I often follow my hunger. I eat fish during Lent because of the many Catholic friends I made growing up, and I will kill for chocolate once a month because I am a Cathy cartoon, and that is actually probably none of your business.
Thus, when a craving strikes me—an idea so tantalizingly specific I can already taste the garlic—I can’t rest or eat anything else until I’ve satisfied it. In this way, I knew these meatballs before I ever made them: I knew I wanted a meatball; I knew I wanted a delicious sauce; I knew I wanted to taste cilantro, garlic, and ginger; and I knew I wanted a complex texture. Armed with these ideas and a dilettante’s love of Vietnamese cuisine, I set about creating a meatball that would both stand alone as an appetizer or create a harmony tighter than even my beloved Hall & Oates could when paired in a banh mi with pickled vegetables and sandwich bread. I’m kidding about the H&O—they’re untouchable—but I’m dead serious about these meatballs.
I did apply my previous knowledge of meatball recipes to this quest: I knew by adding cornstarch that I didn’t really need eggs or breadcrumbs to stabilize the ground turkey. If you’re more comfortable using these binding agents, you could, but I don’t recommend it. Omitting these classic meatball ingredients allows the other components of this recipe to shine. Can meatballs shine? Eh, I’m pretty sure these ones do.
I also used ground turkey in lieu of ground beef because one of our team (cough-Micah-cough) doesn’t eat red meat. Never has there been a happier meatball accident, though, as I discovered that turkey is beautifully suited to showcasing this particular combination of flavors. I also discovered that cooked ground turkey is not visually pleasing. For this reason, I decided to baste them with a honey sauce that compounded the flavor and added a necessary visual boost. I believe we eat with our eyes first, and for that reason I urge you not to omit this step. Plus it’s hella good.
You can serve these a la carte with toothpicks and a side of Sriracha mayo for dipping, and they will be a hit (your guests will hit you in their rush to get more). But if you are feeling a little more ambitious, make the pickled veggies too and serve them on some delicious French bread for a homemade banh mi experience that is out of this world or at least straight out of Little Saigon.
- 1 ½ pounds ground turkey
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tbsp minced water chestnuts
- 2 tbsp minced onion
- 2 tbsp minced cilantro
- 2 tbsp fish sauce (found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp minced mint
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- Sriracha Mayo:
- 1 cup of mayonnaise
- ½ lime, juiced
- 1 tbsp minced cilantro
- 1 tbsp Sriracha
- Pickled Vegetables:
- 1 cup carrot, cut into matchstick pieces
- 1 cup daikon, cut into matchstick pieces (jicama substitution fine)
- ½ cup sliced red onion, half-moons
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Meatballs: Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix ground turkey with all other ingredients save the sesame oil, honey and soy sauce. Mix thoroughly until combined.
- Roll the meat into balls approximately 1” in diameter, though you can adjust the size based upon preference.
- Place meatballs into a 9” x 13” baking dish and lightly drizzle with sesame oil. This is an extremely potent flavor, so be sparing and do not over-drizzle.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together honey and soy. Set aside.
- Bake meatballs for 10 minutes. After this time, remove them from the oven, turn them with tongs, and brush with the honey-soy sauce.
- Bake for another 10 minutes. Pull the meatballs from the oven, turn them again, and baste a second time.
- Finish baking the meatballs for approximately 10 more minutes, until fully cooked in the center and/or a meat thermometer registers 165°F.
- Sriracha Mayo: Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve. Adjust spice level to taste by varying the amount of Sriracha.
- Pickled Vegetables: Cut the vegetables into matchstick pieces and set aside.
- Mix the other ingredients together thoroughly until sugar is dissolved. Add the vegetables and pickle at least one hour.