Vietnamese Pork Meatballs with Cucumber Noodles

My husband and I are officially starting Day 1 of our month long Paleo challenge today. We’ve been eating Paleo aware for a while now, meaning, I know what we should be eating and we try to follow the rules a majority of the week, but we’ll cheat every now and then. However, after talking this over, we will be going strict Paleo for 30 days. My first reaction to this was no way! How am I supposed to give up sweets and carbs? But thinking over this the past few days, I’m going to look at this as a cooking adventure. I’m excited to try out various food combinations and see how I can substitute for the items I used to love.

So my first dinner will be turning Bun Cha into a Paleo friendly dish! I’ve made this dish before and I love everything about it, the nuc mam sauce and all the rice noodles. But now I will have to get creative. Lucky for me, I’ve discovered I can still enjoy the fish sauce in my Asian cuisine. Thanks to Nom Nom Paleo, I ordered two bottles of Red Boat fish sauce, http://amzn.com/B004M050W2. I am also tweaking my nuc mam sauce a bit; I want to preserve the salty and sweet combination, so I’ll be using palm sugar. As a side note, while sugar is generally a no-no when it comes to Paleo, I’ve seen many sites and blogs with sugar as an ingredient. I’m no expert, but if it’s not overly processed and I’m using it in moderation, I’m OK with including it in my cooking.

To find a substitution for the rice noodles, I had an idea. I could just make a lettuce and herb salad and add the pork meatballs. That seems pretty darn healthy to me! Another method to eat would be to make lettuce wraps with the meatballs. I want to keep the noodle integrity of the original recipe, so I’m using long strips of cucumbers as “noodles”. I also added some grilled shrimp to my dish for some extra flavor.

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Serving Size: 4
Cook Time: 12 minutes

Ingredients:
2 large English cucumbers, thinly sliced into long strips
Large handful of cilantro
Large handful of mint leaves
Large handful of Thai basil
Large head of lettuce

Meatball Ingredients:
1 lb freshly ground pork
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemongrass stalk, thinly sliced
¼ cup green onions, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp Red Boat fish sauce
1 ½ tbsp unrefined cane sugar

Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
1 lime, juiced
¼ cup palm sugar
1 1/2 cup water
2/3 cup Red Boat fish sauce
2 Thai chilis, left whole (sliced, if you prefer spicy)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

To make the meatballs, in a food processor combine the garlic, lemongrass, green onions, cilantro, fish sauce and sugar until the mixture is very finely minced.  In a large bowl, combine the pork with the garlic/lemongrass mixture and mix well. I find it best to use your hands to work the mixture. Allow the mixture to marinate, covered, in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Roll into large golf ball size meatballs and gently pat so they flatten a little (it makes it easier to cook them on the grill). You should get about 15-20 meatballs. Grill them for about 7-8 minutes per side.

While the meatballs are grilling, prepare the dipping sauce. In a sauce pot over medium heat, combine all the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust amounts, if necessary, to get your desired balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet. Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool.

To assemble, divide the cucumber noodles among four bowls. Top the noodles with the desired about of herbs, lettuce and meatballs. Add the dipping sauce to taste.

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