In a few of my previous posts, I have alluded to the fact that I sometimes have a tough time deciding what to order when I go out to eat. It’s as if the meal that I am about to order will be my only opportunity to ever try that particular establishment’s cuisine, so it is crucial that I make the right selection. And yes, I am that person who, when the server comes to take our order and he starts with me (which somehow always seems to happen), I say "Can you please start with someone else and then come back to me?", all the while hoping that one of the two entrees that I am wavering between has sold out, making my decision easier. This dilemma even seems to occur at our favorite Las Vegas restaurant, Table 34, where I always end up ordering the same thing, always. I pretty sure that it drives Eric crazy.
This ordering "issue" that I have is one of the reasons why I am so fond of the recent small plates and tapas trend that has emerged in the restaurant world. Being able to order smaller sized portions of several menu items eliminates the need for me to narrow my selection down to one. This also allows everyone at the table to choose what sounds good to them, taste a little bit of everything, and then go back to their favorites.
The now ubiquitous chicken and vegetable lettuce wraps, made famous by P.F. Changs, are one of my favorite appetizers. Although I am not generally a fan of chain restaurants, these are not too heavy and can be made extra spicy with dollops of Chinese mustard and chili sauce. This is a variation on the lettuce wraps, instead using baked meatballs made with lean ground turkey (you can use ground chicken as well). Serve it as an appetizer or make a healthful, low-fat meal out of them. Here are my tips for this healthy Asian appetizer:
- The meatballs can be formed up to 4 hours in advance, but do not roll them in the sugar until just before baking. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.
- If Asian chili sauce is too spicy for you, you can choose a different condiment for dipping, such as black bean sauce, plum sauce, Asian mustard, or a little soy sauce mixed with rice wine vinegar and a drop of sesame oil.
- If you want to serve this in more of an entree format, these meatballs would be great over rice or atop a soba noodle salad–sort of an Asian spaghetti and meatballs!
- English cucumbers are the long, thin cucumbers that are wrapped in plastic in the produce section. They are seedless and unwaxed, so they require less preparation.
- Lemongrass is a common ingredient in both Vietnamese and Thai cooking. It has a citrus flavor and can be used dried, powdered, or fresh. The outer stalk is tough, so only use the softer inner core for adding to recipes.
Asian Turkey Meatball Lettuce Wraps
1 pound ground lean turkey
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, trimmed and minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for serving
1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sugar
1 head Boston or red leaf lettuce, leaves washed and separated
1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Asian chili-garlic sauce for serving
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, fish sauce, soy sauce, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, mint, and cornstarch. Season with salt and pepper and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.
Spread the sugar on a small plate. Using slightly moistened hands, roll the chicken mixture into 1 1/2-inch diameter balls. Roll the meatballs in the sugar until they are evenly coated. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet and then bake for 15 minutes, until they are lightly browned and cooked through.
Meanwhile, arrange the lettuce, cilantro, and mint leaves, cucumber and onion on a platter. Transfer the meatballs to a the platter and serve with the chili sauce.