While in Austin a few weeks ago my sister took me to Elizabeth Street Cafe. Eat here if you ever get the chance. It’s a French-Vietnamese cafe, which may sound strange to you (it has to a couple people I’ve told about my meal) but the marriage translates into delicious bánh mì, bún and pho as well as sweet eclairs and delicate macarons. We didn’t actually have dessert here since we’d already made plans to have ice cream at Lick. Go there too.
This was one of the yummiest meals I’ve had in a while. Vietnamese cuisine has a way of leaving you totally satisfied but not stuffed. I think it’s the abundance of fresh veggies and herbs, differences in textures and the heat and intense flavor of the sauces. We shared the pork belly steamed buns, pork bánh mì on house-made baguette, and the keffir lime fried chicken bún. All delicious.
This meal inspired me to make my own Vietnamese noodle bowl at home. I decided on a Vietnamese turkey meatball instead of fried chicken. Thanks to my Farmhouse delivery last weekend I had fresh carrots and cucumbers to use in the bowl. I made the dressing for the bún, nuoc cham. It’s a basic Vietnamese dipping sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, peppers, garlic, a touch of sugar and water. I think this a really great summer dinner. Fresh crisp veggies and herbs with warm meatballs and a spicy cool heat from the sauce.
I baked the meatballs instead of pan frying. I think there was too much liquid in the meat mixture because the baked meatballs were sitting in a pool of meatball juice (you know what I’m talking about, and it ain’t pretty) so I had to drain them. They tasted delicious and with some tweaking they could definitely be something I’d make again. Although, these meatballs I know are good and could easily be used here. The recipe below makes about 35 meatballs. I wanted to have enough to make bánh mì later in the week, which we did (2 nights in a row, in fact). Cut the meatball recipe in half if you’re only planning to use the meatballs for one meal with some leftover.
The meatballs do take some time to prep with all the chopping you have to do, and the chopping and slicing doesn’t end there. The bún is full of shredded lettuce (I used iceberg but you could use romaine) julienned carrots, cucumber slices, chopped cilantro and mint. So get your best knife and cutting board ready! I made the meatball mixture, dressing and chopped everything during nap time. This made dinner time pretty easy. All I had to do was scoop and bake the meatballs, and cook the rice noodles.
In looking at different recipe for bún I saw other vegetables used like bean sprouts, daikon and red radish. Traditionally beef is used as the protein as in this recipe from Leite’s Culinaria that looks dleicious. But pork can also be used, like in this recipe from Fine Cooking which is making me crave grilled pork at 9 in the morning.
Vietnamese Turkey Meatball Bún
(Makes about 35, you may want to cut this recipe in half)
- 2 pounds ground turkey
- 5 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 3 small shallots, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger root
- 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, tender white inner bulb only, minced
- 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Nuoc Cham (Dressing)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
- 1 red or green Asian chile, or serrano chile, sliced into thin rounds
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded (or you can use romaine)
- 6-8 ounces of rice noodles (this depends on how many people you’re serving and how much you like noodles. We used 5 ounces and it made 5 servings.)
- 1 cucumber, sliced into half moons or halves
- 6-8 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 4 green onions, sliced
- chopped cilantro
- chopped mint
- chopped basil
- chopped peanuts
- sriracha (if you need more heat!)
- If baking right away, preheat the oven to 400°F. Position a rack in the top third of the oven.
- Combine the turkey, fish sauce, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, herbs, egg, salt and pepper and mix with your hands until well combined but without overworking the mixture. At this point you can either refrigerate the mixture in the bowl, form into balls and cover and refrigerate on the pan, or form into balls and bake right away.
- Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using slightly moistened hands, roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet and bake them for 15-20 minutes, until they are lightly browned and cooked through.
Nuoc Cham (Dressing)
- Combine warm water and sugar and stir to dissolve sugar.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cook rice noodles by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and remove from the heat. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles in cool water.
- Layer in deep, wide bowls: lettuce, noodles and meatballs. Arrange vegetables and herbs around the sides. Sprinkle with peanuts and green onion and drizzle with nuoc cham. Toss everything together and enjoy using fancy chopsticks (or a nice reliable fork!).