Lettuce Cups with Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs

Reading the March issue of Bon Appétit on the plane home from Marco, I saw this recipe for Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups. Hello! I love lettuce wraps and this looked like something fun which everyone, maybe, would like. Most of the ingredients I had on hand and the rest I remembered to get at DeCicco's...except cilantro. Dammit, it's always something. So wherever I list cilantro below, I substituted parsley.

This is a good Young Chef recipe because there are lots of little jobs for kids to do like grate carrots and slice cucumbers, whisk this and that, shape meatballs, arrange things on a platter, etc.

Just in case the short people in the house didn't care for it, I also made cappellini in a Thai peanut sauce. This turned out to be a brilliant move as you'll soon see.

Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups (from Bon Appétit)

You can make the dipping sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge, then bring to room temperature while cooking everything else.

  • 1 3-inch lemongrass stalk, outermost leaf removed
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp coarsely grated carrot
  • 4 tsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp minced green Thai chile, or serrano chile with seeds (I didn't use this)

Smash the lemongrass with a rolling pin, then mince fine, you should have 1 tablespoon. Place in small bowl and whisk in rest of ingredients until sugar dissolves. Set aside

The meatballs can also be made ahead of time and kept chilled. They are made just with ground pork and there's a lot of emphasis on keeping them cold during prep. It didn't say why. I just follow orders.

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 5-inch stalk of lemongrass, outermost leaf removed, smashed with a rolling pin and minced.
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Chill pork in freezer while making lemongrass paste. Pulse lemongrass, shallots, cilantro, fish sauce, garlic, oil, sugar and white pepper in food processor until a paste forms, scraping down sides with a spatula.

Add pork and pulse until combined. Shape into 24 balls (each about 1 tablespoon). Place on plate or baking sheet, cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Start water boiling for the pasta.  In a small saucepan, combine the following for the peanut sauce:

  • 3 tbsp soy
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Whisk until smooth and keep on low heat while pasta cooks. Use cappellini or spaghetti.

Heat vegetable oil in skillet on medium heat, add meatballs and brown until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Get a large platter, put the bowl of dipping sauce in the middle. Separate the leaves of either butter lettuce or iceberg for the cups. Slice thin 2 Persian or English cucumbers. Arrange on one side of platter, put cooked meatballs on the other.

Drain pasta, reserving a cup of pasta water. Return to pot and toss with peanut sauce and as much reserved water as needed.

So you put some meatballs into a lettuce cup, garnish with the cucumber and drizzle the sauce over it.

This was a hit! I sensed that the kids wouldn't like the dipping sauce and I was right—it was very intensely salty and lime-y (I'm going to fiddle with those two things next time). So I put the peanut noodles into lettuce cups with a meatball, the sliced cucumber and extra carrot that I'd grated. They each ate four!

Not bad for a Monday.  

Bartender, another Corona please...