Start the year on the right foot with these Paleo Pesto Chickadees. Cook a batch for a flavorful, fun, and ready-to-eat protein during the week. They’re perfect for anyone on Whole30, allergic to nuts, gluten-free, or simply looking for something new!
Monday night, January 1st nearly over, and my dad and I are tossing recipe name ideas back and forth. I was in desperate need for something that sounded better than “chicken balls.” Although that shouldn’t be any worse than meatballs, for some reason it gives me the willies.
First, we tried a play on the French word for chicken, aka “coq,” as in coq au vin, apparently an early culinary school lesson. Maybe you would’ve understood, but I didn’t want to risk you passing up on the recipe because you didn’t know what the name meant.
Granted, the final winner isn’t exactly clearer, but who doesn’t love a little chickadee? Every time I say the word I hear the high-pitched cheep of a songbird in my head. Take a second and look it up on YouTube while I tell you the tale of the Paleo Pesto Chickadee.
It was Thursday night and my mom was planning our Shabbat menu, perhaps a little later than opportune. We were having company for both meals and, playing right into the Jewish mother mentality, she decided we needed an extra main dish just in case. I, as per usual, shook my head silently and thought up a few options that I could easily make. Of course, “easy” was forgotten and in the midst of a mad dash to prepare everything for Shabbat, a brief thought flitted across my mind. Testing a new entrée when guests were coming wasn’t my wisest idea. Oh well. At that point it was too late, and I simply winged (wung?) it.
Sleeves rolled up above the elbow, hair tied back in a messy ponytail, battle face on– let the games begin.
Round 1: Me versus the food processor. If you weren’t watching closely, then you probably missed all the action. In less than a minute I pulverized the pine nuts and their gang into a thick green spread. The pungent smell of fresh basil wafting through the air was the sole reminder of what took place.
Round 2: Another fast-paced attack, this round, too, ended before it really began. In a silver flash I stood panting over a heap of chopped fungi. Those mushrooms never stood a chance.
Round 3: Welcome to the final showdown. The ground chicken put up a good fight, but was no match for me. We played dirty (you’ll want a sink nearby for your turn), yet fair, kept our hands where we could see them. I came out victorious, leaving a trail of Pesto Chickadees behind me.
Just 20 minutes later, I took a tentative bite, almost afraid to find out that I needed to tell my mom I ruined the food less than 2 hours before Shabbat. No reason to fear. They came out amaze-balls! I forced myself to offer my mom the other half, but she wasn’t hungry, so I finished it anyway. Next challenge was putting the rest away for lunch the next day.
Biggest sign of success? My brother wanted all the leftovers. I gave in, only because I knew I’d be making another batch on Sunday.
These Pesto Chickadees are a simple protein to make at the beginning of the week. Because the recipe makes so many (count ’em, there’s 22!!!) you’ll have plenty to combine with salad, pasta, or anything else on your menu. Alternatively, make a batch to bring to a potluck!
To make it even easier, you can make the pesto a few days in advance, or just use store-bought. I’m sending pleas for you to make your own, your wallet will thank you. It’s a chance to get creative, like with this Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto or this Carrot Top Pesto.
I know that January is the time for many people to crack down on their diets, maybe try out Whole30. Even though I won’t be joining in the fun (been there, done that), many of the upcoming recipes will be at least paleo, if not Whole30 compliant. We’re starting thing off with these Pesto Chickadees, which fit the bill to a tee. Instead of using breadcrumbs or flour, ground flaxseed gives structure and helps bind the ingredients together, along with a hearty dose of fiber and polyunsaturated fats. Then, by baking the balls instead of cooking them in sauce, we have many more options for how to serve our little Pesto Chickadees.
It just goes to show you that eating clean doesn’t mean plain boiled chicken and steamed vegetables. You can feel good enjoying a flavorful chicken ball, so let’s get rolling!
If you try this recipe, I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below, save it on Pinterest, or tag #lensesandlentils on Instagram so that I can see your creations!
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 - 2.2 lbs ground chicken
- 1 egg
- 1¼ cups finely chopped button mushrooms
- ½ cup ground flaxseed
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large glass baking dish with oil and set aside.
- Combine the first 6 ingredients into a food processor or blender, and process until pesto is smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.*
- In a large bowl, mix the pesto and remaining ingredients, using a fork or your hands.
- After everything is fully combined, roll into balls and place in baking dish, leaving a little bit of space between each one.
- Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, flip, then bake for 10 more minutes.**
- Serve hot or cold. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
**You will likely need 2 pans, unless you have a massive one. Once you flip the balls, rotate the pans when you put them back into the oven, so that the pan on the bottom finishes cooking on the top shelf and vice versa.