I’m just going to come out and say it: I love mayonnaise. I use mayonnaise to marinate vegetables for grilled salads, put mayo in and on crab cakes and shrimp burgers, and smear it generously on white bread for tomato sandwiches. My favorite coleslaws and potato salads are mayo-based, and I’ll take mayo over ketchup any day for French fries. My kids share my love: their favorite turkey sandwiches must have mayonnaise. They consider it just as important as the turkey or bread.
I now have another favorite mayonnaise use: making these tender turkey meatballs and orzo with whole-lemon vinaigrette.
Mayo is certainly not a traditional ingredient in meatballs. But it’s not an unusual choice, either, when you consider its parts: egg, oil, and a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice, all whisked or blended together. Because it’s a stable emulsion, mayo serves as an excellent binder for meatballs. It easily slips into the role played by eggs and bread crumbs. With mayo, the path to meatballs is simple: no eggs to crack, no bread to blitz into fine crumbs, no guessing at the amount of crumbs to work in (too much...hockey puck meatballs! Too little...crumbly, fall-apart meatballs!). And a good quality mayo adds a lot of flavor in the process.
For these turkey meatballs, I use Sir Kensington’s classic mayo with sunflower oil, which has a lovely lemony flavor. The rest of the ingredients fall in place: lemon zest to reinforce the lemon flavor of the mayo; garlic, parmesan, and fresh parsley to brighten. Easier still, these meatballs are cooked on a sheet pan under the broiler, so they get golden brown without the mess and time required of frying.
I’ve carried the lemon theme over to the orzo salad, too. The orzo is double dressed, first with mayo to add body and light creaminess (and prevent the orzo from sticking and clumping as it rests), and then by a whole-lemon vinaigrette inspired by Alison Roman’s recipe in Bon Appétit. The warm vinaigrette, with its small pieces of pleasantly puckery lemon and mild, buttery Castelvetrano olives, surprises and keeps each bite interesting. (Of note: this double dressing trick is a good one for other pasta salads and grain salads, too.)
Together, the meatballs and orzo are bright, light, and lemony, the perfect antidote to dwindling daylight hours and falling temperatures.
They’re amenable to riffing, too. Here are a few ideas:
- Change up the meatballs: ground chicken or pork can stand in for turkey, pecorino for parmesan, and chopped basil for parsley.
- Bake them (versus broil) for about 25 minutes at 425° F.
- Do a Greek take on the orzo salad by swapping out kalamata olives for the Castelvatrano in the whole-lemon vinaigrette, then mixing in a big handful of chopped dill and some crumbled feta with the orzo, inspired by this lemon-dill orzo pasta salad.
- Serve the meatballs with spaghetti and your favorite marinara sauce for a more traditional take. The lemony meatballs go well with marinara, in much the same way that a fine grating of lemon zest brightens marinara (see Kristen’s genius tip here).
- Ditch the pasta! Slice the meatballs and use them as a pizza topping, or tuck them into a roll for a meatball sub.
Tender Turkey Meatballs and Orzo with Whole-Lemon Vinaigrette
- 2 pounds ground turkey (dark meat recommended)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Finely grated zest from 1 large lemon (saving juice for the orzo)
- 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
Orzo with Whole-Lemon Vinaigrette
- 1 pound orzo
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (from 1 small shallot)
- 1 cup green olives, such as Castelvetrano, pitted and coarsely chopped or torn
- 1 large lemon, quartered, seeds removed, and finely chopped (peel and flesh)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 4 cups coarsely chopped greens (such as spinach, arugula, kale, or a mix)
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (from the lemon you zested for the meatballs)