I used to volunteer at the front desk of a local yoga studio, which definitely makes me an authority on “mindfulness” and “staying grounded.”

How can you stay grounded? Glad you asked. Do one of those deep-breathing exercises. Ditch your phone and take a walk around the block. Eat ground meat.

Trust me, I am an expert. 

Fine, so maybe ground meat doesn’t actually keep me grounded, but it does keep me full and humble. I’ll be the first to admit that ground meat just isn’t sexy. When I was fresh out of college, I cooked a lot of ground turkey. It was there for me when my paycheck wasn’t. And while my motivations in the meat aisle aren’t as financial as they once were, making dinner “sexier” isn’t exactly a priority of mine. Keeping it interesting is.

Beef, turkey, chicken, lamb — if you can mince it, I will eat it. But ground pork reigns supreme. I don’t need to take out a small loan to buy some (I’m looking at you, ground lamb). It’s rich (read: has some fat, and that’s a good thing), but it won’t dominate a dish like beef or lamb might. It’s a blank canvas for whatever flavors I’m craving and can be prepared a myriad of ways (and ahead, in many cases).

I’m craving umami-packed potstickers, by the way. And salty, spicy nachos. And adorably teeny sliders that make me feel like giant Alice in ground meat Wonderland.

NOTE: The following recipes use ground pork because I play favorites, but they can easily be adapted to use ground chicken, ground turkey or a mixture of the three. Swap in your favorite ground meat in any of these dishes. If you want to go the vegetarian route, we've found that Beyond Meat plant-based burger patties can be formed into meatballs and have a nice texture when cooked.

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This week's game plan

Potsticker Meatballs and Zucchini Noodles With Charred Scallion-Ginger Sauce
The presentation says “spaghetti and meatballs!” but the flavors — warm sesame oil, salty soy sauce, bright ginger — beg to differ.

Supreme Sheet Pan Nachos
If someone tells you nachos with cheese, chorizo, mashed beans, pickled veggies and more is not a well-balanced meal, just show them the food pyramid.

Smashed Meatball Sliders
Pressing those leftover meatballs into little patties and searing them in a skillet might be the best decision you make all week. 

Your shopping list

If this all looks good to you, click this link for an easy-to-save shopping list that includes ingredients for all three recipes.

Sunday tasks

Form Potsticker Meatballs

I’m convinced meatballs were made for the time-pressed cook. We’ll form ours ahead of time and keep them in the fridge for a few days, but they’re great for freezing for the long haul, too. Mixing and rolling them out is the bulk of the work, which we’ll get out of the way now while we can. A quick note about the panko: I like the texture it adds, but if you’re gluten-free, don’t hesitate to skip it (or grab gluten-free panko, which is a thing that exists).

Prep time: 30 minutes.

Makes 24 Potsticker Meatballs. You’ll need: 

3 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
½ medium carrot, scrubbed well and finely chopped (⅓ cup)
2 pounds ground pork
2 scallions (white and green parts), finely chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, finely chopped 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari 
¼ teaspoon sesame oil (pure or toasted)
½ teaspoon kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
¼ cup plain panko (optional; see headnote) 

Combine the mushrooms, carrot, ground pork, scallions and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Take off your rings and FitBits and really get in there with your hands. The mixture will get a bit sticky and that’s A-okay. Add the soy sauce or tamari, sesame oil, salt and a few cranks of black pepper and mix to incorporate. Toss in the panko and mix just enough to evenly distribute it.  

Pinch off chunks of the mixture and roll them into golf-ball-size meatballs (say, 1½ inches wide). Grab a glass baking dish and arrange the meatballs into rows so they’re barely touching. If you need to stack rows, separate the layers with parchment paper. Cover tightly and keep in the fridge till you’re ready to cook, up to 4 days. 

Adapted from a recipe at NomNomPaleo.com.

Make your own chorizo

That other lump of pork is staring at you. Let’s tend to it. 

Essentially, what we’re preparing is a chorizo-style spice blend. You likely have most, if not all, of these dried spices hanging out in your pantry, which is a great start. Once you’ve mixed the ground pork with the spices and vinegar, let it all rest for at least 30 minutes before cooking. We’ll cook the chorizo ahead to save ourselves time on Nacho Night and because the meat will reheat in the oven. If you’d rather freeze the uncooked stuff, transfer it to a heavy-duty zip-top bag and flatten it into a thin layer for easier defrosting.

Prep time: 5 minutes, plus at least 30 minutes to rest.
Cook time: 5 minutes.

You’ll need: 

8 ounces ground pork 
1½ teaspoons ground cumin 
½ teaspoon ground coriander
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme 
1½ teaspoons granulated garlic (aka garlic powder)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika (hot pimenton)
2 teaspoons sweet paprika (for color)
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Vegetable oil

Place the ground pork in a mixing bowl. Add all the spices, salt, black pepper, both paprikas and the vinegar, then mix with those very capable hands of yours until the meat’s red like Georgia clay. I promise it will taste better than that. 

We can cook this ahead, too, because it will reheat when you toss the nachos in the oven. Let the spices mingle with the meat for at least 30 minutes, then just heat a little of the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium and add the meat. Cook for 5 minutes, breaking it up as you go, until just cooked through (it’ll be noticeably more crumbly). Cool, transfer to a container and refrigerate until nachos call. 

