Ginger-Basil Turkey Meatball Soup

My mother didn’t cook anything that she wasn’t obligated to cook until she was 80, and then the first thing she wanted to make was pickled garlic! She was a woman who loved eating, had no interest in cooking and would have embraced the idea of grazing if she hadn’t felt duty-bound to put three courses on the table every day at exactly 6 p.m.

One afternoon, a couple of years after I was married, my mom called and, in the course of chatting, casually asked what I was making for dinner. That night, it was something I often make for dinner: salad. My mom’s response: “You’re so lucky you married a man who thinks salad is dinner!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my husband is happy to call soup dinner, too.

And so am I. I’ll often make a vegetable soup (frequently from what’s left in the refrigerator — I think of it as Stone Soup) and declare it dinner once I’ve rounded it out with bread, cheese and something leafy.

This soup, on the other hand, with its ginger and basil turkey meatballs, its bright vegetables and slip-slidey rice noodles, stands alone. It’s truly a one-bowl meal. A terrific one.

It all started with the meatballs and their unorthodox mix of ingredients. I had an idea to make ground-turkey meatballs and to use them in a chickpea stew. But I ran out of time, which is also how I inadvertently did something brilliant: I poached the meatballs and, by accident, kept them moist and light.

Ground turkey and chicken — you can use either one here — are prized for being lean, but that lack of fat can make them tricky to cook into deliciousness. You need to add some fat — I mix in eggs and ricotta — and you need to be gentle with them. Mix them only as much as necessary, and cook them at a simmer, not a boil.

As for the vegetables, go for variety. I make sure that there are some dark greens in the mix and a carrot or two for a pop of color. For reasons unfathomable and delightful, my local supermarket always has spicy mustard greens, and I add them for their hit of heat and for the fact that they always surprise people. Choose whatever vegetables you want and slice, shred, chop or shave them thin, so they’ll cook quickly. (If you’ve got a mandoline or a food processor, you can polish the job off in minutes.)

Photograph by Deb Lindsey.  (This story appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in Washington Post Food.)


Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I might earn a small fee from qualifying purchases. All opinions remain my own. While it does not cost you anything, it helps offset the costs of running this website. Thanks for your support.

Ginger-Basil Turkey Meatball Soup

Serves: 4-6

Here’s a one-bowl meal with plenty of vegetables, noodles to slurp and meatballs you can use in many other meatball-loving dishes.

If you choose gluten-free bread crumbs, the whole dish is gluten-free.

Do not skip the extra step of cooking the soaked/drained rice noodles; otherwise, they tend to soak up the soup broth once all the ingredients are combined.

Make Ahead: The meatballs can be cooked and refrigerated up to 4 days in advance, covered in some of their cooking broth. (Refrigerate the remaining broth separately.) The soaked/cooked noodles can be refrigerated a day in advance; reheat in warm water for 10 minutes before adding to the soup.) The soup vegetables can be prepped and refrigerated in a zip-top bag a day in advance.

  • 2 1/2 quarts homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta, excess liquid drained
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or onion, rinsed in cold water and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (may substitute cilantro)
  • 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs (see headnote)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground turkey, preferably organic (light or dark meat; may substitute chicken)
  • 8 ounces dried rice noodles, such as Taste of Thai straight-cut thin rice noodles
  • 4 cups chopped, sliced and/or shredded mixed vegetables, such as carrots, onions, mushrooms, cabbage (Napa or green), mustard greens, kale and spinach
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as cilantro, basil, parsley and/or mint, for serving
  • Sriracha (optional)
  • Soy sauce (optional)
  • Toasted sesame oil or olive oil, for serving (optional)

For the meatballs: Bring the broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low while you put the meatball mixture together.

Use a fork to break up and lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, shallots or onion, basil, bread crumbs, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, salt and pepper, stirring to blend. Add the ground meat; use the fork and then your clean hands to turn and gently combine the mixture, which will be sticky.

Use a medium cookie scoop (one with a capacity of about 1 1/2 tablespoons) — my favorite tool for this — or a tablespoon measure to scoop out 24 to 30 portions. Roll them between your palms to shape into meatballs.

Uncover the pot of broth; drop in the meatballs, adjusting the heat as needed so the broth barely bubbles at the edges; cook for about 10 minutes, turning the meatballs over once, until cooked through. (Depending on the size of your pot, you might have to do this in batches.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to a large bowl.

After the meatballs are done, the broth will be a little murky. If you’d like it to be clearer (I always do), line a strainer with dampened cheesecloth (or a triple layer of dampened paper towels) and pour the broth through. Rinse out the pot and return the broth to it.

For the soup: Put the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover them with very hot tap water. Soak for 20 minutes, replacing the water after 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Just before you’re ready to serve the soup, drop in the soaked noodles; cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. (This step will help prevent the noodles from absorbing too much of the soup broth.)

Meanwhile, reheat the broth over medium-high heat; once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium. Drop in the cooked meatballs; let them warm through for 5 minutes, then stir in the 4 cups of vegetables and cook for 5 minutes or until they are tender. (If you’re using carrots, they’ll remain slightly firm.) Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Divide the noodles among deep soup bowls. Ladle over the broth, meatballs and vegetables. Scatter the herbs on top, and, if you’d like, let everyone have a go at the Sriracha, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil or olive oil. Serve hot.