Main Dishes, Quinoa, Recipes, Sides, Turkey

Mystery Dish: Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa + Cookbook Giveaway

These Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa are tied together with a creamy mint-almond pesto. An easy, healthy dinner that comes together quickly!

Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa | thepajamachef #mysterydish

I had a really tough time with this month’s Mystery Dish. I’m not sure why–pretty much ALL the ingredients on the list are things I love. I was just uninspired I guess. But I don’t think my recipe reflects that… this meal was pretty darn delicious. Andi from Weary Chef was our host and she asked us to use three ingredients from this list: pistachios, wine, mint, gluten-free flour, red pepper flakes, fish, agave nectar, applesauce, blueberries, parmesan cheese, milk, and corn.

A couple weekends ago, we were going to grill turkey burgers [Ben makes a to die for turkey burger with Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt, and pepper] but we were rained out and I had some ground turkey thawed in the fridge. We could have grilled indoors, but instead I decided to make some Mystery Dish magic with these Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa. And you guys… they are so good! I love a good turkey meatball anyway, but add some fresh mint to your typical garlic and onion mixture and they’re definitely amped up a notch. To fulfill the ingredient requirement, I used gluten free flour to help hold the meatballs together and red pepper flakes instead of normal black pepper. In hindsight, I wish I would have used more flour because the meatballs didn’t hold together super well. Though that was three ingredients, I decided to make the flavors even more apparent by making a mint pesto to serve over the meatballs and to toss with the quinoa I decided to serve on the side. If quinoa isn’t your thing, try rice, pasta, or some other grain/starch. Though my pesto wasn’t a true pesto it was still pretty addictive and a great sauce that was nutty, minty, and creamy all at once.

Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa | thepajamachef #mysterydish

The mint in this dish balances perfectly with the crushed red pepper. I was somewhat generous with the red pepper flakes, but it was definitely an approachable level of spiciness so if you aren’t a spicy person you’ll be okay here. I was supposed to tell you that that description was Ben’s idea, and I was threatened with a lawsuit if I didn’t. 🙂 Ha ha, a lawsuit from my husband. Moving on… I loved how minty this dish is… enough flavor to make things interesting but not so much you think you’re eating toothpaste. I love having a great repertoire of healthy, easy dinners and I know this dish will go into my usual rotation. Hope you give it a try!

And, as a special treat since we’ve been Mystery Dishin’ it up for a YEAR now [whoa], we have a special giveaway for our lovely readers… copies of cookbooks from MasterChef Season 3 Winner Christine Ha and Season 4 Winner Luca Manfe! I wish I could win! Go HERE to enter.


one year ago: Roasted Peach Muffins with Cinnamon Streusel 
two years ago: Brown Rice, Feta, and Tomato Salad
three years ago: Healthy “Fried” Rice –> I make this ALL the time with different veggies, meat, and/or tofu. A must try!
four years ago: Cornmeal Pizza Dough in the Breadmaker

Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa

  • Servings: 4
  • Print


for meatballs

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion, diced
  • 3 sprigs fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tapioca flour [or other flour, gluten free or otherwise + more if you need it]
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • crushed red pepper flakes, about 1/2 teaspoon or to taste

for quinoa

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water [or stock if preferred]
  • 1 cup prepared pesto [above]

for pesto

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint
  • 1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons half and half
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan
  • crushed red pepper flakes, about 1/4 teaspoon or to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the meatballs–garlic, green onion, mint, flour, egg, turkey, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste. Mix well with your hands, then shape into 16 meatballs. Place half the meatballs in the preheated skillet and cook on each side for about 2 minutes per side until browned all over. Remove meatballs from skillet and place in a large oven safe dish, misted with cooking spray if not nonstick. Repeat with remaining meatballs then bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through.

While meatballs are cooking, prepare quinoa according to package directions. Bring rinsed quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes until all water is absorbed.

Prepare pesto by combining mint, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons half and half, and almonds in a food processor. Pulse until combined, adding more oil and/or half and half if desired. Stir in parmesan and red pepper flakes to taste. Pesto yields about 1 cup.

When quinoa is ready, pour about 3/4 cup pesto in the quinoa and stir to combine. Serve meatballs with quinoa and reserved mint pesto, along with sides like green beans or crusty bread.

Be sure to check out what my Mystery Dish pals whipped up this month:

Mystery Dish |

  1. Tuna Tacos with Avocado Corn Salsa by The Weary Chef
  2. Blueberry Scones by Yummy Healthy Easy
  3. Parmesan Crusted Tilapia by Culinary Couture
  4. Minty Berry Fruit Roll Ups by I Want Crazy
  5. Baked Blueberry Donuts by Chez CateyLou
  6. Hearty Minestrone Soup by Joyful Healthy Eats
  7. Blueberry Lemon Pannacotta with Pistachio Tuilles by Flavor the Moments
  8. Minty Turkey Meatballs with Quinoa by The Pajama Chef
  9. Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake by I Dig Pinterest
  10. Pistachio Drop Scones with Blueberry Compote by The Well Floured Kitchen
  11. Grilled Corn & Blueberry Flatbread with Whipped Goat Cheese, Pistachios, and Basil Vinaigrette by Baking a Moment
  12. Pistachio Crusted Tilapia and Peach Salad by Blahnik Baker

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Quinoa, Recipes, Sides

Kale Quinoa Salad

When I was asked to cater the bridal shower, I was told that the bride loooved kale and quinoa. This salad was the direct inspiration of that. Well, and of Smitten Kitchen. Ha. But anyways, this kale quinoa salad is just SO good, you guys. It’s so fresh and delightful, I could seriously eat it for breakfast and be happy. With a fried egg on top? Oh goodness, I think I’m going to try that really soon.

