Lettuce Meats Pork
Meets Lemongrass and Fish Sauce — a Remarkable Combination
Vietnamese cuisine includes several kinds of delicious Meatballs intended to be eaten rolled in Lettuce and drizzled with a Dipping Sauce. This recipe makes a couple dozen tiny Meatballs, which are excellent for an appetizer or with drinks. They can be made a day in advance, and are so popular, the recipe can be easily doubled for larger events.
There is a lot of chopping and arranging of small quantities of many ingredients. Once the mise en place is organized, the actual final preparation and cooking is fairly easy and quick, and the results always disappear quickly.
Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups
1 head Butter Lettuce
1 small Persian cucumber
For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground Pork
1 Lemongrass stalk, bottom 4 inches only
¼ cup chopped Shallots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Cilantro
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
2 cloves Garlic
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 teaspoon Sugar
½ teaspoon ground White Pepper
For the Dipping Sauce:
1 lemongrass stalk, bottom 4 inches only
½ cup fresh Lime juice
¼ cup Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh Cilantro
2 tablespoons coarsely grated Carrots
4 teaspoons Brown Sugar, packed
2 teaspoons green Thai chilies or Serrano Peppers with seeds
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
To get started, first separate out the leaves of the Butter Lettuce and wash them. There should be at least 24 leaves for a recipe of these Meatballs. Wash the Persian Cucumber, sliced it thinly and set aside. If you do this stage first, the Lettuce leaves will be thoroughly dry at serving time.
To make the Meatballs themselves, first chill the Pork in the freezing section of the refrigerator while making a Lemongrass paste. To do this, first crush the Lemongrass section with a heavy object like a rolling pin, then mince it finely. Combine the Lemongrass with half a teaspoon of Salt.
Chop the Shallots, Cilantro and Garlic.
Combine the chopped Lemongrass, Salt, Shallots, Cilantro, Garlic,, Sugar and White Pepper in a food processor and pulse until a paste forms. Add the chilled Pork and pulse until the Lemongrass paste is well blended with the Pork. Shape into 24 balls, each about 1 tablespoon. A melon balling tool makes this easier, if you have one, but is not necessary. Each meatball will be marble-sized. Place them on a baking sheet, cover and chill at least an hour and up to a day. Reserve the Oil until you cook the Meatballs.
To make the Dipping Sauce. first take the bottom section of the second stalk of Lemongrass and crush it with a heavy object like a rolling pin, then mince as finely as possible. Measure out 1 tablespoon for use in the Dipping Sauce and reserve the rest for another use.
Chop the Cilantro and grate the Carrots coarsely. Squeeze out the Lime Juice and set aside. Mince the hot chili peppers, along with their seeds.
Put the Lemongrass, Lime Juice, Fish Sauce, Cilantro,Carrot, Sugar, Oil and Chili Peppers in a small bowl and whisk until the Sugar dissolves.
To serve the Meatballs, heat the Vegetable Oil in a large skillet over medium fire. Add the Meatballs and brown until they are cooked thoroughly, turning occasionally. It will take about 15 minutes. Remove, drain, and transfer to one side of a large platter.
Arrange the Lettuce Leaves and Cucumber slices on the other side of the platter. Guests can place Meatballs on leaves, garnish with Cucumber and drizzle with Dipping Sauce.
Besides tasting good, these meatballs may be specially healthy due to the Lemongrass, which is traditionally prized for a wide range of medicinal benefits.