Spinach Balls with Sunflower Seeds, Manchego and Turmeric Honey Yogurt (Gluten-Free)

Blogging is such a different ball game than it was when I started in 2008, from the dark corner of my corporate cubicle

I launched my first site on a whim. It was supposed to chronicle the high high’s and low lows of entertaining friends in a pint-sized New York City kitchen, with far too many people crammed around a coffee table in my fourth-floor walk-up. The question I was trying to answer was not just how to get creative with flavor combinations, but how to cook meals with no money for high-end steaks or fancy spice blends, no time to make a formal three-course dinner, and no counter space for bulky food processors or stand mixers.

I didn’t even own a ladle.

At the time, I didn’t see anyone out there in the food world who spoke to me. So using the small amount of brand savvy I’d built from one year of working in a dark corporate cubicle, I decided who better to occupy that dark corner of the food space than ME.

Now that the internet has exploded, these days I look around the food space and just get overwhelmed. It’s like going to a friend’s Christmas party year after year, only to look up a decade in and realize that you don’t know anyone in the room. The conversation is familiar, but you can’t seem to keep up with the banter. Your ugly sweater still holds some humor and nostalgia, but everyone else seems to have moved on to cuter cocktail dresses.

Standing in a crowded room where you have to shout to be noticed doesn’t always feel very good. Nor does buying an overpriced dress just to fit in. When I feel this way at real parties, my social anxiety wraps around my neck like a thorny wreath, and all I want to go is fade into the wallpaper or go home to hide under the covers.

When I taught my food blogging course at NGI earlier this fall, I could sense that a lot of people had these same fears about starting their own sites—about showing up at the cocktail party alone and trying to shout over the crowd. And as I stepped back to reflect on my work from 2016 and what I want to do differently in the New Year, that comparison fear reared its ugly head once again.

With all that’s going on in the world, and all the change that needs to happen, I wondered: does anyone really need another gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe?

The answer is, of course, YES.

So, let me supply you with two important reminders of why. These are the things I have to keep telling myself as I gear up for another year of feeding you. And I hope you’ll tell yourself the same anytime you’re feeling a little lost, or worried that whatever you’re creating and putting out into the world isn’t enough.

1. Food is not just medicine. It is ritual and culture and comfort. If you take the time out of your day to cook a meal—to put love on the plate, to teach your children what it means to gather around a table, to nourish someone you love—it has a ripple effect. Your soup bowls make the world warmer. And a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies doesn’t hurt either.

2. Not every voice is going to speak to every person. A message can go in one ear and out the other depending on the vessel delivering it. Every person needs to use their voice in order to create the change that’s needed—around a boardroom table, on a stage, in the kitchen. Even if the cocktail party is crowded, you’ll always find someone to listen. When in doubt, just offer them a cookie.

So what does this mean for me in the New Year?

More recipes and conversation, of course.

But there will be a few small shifts that have to do with the impact I want to have on the world. The first is more plant-based recipes. While I believe in an omission-free diet, I also believe that our bodies and our environment would both be better off with less red meat. Second, more real wellness talk, especially around women’s health. The moon sister month of The Wellness Project was my most fascinating, and especially given the uncertainty around healthcare options for women, we could all benefit from as much body literacy as possible.

In the meantime, I have a planty, gluten-free recipe gift from the lovely lady who shared the opposite corner of my dark corporate cubicle 8 years ago. My old co-worker Molly made these amazing spinach bites for her baby shower, and when I tasted the crispy, savory balls, I knew I had to shower you with them too.

These spinach balls are kind of a healthy, gluten-free spin on spanakopita filling. Instead of feta, I used manchego. Any cheese will do, or you can omit it entirely. The most interesting swap is that instead of breadcrumbs, Molly made a flour out of pulverized sunflower seeds. You could of course use almond flour, hemp seeds, or any other type of nut you have on hand. But I loved the subtle flavor of the sunflower seeds.

You can serve them as a meatless appetizer for your holiday cocktail party (and let someone else bring the cookies), or as a quick weeknight vegetarian main course. They would be a great paleo swap for falafel, especially if you added some middle eastern spices. Or use them to top a bowl of quinoa and drizzle the turmeric yogurt sauce on top.

