Cooking with Kids: Porcupine Meatballs

Kids can help make these tasty Porcupine Meatballs. It’s fun to see how the rice pokes up into little ‘quills’ after they’re baked.

Cooking with Kids: Meredith with Porcupine Meatballs and veggies

Sometimes life presents us with the best stories and most unexpected coincidences.

This morning when I took a package of frozen hamburger from the freezer to thaw in anticipation of making porcupine meatballs together with Meredith for our after-school cooking session, I didn’t have the slightest inkling that my choice of dish would be so serendipitous.

Around lunchtime I heard Pippa barking and growling outside. She was acting strange. When I went to inspect, I was amazed to find a real, live porcupine up in our apple tree!

Cooking with Kids: Porcupine Meatballs, real porcupine in tree

Pippa’s growling was a result of her run-in with a porcupine earlier this summer – 200 quills in her mouth and a $650 vet bill to remove them. She now has a healthy fear of porcupines – we hope! But just as a precaution, I locked her in her run, and continued to go outside at intervals to see if the porcupine was still up in the tree. It stayed all afternoon and was still there once it got dark. When Meredith came off the school bus, we both got a good close look at it. That long silky fur is deceiving – it hides those dangerous quills.

Cooking with Kids: Porcupine Meatballs, Meredith sees porcupineCooking with Kids: there's a porcupine in our tree

We even got close enough to see its eyes and its soft little snout. Quite a cute creature.

Cooking with Kids: Don't pet that porcupine

Meredith and I had a good giggle when we got inside to start making our porcupine meatballs – we now had live inspiration for them. She kept taking breaks to run out and see if that real porcupine was still up in the tree.

What are the odds we’d have a real porcupine visit on the very day we were cooking porcupine meatballs? We’ve had the occasional porcupine visit our acreage over the years, but I’ve never been able to get this close to one before. Life really is stranger than fiction sometimes!

These meatballs are kind of fun, because the rice cooks up to stick out like little porcupine quills. There are a lot of onions in the recipe, but they help keep the meat mixture loose and moist so the rice has room to expand as it cooks. The seasoning is very simple, but these porcupine meatballs are tasty and comforting. They got a definite thumbs-up from Meredith, so they are kid-approved. Serve them with buttered spaghetti squash and peas or a green salad.

Cooking with Kids: Porcupine Meatballs with squash and peas

The hardest part of the recipe is cutting the three onions finely. We used a mini food chopper, but because we needed to make batches, we still did a lot of ‘crying’. Meredith invented the ‘onion dance’ – every time the onions got too much for her, she skipped back and forth across the living room and kitchen, waving her arms up and down (and shrieking for good measure), to get fresh air to her eyes. This unusual technique helped immensely in her ability to last throughout the onion chopping chore.

This recipe is a good way for kids to learn the ‘magic’ property of onions – that although they are so sharp and ‘hot’ when raw, they become sweet and mild when cooked, making a dish more delicious.

Cooking with Kids: Meredith doing her onion danceCooking with Kids: Onion Dance 2

Onion size guidelines:

  • Small onion = 4 ounces, or about ½ cup chopped
  • Medium onion = 8 ounces, or about 1 cup chopped
  • Large onion = 12 ounces, or about 1½ cups chopped
  • Jumbo onion = 16 ounces, or about 2 cups chop

Cooking with Kids: Meredith made Porcupine Meatballs

Porcupine Meatballs

  • 3 medium onions
  • 1½ lbs (680gms) lean ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ cup long grain white rice
  • 1 large can (28oz/796ml) diced tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Get out a a 9 x 13 inch (23 x33 cm) pan and set it aside.

Peel the onions, then finely chop or mince them, either by hand or in a food processor. If using a food processor, pulse the machine in short bursts so you don’t make a mush of the onions. Stop halfway through and scrape down the bigger chunks from the sides of the food processor bowl.

Cooking with Kids: Meredith mincing OnionsCooking with Kids: Smooshing the Porcupine Meatball Mixture

Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Add the onions, salt, paprika, and rice. Mix well with your hands until all smooshed together. (We used red onions.)

Pat the mixture down evenly into the bowl, then with your hand push down to cut channels into the hamburger, dividing it into 8 wedges. Carefully take out one wedge at a time and put it onto a plate or cutting board. Divide it into 3 even chunks, then roll each into a ball. The mixture is quite loose, so shape it by gently tossing the ball back and forth between your hands and squeezing lightly.


Make 24 balls. Place the balls into the pan.


Pour the canned diced tomatoes over the meatballs, then use your hands to arrange the tomato chunks evenly among the meatballs.


Cover the pan with aluminum foil, pressing it around the edges to seal it.

Bake for 1 hour.

There  will be quite a lot of liquid, but it will soak into the meatballs as it is served. To serve the meatballs, remove them from the pan gently with a large serving spoon so they don’t break apart.

Serves 6 to 8.

This recipe for porcupine meatballs was given to me by my dear friend Erin, who passed away from cancer two years ago. Whenever I make them, I think of her and remember all the good times we had together.

Cooking with Kids: Pan of Porcupine Meatballs

Guten Appetit!


See lots of other fun ‘Cooking With Kids’ posts here.


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Look at that porcupine!

it was a day of prickly meatballs and prickly visitors

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4 Responses to Cooking with Kids: Porcupine Meatballs

  1. Sherril says:

    I make these a lot for my family and I cook them in tomato soup (tin of soup mixed with the same of water)pour over top and cook. Then you have a lovely tomato soup sauce. I don’t eat tomato soup but love dipping my bread in this sauce.

    • Margaret says:

      Mmmm. I can imagine the tomato soup would make a delicious creamy sauce. It’s neat to see all the different ways people make these classic meatballs. Thanks for visiting!

  2. gerry says:

    We loved the little porcupine meatballs, they were quick and easy to make with wonderful results. I love that this recipe uses ingredients always found in the pantry. They were very very tasty. Thank you for sharing this lovely recipe, it made a wonderful meal. Made for First Time Tag… bk

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks so much! They are a favourite weeknight meal of ours, too, because they are so easy and tasty. Happy cooking!

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