Kale Quinoa Salad |

Like any kale or quinoa salad, the sky’s the limit on mix ins. I just used some basic, affordable pantry staples: dried cranberries, almonds, and feta, but feel free to adjust based on your preferences. I’m a huge pistachio fan myself and think think that would be yummy. Oh, and don’t skip the dressing! Sometimes I just wanna do a basic olive oil rub on kale or quinoa but taking a couple minutes to mix up this vinaigrette-eqse dressing is totally worth it. Enjoy!

Kale Quinoa Salad |

one year ago: Mexican Rice
two years ago: Black Bean Wraps

Kale Quinoa Salad [adapted from Smitten Kitchen]
click to print


for salad

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 8 ounces kale, stems removed and thinly chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries [or cherries]
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

for dressing

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired


In a large bowl, toss together quinoa, kale, cranberries, and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients: olive oil, viengar,lemon juice, mustard, honey, and dill. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Pour dressing over salad and toss well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving to set. Top with almonds and feta just before eating.

Time: 40 minutes [10 minutes active].
Yield: 6-8 servings.

Quinoa, Recipes, Sides, Vegetables

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad

How many new foods have you tried because you read about them on a blog? For me, it’s probably been a lot–namely a lot of veggies I didn’t grow up eating and/or didn’t know how to prepare, cheeses, grains, etc. I’ve never really been a picky eater, but reading blogs and cookbooks certainly have revealed gaps in my foodie education. Since I’ve been reading blogs, one of my favorite new foods has been butternut squash. Sure, it’s a pain to cut, but it’s just. so. tasty! And it makes this quinoa–one of my favorite foods ever, btw–an essential dish for your fall cooking season. Period.

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad |

One of my favorite ways to enjoy butternut squash is roasted and tossed in a salad, particularly this quinoa salad. I made this several times last winter and just never got around to sharing it here, so I was so happy when I realized this week that it was finally butternut squash season again! What makes this salad so good is the always delightful pairing of sweet and spicy seasonings, some strong cheese, and some salty meat. Molasses! Lime juice! Feta! Canadian bacon! All the good things, huh?! 🙂

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad |

One of the key flavors here in this nutty salad is the molasses. It does a double duty as a marinade for the roasted squash, and as a dressing for the salad itself. Molasses is totally underrated, but it lends such rich flavor and subtle sweetness to this dish. It’s such a great fall flavor that I want to play with more! In the meantime, enjoy it on this fabulous side dish or light lunch. I can’t wait to make this many more times this fall and winter, and hope you try it out too! 🙂

one year ago: Carnitas
two years ago: Thai Seared Shrimp with Tomato, Basil, & Coconut
three years ago: Apple City Barbecue Sauce

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad
click to print


  • 1 large butternut squash, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups broth [chicken or vegetable, as desired]
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped and soaked in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes then drained and thoroughly dried
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup canadian bacon, chopped


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and cut a large butternut squash into 1 inch cubes. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, molasses, chili powder, lime juice, and a generous amount of black pepper. Add cubed butternut squash, then toss to coat. Spread in a single layer on two large rimmed baking sheets, then bake for 30 minutes or until fork-tender.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa in broth according to package directions. Stir in soaked and dried red onion, molasses, lime juice, crumbled feta, and chopped canadian bacon. Fold in cubed butternut squash, then season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

Time: 45 minutes.

Yield: 4-5 servings.

Linked up with: What’s Cookin’ Wednesday.

Main Dishes, Pork, Quinoa, Recipes, Sides, Vegetables

Pork Chops with Quinoa, Kale, and Blood Orange

I’ll be totally honest: before this spring, I had never tasted a blood orange. Of course I’d heard them hyped up online and in food mags, but for some reason had never had them in real life. Crazy, huh? So I picked up some during the same shopping trip where I found some majorly discounted pork chops nearing their expiration date [no problemo, just throw them in the freezer]. I came home and this dinner promptly appeared on our plates. Cool, huh?

Pork Chops with Quinoa, Kale, and Blood Orange | The Pajama Chef

Well, it wasn’t QUITE that simple. I had to mix some things up and do a little work, but other than that, this dinner was a cinch to throw together. And quite tasty too. So after we devoured it, I quickly wrote down what I did so I could share it here with you!

