Monday, February 9, 2015

Southeast Asian meatballs

I often crave the sparkling, powerful flavours of Southeast Asia,

These meatballs, 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
- Added to a bowl of broth, eaten as a comforting soup
- Cool in banh mi, with pickled carrots and herbs
- Cool, wrapped in soft lettuce leaves with herbs

Meatballs - for two, with trimmings

The key to the flavouring is to chop everything exceptionally finely. I use some breadcrumbs to lighten their texture. If you can't find tamarind, just leave it out. I have made the meatballs successfully with pork and with beef.

1 lb ground pork
2 tsp lemon grass (the end of 1 stalk, outer leaves peeled off), exceptionally finely chopped
2 tsp garlic (2 medium cloves), very finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp hot red chile, very finely chopped
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp tamarind juice or syrup
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp ginger, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp 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 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy
2 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp 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 broth, for deglazing the pan

1 cup water
2 Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp bonito flakes
1 strip dried seaweed
1 Squeeze 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 broth and serve in deep bowls.

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