HELPING FAMILY FARMS FLOURISH. HELPING FEED THE HUNGRY.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs


        
          In my family, the only person who could express any food dislikes was my Father.  He had a couple of them.  But as children, any misgivings we had about what to eat were not paid any attention to. You ate what was put in front of you.   That was particularly true if you chose something from a menu and then claimed not to have understood what you were ordering.  You ate it or you went hungry.   Now, when I see a fussy eater or a child whose diet is seemingly limited to a single item, repeated night after night, plate after plate, I really feel sorry for the kid. I don’t know what makes a picky eater but I think a lot of parents are enablers.  They’ll do anything to avoid mealtime meltdowns even if it means some very questionable eating habits and the poor nutrition that results from them.   But of all the questionable kid’s meals that I’ve seen, aside from those really terrible ‘Lunchables’, the chicken nugget frightens me the most.  Is it really chicken?  Where does it come from?  Breaded and fried, dipped into sugar-y sauces of one flavor or another, how good can it be to eat these things on a regular--let alone daily--basis?  But there ways of weaning children off the nuggets and onto something that will open their budding palates to flavors they might actually enjoy.  And since you control what goes into these fantastically tasty morsels, you can then control what’s goes into your child.  Introducing…Vietnamese Meat Balls!
       
Mason and Zoey, Photo by Kym
Before you say ‘that will be too spicy and hot and my child will never eat them’, I can assure you that is not the case.  I just came back from a visit with my son and his family in California.  One night, I made this for dinner and the two children I was serving, my grandson Mason and his friend Zoey, loved every bite of these wonderful chicken treats. As did their parents. My daughter-in-law asked me to give her the recipe.  And why not?  The dominant taste is one of sweetness.   In fact the balls are rolled in brown sugar and what child is going to shy away from that?  They make a perfect slider in those neat little Martin’s potato rolls. And they also make a great 

hors d’oeuvres for grown-ups, which is how they’re shown here.  So what’s dinner for the children, is wonderful with drinks for you and your guests. 
 This is a recipe from a woman named Jennifer Joyce from her book “Small Bites”.  I found it in Food and Wine magazine a few years ago.  Aside from the lemongrass, everything ingredient is supermarket- available.  And even lemongrass seems to be showing up there fairly frequently.  They take all of a half hour to make and 15 minutes to cook.  There are enough in this recipe to serve 4. 
Recipe for Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of visible fat and cut into

1 1/2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

3 small shallots, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 stalk of fresh lemongrass, tender white inner bulb only, minced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus 1/3 cup leaves for serving

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint, plus 1/3 cup leaves for serving

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup granulated brown sugar

1 head Boston or red leaf lettuce, leaves separated

1 small seedless cucumber—peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

1 small red onion, halved and sliced

Asian chili sauce, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°. Position a rack in the top third of the oven. In a food processor, pulse the chicken until coarsely ground; transfer to a bowl. Add the fish sauce, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, chopped cilantro and mint, cornstarch, salt and pepper and mix with your hands.

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the sugar on a plate. Using slightly moistened hands, roll the chicken mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll the meatballs in the sugar until they are evenly coated. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet and bake them for 15 minutes, until they are lightly browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile, arrange the lettuce, cilantro and mint leaves, cucumber and onion on a platter. Transfer the meatballs to the platter and serve with chili sauce.