Tsukune (teriyaki meatballs)

The key to these meatballs is a lush dip in teriyaki sauce while still warm. Easy everyday cooking – a few vegetables complete a perfect rice bowl – that is interesting enough for company too. Adapted from Everyday Harumi, by Harumi Kurihara, aka the Martha Stewart of Japan.

Meatball ingredients

  • 1/3 cup diced onion (about 1/2 small onion)
  • 1 cup diced napa cabbage
  • 1 pound ground meat (half beef and half pork, or ground turkey)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon if using table salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil or cilantro (optional)
  • Oil for pan frying

Sauce ingredients

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin (or 1/2 cup sake plus 3 tablespoons sugar)
  • 1/4 cup sugar


  1. Put chopped cabbage in a strainer, sprinkle with good pinch of salt and stir. The salt will bring out some of the water in the cabbage, so place the strainer in the sink or over a plate.
  2. Combine soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a small pan and slowly bring to a boil. Turn the heat down low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it has thickened. Set aside.
  3. Gently squeeze the cabbage, which should be a bit limp.
  4. In a mixing bowl, add ground meat, onion, cabbage, egg, flour, salt and pepper and knead with your hand to combine well. Mince basil or cilantro, if using, and add to the mixture at the end so it retains its color.
  5. Shape meat into slightly flattened balls about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Heat skillet over medium and add oil. Tilt pan to make sure the cooking surface is well coated with oil, adding more if necessary. Add tsukune to pan, placing them close together but not touching, and cook until well browned on both sides with no visible pink. Add additional oil between batches if necessary (likely if you are using ground turkey). If you are unsure about doneness, cut one meatball in half to check.
  6. Put some teriyaki sauce in a small bowl. Roll cooked meatballs in the teriyaki sauce while still warm and place on platter to serve. Sprinkle more chopped herbs over to make it pretty.

Serves four.


  • You can probably get away with half the amount of sauce for this recipe, but unused teriyaki sauce keeps for weeks in the refrigerator and is good on everything.
  • Gluten-free version: substitute another binding agent for the flour (eg potato starch).
  • Instead of cabbage, Harumi uses celery, minced fine (use two stalks, or about 1 cup). Or you could use finely minced zucchini.
  • Fresh minced ginger would be a great add and is found in many tsukune recipes.
  • Harumi sprinkles meatballs with with shichimi togarashi and serves with lemon wedges on the side.
  • You can also keep cooked meatballs in freezer for an easy heat-up dinner.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.

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