Wishing you all a safe journey through the rest of the holiday party haul. And just remember that no matter how crowded the room, there’s always space for more gluten-free cookies, healthy spinach balls, or whatever you want to bring to the table.

From one healthy holiday hedonist, to another,


Healthy Spinach Balls with Sunflower Seeds and Manchego Cheese

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: About 20 balls

Healthy Spinach Balls with Sunflower Seeds and Manchego Cheese

Spinach balls get a healthy makeover with a paleo flour made out of sunflower seeds and a smidge of manchego cheese. These are a great gluten-free appetizer recipe, or you can serve them as a vegetarian main course in place of falafel.

If you don't have time to make the turmeric honey yogurt, plain yogurt or tzatziki also works well!


  • 1 cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds
  • One 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 small onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or aged Manchego cheese (see note)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter or ghee
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • for the sauce:
  • 4 ounces plain full fat Greek Yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small food processor or blender, pulse the sunflower seeds until ground into a fine flour. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the thawed spinach in a clean dish towel and squeeze the water out—the result should be a compact mound of spinach the size of a baseball. Add to the mixing bowl containing the sunflower seeds, along with the onions, basil, garlic, Parmesan or Manchego, eggs, butter or ghee, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix until full combined.
  4. Using a melon-baller or tablespoon, portion the spinach batter into 1 1/2 inch balls and arrange them on the lined baking sheet. You should have about 20 to 24 total. Chill uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, and up to 4 hours.
  5. Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. taste for seasoning and set aside.
  6. Bake the spinach balls in the oven for 15 minutes, or until a light brown crust has formed on the bottom. Remove the tray and turn the balls to rest on another side. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until crispy all around and browned on the second side.
  7. Serve the balls warm or room temperature, alongside the turmeric yogurt for dipping.


An easy way to grate the parmesan or manchego is to simply pulse it in your food processor into crumbs after you’ve created the sunflower seed flour. You can also substitute almond flour for the sunflower seed flour (1 1/4 cup total) or use any other type of nut.

This recipe would also taste great with Feta. If you like spice, 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes would give it some kick.

instagram  If you make this, share a photo and tag me @PhoebeLapine #feedmephoebe - I would love to see it!




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8 Responses to Spinach Balls with Sunflower Seeds, Manchego and Turmeric Honey Yogurt (Gluten-Free)

  1. Karlie says:

    Absolutely inspiring <3 can't wait to see what you come up with next year! xx

  2. Frankie says:

    I so agree that sharing food is the sublime way to bring people together. It’s one thing that really impressed me about the Sikh temples, which all have kitchens. No matter where you are going to a service, after praying you can go in the kitchen to help prepare or just sit and eat a meal around big communal tables. It’s part of worship. Open kitchens are open arms. Happy hols, Phoebe.

  3. Kat D. says:

    Phoebe! I’ve been following you for a while now but I’ve never left a comment. This post means so much to me. I recently started a “healthy lifestyle” blog and have been wondering every day for the last month if it’s really worth it. It’s a lot of work and I know the work is only going to get harder as I work to build followers and readers. But you are absolutely right, there is always space for one more voice at the party. Thank you for your encouragement, and more importantly, your voice and recipes! I have loved following along with you. XO.

    • Your comment means so much to ME! Thank you for taking the time Kat to let me know you’re out there, and more importantly, for reading over the years. I totally understand your frustration – I still feel that way sometimes after many years in the game. I say give yourself some time in the New Year to devise a schedule where you can really enjoy the work. And if the love isn’t there, don’t sweat moving on to the next adventure. Happy holidays to you! xoxo

  4. Sue says:

    Hey Phoebe –
    Tried these at a neighborhood cocktail party this past weekend and the reviews were over-the-top! Can you tell us how many per serving? Yummly states 70 cal./serving but not what constitutes a serving based on the 1.5″ size suggested in your recipe.
    Thanks so much – Sue.

    • I’m so glad you liked them Sue!! It depends on whether you are serving them as a finger food appetizer or as a veggie main (they would be great as part of a grain bowl with that yogurt!) At cocktail parties, people usually average 2.5 bites each, or at least that was the super scientific calculation I used when I catered! So as an ap, this recipe would yield 8 servings. As a meal, this recipe would yield 4-5 servings. Hope this helps!

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