These turkey meatballs are made with grated fresh tomato sauce and harissa chili paste. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

These turkey meatballs are made with grated fresh tomato sauce and harissa chili paste. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Tomato sauce and oats give these turkey meatballs a fresh twist

Serve this exciting yet comforting meal in a bowl with a hunk of crusty bread or onto a bed of couscous.

One of the best things you can do with big in-season tomatoes, aside from simply slicing them and eating them with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, is to grate them into a gloriously fresh tomato sauce. It’s easy and even fun to do if, like me, you tend to get a kick out of things like that.

You just halve and seed the tomatoes, then grate them cut-side down on a box grater. As you grate, a lovely tomato pulp accumulates in the bowl while the tomato skins, acting as hand protectors, remain conveniently intact and are discarded at the end. I learned the technique from my Israeli friends who use it regularly, sometimes enjoying the grated tomato raw as a bright condiment and other times cooking it down as an ingredient, letting it cook just enough to remove its raw edge but retain its fresh essence.

This recipe takes the latter approach, cooking the grated tomato pulp with tender, browned turkey meatballs and seasoning it with harissa, a deeply flavorful, aromatic chili paste (which can be either mild or spicy) that is typical of Middle Eastern cuisine. If you don’t have a jar of it in your kitchen yet, this is a perfect opportunity to pick some up. Use it to instantly punch up a multitude of dishes. Stir it into hummus or a lentil soup, spread it on sandwiches, or add it to a vinaigrette, for example.

Beside the uniquely flavorful, fresh tomato sauce in this recipe, the meatballs have a twist too — a healthful one. They are made from lean turkey bound with quick-cooking oats rather than bread crumbs, a swap that adds fiber and whole-grain nutrition to the mix, while serving to lock the moisture in the meatball. The result is an exciting yet comforting meal, which can be served in a bowl with a hunk of crusty bread or warm pita alongside, or ladled onto a bed of couscous or over a heap of fresh arugula leaves.

Turkey meatballs and grated fresh tomato sauce with harissa

Serve it in bowls with crusty bread or pita alongside, or over a bed of couscous or fresh arugula leaves.

Cooked meatballs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Harissa can be purchased at many grocery stores, Middle Eastern markets and online.

4 pounds ripe, fresh tomatoes

½ small onion

⅓ cup quick-cooking oats

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

2 medium cloves garlic (1 clove finely minced and 1 clove thinly sliced)

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound (90% to 94%) lean ground turkey (or a mix of light and dark meat)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons harissa, or more as needed

Slices of crusty bread or cooked couscous, for serving

Slice the tomatoes in half crosswise and gently squeeze the seeds into a bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid from the bowl of seeds and discard the rest. Grate the tomatoes on the coarse side of a box grater set over a bowl, pressing the cut side of the tomato against the grates. Discard the skins.

Use the same box grater to grate the onion into another medium bowl until you have about 2 tablespoons worth. (Keep the remaining onion for another use.) Place the oats and the reserved tomato liquid into the bowl, stir and let sit until the liquid is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and stir to combine. Add the turkey and mix with your hands to combine but avoid overmixing.

Form the turkey mixture into 12 balls, wetting your hands with cold water if they become sticky as you work. If the meatballs seem loose, refrigerate them for 30 minutes to firm them up.

In a large deep skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and cook, turning them 2 to 3 times, until browned all over and nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Stir the remaining tablespoon of oil, the harissa, the sliced garlic and the remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper into the bowl of tomatoes, then pour the tomatoes into the skillet with the meatballs. Turn the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a boil, then cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has somewhat thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste and add additional harissa, if desired.

Divide the meatballs and sauce across 4 bowls, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve with crusty bread or over couscous.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving: 409 calories, 28 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 138 milligrams cholesterol, 412 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 13 grams sugar.

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