Here’s another dish to add to my collection of recipes titled after far-off places I’ve never been. However, these meatballs are delicious enough to make anyone want to book a flight to Vietnam.
I first made these last spring, after being inspired by a recipe in an issue of Food & Wine magazine. If I recall, that recipe was also titled “Vietnamese Meatballs.” It called for “grinding” whole raw chicken breasts and a bunch of different herbs in a food processor, forming the mixture into balls, rolling the balls in granulated sugar, then baking them.
I was intrigued by all the flavors in this recipe, but not too keen on grinding my own chicken. So I went with ground turkey, honored some of the herbs specified by Food & Wine, but added of my own touches as well. The first time I went ahead and rolled the meatballs in sugar before baking. They were okay, but I did find the pure sugar coating kind of strange, not to mention more time consuming than just placing the meatballs in the oven. So the next time around, I added a tablespoon of brown sugar right into the mixture, and the result was fabulous.
Since then I’ve made these at least a dozen times. And not for parties or gatherings, mind you. Just for myself. They freeze well either baked or unbaked, so I almost always have some on hand. They make a perfect dinner when served over rice and some steamed vegetables.
However, I realize the Super Bowl is just two days away. And it’s being played less than an hour from where I am. I would be excited if I didn’t know what that’s going to mean for traffic this weekend. Ah, California.
I’m much more of a basketball fan (Go Warriors!), but that doesn’t stop me from going to some kind of party every year if for no other reason than to make a bunch of appetizers. I have this idea that some day I’m going to host my own Super Bowl Party, where the point will be to come and eat a super bowl. Like to have a “build your own rice bowl with a zillion toppings” station.
Oh… is that only fun in my world? No matter, I’m still going to do it some day. I guess it’s a good thing half of my friends are Asian-American and like to eat things out of bowls as much as I do.
Getting back to these meatballs. When it comes to party appetizers, I’m all about doing a twist on the classic. No everyday chips & dip, cheese & crackers, or veggie tray here. It’s pretty much guaranteed those things will be at most gatherings you go to anyway, so I always like to bring something a little different, but not so different that guests won’t want to eat it.
When made into smaller bites and served on toothpicks with a side of peanut sauce, these meatballs make one seriously awesome appetizer. Almost like a cross between a cocktail meatball and chicken satay. I can guarantee the people you serve will have never had anything like these. Lean turkey, flavored with cilantro, lemongrass, mint, thai basil, ginger, and garlic, it’s a mouth party at the party.
Oh that was bad.
And then the peanut sauce. I’ll admit I was hesitant to pair this sauce with the meatballs, since they are so delicious just as they are, but I couldn’t wait to share the recipe. I usually make this peanut sauce for my chicken satay or fresh summer rolls (both recipes I’ll post sometime soon). I spent so long getting it just right. My mom and I used to go to a cafe called Tofu-a-Go-Go, that survived in our town for all of six minutes. They served this dish called “crack tofu,” which was exactly that. Lightly fried tofu smothered in peanut sauce. It was worth every penny of the overpriced cost.
And we know that it was the sauce that earned the “crack,” because no tofu is worthy of that on it’s own. Since Tofu-a-Go-Go is Tofu-a-Gone-Gone, I had to make a sauce of my own at least as good, if not better. I attempted over and over, finally landing on a winning recipe that I insist every single party guest eats any time I bring it anywhere. My sauce is a mix of coconut milk, peanut butter, fish sauce, tamari, lime, agave, garlic, and ginger. So no, it’s not vegan or even vegetarian, and I don’t know what more to say about that. Is it one of the greatest sauces you’ll ever eat though? Yes.
If I had to choose between never getting to eat these meatballs again, or never getting to eat this sauce, I really, truly could not decide. Thankfully, I don’t have to, and neither do you! I highly suggest you make both for your Super Bowl eats this weekend, but if you only make the meatballs, or only make the sauce to serve with something else, that’s just fine too.
So who’s ready for a
Super Bowl mouth party? These Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs with Peanut Dipping Sauce will totally be the guests of honor. 😀
I’ll stop now. Let’s just make some meatballs.
Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Yields 2 dozen meatballs & 1/2 cup of sauce
Fragrant, light turkey meatballs eaten as an entree over steamed rice, or served as an appetizer with the most incredible coconut-peanut sauce. One of my most frequently made recipes!
- 1 lb. ground turkey, light or dark
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
- 1 Tbs finely minced lemongrass*
- 2 Tbs. finely minced cilantro
- 6-8 mint leaves, finely minced
- 3-4 Thai basil leaves, finely minced (or normal basil)
- 1 Tbs. brown sugar, packed
- 1 Tbs. fish sauce
- 2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. lime zest
- 1/4 cup coconut milk, full-fat or light*
- 3 Tbs. natural-style unsalted peanut butter, smooth or chunky
- 1 Tbs. lime juice
- 2-3 tsp. agave nectar
- 1-1 1/2 tsp. fish sauce
- 1 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
- 1 small clove of garlic, grated
- 1/4 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Using clean hands, gently mix in the shallots, herbs, garlic, and ginger. Sprinkle in the sugar, fish sauce, tamari, and lime zest, and mix to combine.
Form the mixture into about two dozen balls. This will not be the same consistency as a typical Italian meatballs with egg and bread crumbs. This is rather wet, but should still be shapable. You won’t have perfectly round balls, and that’s fine. You can also use a spoon if that is helpful.
Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake for 14-15 minutes, until the tops are slightly browned and some juices have run out. Remove from the oven and arrange on a serving platter. Serve hot or at room temperature, with toothpicks for skewering and peanut sauce for dipping.
To make the peanut sauce, simply whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl. Adjust the acidity and sweetness to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more coconut milk. Chill before serving, if desired.
*Lemongrass is a big dry stalk looking plant. Remove the tough outer leaves to get to the “heart.” The white, easily chopped center. If it’s difficult to mince, then that’s not the edible part of the plant. 1 stalk should provide you with the tablespoon needed for this recipe.
*Canned coconut milk here, not the beverage in a carton.