Chinese Five Spice Meatballs For Kids (And Everyone Else)

Find me a kid who doesn't love a meatball and I'll find you a mum who couldn't use more sleep. 

Meatballs are a beautiful culinary invention - crowd pleasers and deliciously perfect for the family table. They are also a fun canvas for additions and improvisations. My recent love affair with star anise got me thinking of the best ways to incorporate this flavourful, healthful, medically beneficial spice into kid's foods. Meatballs seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Star anise is an integral component of a spice blend called Chinese Five Spice, which is commonly used with poultry and beef to add depth, complexity and sweetness, a delicious dance for our taste-buds. I therefore decided to make Chinese Five Spice meatballs (with snuck in veggies and even, yes, fruit!). These are moist, sweet, savoury, slightly peppery and highly addictive. Perfect for freezing, the lunchbox, family dinners and birthday parties, this is sure to become a family favourite. 

RECIPE

I make my own Chinese Five Spice blend but you can buy it at most grocery stores. Traditional Chinese Five Spice has Sichuan peppercorns. In my kid-friendly version, I swap these for black peppercorns because the Sichuan variety (not really a member of the pepper family) has a slight tongue-numbing effect, which I thought might be a bit much for the kids. If you don't feel like making your own (it's super easy, just saying :)), use 1/2 the recommended amount of store-bought Five Spice. 

Kid-Friendly Chinese Five Spice

Yield
3 tablespoons

Ingredients
4 star anise
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 Ceylon or 1 Cassia (regular) cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Method
Place the cinnamon sticks between a kitchen towel and smash the barks using a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. In a heavy bottom skillet or pan, dry roast all the spices on medium heat for 1-2 minutes until aromatic but not burnt, tossing the spices around every few seconds. Transfer to a coffee grinder (preferably dedicated to spices) and blend for 1-2 minutes until ground into a fine powder. Store in an air-tight container away from heat and light and use within 6 months.

Chinese Five Spice Meatballs
Baby-led weaning, Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Science Corner
The virus-fighting compound shikimic acid from star anise, ginger and fennel and quercetin from red onion and apple makes these delicious meatballs anti-viral bundles of deliciousness. Studies have shown that these two molecules together have potent virus combatting effects - in fact, shikimic acid is the starting point for the production of the world's best known anti-viral drug, Tamiflu! The next time the unwanted viral visitor shows, you know what to make. (Our Spice Spice Baby signature Pho recipe is also a delicious option)!

Yield
~20 meatballs

Ingredients
For the meatballs
1 slice whole wheat bread crust removed or 1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1/2 apple peeled and grated
1 carrot peeled and grated
125 g / 4.5 oz minced pork
125 g / 4.5 oz minced beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon homemade Chinese Five Spice (1/2 teaspoon if using store-bought)
1 egg

For the glaze
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey (swap to maple syrup for babies under 12 months)
Juice of 1 small orange

Method
Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. 

Pulse the bread in a food processor into bread crumbs. Set aside. 

In a pan, heat the oil on medium until shimmering. Soften the onion and ginger for 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, apple, carrot, meat, salt, spices and egg into the mixing bowl and mix well with a spoon or, if you don't mind, your hands. Mould the mixture into 3/4 inch diameter meatballs, placing them onto the lined baking sheet. 

Place the baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes. 

While the meatballs are cooking, mix together the ingredients for the glaze. 

Remove the meatballs from the oven at the 15 minute mark. Brush each meatball with the glaze and return to the oven for another 5 -7 minutes. Transfer onto a serving platter and enjoy.