3/52 Sesame Noodles and Asian Meatballs

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This was a great cooking week at our house. The three-day weekend provided plenty of extra time to experiment and create longer-cooking dishes. I was actually able to bank a recipe for another (less culinarily productive) week. This week will even have a BONUS RECIPE (in a separate post). You’re welcome.

6/8 thumbs up for this one. The grown-ups approve. Big brother loved it and gave it a “triple yum” rating. His scale for yums stars at one yum for something he likes and goes to thirteen yums for ice cream. The bonus recipe this week got eight yums.

Our youngest hive member did NOT share his brother’s enthusiasm. He thought it looked terrible, and therefore upon further inspection decided that it smelled terrible and was determined to prove that it also tasted terrible. (He’s really working his last month of being four.) He can also trigger his own gag reflex so in a world of macabre irony, he ended up eating a second serving of this terrible meal after a spell in his room. (Worst. Mom. EVER.) Also ironically (irony is a large part of what gets me through life), his nickname here is Meatball. It was a rough Tuesday evening for Meatball; mom made the worst dinner ever served to a family in the history of family dinners and he rediscovered that he is younger than his brother (with a 22-month age gap, he forgets this more often than you’d think). We spent quite a bit of our goodnight routine lamenting being born last, and the dog doesn’t count so he is the “last borned person” in the family and that makes him VERY sad. As I finally sat down to finish MY dinner, I decided next week’s recipe is going to be a cocktail. Maybe with a dessert. That dessert might be my famous “Chocolate Chips Straight Out of the Bag”.

Although this recipe is more involved than the previous two, I was able to split up the work so that all the chopping and mixing and forming meatballs was done during the school day, and all I had to do after coming home from Tae Kwon Do was cook and plate. I was also able to finally use up the straggling produce left over from week one’s Pressure Cooker Pho. Leftovers are delicious and the sauced noodles can stand on their own if you want a meatless option. I’d also like to try it with soba (buckwheat) noodles. Gluten free? This would be good with wide rice noodles, too.

The recipe is available online here. As usual, my annotated version is here:

Sesame Noodles and Asian Meatballs

In about an hour and a half, you can have this distinctive pasta dish on the table.

When you’re preparing the meatball mixture, be sure to knead it a bit before rolling it into balls. The more you knead it, the firmer it will become. This odd tidbit turned out to be very useful information. The mix seemed quite loose as I started mixing but sure enough, with some kneading it started to become stiff enough to scoop.

FOR THE SAUCE

3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and light-green parts) About 3 medium scallions
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or more as needed I used Frank’s. Thought about Sriracha but feared it would bring too much heat for the kids.
6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (unsalted) I used store brand peanut butter. We eat crunchy so I keep a jar of the cheap stuff around for recipes. It wasn’t unsalted and I don’t think that made a bit of difference. I would not go out and buy a special jar of peanut butter for this.
Kosher salt Since I happened to use pre-salted peanut butter, I skipped this, and didn’t need to add any “to taste” at the end

FOR THE MEATBALLS AND PASTA

1/4 cup minced scallions (white and light-green parts) Again, about 3 scallions
1 pound ground pork
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup finely chopped cabbage, preferably napa cabbage My local market had 9 heads of cabbage that morning. Six were standard green cabbage and three were Savoy, and they all looked like half-deflated playground balls. I went with a smallish Savoy and tried to remove the most wilted of the leaves before paying. 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, mint or basil, plus extra, chopped, for garnish I recommend cilantro unless you’re unfortunate enough to have the genetic mutation that makes you hate cilantro.
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely grated, peeled fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic I used a microplane for both the ginger and the garlic. Only one tool to clean that way.
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed I’m not sure how you would know if you need more here, since this goes into raw meatballs. I didn’t need any more so maybe just take my word for it and don’t eat raw pork. 
1 pound dried linguine Or any long pasta. I have a case of spaghetti in the basement so I used a pound of that.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth Used my magic concentrate (see recipe 2) here!

DIRECTIONS

For the sauce: Combine the water, scallions, hoisin sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, the teaspoon of hot sauce and peanut butter in a blender or mini food processor; puree until smooth. Taste and add salt and/or more hot sauce, as needed. A mini food processor? As a passionate and long-time collector of kitchen gear, I am guessing that if I have never had one of these, most home cooks don’t either. A standard food processor works just fine. Or a blender. You may have to add some of the broth (it all goes together at the end anyway) to get it moving, depending on the size of your blender/food processor. My 14 cup processor had no problem with the small amounts here.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. I threw caution to the wind and went full high heat here because MY TIME IS PRECIOUS.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs and pasta: Combine the scallions, ground pork, egg, cabbage, the 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, toasted sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to mix and knead until well incorporated. Shape into 24 to 26 walnut-size meatballs. I did this a few hours in advance. I also wore disposable gloves for the mixing and rolling and used a two tablespoon disher to measure. I got 25 meatballs and kept them covered on a lined baking sheet in the fridge until I was ready to cook. 

Add enough salt to the boiling water so it tastes lightly salty (“Tastes lightly salty” HOLD UP. The saltiness of the water is not so critical that you need to melt your tongue tasting it. It’s boiling, DO NOT PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH, just throw in a handful of salt. Save your taste buds for dinner!), then add the linguine to the boiling water; cook for about 6 minutes, or just slightly less than al dente. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water.  Don’t rinse the pasta. The residual starch helps the sauce adhere. Or so I’ve read. 

Heat half the vegetable oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. LARGE skillet or saute pan. I missed that one word and ended up having to heat (and wash) a second larger pan. 

Once the oil shimmers, add half the meatballs, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning them as needed; they should be browned on all sides and give a little when pressed with a finger. They will not be quite cooked through. Transfer to a plate. After 4 minutes, my meatballs were still very visibly raw. Browning and cooking took closer to 7-8 minutes. Not much cooking happens after this step so get them to where you’d be comfortable eating them now.

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Browned and ready for sauce and spaghetti.

Add the remaining vegetable oil; once it’s shimmering, cook the remaining meatballs the same way, and transfer to a plate. Reserve the skillet. Same as the first batch, cook longer.

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The “browned bits”

While the pasta is cooking, add the broth and sesame peanut sauce to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring with a spatula to dislodge any browned bits. Add the drained linguine; cook for 2 minutes, stirring and adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce, as needed. I didn’t need any additional liquid, but the way the timing worked out, my pasta hadn’t been out of the pot that long so it had a fair amount of surface liquid still clinging.

Return all the meatballs to the skillet and toss gently to coat. Cook for a few minutes, until heated through.

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Divide among shallow bowls. Top each portion with chopped cilantro. Serve right away. Maybe in an alternate universe I have the wherewithal for an herbal finish. But not here, not this meal.

Note

The article in the Post adds “Serve with spiced peas – frozen/defrosted, with sautéed caramelized onions that are spiked with mustard and cumin seeds – and, for a finishing touch, a refreshing salad of arugula, orange, and sliced radish.” I laughed out loud about this as I put grape tomatoes on one plastic plate and leftover broccoli on the other. Maybe when we arrive at the days of herbal finishes I’ll consider spiked sides and bitter greens. 

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