a little Chinese five spice, allspice, a touch of molasseses, diced shiitake mushroom, and some red chili pepper flakes. GASP. It’s true. Which then opens up a world of opportunity in terms of how you serve them.

Skip the tomato sauce and make a drizzle them with hot mustard vinaigrette (using Mendocino Hot & Sweet Mustard and rice wine vinegar). Layer them over rice noodles or steamed ribbons of bok choy. Or get really fancy and make a shiitake mushroom “ragu.” Point being that once you start making Asian meatballs, the Options. Are. Endless.

Chinese Meatballs

With all the surprising flavors, these meatballs don’t just stand up to traditional salty versions, they do back flips over them. And every time you make them,  be sure to try something new: a little chopped lemongrass or water chestnut perhaps? Some minced broccoli? Some mandarin orange jam?

Possibilities. Are. Endless.

Hot Quinoa Pork Chinese Meatballs

Quinoa Chinese Meatball

So keep replacing those high sodium favorites with high flavor makeovers. Replace your classic pasta with some Asian flare. And as always, chow on.


adapted from my Quick Quinoa Meatballs found in Cooking Light Magazine & Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook


  • 1 cup white, washed quinoa
  • 6 large shiitake mushrooms (about 3 oz)
  • 2 green onions, bulb removed
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt-free Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt-free garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon molasses


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Prepare quinoa according to package instructions. Take the saucepan off the heat, transfer half (about 1 cup) the quinoa to a medium mixing bowl, fluff with a fork and let cool.

While quinoa is cooking, mince mushrooms and slice green onions (whites and greens). Add them and the next six ingredients (from pork to molasses) to the bowl of quinoa. Mix until well combined.

When quinoa is cool to the touch, shape mixture into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball. Place in even rows on the lined baking sheet.

Bake until meatballs are slightly browned and crispy on top, 12 to 15 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the safe internal temperature for pork is 165 degrees F.

Serve warm with remaining quinoa on the side.

Lois Gladser October 9, 2013 at 1:10 pm


jessg23 October 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

Penseys Spices has a great one!

Samiya Terry October 10, 2013 at 1:45 am

Oh that is so clever! I would never have thought of using quinoa like that and had given up on making meatballs because of my gluten intolerance. I didn’t quite have all the ingredients last night but I had ground pork, eggs and quinoa, so I put those ingredients in and then pottered around with my spices until I got it to something really interesting..thanks!!

Libby October 10, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Wow, quite a unique recipe. Really does help some of us looking for new and creative food ideas. We often cook quinoa, but usually just as a side, to replace other carbs such as rice or potatoes. Never mixed it with meat but it sounds like it has worked well for you. Worth a try in my opinion 🙂

Minnesota Nice October 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I just got around to making these tonight. Used ground turkey instead of pork, and dipped the m in a little low-sodium sweet & sour sauce. Tremendously delicious!!! Some are now in the freezer but I’m sure they’ll be eaten within a week.
I’m really continuing to enjoy this blog and your creativity.

Mr. Kerry November 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I made this tonight. It’s good!
It was a new(er) texture for a meatball. Substituted cardamom for cinnamon. Last 5 minutes under broiler gave it a little bit more crunch. Lastly, served with schirrachi on the side .. just a little brings out the nuances of the flavors. Oh, yeah all my powdered spices sat under my chopped mushrooms, sitting in a Tsp of water (or two) and sauteed to revive the robustness – before adding to mixture.

sara November 14, 2013 at 5:10 am

delicious ,thanks a lot I’m really enjoying this blog and your creativity.

Rachel November 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm

How many milligrams of sodium per serving?? I never knew pork and low sodium could live harmoniously together!

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