Pork Chops with Quinoa, Kale, and Blood Orange | The Pajama Chef

I’m not sure what the best part of this dinner was: the sweet, garlicky, vinegary pork chop? The tender sauteed kale? The nutty ‘n citrusy quinoa? I don’t know, but what I do know was that each bite was just so darn good! And it’s pretty fabulous that this dinner comes together in about 30 minutes. You gotta try it! If you don’t get around to til after blood orange season has passed, then try it with regular navel oranges, or grapefruit, or even clementines. The more I think about it, the citrusy freshness was definitely my favorite part. Enjoy! 🙂

Pork Chops with Quinoa, Kale, and Blood Orange [a The Pajama Chef original]
click to print


  • 2 pork chops
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 blood orange: zest all of it, juice half of it, and slice the other half of it
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 bunch kale, washed, dried, stems removed, and chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • garlic powder


Place pork chops in a shallow bowl. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, red pepper, and half the blood orange zest. Pour over pork chops and marinate for 10 minutes as you start preparations for the quinoa and walnuts.

Prepare quinoa according to package directions–but instead of just using 1 cup water, use juice of 1/2 the orange and make up the difference with water. Also add the remaining half of the blood orange zest.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small skillet set over medium heat. Cook for 7-8 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. When toasted, chop walnuts.

Now, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pork chops and marinade to the pan and saute for 4-5 minutes per side until cooked through. [Don’t forget to watch the walnuts!] Remove pork chops from pan to a plate; cover to keep warm.

Add kale to hot skillet, stir to coat with pan juices. Saute until kale is tender, and season with pepper, salt, and garlic powder as desired.

Serve pork chops on top of kale and quinoa, dressing with pan juices, chopped walnuts, and blood orange slices.

Time: 30 minutes.

Yield: 2 servings.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Quinoa, Recipes, Sides

Sweet-Tart Quinoa Salad

So, sometimes when I don’t take my beloved black bean wraps in my lunch, I like to make big salads on the weekend, filled with veggies and protein and oodles of flavor, that I can dish out throughout the week. At home I love leafy green salads, but for portability and ease, grain-based salads are my BFF. They don’t get soggy or mushy, they have tons of different flavors and textures, and the dressing is already mixed in–no need to juggle a bajillion containers! These same salads are also great for a meatless dinner or a healthy barbecue side dish for practically all the same reasons, but I just tend to eat them more for lunch!

This salad is no different from my normal grain-based salad loves, though technically quinoa isn’t a grain. But in my little world, like most of the rest of the culinary empire, it’s lumped right in. Don’t go lumping this Sweet-Tart Quinoa Salad in with other quinoa salads, though!

This salad pairs the basic Mexi-grain salad components with something new, something fresh. Something sweet–some sweet potato and bell peppers, perhaps?–meets something tart. Not just the Mexi-staple tartness of lime. But the unexpected, refreshing burst of…. Grapefruit. Whaaaaat? What initially started as a scaredy-cat substitution because I realized I was out of limes and needed more liquid to mix into this salad turned into a “oh darn, I should have used more grapefruit juice” during the test tasting stage. Crazy!

See, here’s the deal. You toss together some quinoa, bell peppers, onion, black beans, and sweet potato. They’re great. Pantry staples, healthy, filling, relatively affordable. They’re filling and flavorful on their own, yet adaptable to a pretty wide range of seasonings. Then you add the Mexi-spices and flavors, including cumin, cilantro, red pepper, the typical lime juice, etc. Leave the salad alone here and it would be pretty good. But add some grapefruit juice and take it to the next level. Beyond the tang of lime there’s a familiar yet unexpected tartness. An explosion of yummy flavors that makes each bite enchanting and divine. Sweet-Tart Quinoa Salad is the perfect familiar yet unexpected addition to your next lunch conundrum, meatless meal, or barbecue side dish.

And yes, if you’re wondering… “Sweet-Tart” in the dish’s name was a nod to my all-time favorite childhood candy, SweeTarts, which I would happily munch on all day, everyday if that was a nutritionally sound choice. 🙂

What’s your all-time favorite childhood candy?

Sweet-Tart Quinoa Salad
click to print


  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cumin
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, dry
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped + more for garnish
  • 3/4 cup bell peppers, diced [I used green, yellow, and red]
  • 3/4 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
  • freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place onion and sweet potato in a large baking dish, then sprinkle with garlic, red pepper, and cumin. Drizzle with olive oil, then use your [clean!] hands to mix everything together. Bake for 20-22 minutes.

While the sweet potato and onion mixture is a-cooking, prepare the quinoa. Boil 1 cup water, then stir in the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cover, cooking for 12 minutes.

Remove quinoa from heat, then stir in cilantro, bell peppers, black beans, lime juice, and grapefruit juice. After everything is combined, cover and set aside.

After sweet potato and onion mixture is ready, add to quinoa, and season with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy!

Time: 25 minutes [10 minutes active].

Yield: 2-3 servings.

Notes: If raw peppers aren’t your thing, you can roast then with the sweet potatoes and onions. Also, feel free to use any combination of citrus juice–orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc. in place of the lime-grapefruit mixture.