In the world of cooking, what a difference a leaf makes! Throughout the world, home cooks add a variety of leaves to their dishes to bring out the full flavors of traditional recipes. Those of us living in Guam, Micronesia and Asia are especially gifted with a wide assortment of trees, shrubs and herbs that provide us cooks with a special culinary kick!
Over the years, at my house we've planted a number of trees that provide us leaves for an assortment of dishes. These include both calamansi and spondias pinnata (hog plum) trees. The leaves are used for Palauan fish or chicken soup. The leaves of our Indian curry tree (thank you Vashi Hemlani of Pomika Sales!) emit a wonderful fragrance and are used in many Indian recipes. We also have a malunggay, or moringa, tree. The leaves are used in Filipino soups, breads and teas. Our varieties of basil plants are used in both Asian and European recipes.
A big "thank you" to Lek Trombetta, owner of Ban Thai Restaurant, for giving us our latest tree, a kaffir lime tree. (Actually, her former employee, Nong, gave us two trees a number of years ago, but I managed to kill both of them.) Kaffir lime leaves are essential for many Thai dishes. But you must treat the trees with utmost respect! They have the nastiest thorns I've ever seen on a tree! The thorns are like curved, sharp daggers and will draw blood in an instant if you aren't extremely careful! I know all too well from experience!
In recognition of our new kaffir lime tree, I am introducing a new recipe I discovered only a few months ago: Thai meatballs. As I have said in the past, I don't eat red meat very often. I normally substitute ground turkey for both ground beef or pork. I was running low on ground turkey recipes, so one day I googled "Asian ground turkey recipes." As I scrolled through the list of possibilities, I spied one for Thai meatballs. In fact, I found two recipes for Thai meatballs. To be candid, despite the fact I've eaten at a number of Thai restaurants on Guam, and have traveled to Thailand several times, I had never encountered Thai meatballs before. Since I was up for a new culinary challenge, I decided to give it a try. I experimented with one of the recipes, and the end result was much better than I had anticipated. My family gave the recipe a rating of 9!
The kaffir lime leaves played a big part in the recipe's success, as it does for many Thai dishes. So, if you want to try this recipe, don't omit the kaffir lime leaves. It's like leaving soy sauce out of estufao! I know that most people don't have kaffir lime trees growing in their yard, but dried kaffir lime leaves are available at Pomika Sales located at 389A Chalan San Antonio in Tamuning (call 646-2970). You can get a big bag for about $6.50. Just keep them in a sealed bag and they will last a long, long time!
I've made this dish several times over the last couple months. I had never tried the second recipe, so last Sunday night I prepared both of the Thai meatball recipes at the same time. I wanted to find out which one my family liked best – I would publish that one in my column. It was a blind taste test. I made Recipe A and Recipe B and asked my family members to pick their favorite one. There were six participants. Three voted for Recipe A and three voted for Recipe B. So it was a Thai! Consequently, this recipe is a combination of both.
Week 16: Thai Meatballs
For the meatballs
2 pounds ground turkey (can substitute with ground beef)
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, finely diced or grated
1 teaspoon red curry paste
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Canola oil
For the sauce
3 cups coconut milk
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
5 to 6 dried kaffir lime leaves, or 3 to 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
1. In a medium bowl, combine the Thai meatball ingredients (except the Canola oil) and mix with your hands thoroughly. Make 28 meatballs by spooning a heaping 1 tablespoon of mixture and rolling between your hands. Lay the meatballs on a cutting board or plate. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the Thai meatball sauce ingredients and set aside.
3. Heat the 2 tablespoons of Canola oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook until brown – about 2-3 minutes, turning a few times. Do not cook all the way through.
4. Lower the heat to medium and add the sauce to the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover with a lid. Simmer meatballs for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are cooked through the center. Gently stir the meatballs and sauce occasionally.
5. Serve over rice.