Thursday, June 6, 2013

Meatball Noodle Bowl or I Love Vietnamese Noodle Bowls


Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Bowl
 The first time I had Vietnamese food was in 1986. OK, give or take a few years on either side. It was in the fall and it was chilly outside. We had to debate whether to wait, (as the line was out the door) or to find somewhere else to spend our dimes. Wait we did and as we edged slowly inside we found ourselves in the pass through where the food comes out. Torture is what it was as we watched giant platters of fried soft shell crabs passing by right under our noses. Enormous baskets of salad composed of the freshest mint and cilantro and green leaf lettuce surrounded by bean sprouts and slices of seeds in, dark green jalapenos. Nestled along side were pickled orange carrots and white daikon. Our noses inhaled the garlic, the fish sauce, the caramelized sugar and lime juice as we tried to not reach our hands out to grab each passing dish.

And if you must know this teeny tiny place was a real dump. You couldn't help but wonder what was lurking behind closed doors but the food looked impeccable. And it was recommended by the local trendy newspaper. Since we were trendy back then we had to go. My life has not been the same since. I used to have a love affair with Chinese food but after my first experience with Vietnamese-well there's no going back. Truth be told, they aren't too similar. In fact they aren't similar at all except that they are both made in a wok and both employ chopsticks to eat.

Vietnamese incorporates freshness. Salads, grills, limes and fish sauce. No soy here. Lots of seafood. The sour/sweet/salty thing really must have begun with Vietnamese food, but don't quote me on that. And remember the French had a lot to do with Vietnamese food. Think banh mi's made with baguettes. And butter and mayo. Many Vietnamese sauces, especially for seafood dishes incorporate butter. I could go on but my mouth is watering just thinking about these grilled meatballs I made to top my noodle bowl  with. And that's the other thing. Vegetables are given center stage to shine in this bowl. The meatball though is the exclamation point!

This meatball which can be made with chicken or beef or turkey is traditionally made with pork. It is flavored with basil and garlic and onion. And a good amount of black pepper. Lots of Vietnamese dishes incorporate black pepper but if you need it more mild, the other flavors still sing. Grilling these slowly gives them extra flavor and I prefer them like this rather than pan fried.   

I found this recipe in Bon Appetit's January 2010 issue. It took me awhile to actually make them. Don't make my mistake. These should be in your repertoire today. I used them to top a noodle bowl. They would also make great appetizers and just like meatballs are inhaled at any party, these will be inhaled faster. Serve them with a little sriracha mayo to dunk in. These are also great for banh mi's which this recipe was intended for, and they would make an awesome filling for a lettuce wrap. My mind is racing with ideas on how to use these. Yes, they are that good!

Noodle bowls are perfect for summer eating. They are light and nutritious. The ingredients can be kept on hand and customized to your heart's content. The chicken I made here can also be used for noodle bowls. That same paste can be used with shrimp and those, too can be used for a topping. A fun dinner idea would be to make a salad bar with these ingredients and let everyone design their own bowl.

As a postscript-that awesome Vitenamese restaurant enjoyed lots of success. But since it has sold several times over, the atmosphere and food has changed. Thank goodness there are even better Vietnamese restaurants out there. New Saigon is my all time favorite. It is consistent with its food and the waiters have been there for years. They are as much a fixture as the restaurant. One can't go wrong here.

And the final postscript: 4 new baby bunnies spotted today. 1 baby bunny relocated yesterday. Bunnies still at 6. Rabbit catcher-1. And June 21st is rapidly approaching!



Vietnamese Meatballs Makes enough for 4 bowls (Bon Appetit January 2010)
1 lb ground meat of choice
1/4 chopped fresh basil
4 minced garlic cloves
3 green onions finely chopped
1 T fish sauce
1 T sriracha
1 T sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t kosher or coarse salt

Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Form each into about 2 inch meatballs. Chill. I then put these on a grill tray and slowly grilled these on the grill at medium high heat while turning them as they browned. Make sure you oil the grill tray. Or you could skewer them like shish kebab and grill them slowly.

