Our American food series continues with meatballs. Meatballs can be eaten by themselves, or in other dishes like spaghetti. They are convenient lunch foods; they travel in plastic containers well and can even be eaten with fingers.

Simple Meatballs

Start with 1 lb 80% ground beef, 1/8 cup potato starch (1/4 cup for a tougher, sturdier meatball), 1 egg, and minced garlic:

Mix thoroughly with spices to taste – salt, pepper, and cilantro, dill, or other green herbs:

Roll the mixed ingredients into small balls. A pound of beef makes about 30 meatballs:

In a saucepan, place slices of ginger root in enough water to cover the meatballs, and bring it to a boil:

Add meatballs to the boiling water and cook until cooked through (typically 8 to 10 minutes):

Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and let them drip dry.

When the meatballs are done, you can cook vegetables in the leftover meatball water. Here is watercress:

Strain the water and add olive oil and spices:

Pearl meatballs

Pearl meatballs are popular in China, and often found in dim sum restaurants. The “pearls” are grains of rice.

Preparation methods are as before, but also begin with a half cup of uncooked sticky rice or Japanese short-grain rice:

Soak the rice in water for 10 minutes before using.

Also, add 1 teaspoon soy sauce to the ingredient list, and triple the amount of pepper.

Traditionally the meatballs are rolled in the rice so that rice is found on the surface of the uncooked meatball, but you can also mix rice into the body of the meatball:

Both ways work, and taste similar.

We steam the pearl meatballs on a bed of shredded cabbage for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes we turn the heat off but keep the lid on and let them continue steaming for another 5 minutes.

After cooking is done don’t quickly remove the lid; let them steam and drip-dry for another 5 minutes.

Then transfer them to a serving plate:


You can use meatballs in a host of recipes. You may have noticed we included meatballs in our Bi Bim Bap (Oct 16, 2011). It’s handy to keep some around in the refrigerator for an occasional beefy snack.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Woweeee! Those pearl meatballs look mad! I’m going to have to try that out!

    Personally, traditional meatballs … I prefer them fried. I go with cold meat in a fist squeezed out between my fingers – do this a couple of times. Done. Make up into balls while still cold.

    But those pearl meatballs … superb! I’ll give them a go … pork mince, I guess?

  2. Hi Paul,

    We used beef, but you can use pork.

    It’s also possible to fry the meatballs. We’re trying to use gentle cooking methods.

  3. Paul, both these recipes use steam / boiling heat.

    Is it fair to say that this is an implicit continued recommendation to avoid high heat cooking of meats, such as browning?

    My mother’s recipes always began with browning the meat before further cooking them in some kind of sauce.

  4. Hi Remnant,

    I’m not opposed to browning meats, but it’s not necessary for meatballs. Boiling is simple and quick. We do favor gentle cooking methods, but it’s possible to do reasonably gentle browning.

    When we make spaghetti sauce we usually brown the meat and then add tomatoes etc.

  5. Hey Paul,

    one tip:
    in german as well as in italian and greek meatballs water (or milk) soaked old bread is an important ingredient to make them fluffy. After experimenting many times to find a substitute for the bread I found mashed potatoes (around a fistfull for ~1 lbs of ground meat) to be the best. Mix them thouroghly under and don’t forget to add some parmigiano/peccorino for the italian version.

  6. My wife’s been trying to find a good, simple meatball recipe. Thanks for sharing, we’ll give these a try!

  7. Wow! This is a fantastic idea for a meatball rice noodle soup! Thank you.

  8. Hi Paul!

    Those pearl meatballs looks very much like a virus! Eating a giant virus! Wow!

    I notice that you frequently use (black?) pepper. Do you know the bleeding effects of red and black pepper? In this study 1.5g of red or black pepper (around 30 grains) produced effects that were equivalent to 655 mg of aspirin.

  9. is that a plastic tray? o noes teh endocrine disruptor!
    also wayy 2 much food reward factor! to much spices, herbs and seasonings = instant metabolic syndrome bomB! k/j btw, awesome meatballs!

