These spinach balls are a simple old-fashioned appetizer easily made gluten free with ordinary pantry ingredients. Little bites of cheesy good nostalgia.
For spinach lovers and spinach haters
These spinach bites are for all the non-spinach eaters out there. I truly will eat (nearly) anything, so I'll eat spinach no problem—especially if you serve it to me and I didn't have to lift a finger.
But something strange happens to cooked spinach and my tongue and I'm not entirely sure what it is. I just know I'm happy to avoid it if possible, and it doesn't happen when I pop one of these spinach balls in my mouth.
Even my youngest child, who loves vegetables so much that she literally begs ??me to make her brussels sprouts and kale, is a big ‘no' on spinach. That is, unless it's in one of 3 forms: creamed spinach (put cream cheese on anything and anyone will eat it), spinach dip, and these spinach balls.
There's something about the marriage of melted butter, sharp cheddar cheese, and rich, flavorful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that just makes everything alright. The spinach isn't hidden, of course, so this isn't a way to sneak your kid vegetables (I think that's kind of silly anyway but to each his own).
How to drain the liquid from your vegetables
If you've made nearly any of my zucchini recipes, you know how important it is to drain the liquid out of your vegetables when you're baking with them. This recipe for spinach balls is super quick and easy. The how-to video I created doesn't even clear 45 seconds.
When you're baking with high-moisture vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower, and spinach, you'll need to spend a few minutes removing the liquid. The easiest way that I've found to do that is by placing the chopped and thawed spinach (or grated cauliflower or zucchini) into a nut milk bag (affiliate link—feel free to shop around).
There is a ton of nutritional value in that liquid, and it is best for your health to eat unprocessed whole foods. But the amount of moisture in these vegetables varies tremendously, and draining the liquid allows you to control for the amount of moisture in the recipe. It's also very difficult to bake with all of that moisture and make anything with any crispness.
Can you freeze spinach balls?
These are a great make-ahead appetizer if frozen once formed and before baking. Just freeze the balls separated on the baking sheet, and, once frozen, place in a freezer safe ziptop bag and store until you're nearly ready to serve them.
There's no need to defrost these spinach balls before baking. Just bake them right from frozen. They may need a few extra minutes in the oven, but you'll be able to tell. You simply can't ruin this appetizer unless you outright burn them, which takes quite a while.
These are super cheesy, but not in the ooey gooey mozzarella sort of way. There's no cheese pull photograph here. Spinach balls are a firm appetizer, and they're best when made and eaten soon after. If you're going to freeze them, freeze them raw.
Much of my photography from way-back-when (I started this blog in 2009, if you can believe it) was simply atrocious. Every once in a while though I stumble upon a picture that I don't hate. And makes me feel nostalgic in a good way.
Here's one of those photos. Clearly, I got lucky with my point-and-shoot camera. Today, I'd take a better photo with my phone, I'm sure. Just a quick reminder that we all have to start somewhere.
Ingredients and substitutions
Dairy-free: If you're dairy-free, you can make these spinach balls, but they simply won't be the same. The melted butter can be replaced with melted virgin coconut oil (use the triple-filtered kind if you can, so there's no coconut taste).
The cheeses can be replaced with dairy-free cheese. My favorite brands of dairy-free cheese are Violife (which can be hard to find) and Daiya (which is quite widely available). I would also replace about 1/8 of the bread crumbs called for in the recipe with nutritional yeast, as that will help add a cheesy flavor.
Egg-free: This is a very tough one, as there are 3 eggs in this recipe that makes only about 2 dozen spinach balls. You can try replacing each of the eggs with a “chia egg” (1 tablespoon ground white chia seeds mixed with 1 tablespoon lukewarm water), but I'm not sure it will work.
Bread crumbs: When I first started making this recipe way back in 2011, I was just as likely to use crushed gluten free cereal as I was coarse bread crumbs. I was generally unwilling to “waste” expensive gluten free bread on making my own GF bread crumbs, and it was almost impossible to find them for sale in a regular grocery store.
We certainly have come a long way since then. You can easily make homemade gluten free bread crumbs or use a store-bought variety (I really like Ian's brand, but my local grocery store even has their own).
You can still use crushed gluten free cereal, though. I recommend using something simple like unsweetened GF corn flakes since you really don't want any sugar in these savory, cheesy bites.
Tapioca starch: Tapioca starch can be replaced with cornstarch or arrowroot. An all purpose gluten free flour will work here, too, since there's such a small amount.
Cheesy Spinach Balls
1 pound (16 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly
3 eggs (150 g), at room temperature
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved or grated
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 cups (240 g) coarse gluten free bread crumbs
3 tablespoons (27 g) tapioca starch
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper and set it aside.
Place the thawed spinach in a few layers of cheesecloth, a fine mesh nut milk bag or some paper towels, and squeeze until as much of the liquid as possible is removed. Set the dried, chopped spinach aside.
In a large bowl, place the butter and eggs, and whisk to combine well. Add the cheeses, oregano (pressing the dried herb in between your fingers to release the oils), parsley and bread crumbs, and mix until just combined. Add 2/3 of the tapioca starch, and incorporate into the mixture. The mixture should hold together easily when a portion is squeezed tightly in your palm. Add the remaining tablespoon of starch only if necessary for the mixture to hold together.
Roll the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls between moistened palms, and place on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart from one another. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake, for about 15 minutes or until the balls have begun to brown on the bottom & are cooked through, rotating once during baking. They will expand a bit during baking because of the eggs in the mixture. Serve warm.
Originally published on the blog in 2011 (!!!). Photos, video and most text new, recipe mostly unchanged.
GF Mum says
Made these last night and even my non-spinach lovers like them! I wonder if they can be made with fresh spinach…
Nicole Hunn says
You can definitely make this with fresh spinach, but you’ll have to cook it, chop it and drain it all the same. That’s why it’s just easier to make with frozen spinach. So glad your audience gave it a thumbs up!
Melanie Eaton says
is it possible to add Sun dried tomatoes ( if you dry off the oil ), to this and to the biscuits recipe?
Nicole Hunn says
Sun dried tomatoes would probably be lovely in the spinach balls. I would consider using the dried ones that are sold without oil, or just drain the oil very well. I’d try chopping them finely and replacing a bit of the Parm-Reg with them.
I bet these would be good with crumbled bacon in them, too!
Nicole Hunn says
Oooh good idea, Linda. You could replace some of the Parmigiano-Reggiano with crumbled bacon, since that cheese barely melts and adds a ton of flavor, similar to bacon.
Saints and Spinners says
Yes! I love spinach. I will make these spinach balls. These spinach balls might be a good alternative for my “I don’t eat meat except for bacon, restaurant hamburgers, and hotdogs” daughter.
P.S. My gf/df sister-in-law was appreciative of our mostly gf/df Christmas dinner. (The one exception was dessert– when I can figure out a satisfactory alternative to dairy custard, I will attempt a gf/df trifle.) She said it was hard going to holiday parties and not being able to eat most of other people’s offerings.
Saints and Spinners says
P.S. With this recipe, I might throw in some pine-nuts.
Oooh interesting. Like spinach pesto. It’s a very adaptable recipe.