If you’ve committed to a strict grain-free or Paleo diet, there are some things that, with time, you simply come to accept. Gone are the days of “innocent” nibbling from the bread basket at your favorite restaurant… gone are the stops at your favorite local pizza or sandwich shop (it’s hard to truly enjoy a Reuben on a lettuce wrap).
For most people, this commitment becomes easy and enjoyable over time, thanks to the many benefits the Paleo diet offers. More energy, clearer skin, a leaner body and improved health overall are certainly worth it.
But what about our beloved comfort foods? Food that evokes such a deep sense of nostalgia that, without them, your life feels somewhat incomplete. Foods that remind you of people and times you love. Foods that you still long for – long after the newness of the Paleo lifestyle has taken on a patina.
I’m sure you have a few of your favorite comfort foods in mind right now. For me, one of those foods is meatballs.
The Secret Ingredient to Making Paleo Meatballs
While making Paleo meatballs might seem like an easy feat (after all, they are primarily meat!), I’ve found that this is one of the most difficult foods to recreate.
The reason? Breadcrumbs.
Despite the reputation as a way to stretch the dollar (and feed more hungry mouths), adding breadcrumbs is actually an important part of the recipe. This step is essential for making truly delicious meatballs. You see, when it comes to the texture of a meatball, breadcrumbs play a vital role. Without them, you end up with tough, puck-like pellets. “Breadless” meatballs don’t absorb the flavors of the sauce they’re cooked in. And they fail to retain adequate moisture.
So, how about “breadcrumbs” made from ground chia, flax, almond flour or coconut flour?
Well, despite the best intentions of Paleo foodies (myself included), these substitutes simply don’t replicate the effects of a true breadcrumb. Chia and flax tend to add a strange “slime” factor. Almond flour and coconut flour create a “mealy” texture due to their density and inability to absorb moisture.
A real breadcrumb acts as a “microsponge” inside of your meatballs. Each spongy breadcrumb helps to separate the meat, providing a cushion that translates to the perfect toothsome texture. Breadcrumbs are also typically carbohydrate-rich. This makes them a great vehicle for trapping moisture. As the breadcrumbs pull that moisture in, your meatballs become infused with flavorful, juicy goodness.
Breadcrumbs are the reason that Paleo meatballs pale (or puck!) in comparison to your classic favorite.
But today all of that changes….
Paleo Breadcrumbs: The Quintessential Ingredient for Paleo Meatballs
Using a rendition of my most-loved Paleo Focaccia Bread, I’ve created a breadcrumb that works perfectly for making moist, juicy, grain-free meatballs.
This super simple recipe is a snap to make. And the Paleo Breadcrumbs stay will keep for months in the freezer. That means they’ll be at the ready for your next batch of meatballs, meatloaf or crispy-crusted pork chops.
Another bonus? The interim step in this recipe makes Paleo Croutons – an indispensable addition to an authentic Caesar salad.
While this recipe will take you a few minutes of prep time, it is a very affordable option that will give you grain-free breadcrumbs for months to come. In fact, you can make about 3 cups of breadcrumbs for around $3 – which rivals the price of the boxed, gluten-and-preservative-laden varieties you’d find at the store.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 box Let’s Do Organic Creamed Coconut (We buy our pantry staples like this from Thrive Market)
- 6 Tbsp. coconut oil or grass-fed butter
- 2 tsp. psyllium husk powder
- 5 pastured eggs
- ¾ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. garlic powder (optional)
You’ll also need a quarter baking sheet (preferably stainless steel) and a blender.
Preheat your oven to 300 F. Grease your baking sheet well. Melt the butter or oil. Warm the creamed coconut in a small bowl of warm water.
Add the softened creamed coconut to the blender with the eggs, melted butter (or oil), baking soda, salt, psyllium and garlic (if using).
Blend on medium high speed until creamy and golden (no lumps!). Scrape batter into the prepared pan.
Transfer to the oven and bake 35-40 minutes or until edges pull away and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool on a wire rack. Transfer the bread to a cutting board and cut into cubes by slicing lengthwise, then widthwise.
Now, place your bread cubes back onto a baking sheet and toast on “medium” in a toaster oven for 6 minutes. The goal is just to crisp and dry the bread cubes. (Note: You can stop after this step to create the Paleo Croutons I mention above)
Once crisped, return to blender or food processor.
Pulse gently to create Paleo breadcrumbs.
Using Paleo Breadcrumbs in Your Favorite Paleo Meatball Recipe
Now you may be wondering how these breadcrumbs compare to the standard boxed variety. You can replace traditional breadcrumbs – cup for cup – with these, with no discernible difference in taste or texture.
Need a place to start? Below is one of my favorite Paleo meatball recipes. Also check out my Paleo “Secret Ingredient” Meatloaf for a meat mix that includes super-nutrient chicken livers (tastes so good, even the pickiest kids won’t notice).
Perfect Paleo Meatballs
- 2 lbs. grass fed beef (half 75%/half 85% lean)
- 1 lb. pork sausage
- 1 cup Paleo Breadcrumbs (above)
- 2 pastured eggs
- 2 Tbsp. mixed dried herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme)
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- ¾ tsp. sea salt
- 2 Tbsp. grass-fed tallow, coconut oil or avocado oil (for pan-frying)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a baking sheet.
- In a medium bowl, add the beef, sausage, Paleo Breadcrumbs, eggs, herbs, garlic powder and salt.
- Mix gently to combine all ingredients (Do not overmix). Roll into golfball-sized balls.
- In a safe nonstick skillet, heat the tallow or oil. Add the meatballs to the heated pan, taking care to not crowd.
- Brown on all sides, then transfer to the baking sheet. Continue in batches until all meatballs are browned.
- Transfer to oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center reaches 160 F.
- Remove from oven. Serve or simmer in your favorite sauce.
Do you have a favorite Paleo Meatball recipe? If so, what is your secret to making authentic tasting meatballs… without the grain?