Gluten-Free Meatball-Kale Subs

by in Gluten-Free, January 25, 2012


Forget everything you’ve ever learned about how to make a good meatball. There’s absolutely no reason meatballs shouldn’t naturally be gluten-free—and dairy-free. Trust me. Even growing up with a Roman father and Neapolitan grandfather didn’t arm me with enough explanation as to why you have to first soak bread in milk before you could even think of forming a meatball.

Why do meatballs have to be so complicated? When you think of what the soaked bread is technically there to do—give the meatball a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness—there are easier, healthier ways.

Even better? You have options. For this recipe, I use crushed brown rice cereal. I’ve also used crushed tortilla chips, unsweetened corn flakes and plain instant oatmeal. They all perform the same function: They absorb liquid.

The other trick is to add ingredients that release liquid. Here I’ve used kale. You can swap in any green leafy veggie or if you prefer, finely chopped mushrooms or grated zucchini. The combination will give you a meatball your grandma would be proud of.

Oven-Baked Meatball-Kale Subs
Leave the extra grease behind: When the meatballs have finished baking, just transfer them directly to the warmed tomato sauce.

Makes: 6

1 pound ground beef chuck
½ pound bulk Italian sausage
2 cups chopped kale
¼ cup rice cereal crumbs, such as Erewhon or Kellogg’s
3 cloves garlic—2 smashed and 1 chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
½ cup milk or nondairy milk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
One 24-ounce jar strained tomatoes, such as Bionaturae
6 gluten-free burger buns, split and toasted, such as Udi’s
Shredded mozzarella or nondairy mozzarella-style cheese, for topping (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, ½ cup kale, cereal crumbs, chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, milk and egg; shape into 1-inch balls. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with about 1 teaspoon salt; simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cooked meatballs and remaining 1½ cups kale.

Preheat the broiler. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the meatballs with sauce and kale onto the rolls and top with cheese, if using. Broil until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.

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Silvana Nardone is a food lifestyle expert, magazine editor and motivational speaker. She is the editor-in-chief of the all-digital, gluten-free magazine, Easy Eats. Silvana is also the author of Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals and publisher of Silvana’s Kitchen, a blog that takes the guesswork out of how to feed a family with food allergies. Previously, she was the founding editor-in-chief of Every Day with Rachael Ray.

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Comments (44)

  1. I have used 100% whole oats many times in meatballs and meatloaves! They always turn out just as good, if not better, than those used with bread!!

  2. frances says:

    These sound delish! What could you substitute for the egg? I am unable to eat eggs on top of wheat and cows milk…Thank you

  3. Erin says:

    Oh my goodness! THANK YOU!!!!! Growing up in an Irish/Italian household, I struggle with all that I've had to give up with the gluten. I have been craving meatballs and these sound wonderful. THANK YOU!!!!

    • amnesty a says:

      you can always use the gluten free panko crumbs they have them at albertsons I have to eat gluten free too and you can honestly make anything gluten free

  4. Mary says:

    Am I missing something? Why don't you have a "print recipe" only button? Would love to have the meatball recipe, but don't need pages of other comments, ads, etc.

    • Carrie says:

      Mary, highlight the recipe only, then press control P, when the print box comes up, under print range tick selection instead of print all. Only what you highlight will print :-)

  5. This looks a fantastic recipe. I have never used some of these ingredients before and I am certainly curious how it will taste. I also know a couple of people who can't have gluten so this could be a useful recipe for them to try. Thanks!

  6. Helen says:

    Thank you for the milk free option…that has become important for many of us!

  7. Janet says:

    I regularly make hamburgers with finely chopped mushrooms. I hadn't thought of putting a leafy veggie in there, but that's a great idea!

  8. Clara Dionne says:

    For the extra healthy how about a veggie version? I would love to try it then for sure

  9. […] Gluten-Free Meatball-Kale Subs […]

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