Having a (meat)ball

I keep having to remind myself to actively rotate through my pantry Asian ingredients. Sometimes I’m tempted to launch some kind of elaborate system for tracking how often I use certain items. Something that goes beyond the blue tape on the utensils and more closely resembles those charts in gas station bathrooms, where workers record the date and time it was last cleaned. I do think that keeping a rough inventory of pantry items is useful for reducing waste (and critical in professional kitchens), but perhaps this idea is a bit extreme for my two-person household. Either way, last week I decided it was time to use Asian ingredients again. I had set aside a recent Cooking Light magazine recipe that utilized a lot of what I had on hand. It also happened to be a meat dish, which I hadn’t cooked lately.

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Japanese Meatballs or “Tsukune”
From Cooking Light

Meatballs:
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
1 Tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
, divided
1 Tablespoons minced garlic, divided
1.5 Tablespoons dry sherry
1.5 teaspoons red miso
1 pound ground chicken or turkey*
(or pork, probably)
1/3 Cup panko
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
, to taste
scant 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions
, thinly sliced
1 medium egg white**

Sauce:
3 Tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
3 Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
, peeled and grated
1 chile, such as serrano, thinly sliced
Other ingredients:
Cooking spray
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

**1 large egg white was called for in the original recipe, which called for 50% more meat. I only purchased 1 pound, so I scaled everything back, but I didn’t use less than the 1 egg white. The meatballs were a little wetter and harder to keep together as a result, so I would suggest using less than 1 full egg white for 1 pound meat.

For the meatballs, first prepare to sauté the vegetables by prepping the first four ingredients.
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Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, add oil and swirl to coat.
Add mushrooms, 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1.5 teaspoons garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add sherry and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.
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Remove from heat and allow to cool while you chop and measure the remaining meatball ingredients. In a mini food processor, place mushroom mixture along with the red miso. Pulse until very finely chopped, scraping down as needed.
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Combine mushroom mixture, remaining 1.5 teaspoons minced ginger, remaining 1.5 teaspoons garlic, meat, and remaining meatball ingredients (through egg white) in a bowl. Shape mixture into 1 inch meatballs–approximately 24. At this point, if your meatballs are staying together well, you could skewer them onto 6 inch bamboo skewers so that they could be grilled on the stick. I did not do any threading (nor did other reviewers) and I don’t think it’s necessary.
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Chill for 30 minutes.

To prepare sauce, add mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened (this took at least 5 minutes for me).
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Remove from heat. After sauce has cooled slightly, stir in juice, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, and chile. Split the sauce into two bowls, saving anywhere from 2-4 Tablespoons to serve with the finished meatballs.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a real kick when it was fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it's a crucial part of rounding out the dish.

This chile pepper from my garden might have had a kick with fresh, but after drying out for so long it mellowed out too much! Definitely use a pepper with some heat; it’s a crucial part of rounding out the dish.


Heat a grill pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or oil of choice. Place half the meatballs in the pan, as will fit, and cook until brown on all sides and 165 degrees F at the center, which should take about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and brush over with some of the sauce. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
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Serve sprinkle with sesame seeds and reserved 2 sauce on the side–the sauce really makes the dish. In fact, I don’t think it would hurt to double or 1.5x the sauce portion of the recipe.

*While delicious, when using turkey in these meatballs instead of chicken I found the turkey flavor to be more pronounced that I would have liked. For my husband and me, turkey brings to mind flavors of Thanksgiving, such as sage and thyme, even when those ingredients aren’t present! Sage and thyme certainly don’t mesh with the other ingredients in this recipe. Use ground chicken instead if you can.

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I continue to make the effort to thumb through recipes from my cookbook collection. This time I sought out Alice Waters’ suggestions for preparing bok choy, which I thought would be an excellent Asian side. I had purchased her newest book in conjunction with a talk she gave at my college’s club. I hadn’t heard her speak at length before, and it was clear that she has unshakeable vision and hope for the future of our food and eating. She is particularly driven, and amazingly optimistic, about things we can do to improve school meals.

Bok Choy Sautéed with Ginger and Garlic
From The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters

1 bunch of bok choy or 2-3 bunches of baby bok choy
2 teaspoons olive, coconut or other vegetable oil
4 garlic gloves, smashed
2 1-inch slices of ginger, peeled and smashed
Salt to taste
A splash of fish sauce

Remove blemished leaves from bok choy plants. Slice a small amount off the base and half, quarter, or leave whole, depending on the size. Soak in a bowl of water to loosen grit, rinse, and drain.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, then garlic and ginger. Cook until the garlic starts to darken in color and then add bok choy. Cook for several minutes, stirring and tossing, until it reaches your preferred level of tenderness.
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Season with a splash of fish sauce and a smidge of salt.

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Italian-American Wedding Soup

This recipe is brought to you by the letter E…for escarole. Escarole, that vegetable that makes me groan, because it tastes so bitter raw. Which means I have to make an E for effort to cook it, and when I do, I always feel the need to do something complicated instead of simply sautéing it. Yes, I know this is MY problem.

I was surprised to discover that escarole is a fairly normal ingredient to add to Italian Wedding Soup. The Italian-Style Wedding Soup flavor of Campbell’s used to be one of my favorites as a kid. Yet I’m not sure I have had soup by the same name since then, and I had never made it at home. Of course, it is just a name, and there’s a good chance I have had a chicken-broth-based-vegetable-soup-with-meat-and-sometimes-pasta. Did you know that “wedding soup” was a mistranslation, and the original Italian phrase actually meant “married soup,” because of how well meats and green vegetables marry together? Now you know.

I really enjoyed how this came out using the slow cooker. The meatballs were so tender. Each vegetable added something interesting to the overall flavor. And with the chicken broth base, it definitely came out tasting like comfort food.

Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

DSC_6095Because I only had 1 pound of ground beef instead of 1.5, I scaled most of the entire recipe down by 25%–including using 3/4 of my 2 beaten eggs. I’ll spare you that silly instruction on the ingredient list (I probably could have gotten by with just 1 egg).

Besides keeping close to recommended ratios for keeping meatballs together, the recipe is, of course, flexible. If you increase the greens, like I did, be sure to compensate with added broth.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (I used panko run through the food processor, but it would have probably worked in its original form)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
(I used 1 pound, as mentioned earlier)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
(I used 6)
3 large carrots, chopped (I used 3/4 Cup)
2 pieces of celery, chopped (I used 1/2 Cup)
1/2 onion, chopped (I used 1/4 Cup)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed (I used 1 tsp dried)
3/4 teaspoon dried basil (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (I used 1/2 tsp)
2 bay leaves (I used 2 small Long Island bay leaves collected during a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill)
1 small head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used 6 ounces sliced escarole and 3.5 ounces of a mysterious green from my CSA I believe was mustard greens)
1 cup small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo because I had it – 3/4 Cup)
Fresh oregano sprigs (optional)

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Escarole

Escarole

Mustard greens?

Mustard greens?


In a large bowl, combine eggs, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
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Add ground beef; mix well.
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Shape mixture into about forty 1-1/4-inch meatballs.
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Now it is time to choose your method for browning the meatballs. One possibility is to use a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil, and brown meatballs, half at a time, draining on paper towels. I tried this for the first half, and turning the meatballs was a challenge. It was much easier to bake them in oven at 350, turning once, for 10-15 min total.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine broth, carrots, dried herbs and spices, if using (oregano, basil, garlic powder etc.) the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently add meatballs.
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Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 hours, stirring in fresh oregano (if using), pasta, and greens during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
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Ladle into bowls. Garnish if desired. Sit back and enjoy.
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