Adapted from a recipe at HonestCooking.com.

Recipes

Potsticker Meatballs and Zucchini Noodles With Charred Scallion-Ginger Sauce

The Charred Scallion-Ginger Sauce might be my favorite part of this whole dish. It can be made a couple days ahead, if you’re feeling ambitious.

Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes. Cook time: 15 minutes.

2 servings. You’ll need: 

8 to 12 pre-formed Potsticker Meatballs (that you whipped up Sunday)
1 large zucchini, ends trimmed
¾ teaspoon sesame oil (pure or toasted)
1 scallion, white and green parts sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, grated
One 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, grated
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon plain rice vinegar 
Cilantro leaves
Toasted sesame seeds

Special equipment: 
Wire cooling rack (ovenproof)
Spiralizer, see TIP 

Good news: You’re already 85 percent of the way to an egregiously loose interpretation of spaghetti and meatballs, thanks to your Sunday prep. Stellar job, everyone. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and rest a wire cooling rack on top. Give things a quick spritz of cooking oil spray. Arrange the meatballs on the rack and stick them in the oven for 15 minutes. 

Are we making zoodles in the meantime? Sure are. Are we going to call them that? Absolutely not. Run the zucchini through a spiralizer until you have a pile o’ noods. Remove that weird, limp noodle or two containing the zucchini seeds and cut the pile in half so you have more manageable strips, then divide them between two bowls.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, don’t panic. You can use a vegetable peeler to shred the zucchini into wider strips, or just slice it into thin matchsticks with a chef’s knife.

Let’s pivot to the stove top. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add ¼ teaspoon sesame oil. Cook the scallion slices, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes or until they’ve picked up a nice sear to them. Transfer ’em to a small bowl and add the rest of the sesame oil, the grated garlic and ginger, soy sauce, honey and rice vinegar. Whisk together; the mixture should be slightly thicker than soy sauce. 

Top the zucchini noodles with cilantro and sesame seeds. Plop a few cooked meatballs on top and drizzle everything with the scallion-ginger sauce.

Supreme Sheet Pan Nachos

Depending on your commitment (or lack thereof) to truly DIY nachos, you may end up reaching for a can of refried beans or picking up a jar of pickled jalapeños instead. Those are fine options if the bean mash or quick-pickled veg feels like too much on a Tuesday. It’s your life, and these are your nachos. I’ll support you either way.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes. 
 
3 to 4 servings. You’ll need:

For the bean mash: 
One 14.5- to 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed 
½ small white onion, finely chopped 
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
¼ cup water
Kosher salt

For the nachos: 
6 ounces corn tortilla chips, preferably salted
8 ounces Made-Ahead Chorizo (you already made this!)
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice, SEE TIP
A handful of store-bought pickled jalapeño slices or make quick-pickled veg (see NOTE, below)
Flesh of ½ firm, ripe avocado, cut into slices
Full-fat plain yogurt
Cilantro leaves
1 small tomato, diced (optional) 

For the bean mash: Add the beans, white onion, oil and water to a blender or food processor and blend until you’ve got a creamy, beany mash on your hands. Taste and season with salt. Don’t want to dirty up a kitchen gadget? Feel free to mash everything together in a bowl, but keep in mind the consistency will be pretty uneven. 

For the nachos: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread half the chips onto a foil-lined baking sheet. The Nacho Maker is your name, and layering is your game. We’re talking chips, dollops of bean mash, chorizo, cheese, more chips, more bean mash, more chorizo, more cheese, in that order, making sure no chip goes uncovered. Looks pretty good. Why don’t we pop that into the oven for say, 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

You could very well use store-bought, pre-shredded cheese. I won’t stop you, but I will tell you why you may want to shred your own. The pre-shredded stuff, specifically the Mexican blend type you might pick up for this recipe, tends to be too thin and burns and crisps in the oven instead of melting. Opt for a block of your favorite cheese and shred it on the large-hole side of a box grater instead.

Do you know what the tortilla chip said to the writer? This is nacho platform for making terrible jokes, so please just finish the recipe. Harsh, but fair. Top the nachos with your pickled veg, avocado, dollops of yogurt, the cilantro and optional tomato.

NOTE: To make quick-pickled veggies, mix ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon sugar in a bowl until dissolved. Thinly slice 1 jalapeño and 2 to 3 radishes and add them to the liquid, Let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Leftovers: Smashed Meatball Sliders


2 servings.

A very cool thing about sliders is that they are just meatballs in disguise. The only thing standing between a meatball and its slider alter ego is your palm, which you should coat with a little vegetable oil. Coat the other palm, too, then use your hands to press 6 uncooked meatballs into silver-dollar-size sliders before cooking them in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until they’re browned and cooked through. 

As for the “bun”: Iceberg leaves! Bibb lettuce! Do the most and grab some King’s Hawaiian Rolls, or mail it in like I did once and just cut some potato buns in half diagonally! You’ll want to dress ’em up with some Sriracha mayo (a good starting ratio is 1 teaspoon or tablespoon of Sriracha for every 4 of mayo) and any cilantro and/or scallions that you have on hand. It’s dinner, but cuter!


Close your eyes. Envision your future. It looks a lot like a meatball. 

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