Jump to Recipe

Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta

Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta is comfort food that’s packed with flavor, but still nice and healthy. It’s the perfect chilly weather meal!

(This recipe for Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta was originally posted in September 2010, but has been updated with new photos and content in 2018).

Overhead view of a white bowl filled with kale polenta and topped with three garlic habanero chicken meatballs with recipe title at top

This dinner is totally necessary. Because sometimes I need some nutrition in my life. You get it, right? I obviously wish I could survive on milkshakes and cupcakes alone. And Halloween candy. SO much Halloween candy. All over my house, everywhere I look. But I don’t have the willpower to get rid of it. Also, my husband would kill me. So, it sits and watches me and dares me to eat it. And I do. Ugh. However, one cannot live on Halloween candy alone and sometimes I require an actual meal that doesn’t involve chocolate or peanut butter or caramel. But if you’re going to force me to eat an actual meal, it’s going to need to involve some carbs. Fine, you can mix my carbs with kale and top it with some healthy protein. As long as there are carbs, I’m there.

I wanted to make a meal that would create some good lunch leftovers and meatballs were an easy decision. Chicken meatballs because I wanted healthy; garlic and habanero meatballs because I wanted flavor. Oh, and polenta because I wanted carbs. Also, kale because I wanted to add some nutritional value to those carbs. That was easy. I wish all decisions in life were as easy as that.


At first glance at the ingredient list, this may seem like a complicated recipe. But it’s not! Meatballs are one of the easiest ever foods to make because you literally throw everything in a bowl, mix it together, and form it into meatballs. There is one additional step to this recipe, but it’s simply sautΓ©ing the onion, garlic, and habanero peppers. Easy!

Note that you’ll need to chop onions and mince garlic in both the meatball and the polenta recipe, so you may as well do them both at the same time.

Obviously, these chicken meatballs are a little bit spicy since they’re habanero meatballs. If you’re not huge into spicy, just use fewer of them. If you hate spicy altogether, simply make these garlic meatballs instead. They’ll still be perfectly delicious. Mix all the ingredients together, form into meatballs, and bake.

Collage showing process for making garlic habanero chicken meatballs, including onions, garlic, and habanero in a pan, all chicken meatball ingredients combined in bowl, and mixture formed into meatballs in baking pan


While the meatballs are baking, you should get your polenta going. Polenta is really easy to make, but kind of like risotto, it can sound a little bit scary. Literally, all you have to do is bring water, milk, and salt to a boil and then whisk in your polenta. Turn heat to low let thicken, while you can continue to stir every now and then. Once it’s thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and parmesan… Also, the yummy kale mixture you’ll make (simply kale, garlic, and onion blended together in a food processor or blender).

Collage showing kale polenta making process, including kale being sauted, kale and onion in food processor, and polenta being stirred in pot

Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with a few chicken meatballs. You can sprinkles some more parmesan cheese over the top, too, if you desire. And why wouldn’t you??

Head on view of white bowl filled with kale polenta and topped with three chicken meatballs on a colorful placemat

Meatballs and polenta is such a satisfying cold weather meal. The weather has been so icky here in New England lately. Not absolutely freezing or anything (though we know that’s coming!), but chilly and rainy. So, so rainy. This meal is exactly the kind of comfort food you want when the weather is gross. BUT it’s comfort food that won’t make you feel gross after you eat it. It’s relatively healthy, but you’re not even depriving yourself of carbs.

Closeup of a garlic habanero chicken meatball on top of kale polenta with grated parmesan cheese

I’m obsessed with the color of the polenta. It’s such a fun sneaky way to get in that healthy kale, even if you’re not necessarily a kale lover. I will get in those vitamins and nutrients any way I can, especially at this time of year. I didn’t get sick at all last year and I’m totally crediting it to all of the kale I get in my diet. Because Lord knows I certainly don’t get enough sleep. And Lord also knows I ate plenty of Halloween candy last year, too. So yup, definitely the kale.

Landscape view of white bowl filled with kale polenta topped with three garlic habanero chicken meatballs on a colorful placemat with tablespoon of parmesan cheese in the background

Everyone loves meatballs (OK, unless you’re a vegetarian), but chicken meatballs (especially when made with chicken breast) are especially healthy. And when they’re fully loaded with garlic and habanero, they’re definitely not short on flavor. These habanero meatballs are nice and spicy, just the way we like them!

This recipe makes 6 servings, which means there’s a chance you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day. It’s perfect for packing up and bringing to the office or for having for dinner two nights in a row (I promise you’ll get no complaints!).

