These juicy little Vietnamese-inspired ginger-herb meatballs have a very simple origin story. I was browsing through one of my favorite cookbooks, Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen, and it was making me HUNGRY. I’m a sucker for the vibrancy of the recipes in all of Andrea's books: the combination of savory and complex flavors balanced with bright clear pops of fresh herbs and acidity. After pouring over her photos and leafing through the ingredients lists, I knew I wanted to capture the spirit of those flavors and satisfy all my cravings fast.
Little, springy, juicy meatballs are both versatile and fun!
Tucked into a baguette as a pseudo bahn mi, neatly packaged in lettuce cups, skewered with toothpicks as a snack... little juicy meatballs are just easy to eat. They are also quick to mix up and cook which is critical when those cravings suddenly hit. While these meatballs aren't a take on any specific recipe in the book, I did let the flavors be guided by the combinations in many of Andrea's recipes.
These ginger-herb meatballs are packed with tons of fresh flavors.
A whopping one tablespoon of grated fresh ginger lays the groundwork for the vibrant, zippy flavors of these meatballs. The ginger, despite its naturally spicy-bright character, isn't actually the dominant flavor. In this recipe it behaves more like the ginger you find in Andrea's basic stock recipes. Its liveliness is a humming base-note that knits together the savory and fresh flavors.
The true stars of these meatballs, in my opinion, are the fresh herbs and the lemongrass. Lemongrass is all over Andrea's book, so it's not surprising that I quickly began to crave its herbal-citrus flavor. Equally craveable is the the ubiquitous topping of fresh cilantro, mint, and/or basil. While I always recommend serving the finished meatballs with a tangle of fresh herbs, I also add a few tablespoons into the mix itself. These bright, fresh flavors are the perfect partners to the umami-spiked, gingery, garlicky base.
A little bit of garlic, the magic of umami, and a hot skillet: meatless magic!
Thanks to a few key elements, it's actually really simple to make these vegan. And, if you or a family member is uncertain about incorporating more meat-free meals, this is a great gateway recipe. Earthy, pungent garlic and funky-deep fish sauce (or soy sauce) create a deeply savory and complex base. Letting the meatballs take on some color in a hot skillet adds even more complexity, caramelizing the proteins and natural sugars into a nutty-savory crust.
There's no wrong way to serve these flavorful meatballs!
My two favorite ways to eat these meatballs are in lettuce cups or as a sandwich, both piled generously with fresh cilantro and mint. If you have the foresight, make some quick-pickled veggies for extra crunchy zing (carrots and radishes are classic). I also really enjoy both veggies simply raw and thinly sliced. You also might like these meatballs as an easy appetizer, served with frilly toothpicks and a spicy dipping sauce, or as a component to a green salad.
Notes for Success:
I highly recommend trying this recipe with vegan ground pork. If you do, I also recommend Impossible brand over Beyond. In my testing I have found Beyond products to have a noticeable fake flavor and slightly crumblier texture. Impossible brand products seem to accept seasoning better, and have an overall juicier texture. But, if you only have access to Beyond, that will do just fine.
A note on lemongrass paste: I don’t usually go for aromatics in tubes. The preservatives needed generally add unwanted acidity, salt, or weird chemical flavors. Plus, the flavors tend to flatten out and breakdown, even with those preservatives. Tubed lemongrass, however, is a delightful discovery. It tends to be slightly salty, but actually maintains a surprisingly fresh flavor! I don’t recommend it as a, automatic sub for all recipes that call for fresh lemongrass, but it's perfect in recipes like this. If you do have access to fresh, however, feel free to mince some up and use it!
Recipe: Ginger-Herb Meatballs with Lemongrass
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil, divided
- 1 pound ground chicken, ground pork, or vegan ground pork, See Tips, below
- ¼ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro or mint, finely chopped, Or 2 tablespoons of each
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1 medium serrano chili, seeded and minced, Or half a large jalapeño
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce, soy sauce, or a combination of both, Or sub vegan fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon prepared lemongrass paste, See Notes
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
- Step 1In a large nonstick skillet, swirl together 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons water. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Mix thoroughly with your hands until everything is evenly distributed and the mixture is sticky. Shape into ping-pong sized balls and arrange evenly in the skillet.
- Step 2Place over medium-high and heat until the water simmers, cover, and continue to cook until no longer pink on the surface, about 3 minutes. (If using vegan meat, the meatballs won't be a pink color. Cook until the tops are noticeably lighter and color and they feel springy and firm when pressed.) Uncover and cook until deeply browned on the bottoms, 2 minutes. Stir briefly and continue to cook until browned all over and the juices have evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes more.