Vietnamese Meatballs

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.  Oldest Son and Darling Daughter, most notably, although The Young One’s paterfamilias came for his graduation Sunday.  For the most part, the ceremony was quite moving, although while I understand the need for commencement speeches, seven seems a bit excessive. Especially for a graduation class of less than 400.

Afterwards we had a great party – Beloved smoked a brisket, 3 racks of spare ribs, a turkey breast and there were the usual barbecue side dishes.  All of it wonderful – and exhausting, which is why I took yesterday off (from life in general).

I really haven’t done any “creative” cooking over the last several days – I simply haven’t had the time – but I’ve been sitting on this recipe for awhile, and thought I’d post it.

Because it is absolutely delicious.

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich (“banh” literally means “bread” in Vietnamese) that became popular after the French colonization of the country.  It’s typically served on a crusty roll, such as a baguette, with pickled vegetables that usually include carrots and daikon radish.  Various meats are used, either smoked, cured or barbecued  – often all three.  Soft pork meatballs are also popular, and since I am so very fond of pork and meatballs, they are what I chose.

I love Vietnamese food, and this is my version of the banh mi, without the banh.  The meatballs are tender and flavorful, served over a pickled cabbage and carrot slaw and topped with a spicy mayo and a garnish of cilantro.  It is  a quick and easy meal – simply make the slaw and mayo, roll the meatballs and bake them.  And, oh my, is it just delicious?

It is.

Note:  Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients – this really comes together quickly and easily.  And, as always, if you don’t eat pork, ground turkey (or ground goat) would work equally well.

Vietnamese Meatballs. All the bright flavors of a classic Banh Mi sandwich without the bread!

Click photo to enlarge

Vietnamese Meatballs
Serves: 4
  • Hot Chili Mayo:
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, such as nam pla or nuoc nam
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 2 teaspoons tapioca flour
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Slaw:
  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 2 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, coconut sugar, salt and sesame oil. In a large bowl, toss together the carrots and cabbage with the dressing until well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Stir together the mayonnaise and hot chili sauce in a small bowl until well-blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. In a large bowl, gently mix together the ground pork, basil, garlic, green onion, fish sauce, hot chili sauce, coconut sugar, tapioca flour and salt and pepper with your hands. Roll into sixteen 1-ounce meatballs and place on a baking rack over a foil-lined, shallow-rimmed baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  4. Divide the slaw equally between four plate, and top each with four meatballs. Drizzle with the spicy mayo, garnish with cilantro if desired, and serve.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 537 calories, 42.9g total fat, 104.2mg cholesterol, 1314.1mg sodium, 704.6mg potassium, 19.5g carbohydrates, 2.2g fiber, 9.2g sugar, 21.4g protein.

Honey Roasted Pork Belly

This came about as part of my recent effort to use up the “odder” bits in the freezer before we get our next side of beef in a couple of months and our next hog shortly afterwards.

If you’ve been hanging around here for any amount of time at all, you know that I love me some pork belly and some Asian food.  Recently I found the recipe for Char Siu – Chinese Barbecued Pork – on Foodgawker and was immediately smitten.  An Asian recipe for pork belly?  Count me in!

Of course, I tweaked the recipe to make it more suitable for my diet (I really need to learn to make my own hoisin sauce) but the recipe is essentially the same.  The biggest change is the marinade time – the original recipe calls for 2 to 3 hours, but it really should go for 4 or more.  I marinated mine for 8, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it overnight.  It’s just going to make it all the more tasty.

In the interest of transparency, this was not Beloved or The Young One’s favorite pork belly recipe, although they certainly didn’t turn it down.  I, on the other hand, loved it and would gladly eat it again.

This is extremely rich, so I served it as an appetizer.

Honey Roasted Pork Belly. Sweet honey and exotic five-spice complement the rich meatiness of this excellent pork belly dish.

Honey Roasted Pork Belly
Serves: 4 to 6
  • 1 pound pork belly, skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the rice wine, tamari, coconut sugar, garlic powder and Chinese five-spice. Place the pork belly in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Turn several times to coat the pork and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  3. Remove the pork belly from the plastic bag, allowing the excess marinade to drain off (discard the marinade); place the pork in an oven safe dish just large enough to hold it. Brush the top with one tablespoon of the honey.
  4. Roast the pork for about 45 minutes to an hour, turning it halfway through; brush with the remaining honey. The pork is done when the outsides begin to crisp and turn dark brown and the center of the meat feels firm.
  5. Remove the pork from oven and allow it to rest, loosely covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into slices; arrange on a platter and serve.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 243 calories, 20.1g total fat, 27.2mg cholesterol, 348.8mg sodium, 110mg potassium, 10g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, 8.2g sugar, 4.5g protein

Venison Curry

Sunday night, I sent out a plea on Facebook.