Overhead view of a white bowl filled with kale polenta and topped with three garlic habanero chicken meatballs

And now excuse me while I go spend the rest of the fall/winter trying to eat my carbs while also staying relatively healthy. Who’s with me??

How do you try to health-ify your carbs?

If you’re looking for more comfort food dinner recipes, check out my Pumpkin Mac and Cheese (also relatively healthy!) or my Thai Beef Basil (on regular meal rotation in my house!)

Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
55 mins

Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta is comfort food that's packed with flavor, but still nice and healthy. It's the perfect chilly weather meal!

Course: Entree
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chicken, Kale, Meatballs, Polenta
Servings: 6 servings
Author: Sues
Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (from about 1 medium onion)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp minced habanero (from about 2 habanero peppers)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 6 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
Kale Polenta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (from about 1 small onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups roughly chopped kale
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups polenta (can also use yellow cornmeal)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add onion and habanero pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Set aside to cool a bit.

  3. In a large bowl, mix together chicken, panko, parmesan, milk, habanero mixture, basil, egg, paprika, salt, and pepper.

  4. Form 12 golf ball-sized meatballs from mixture and place in a lightly oiled baking dish.

  5. Bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through.

Kale Polenta
  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add onion. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and then kale. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and pepper.

  2. Cook until the kale is wilted, about 2-3 minutes.

  3. Put kale/onion mixture in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

  4. Bring water, milk , and 1 tsp salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Reduce heat to low and cook until polenta thickens, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, about 15-20 minutes.

  5. Remove from heat and stir in butter and parmesan. Fold in kale mixture. Taste and add more salt/pepper if desired.

  6. Serve kale polenta in bowls and top with chicken meatballs.

Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta -- Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta is comfort food that's packed with flavor, but still nice and healthy. It's the perfect chilly weather meal! | wearenotmartha.com #meatballs #chicken #polenta #kale #healthy #comfortfood

19 Responses to "Garlic Habanero Chicken Meatballs with Kale Polenta"

  1. Erica says:

    These sound phenom! I want the polenta alone

  2. Kathryn says:

    I love carbs so much and anything that makes them a bit healthier is a bonus in my book. These meatballs look so good too. Yum!

  3. Michelle says:

    I love healthy but flavorful meals like this one!

  4. To Kiss the Cook says:

    So this is definitely happening. Spicy meatballs are a favorite…and kale…and polenta…and cheese (too easy?). Now I just need to pick a night πŸ™‚

  5. Leah | So, How's It Taste? says:

    You know I have never had kale. This recipe just might push me to try it. It looks delicious and I love polenta!

  6. sweeter salt says:

    Like the idea of mixing in kale! I’m always trying to trick my husband into eating dark greens, but he hates them. Chopping them up and mixing with carbs – brilliant!


  7. Emily @ A Cambridge Story says:

    I genuinely love kale – mixing it into polenta is such a great idea. btw, I totally thought the meatballs were biscuits at first. I’d say that even if it was a meal of biscuits and polenta, the kale helps even things out!

  8. Michelle Collins says:

    The kale polenta sounds amazing! I’ll have to make that soon!

  9. Erica @ In and Around Town says:

    Love this use of kale – totally different! Looks like a great meal

  10. Alison says:

    Those chicken meatballs look fab.

  11. Haley says:

    Um, yes please! I have yet to make my own polenta, but it seems straight-forward enough… Definitely going to be trying this one πŸ™‚

  12. newlywed says:

    This is a great recipe! Thanks for sharing! I try to add lots of veggies into my carbs, so I can eat a smaller portion without feeling like, well, I’m eating a small portion.

  13. Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) says:

    I’ve never had polenta! Is it like… corn meal porridge or something? This looks so crazy gourmet and creative! Well done πŸ™‚

  14. Reeni says:

    I love this from top to bottom! It’s perfect comfort food right now as the weather is turning cold here. Healthify? Huh? Heehee.

  15. Kelly says:

    Wait…I’m supposed to be healthifying my carbs? J/K. This looks fantastic. Every once and awhile I do enjoy a good poultry meatball. I usually use a mix of dark and light meat in mine because it makes it just a bit moister.

  16. Shannon says:

    sounds awesome!! i made polenta for the first time a couple nights ago was totally smitten… love the idea of throwing some kale in there πŸ™‚ YUM.

  17. Kelly says:

    This sounds wonderful! Definitely on the menu for this weekend now…

  18. sarah k. @ the pajama chef says:

    this sounds so great. kale is literally my favorite green these days…gotta try this πŸ™‚

  19. Jackie says:

    Made this last weekend. Followed your directions exactly. The habaneros must mellow out when they cook – the heat was not bad at all. Absolutely delicious – this one is a keeper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *