With all the startlingly fresh and evocative flavors of the best Thai street foods, this festive tasty feast will easily feed a crowd, who are likely hovering around the BBQ. Seared over flames, whether gas BBQ, charcoal or wood coals, these meatballs are literally packed with all the ingredients that make Thai food so irresistible… lemongrass, coconut, mint, fish sauce, lime, peanuts, cilantro, ginger and garlic… and rice noodles to soak up all that goodness. They are umami bombs wrapped in crunchy lettuce. Basically Bangkok in the back yard.
Ingredients for Meatballs
1 1/2 pound ground chicken thighs or ground pork shoulder
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
3 heaping tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Serrano or Thai Bird’s Eye peppers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
3/4 cup shredded coconut, not sweetened
1/4 cup mint, chopped
2 inches ginger (2 heaping tablespoons), finely shredded
2 tablespoons fish sauce (we use Red Boat)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (non seasoned and non salted)
1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste
Prep Work for Meatballs
Cut the base of the lemongrass off, as well as the top two inches, peeling the outer layers off. Thinly slice the lemongrass into small rounds. Using a small food processor, finely chop the cut up lemongrass and put aside. (You don’t need to clean the food processor between these steps.)
Using the same food processor, add together the garlic, shallots and Serrano peppers, then finely chop.
Spread the ground chicken (or pork) somewhat flat, first sprinkle on the salt, and then sprinkle on the lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger and Serrano peppers. Roll the meat up, place in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate small bowl, add the fish sauce, vinegar and cornstarch, mixing until the cornstarch is fully dissolved.
Add the fish sauce, vinegar and cornstarch to the meat, as well as the brown sugar and mint. Knead the meat (we use our hands) until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Place the meat balls into a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to four hours.
Ingredients for Vermicelli and Scallions
6 oz. Vermicelli rice noodles, usually 1 or 2 large bunches, sometimes called rice sticks (we use Three Ladies Brand and buy it in 2 pound packages on Amazon)
Prep Work for Vermicelli
Boil two quarts of water, add the rice noodles and simmer for eight minutes. Strain, rinse with cold water, shake to loosen and set aside.
Ingredients for Dipping Sauce and Butter Lettuce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger, shredded
1/2 head Butter Lettuce, washed with the leaves separated
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup mint
1/4 cup cilantro
3/4 cup unsalted peanuts, pan seared and roughly crushed
BBQ the Meatballs
Divide the meat into 16 separate meatballs, forming the round balls with your hands. Spread the coconut out on a plate and roll each meatball around, so that each one picks up a light coating of coconut.
Place all the meatballs in a metal basket which has been sprayed or rubbed with cooking oil. BBQ the meatballs on medium to high heat for about 5 minutes each. When one side is toasty and has major umami patina, flip the basket over and BBQ the other side for the same amount of time.
If you don’t have access to a BBQ or a basket, you can BBQ right on the grill, or you can gently fry them in coconut oil on the stove, using a cast iron pan is best. Place the meatballs into a bowl.
Assembling and Serving
Now comes the really fun part… you can serve the meatballs in separate serving bowls on top of the Vermicelli, along with the carrots, mint and the cilantro mixed in, with the dipping sauce poured over all of it…
…or you can place one or two meat balls in each of the butter lettuce leaves, along with the garlic, carrots, mint, peanuts and cilantro, rolling the leaf up like a taco and dip into the dipping sauce with each bite.