I love meatballs.
They make me happy.
They are totally the ultimate comfort food. In any language!
There are versions of meatballs in almost every culture…which is part of why I love them so much–there are so many flavor combinations you can play with. They are versatile, and generally incredibly easy to make. They also cook quickly, which is especially good on a night after a long shift!
Tonight, I was craving something savory, Asian-inspired, and veggie intensive. One of my favorite meatball flavor combos is Thai Basil. The inspiration came from meatball Bahn-mi…little French/Vietnamese fusion sub sandwiches with tangy pickled vegetables. I love to put mint into these meatballs too, but alas, the grocery store was sold out! Tragic!
Anyways, here’s how you make them…you’ll love how easy and fresh these are!
Preheat an ovenproof skillet to medium heat. Also begin preheating your oven to 450º.
Start by making the lime pickled veggies. These are super light, crispy, tangy, and very simple to make. Especially if you have a food processor or a mandolin that makes slicing veggies uber-quick and easy.
I do not.
But it was easy anyways!
Just slice up an English cucumber, two small carrots, and a small daikon radish (you can use regular radishes if that’s what you have…), then squeeze over the juice of two limes.
Throw in a minced clove of garlic, then season liberally with salt and pepper. Give it all a good stir and let sit on the counter until everything else is ready!
These veggies stay tasty and crunchy in the fridge for a day or two, but start to get pretty wilted if you ignore them for too long. So don’t ignore them for too long!
Veggies hate to be ignored. Or maybe that’s just me projecting.
Next, gather up all the ingredients you will need for the meatballs. In the little containers there are soy sauce, chili paste (if desired. I desired!), brown sugar, and cornstarch to help everything hold together. And a tablespoon of sesame oil.
Yumm. Sesame oil.
I also have basil chiffonade (it just means thinly sliced), minced jalapeno, minced garlic, and sliced scallion. The beauty of today’s supermarket is that you can often times find garlic and basil already prepared in a handy paste. Use this if you want–it’ll save you even more time! I just tend to prefer the fresh stuff…and I like chopping. It’s like therapy for me!
I know. Weird.
Don’t be shy with all these strong-tasting ingredients! These wraps don’t have any sauce or condiments, so they will rely on the meatballs and the pickled veggies for all the savory, delicious, rich flavor.
Dump all the ingredients into a bowl with a pound each of ground pork and ground beef, then mix it up gently with your hands. Form into balls about the size of ping-pong balls and drop directly into the hot skillet, without adding any oil. If you are particularly lazy, use your cookie scoop. I am lazy. The meatballs won’t come out in perfect, beautiful little spheres but believe me…once they taste them nobody will care if they are pretty or not! Plus, the little ragged edges get all crispy and caramelized in the oven. Noomm.
Once all the little meatballs are in the skillet, don’t move ’em or flip ’em or anything. Just stick the whole skillet in the hot oven and roast for about 20 minutes.
While the meatballs are roasting and the veggies are pickling in their limey goodness, give a head of butter lettuce a good rinse and dry it thoroughly. If you want, cook up some thin rice noodles (just boil some water, dump the noodles in, and cook for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water). I also sliced up a couple of tomatoes, just for good measure. And for that purty red color.
To assemble, put some pickled veggies, tomatoes, rice noodles, and a couple of meatballs onto a leaf of lettuce. Roll up as well as you can and eat with happy gusto and many, many napkins!
You can also skip the rice noodles and serve it all up on a really good baguette for a sort-of twist on a meatball bahn-mi. When I serve it that way, I like to mix some chili garlic paste, lime juice and mayonnaise for a quick sauce so everything stays juicy and delicious!
Here’s the recipe, as told uninterrupted by sometimes not very effective photos:
Thai Basil Meatball Wraps with Lime Pickled Veggies
For the pickled veggies:
1 small daikon radish (or 1/2 lb red radishes)
2 small carrots
1 English cucumber
1 clove of garlic
salt and pepper
Thinly slice all the vegetables. Mince the clove of garlic. Juice the limes. Combine all ingredients and let sit out on the counter for an hour, or in the fridge overnight.
For the meatballs:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 small bunch basil, thinly sliced (or 2-3 tbs. prepared basil paste)
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced (or 3 tbs. prepared garlic paste)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons chili paste (if desired)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Preheat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Begin preheating oven to 450º.
Mix all ingredients gently in a large bowl. If ya wanna, sear a little patty of meat in the skillet to test for seasoning ( I always wanna!) If you used regular, good ol’ high sodium soy sauce, you probably will not need to add any additional salt.
Form the mixture into balls about the size of ping-pong balls (cookie scoops work great for this!), dropping each directly into the hot skillet. Do not turn the meatballs. Place the whole skillet into the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are no longer pink in the center.
For the wraps:
1 head butter lettuce
2 sliced tomatoes
1 package rice noodles
Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Rinse well under cold water. Place some pickled veggies, tomatoes, rice noodles, and a couple of meatballs on each leaf of lettuce.
Eat and be happy!