  10. Hi Franco,

    Awesome tip – sounds like a great improvement over potato starch! I especially like the pecorino romano version …

    Hi Aaron,

    Wati’s idea of a rice noodle soup might be a good dish to try them in … Thanks Wati.

    Hi Mario,

    I prefer to think of it as an immune cell ( … but then again, chomping down on a giant virus might have a certain satisfaction!

    Thanks for the tip, I guess I’ll keep my pepper dose below 1.5 g.

    Hi lolo,

    The leftovers are in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator … don’t tell Chris!

  11. PS Aaron – Just saw a quote from Daniel Kahneman: “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy”–a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task–“as it was before I made a study of these issues,” he writes.

  12. Hi Paul and Shou-Ching
    These meatballs are great. Meatballs taste wonderful with Moroccan flavouring – lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mint, chives and cumin.

    Paul I wonder if you would have time to do some work on skin ageing so that we can eat our meatballs with a clear conscience – I’ve seen a couple of articles linking saturated fat and red meat with wrinkles – could you critique for us please?

    Nagata et al British Journal of Nutrition 2010 103 (10) 1493-8
    Martalena et al Journal of American College of Nutrition Feb 2001 20(1) 70-80



  13. I got to avoid black pepper now??? Noooooooooooo!

  14. Hi Agatha,

    I’ll look into it. For readers, the pubmed links are: (not by Martalena but I’m assuming this is the one)

    For now, I’ll just note (a) they’re only associations, there’s no causal evidence, (b) all kinds of aspects of good health are associated with vegetable consumption and poor health associated with meat / fat consumption, because for decades authorities have been saying that vegetables are good and meat / fat bad, so people who care for themselves eat vegetables and avoid fat and meat, while people who don’t care if they lose their health eat fat and meat and avoid vegetables. So I wouldn’t read much, if anything, into the observed associations.

    Hi Jay,

    1.5 g = a lot.

  15. Thanks Paul. Anecdotal I know, but I’d take Sally Fallon’s beautiful skin over T Colin Campbell’s wrinkles anyday!

  16. 1/4 teaspoon?

    Dry Measure Equivalents

    3 teaspoons = 14.3 grams
    1 teaspoon = 4.76 g

    Multiple meals…about what I use regularly.

  17. Pearl meatballs? When I was growing up my mother made something similar, without the asian spices and a tomato and worcestershire sauce – called “Porcupine Meatballs” – because of the quills of rice sticking out. They were baked.

    Meatballs are a great staple and lend themselves to a variety of spices. I’ve never tried boiling or steaming, but it would be quicker and easier.

    I like the mashed potato idea too!

  18. You ground meat looks quite lean. It is just a remark, whatever. I recently found that adding cooked and then ground heart to my ground raw meat improves texture because ground cooked meat is able to absorb juices, like bread, I also add grated onion.

  19. Paul, do you guys ever eat vegetarian dishes as entrees as often? Or do you recommend eating meat at every meal? I don’t think I can eat animal/ meat protein with every meal. For example, last night I made spicy, baked cauliflowers and ratatouille. It was very filling and I didn’t miss having meat with them.

  20. Hi Jay,

    “multiple meals” … if the dose is spread out, or mixed with food, it’s going to be much less damaging.

    Hi Galina,

    It was 80% ground beef. Love the idea of adding heart and onion!

    Hi Jana,

    Yes, we eat vegetarian dinners once in a while, probably 2 or 3 times a month. There’s no obligation to eat meat at every meal.

  21. I also read several research articles linking skin aging with saturated fat/ meat consumption, including those articles that Agatha referenced. I’m in my 30s but look like I’m in my 20s, and would like to stay this course. From what I’ve read, it seems like saturated fats are linked with aging skin more so than monounsaturated fats. So I’ll choose avocado over butter now, and I’ve been snacking on raw, almond butter and prunes before my workouts or ballet classes.

  22. Hi Paul,

    Instead of soaked bread I just grate a potato in my meatballs.
    Will it have the same effect as potato starch?

    Franco, thanks for the tip with mashed potatoes, unfortunately I don’t have them just laying around all the time:)) But will have to try that one day.

