Monday, March 21, 2011

Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs in Lettuce Wraps

 These tasty little nuggets are from a cookbook called Small Bites, a book devoted to appetizers and small plates for parties.  These meatballs would make a fabulous addition to a party smorgasbord, but I usually whip these up when I want something healthy but exciting for lunch or dinner.  Flavourful chicken meatballs with crunchy, fresh vegetables and herbs, packaged up in a crispy lettuce wrap.  The meatballs are rolled in sugar (just a bit) before baking and they develop a sticky coating which balances beautifully with the pungent meatball seasonings.  These would be a great healthy option for guests, low in fat and calories, gluten free, and low in carbs!

Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs in Lettuce Wraps
Origin: Food and Wine, Jennifer Joyce

Notes:  Don't be afraid of fish sauce!  It is a standard ingredient used in tons of foods from Southeast Asia.  You've probably eaten it and enjoyed it without knowing!  It imparts a deep, salty flavour when used sparingly. 


1 lb of ground lean chicken (you can grind your own chicken thighs/breasts in a food processor)
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (I used a little less - 2 tablespoons)
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
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 head Boston or red leaf lettuce, leaves separated
1/2 seedless/English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 small red onion, halved and sliced
Asian chili sauce, for serving (I use sweet chili sauce)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the ground chicken, fish sauce, shallot, garlic, lemongrass, cilantro, mint, cornstarch and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix with your hands just until combined (over mixing with result in tough meatballs).
You can add a little flour or breadcrumbs to your mixture if it seems too wet to roll into balls, or try chilling the mixture for 30 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place sugar on a plate.   Roll the chicken mixture in to balls about the size of a ping pong ball.  Roll the meatballs in the sugar to coat lightly.  Transfer to baking sheet.  Bake the meatballs for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through.  You can broil them for the last few minutes to brown the tops.

Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter and fill each one with a little cucumber, red onion, cilantro, mint and a meatball.  Drizzle with chili sauce, roll up and enjoy.

Makes about 15 meatballs.

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