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There’s a very well known book about the importance of punctuation called Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, the comma in the title giving rise to confusion about a hungry, homicidal panda. It occurs to me that some confusion could potentially arise about the title of this post so to be clear it is about Asian flavoured meatballs that are sticky.

This is a pretty recent recipe for me. I saw a recipe somewhere that looked appealing and gave it a try, but I think I can say that it failed to meet the brief fairly spectacularly, being neither sticky nor having the flavours you might associate with any Asian dish. It did have meatballs in lettuce cups, so that’s nice, and I did like the concept, so I resolved to work on fixing the sticky Asian component, the results of which are presented for you here.

sticky-meatballs1 Combine all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl.

If you are familiar with San Choy Bow then this is basically a variant on the theme. If you’re not familiar with it, then it goes like this; take a lettuce leaf, concave side up so as to harness the universal effects of gravity, put flavoured meat inside and eat it. San Choy Bow is traditionally done with mince but as the name implies this recipe recombines that component into meatballs. This gives the added advantage of allowing you to harness the labours of some slaves such as your children (why did you have them after all) to roll the meatballs, releasing you from the tedium of things you don’t like doing. Kids, or at least younger ones, like to help anyway and they can feel like they’re doing something productive so it’s a win-win. Unfortunately for Ms Onion my children have grown up and left home so she gets saddled with some of the slave jobs, although I do have to ask more nicely and the opportunity is often rejected.

sticky-meatballs2 Roll the mixture into meatballs, or get slaves to do it. Ms Onion and I did these together – mine are the better looking ones!

This a very simple recipe to make, the most complex part probably being the aforementioned meatball rolling. There’s a couple of ways to go about cooking the meatballs and sauce, one of which leads to one extra pot to wash. For the first method cook the meatballs in a large frypan, or if the weather is nice take a drink outside and do them on the barbecue plate. The sauce ingredients get brought to the boil and thickened up a bit in a saucepan, and then just pour the sauce over the meatballs at the end. For the second method just chuck the sauce mix into the frypan with the meatballs when they’re nearly done and let it thicken up there. I’ve tried both methods and I think the first method, doing the sauce in a separate pot, produces a slightly better result and is the method I’ve given in the recipe, but there’s not much in it.

sticky-meatballs3 If you’re going for the look make up the lettuce cups and serve decoratively on a plate.

Once it’s all done then if you’re trying to impress, or trying to make amends for having gotten your significant other to roll meatballs, make up the lettuce cups with the noodles and a couple of meatballs each and present nicely on a plate. Otherwise, or for a larger group, just put the sticky, saucy meatballs, leaves and noodles in separate bowls and let them all go for their lives.

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Sticky Asian Meatball Lettuce Cups

Cooking: About 15 minutes
Serves: 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, to fry
  • lime wedges, to serve
  • 14 cup milk
  • 12 cup breadcrumbs
  • 500g beef mince
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 227g can sliced water chestnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 14 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 12 tbls rice vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 14 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 150g vermicelli rice noodles
  • 2 baby cos lettuce, leaves separated
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk and breadcrumbs. Allow to soak for 5 minutes. Add the remaining meatball ingredients. Use your hands to mix well until combined. Roll 1 tablespoon portions into balls.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally for 8-10 minutes.
  • Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens a little.
  • Meanwhile, place the noodles in a heatproof bowl. Pour over enough boiling water to cover. Set aside for 3 minutes or until tender. Refresh under cold water. Drain well.
  • Divide the lettuce leaves among serving plates. Top with the noodles, meatballs and sauce. Serve with lime wedges.