  23. I’ve got making mashed potatoes down to under 4 minutes. Just peel and dice potato (the smaller the dice the quicker it cooks) and microwave for 2-3 minutes. Add butter and milk (optional of course) and mash!

  24. Jana,
    From my experience I can report about very positive influence of the increased use of saturated fats on my skin. I eat everyday coconut oil, batter from grass-fed cows, fat meat, if I use a cream in mine coffee – it is the heavy whipping cream. I follow the low-carb-high-fat diet for 4 years, and it feels like clock turned back appearance-wise. Very often I am asked about how I take care about my skin. I will be 51 in couple months, and no wrinkles, just when I smile there are some lines. Actually, I stopped using any special skin products – just $10 moisturizer after shower.

  25. Hi Mia, I think it would work great.

    GeeBee’s mashed potato formula sounds great too. I might try it for lunch.

  26. Mia,

    me too! I just cook a few of them (peeled, diced in salt water – takes ~20-30minutes) an hour before, mash them, spread out on a plate and let it cool. No deal.
    As dryer they get as better the result.
    That’s why fresh/raw grated potato won’t work – too much additional water when you rather want something to bind it.


    maroccan sounds great!
    I have a bit cinnamon, chestnut, lemon juice, garlic and (of course) oregano in my greek bifteki (sometimes filled with feta – I prefer goat feta nowadays). Black pepper? Always! Chilli? More often then not!

  27. GeeBee,

    butter and milk are counterproductive for mashed potato use in meatballs! We need to make them fluffy, not sticky – that’s what the eggs are already for.
    For mashed potatoes as a side I use lots of butter of course.

  28. Uh, sorry! I meant “nutmeg” – not “chestnut” for the bifteki!

  29. Galina
    Thanks for sharing. I have only been doing paleo/PHD for 6 months but I feel my skin is rather improved – much smoother and more hydrated so I was puzzled to see those studies. It is interesting and reassuring to hear your experience after 4 years of eating this way.

  30. Thanks Franco!

    So, just to be clear, you don’t add any milk or butter to mashed potatoes?

  31. RE: Meatball soup with rice noodles. I made some not that long ago with Thai flavors. Very similar to Paul’s recipe except no starch and Thai flavors: fish sauce, white pepper, lemongrass, cilantro, onion, garlic, Thai basil.

    Love the pearl meatballs Paul, they look delicious!

  32. Franco,

    Thanks for the tip! So for meatball fluffiness I want plain mashed potatoes not leftover mash with butter and milk. That’s probably why my fish cakes are never quite right……..;-)

  33. Mia,

    peel, cut, cook, mash – done! Neither butter nor milk nor something else.


    you got it!

  34. Hi Paul and All,

    I made the Simple Meatballs. They were delicious. Tonite I am making them with beef and pork mixed. Will be good I’m sure.


  35. pearl meatballs! my mom used to make those. yum!
    have to try them out.

  36. Suggestion: Repeat a summary of the recipie at the end for easy copy and paste into a personal recipie list…and to print for the kitchen.

    Your recipie is superb, and the pictures are great, but not needed after reading…

    Thanks for a great one!

    BTW, it is a good idea to NOT brown meat (it damages the proteins), and the potato starch is very hard on some of us…turns out is not needed unless you need very hard meatballs!


  37. Do you prefer grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish, respectively organic foods?

  38. Hi JP,

    Yes, they’re preferable, not essential though.

  39. And what about eggs? Just the normal free-range eggs or better choose the organic ones?

  40. I am in heaven. I just made meatballs and added some partially mashed cooked rice. They came out nice and fluffy. Cooked baby kale from my Mom’s winter garden in the bone broth I used to cook the meatballs and added raw snow peas, green onions, fish suce and lime juice to make a fantastic soup for dinner. Nom nom!
    I have been reading the 1st & 2nd Ed., as well as the blog. and working on going more PHD as I can fit new things into my schedule. I’m looking forward to improved health! Now, for some purple sticky rice and coconut milk to finish dinner off. Cheers!

  41. Love these PHD meatballs. Just made two pound batch and will freeze in quarter pound quantities for quick, mobile lunches. 🙂

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