Monday, February 9, 2015

Southeast Asian meatballs

I often crave the sparkling, powerful flavours of Southeast Asia. If I can't go there, I can eat there. So to speak.

These meatballs belong more to my imagination than to an authentic tradition, but they are highly fragrant and very tender, satisfy many cravings. Sweet-sour-salty and chile-rich, they can be eaten:

- Warm, with a dipping sauce: serve in a bowl topped with fresh mint, cilantro and basil leaves
- Warm, with miso broth poured over them in the last minute of cooking, to make a light sauce.
- Cooked in a simmering pot of broth,  as a comforting soup.
- Cool, in banh mi, with pickled carrots and herbs.
- Cool, wrapped in soft lettuce leaves with herbs.

Meatballs - for 2 Very Hungry People (or 4 Better-Behaved Ones)

The key to the flavoring is to chop everything exceptionally finely. 

1 lb ground pork
2 teaspoon lemon grass (the end of 1 stalk, outer leaves peeled off), exceptionally finely chopped
2 teaspoon garlic (2 medium cloves), very finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons hot red chile, very finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons tamarind juice or syrup
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon ginger, very finely chopped
2 Tablsepoon fish sauce
1/3 cup Panko-style breadcrumbs

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients thoroughly and let the mixture rest, covered, in the fridge for an hour at least or, if possible, overnight.

Make the dipping sauce or broth (see below). Both can be made up to a day ahead.

To Cook:

Shape the meat mixture small ping pong balls. Heat a good, heavy pan and add the meatballs (oil is not necessary if using fatty ground pork). Cook on each side for about 3 minutes, till caramel-y brown. Flip and repeat.

Dipping Sauce:

2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon soy
2 Tablespoon lime or lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
1 thumb-sized stick lemongrass, halved
Slices of hot red chile

Mix all the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste. Adjust the balance with more lemon or sugar.

Optional sauce, for deglazing the pan:

1 cup water
2 Tablespoon miso paste (very inauthentic, very good)
1 Tablespoon bonito flakes
1 strip dried seaweed
1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 thumb sized piece of lemongrass, halved
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Slices of hot red chile

Heat the water and dissolve the miso in it. Add the other ingredients, keeping it very warm for about 10 minutes till the flavours mingle. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Keep hot and pour over the meatballs in their final minute of cooking. Stir once or twice and serve topped with fresh cilantro leaves, with sticky black rice on the side (in a perfect world).

Or else double the quantity and put the meatballs in the sauce and serve in deep bowls.

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