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Vietnamese Meatballs with Pickled Veggies

I have made these meatballs before using ground chicken and we loved them but this was more of a pork kind of day. I usually serve them with rice noodles, bun style, and then sent the leftovers with the Kid for his lunch the next day. Since I have sent the poor wee street urchin to school with a sandwich two days in a row, I was having some mom guilt. A lovely lunch of vietnamese food with a friend made me think of these meatballs and so I hopped across the street to the magical asian grocery store and bought all of the ingredients I would need. Don't be scared of the little roll in the sugar bowl that these babies take just before baking because it gives them that sticky, sweetness of asian bbq meats. You could probably skip it and still end up with a tasty meatball but you would definitely be missing that little extra bit of something that makes these really special.

Now, if we weren't still on this god forsaken diet, I would make bahn mi sandwiches but since we (that should read "I" since my tall, lanky kid certainly has no need to avoid things like bread, pasta, ice cream and poutine) are all about not eating delicious, white, crusty bread I will serve these with healthier buckwheat soba noodles and some steamed broccoli. Now, buckwheat soba is pretty delicious so it's not like I am serving up runny gruel in an old boot, but I find that I am dreaming of spaghetti and rice sandwiches on crusty, white bread, rolled in leftover risotto and  dipped in panko. deep fried, served on a plate of gnocchi.
Hmmmmm, what can that mean Dr Freud?

Pork Balls and Noodle Bowl

vietnamese pork meatballs
buckwheat soba or rice vermicelli
pickled carrot and daikon
julienned english cucumber
chopped cilantro, thai basil and fresh mint (i use equal amounts of each)
sesame seeds

Cook buckwheat soba or rice noodles according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water in a strainer until the noodles are room temp. Let them sit in the strainer while you prep the rest of the dish.
Toss the cool noodles with some nuoc cham and put a heaping helping in each bowl. Pile a mound of julienned cucumber, a mound of pickled carrot and daikon and place 4 or 5 meatballs on top of the rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and scatter the fresh herbs over the whole thing.

Vietnamese Pork Meatballs
adapted from Joyce's Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs

1 lb ground pork
3 tbls fish sauce
1/2 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, tender white inside part only, minced
3-4 tbls chopped cilantro
1 tbls chopped mint
1tbls chopped thai basil
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
few grinds of fresh black pepper
granulated sugar for rolling the meatballs, about 1/4 cup

mix the pork with rest of the ingredients except for the sugar in a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly but gently because if you overwork the meat, your meatballs will be tough.

Using slightly damp hands, roll the mixture into golf ball sized meatballs, put on a plate and let them sit in the fridge for half an hour or so - I found the mixture a bit wet but it set up perfectly after a rest in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 400F

Take the meatballs out of the fridge and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll each meatball lightly in the sugar and place on the parchment.

Bake the meatballs in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, giving the pan a shake a few times to make sure you get even browning.

Pickled Daikon and Carrot
3 cups warm water
6 tbls vinegar
6 tbls sugar
2 tbls kosher salt
1/2 lb carrot
1/2 lb daikon

Mix the warm water with the vinegar, sugar and salt. Shred the carrot and daikon however you like - I slice thin slices on the mandoline and then julienne them. Pack the veggies into a couple of glass jars or one huge jar and then pour the pickling liquid over them. It's best to leave them overnight to pickle before using them and they should keep a good month in the fridge.

Nouc Cham

3 tbls lime juice
1 tbls rice vinegar
2 tbls sugar
1/2 cup water
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tbls fish sauce
(optional some finely julianned carrot and some hot chili pepper or a tiny bit of chili sauce)

Mix the lime juice, rice vinegar, sugar and water and stir until dissolved. Taste it and make sure it's not too sweet and if it is, you might want to add a bit more lime juice or vinegar. If it tastes like a nice balance of sweet and sour, add the fish sauce and the garlic. 
If you want some heat, you can add either a bit of finely minced hot chili pepper or a tiny bit of chili sauce. I like to add the carrot just because it looks pretty.
Let it sit for at least a half an hour. I like to make mine in the morning so it sits in a glass jar in the fridge all day.

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