Monday, 1 December 2014

Chicken meatball satays - for the whole family!

Food plays an important role for so many in bringing people together - we celebrate special occasions with big dinners, or catch up with loved ones over tea and cake. So what happens when you can't just eat and enjoy freely, when your diet has to meet strict guidelines, or when different people have different dietary needs?

This was the topic of one of my assignments this semester. Actually this was the most fun assignment I've ever done  - not only did it involve cooking new recipes, but I could appreciate just how important it would be to understand and respect individual requirements, cultures, and beliefs in providing useful and appropriate nutrition advice.

The assignment involved making a four course meal, with each course following a particular theme to challenge our cooking and menu planning abilities: (1) therapeutic modification (e.g. to meet requirements of people in hospital); (2) unfamiliar cooking technique; (3) unfamiliar culture; and (4) social modification (e.g. religious, ethical, economic).

For my first course (appetiser), I chose to take on a therapeutic modification, which would involve changing a recipe to meet certain therapeutic guidelines. What I wanted to do was to make a meal that everyone could enjoy - for those of you who have to cater to different needs, I'm sure you're familiar with having to cook multiple meals so that no one gets left out. Having one meal that everyone could happily share would be the perfect antidote to all this fuss!

This was my favourite challenge, as in Mr Duckie's family there are a couple of people with special needs. At the time, Mr Duckie's grandpa had recently returned home from hospital, and had been put on a texture-modified diet due to swallowing difficulties (swallowing is actually quite a complex process requiring multiple muscles and nerves!). This requires that he eats only soft-textured foods that can be easily chewed, so as to reduce choking risk.

In addition, as I mentioned in a previous post, my sister-in-law Anita is fatally allergic to nuts. She is so sensitive that she can even smell when someone has eaten peanut butter in her vicinity! So, my task was to make a tasty, nutritious meal that the whole family could enjoy.

I decided to take on what would normally be a no-go recipe, grilled satay skewers with peanut sauce. I chose a meat-based dish as people with swallowing difficulties often have difficulty eating enough protein as it tends to be more tough.

To modify the meat, I used chicken mince and added tofu for extra softness. I shaped the mixture into meatballs to increase the visual appeal, as usually soft food tends to pretty much big lumps of pureed mush (we had the opportunity to try some of these foods in class, actually I found the pureed meal quite tasty!). I also poached the meatballs instead of baking or frying them, to make sure that there would be no hard surfaces.

An example of a pureed hospital meal and some thickened fluids for people with swallowing difficulties, actually all yummier than they look!

To modify the peanut sauce, I used tahini (sesame seed paste) instead of peanut butter, as I found that this had a similar consistency and also gave a pleasant nutty taste. The addition of the sauce to the meatballs was also aimed at keeping the meat moist, making it easier to swallow, and adding some extra calories in to ensure Grandpa's energy needs were met (with swallowing difficulties it can be hard to get enough in because the process of eating is so much more troublesome).

Not so peanut sauce!

So, how did these family-friendly chicken satays go? Luckily, everyone was very impressed by the sauce. My father-in-law said “If you had said it had peanuts in it, I would have believed you”. The funniest comment came from Anita who exclaimed “so that’s what peanut tastes like!” The meatballs themselves were nice and soft, and were easily mashed up with a fork.

My main guest-of-honour, Grandpa, decided that the meatballs were “very nice”, which given his speaking difficulties, I took as high praise! Most importantly, he had no difficulties in eating his meal.

Overall, this was an easy to prepare dish that happily brought the whole family together, showing that having special dietary needs does not mean anyone has to be left out! I was really glad to have been able to make a meal that everyone could safely eat but also enjoy. Stay tuned for the next post on my second course - a new cooking technique!

Chicken meatball satays

Serves 8


Chicken meatballs

300g silken firm tofu
600g chicken mince
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
10g fresh ginger, finely grated
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
2 eggs, beaten
60g wholemeal breadcrumbs

Satay sauce

1 cup tahini
300ml coconut cream
3 tbsp kecap manis
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

For the meatballs: Wrap the tofu with paper towel and let it drain for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine chicken mince, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, and eggs. Break drained tofu into small pieces and mix into mince mixture. Add breadcrumbs and stir well to combine.

Shape 1 tablespoon full of mixture into meatballs.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil. Drop meatballs carefully into water and poach gently for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Thread cooked meatballs onto skewers and serve with satay sauce.

For satay sauce: combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until combined and heated through.


  1. That is a great adaptation of a classic meal. I think that's so clever to use tahini to replace the nutty flavour of the dish. And I know of people who have difficulty swallowing and coming up with recipes that give them lovely flavour but are also palatable is quite a challenge. You've done really well with this xx

  2. What a great way to alter a classic dish so everyone could enjoy it. I must give the tahini trick a go as I have a friend that suffers from nut allergies! Well done working all this out :)