“I don’t know what to post tomorrow – Venison Curry or Bang-Bang Shrimp. Help!”

The response was overwhelmingly in favor of the shrimp, which is why I posted it yesterday.  However, about 1/3 of the commenters wanted the curry, and I’m more than happy to oblige today.

Because this was really, really delicious.  The three of us devoured it, leaving very little in the way of leftovers.  Kind of disappointing, actually.

This is a take on a Massaman curry, a Thai dish with Muslim origins.  It’s most often made with beef, but versions made with lamb, chicken, duck and tofu are not uncommon.  I made mine with pressure-cooked deer shanks, after reading a recipe using venison on Hank Shaw’s blog.

Thanks to the wonder that is the pressure cooker, this came together in just a little over an hour and it’s really pretty simple:  pressure cook the venison shanks (oxtail might be a good choice, too) while preparing the vegetables, then shred the meat from the shanks and add them to the curry.  Boom – done.

We might want to note that due to the additions of the peas, which I just loved, this is not paleo.  You can certainly leave them out if you wish, but I’ve been craving spring peas lately (actually, I’ve been craving spring anything lately) and I really don’t think a few once in a blue moon are going to throw my health into some sort of downward spiral.  They certainly don’t have an immediate affect on my well-being the way gluten, MSG or aspartame do.

In fact, if you leave out the peas and switch out the fingerlings for sweet potatoes, this will not only be paleo, but Whole30 compliant.

Note:  I used a canned curry paste that, aside from a tiny amount of added sugar, is pretty clean.  If you want to make your own, Hank’s recipe contains the ingredients and instructions for what looks like a really dynamite homemade curry paste that contains no added sugar or soy.

Edited to add: Apparently peas, despite being a legume, get the “paleo pass” along with white potatoes and white rice.  This makes me…quite happy, actually.

Venison Curry - a sumptuous Thai-style curry that's rich in flavor and simple to make.

Venison Curry
Serves: 6
  • 3 lbs venison shanks
  • 2 tablespoons lard or other fat suitable for frying
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 quart beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tablespoon lard or ghee
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut in half
  • 1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoons yellow curry paste, or to taste
  • 1 cup frozen spring peas, thawed
  1. Melt the 2 tablespoons of lard over high heat in the pressure cooker. Sprinkle the shanks liberally with salt and pepper, then brown in the fat. Add the beef stock to the browned venison.
  2. Lock the lid of the pressure cooker in place and increase the heat to high until the cooker reaches full pressure (15 psi). Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 55 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the pressure to decrease naturally.
  3. While the shanks are cooking, heat the tablespoon of lard or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, coconut milk, fish sauce, cinnamon and chicken stock; stir in the curry paste. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Once the venison shanks are done, carefully remove them from the pressure cooker and shred the meat from the bones with a fork. Stir the venison and thawed peas into the potato mixture and simmer for an additional 5 minutes before serving.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 455 calories, 24.7g total fat, 27.7mg cholesterol, 1452.5mg sodium, 894.6mg potassium, 26.6g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 5.7g sugar, 33.7g protein

Bang-Bang Shrimp

I’ve got a bad case of fuzz-brain this morning (don’t you wish YOU were menopausal?  ‘Cause I just have all the fun), so please bear with me.  I’ll make every attempt to be coherent.

Some time ago, I got a request from a fellow blogger to find a way to make Bonefish Grill’s Bang-Bang Shrimp more or less paleo.  Well, I’m always up for a challenge, and a challenge it was – for one thing, I’ve only ever eaten at Bonefish Grill once and I did not have the Bang-Bang Shrimp.  For another, we don’t eat a lot of shrimp; the vast majority of the shrimp for sale in this country comes from either Asia or Latin America, where it is farmed in the aquatic equivalent of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO).


I finally broke down a couple of weeks ago and bought a bag of frozen shrimp from my favorite natural foods store, hoping that it wouldn’t be too terribly bad.  A quick search of the interwebz told me that Bang-Bang Shrimp is nothing more than fried shrimp tossed in a sauce of mayonnaise, sweet chili sauce and a little sriracha.  The mayo and sriracha I had no problem with – it’s one of my favorite combinations, in fact – but we just weren’t going anywhere with that sweet chili sauce, which is basically sugar, water and xantham gum with a little chili thrown in.  Tasty stuff, but not something I keep in my kitchen these days.

