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General Tso’s sauce enhances turkey meatballs

by Kelly Brant | September 13, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
General Tso's Meatballs over jasmine rice (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Whether you know the him as Tso or Gao, if you've had the general's chicken, you know how tasty (and spicy) it is.

For the unfamiliar, General's chicken consists of tempura battered-and-fried boneless chicken coated in a sweet-and-spicy sauce and vegetables, most often broccoli.

(I won't get into the details of how the dish got its name, whether it's true Chinese food or its origins. You can Google those things for yourself if you're so inclined.)

General Tso's chicken is one of a few heat-and-serve convenience meals you'll almost always find in my freezer (along with pizza, corn dogs and tamales) for those days when making a full meal from scratch is out of the question.

My husband and I really like InnovAsian brand. It packs a good amount of spice and the chicken pieces are plump.

We tend to buy the family pack and use the full amount of chicken (enough for dinner plus leftovers for lunch the next day) but only half of the sauce, which has led to a collection of extra sauce packets in our freezer.

I usually use the extra sauce on roasted cauliflower or as a dipping sauce for dumplings and potstickers.

But recently the idea of using the sauce on turkey meatballs struck, and a new favorite dinner was born.

I started with my standard Mediterranean turkey meatball recipe, but swapped the Mediterranean herbs (basil, oregano, thyme and mint) for ginger, green onions and more garlic.

After pan-frying the meatballs, I tossed them with the sauce and served over rice. All in about 20 minutes.

General Tso's turkey meatballs

1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice, rinsed (I like jasmine rice)


1 slice soft sandwich bread, torn into tiny pieces

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon minced garlic or garlic paste

1 to 2 teaspoons minced ginger or ginger paste

2 green onions, minced, plus more for garnish

1 pound ground turkey

Ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, for frying

Sliced vegetables such as bell peppers and sugar snap peas

General Tso sauce (bottled or frozen, if using frozen place the pouch in hot water to thaw)

Sesame seeds, optional garnish

In a 2-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the rice, 1½ cups water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stir once, cover and reduce heat to low; simmer 20 minutes. Do not remove lid while rice is cooking.

Meanwhile, prepare meatballs.

In a medium bowl, combine the torn bread and water and mix to form a paste. Add the garlic, ginger and minced green onions and mix well. Add the ground turkey, a generous pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of black pepper; mix gently until well combined. Divide and shape mixture into 12-16 balls. (I like to divide the mixture using a No. 30, 2-tablespoon cookie scoop and then roll each scoop into a ball using wet hands.)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook until browned on all sides and meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 10 minutes, adding the peppers and any other vegetables you like during the last few minutes of cooking. Add the sauce and toss everything to coat and continue cooking until sauce is heated through.

Serve over rice garnished with minced green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.

Makes three to four servings.

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