Lemony Orzo Soup with Spinach and Chicken Mushroom Meatballs

IngredientsChicken, Mushrooms, Pasta
Menu PartSoup
Cuisine TypeItalian
orzo soup

Pam Smith, dietitian and culinary nutritionist

Orlando, Fla.

This robust soup is a meal in a bowl, but dietitian Pam Smith makes sure it delivers a healthy portion of vegetables along with protein and pasta. She stretches ground chicken with roasted mushrooms for a lighter, plant-forward version of meatballs. The meatballs can be made ahead, refrigerated and reheated in the soup.


Roasted Cremini Mushrooms

2 lb. cremini mushrooms

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1½ tsp. Creole seasoning

Chicken Mushroom Meatballs

1 1/2 lb. lean ground chicken (may substitute turkey, lamb, grass fed beef, or cooked chickpeas/lentils)

½ lb. ground roasted cremini mushrooms (recipe follows)

1 tbsp. grated lemon zest (from one lemon)

½ cup packed cup fresh parsley and/or mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup finely diced red onion

3 tbsp. minced garlic

2 tbsp. adobo seasoning

1 tbsp. Creole seasoning

½ cup milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup grated feta

½ cup panko


1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup diced onion

½ cup diced celery

½ cup diced carrot

1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms

2 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tbsp. adobo seasoning

1 tsp. Creole seasoning

1 tsp. turmeric (optional, for color)

1 1/2 cups orzo

½ tsp. red pepper flakes, plus more for serving

2 qt. chicken broth

5 oz. baby spinach

2 lemons (1 juiced and 1 cut into wedges for serving)

Optional garnishes: Red chili flakes, crumbled feta and fresh herbs


  1. For roasted cremini mushrooms, place two making sheets in oven and preheat to 400 F. In large bowl, toss mushrooms with olive oil and Creole seasoning; spread in an even layer on heated baking sheets. Bake on middle rack 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and quite dry. (They will reduce in volume by half). Remove from the heat and allow to cool. 
  2. Grind cooled mushrooms in grinder or food processor fitted with the steel blade until chopped fine (to the size of hamburger) but still retaining some texture.
  3. For chicken meatballs, in medium bowl, combine ground chicken, ground roasted mushrooms, herbs and lemon zest. Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add onion and saute until sweet and translucent. Add garlic and seasonings; saute another 30 seconds. Transfer to shallow bowl to quickly cool; add to chicken-mushroom mixture.
  4. Stir milk, egg, grated feta and panko together and let rest 5 minutes to make a panade (gives perfect texture to the meatballs). Add to chicken-mushroom mixture and gently combine without squeezing too hard or overworking the meat. Lightly wet palms and shape mixture into small balls, a little smaller than the size of a golf ball, about 1½ inches in diameter or 1 ounce each. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. For soup, heat oil in large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add diced onion, celery, carrot and sliced mushrooms, cooking until they begin to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add garlic, seasonings, turmeric, orzo and red-pepper flakes; stir to incorporate until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.
  7. While soup is simmering, brown prepared meatballs under a broiler. Brown one side, then flip over to brown other side. Add meatballs to simmering soup, right as orzo has cooked to al dente. Simmer another 4 to 5 minutes to finish cooking meatballs; remove from heat.
  8. Stir in spinach and lemon juice until spinach is just wilted, about 2 minutes more. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  9. To serve, spoon into bowls. Garnish with red chili flakes, crumbled feta cheese, lemon and fresh herbs, if desired.

Photo courtesy of Barilla

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