It didn’t take much thought to decide to replace the sweet chili sauce with honey, red pepper flakes and gluten-free tamari, and I have to say it was just delicious.  It may not taste like the dish you get at Bonefish Grill, but it was good enough to have Beloved tell me repeatedly how delicious it was, and the man is pretty lukewarm about shrimp (he’d rather have crawfish).  The Young One didn’t say much about it at all, but I think that was just because he was too busy eating.

This is an appetizer on the restaurant’s menu, although I served it as a main dish.  The servings weren’t large; like most things that are fried and doused in sweet sauces, this is neither low in calories or carbohydrates.  But if you’re craving such a dish, it is certainly tons better than eating something that’s been coated in GMO cornstarch, fried in industrial seed oils and coated in refined sugar.

We’ve all got to make compromises in life.  Some are tastier than others.

Note:  For those of you who voted for the venison curry recipe for today, not to worry; you’ll get it tomorrow or Wednesday.

Bang-Bang Shrimp - A bangin' good, real food version of the restaurant favorite.

Bang-Bang Shrimp
Serves: 6
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/4 cup potato flour
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 cups lard or other fat suitable for frying
  1. Whisk together the mayonnaise, honey, Sriracha, tamari, and red pepper flakes in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the lard in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until it reaches 350 F.
  3. Combine the tapioca and potato flours in a gallon ziplock bag. Liberally sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper; drop half the shrimp into the bag, close tightly and shake until coated. Remove to a plate, shaking off the excess flour, and repeat with the remaining shrimp.
  4. Fry the shrimp in the lard until pink and cooked through, about 1 minute per side. Drain briefly on paper towels, then toss in the sauce. Garnish with sliced scallions, if desired, and serve immediately.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 463 calories, 34.2g total fat, 134mg cholesterol, 593mg sodium, 170.3mg potassium, 28.4g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, 12.6g sugar, 11.3g protein

Pineapple Chicken

It’s a bummer that I can’t get Chinese take-out any more, especially since I love it so.  Even if I’m willing to consume a big, fat dose of industrial seed oils and white rice, I simply cannot tolerate the gluten in the soy sauce, to say nothing of the MSG that’s probably lurking in there.  (I know a lot of them say they don’t use monosodium glutamate, but it’s been my experience that THEY LIE.)

As a result, I’ve gotten quite good at making the kinds of dishes you get at your typical Chinese take-out place (see here, here, here, and here), and this recipe is a very good one.  The males in my household don’t share my love of cheap, Americanized Chinese, but they both inhaled this, with Beloved going back for seconds and telling me how tasty it was (he was also a bit bummed when I grabbed what was left for my lunch today).

I was a little worried the dish was going to be too sweet, but it really wasn’t; the acidity of the pineapple and the savory chicken – which was just delicious on its own, so juicy and tender – really toned down the sweetness of the sauce and created what was really a lovely, harmonious dish.

The list of ingredients is long, but many of them are for the marinade and sauce, and this really comes together quickly when you begin cooking it.  From the moment I began frying the chicken to the time I plated this for the photo, the time was probably 20 minutes all told, if not less.

This isn’t Whole30 by any stretch of the imagination – I did serve it over white rice, since I was in the mood, but grated cauliflower “rice” would work just as well if you are so inclined, and there’s coconut sugar and gluten-free tamari in it as well.  However, as cheap, Americanized Chinese goes, this is pretty darn clean.

And pretty darn tasty.

Note:  You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand – bell peppers might make it more authentic (well, as authentic as cheap Americanized Chinese can be) – I just happened to have zucchini and onion in the fridge.

Pineapple Chicken

Pineapple Chicken
Serves: 6
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 4 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 1 cup lard or palm oil shortening
  • 2 cups zucchini, unpeeled, thickly sliced and cut into half-moons
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 can (14 oz) pineapple chunks, liquid reserved
  • water
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca flour
  1. Whisk the 2 tablespoons tamari, sesame oil, egg, pepper, ginger and 4 tablespoons tapioca flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubed chicken and toss to coat the meat. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
  2. Heat the lard or palm oil shortening in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Drain the marinade from the chicken and discard. Fry the chicken, in batches if necessary, until browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside and keep warm.
  3. Combine the reserved pineapple juice with enough water to make 1 cup. Whisk in the coconut sugar, remaining tapioca flour and tamari until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
  4. Heat the ghee in a wide, shallow sauté pan over medium high heat and stir-fry the onion and zucchini until tender crisp. Add the pineapple and juice mixture to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  5. Add the fried chicken to the sauce in the sauté pan and toss to coat. Serve over steamed jasmine rice or steamed, grated cauliflower.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 459 calories, 22.4g total fat, 149.7mg cholesterol, 367.3mg sodium, 515.9mg potassium, 25.1g carbohydrates, 1.4g fiber, 15.7g sugar, 37.6g protein