Noodle Bowl (for 4)
Carrot Daikon Salad from here
1 c thinly sliced cucumber
6 cups sliced green leaf or romaine lettuce
1/2 c mint sprigs
1/2 c Thai basil sprigs
1/2 c cilantro
1 large jalapeno sliced
1 1/2 c fresh bean sprouts
Nuoc Cham (Dressing for the salad)
Rice Stick Noodles (Maifun) (1 package)
1/2 c chopped peanuts
Meatballs from above

Soak rice noodles in hot or boiling water. Let soften for about 10 minutes. You may have to keep changing your water to get these soft enough. Consistency is important here. Not to soft, not to hard. And it is not an exact science! Drain well when they are ready. 

Slice or chop all ingredients.

To prepare individual salad: Put a handful of noodles in a bowl. Top with lettuce. Top with mint, basil, cilantro, jalapenos and bean sprouts.  Add some carrot daikon salad. Place meatballs on last. Garnish with peanuts. Serve with Nuoc Cham on the side so diners can add as needed.

Nuoc Cham
Note: After reading about fish sauce I realized that the reason it was so hard to get my nuoc cham tasting like the restaurants was clearly related to the quality of fish sauce used. A preferred brand is Three Crabs fish sauce, also labeled Viet Huong. There are other more expensive brands that I would like to try but this one worked out well. And this sauce is crucial to the taste of the noodle bowl.

1/4 c freshly squeezed lime juice
1 finely chopped garlic clove
3 T fish sauce
4 T sugar
4 T water
1/4 t red chili flakes
1 T sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

Mix together until the sugar dissolves. After many tries over the years to get this to taste just right, the rabbit catcher declared, "I think you've got it."




Others you may want to try:




16 comments:

  1. This was a great dish! And, I hope we have it again soon. For the record, there's 3 removals since Tues!

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  2. Relocations, dear. Relocations. And they are still ahead.

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  3. This looks SO good! Thanks for the recipe, as a San Franciscan I love vietnamese food!

    xoxo Chow Down SF

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    1. Thanks Chelsea! San Francisco has amazing food and is one of my favorite places to visit!

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  4. This is such a cool recipe. I really love this dish, and your photos just jump off the screen. We are so behind the times here, it's hard to find good ethnic food here.

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    1. This is a great recipe, Kim. Vietnamese flavors are so good. Leave out the pepper and it is still good. Hopefully you can find what you need at the grocer because these bowls are addicting. And every now and then I get lucky with photos!

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  5. Great dish! For some reason I virtually never cook anything Vietnamese. Weird, because I like it, particularly the noodle dishes. Definitely have to try this at some point (although my "to cook" list is miles long!). If your bunnies are anything like ours, they'll not only hold their own, but bring in reinforcement!

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    1. Once you get a few items like fish sauce and some noodles Vietnamese is pretty easy to throw together. You have a to cook list? I wish I was so organized! Like those damn bunnies!

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  6. A bowl of comfort and deliciousness, Abbe.

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  7. Oh gosh, I haven't had Vietnamese food in such a long time. This looks so tempting.

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    1. Three words, Ronnie. GO FOR IT! And thanks for stopping by!

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  8. I, too, enjoy Vietnamese soups but never thought to make one for myself. My favorite place for Pho closed not long after I moved out of that neighborhood. I never would have guessed that I was such an important customer. I've since found others but none quite as good as that place. Now, though, you've inspired me try my hand at making my own. I'll need to make a trip to Little Chinatown but it will be well worth it. Not only can I find all of the ingredients in one market but there's a pretty good noodle shop just next door. :)

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    1. That's funny John. I hate it when the good ones close. But this isn't pho. I don't like meat broths but I promise I'll make a chicken one soon. This is just a straight up noodle bowl. Where is Little Chinatown? I've been to what I think is Big Chinatown which is next to Greektown that I also love! I just love shopping at ethnic markets. Makes me feel like I'm travelling and I love to travel!

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  9. This is such an interesting post Abbe, especially for me that doesn´t really eat vietnamese food because I don´t like fish or shellfish...But I would love to try other things, like this meatballs or the bahn mi! Sounds delicious

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    1. Paula, you should try the meatballs and the banh mi. They are soo good. Vietnamese is so much more than seafood. Wait until I get to the eggrolls!

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