Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl

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So, this is technically a recipe for a banh mi bowl, but the components can be customized in zillions of ways. The chicken meatballs can go in any direction, as can the cauliflower rice.

But first, banh mi. It's technically a Vietnamese sandwich with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, cucumbers, cilantro, a spicy mayonnaise, some sort of pate or liverwurst, and another cooked meat. Availability of great Banh mi is the one thing I miss about living in Brooklyn where we used to order these sandwiches at least once a week. That's also possibly why I gained a lot of weight when we lived there.

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Now when a craving strikes, I like to incorporate banh mi flavors in a cauliflower rice bowl. 

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I have mixed feelings about carb and starch substitutes. Unless whatever you're eating with the cauliflower rice is really flavorful, I don't think it passes for regular rice. However, while not really rice, I love this cauliflower on its own merits. It's really simple: sauteed onions, garlic, and salt are all you need. M even eats it and he is a traditional rice devotee.

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Now, the meatballs. I have experimented A LOT with chicken meatballs. As a perfectionist, I really really want them to be round. I've gone down the rabbit hole of meatball-making tips and so far, none of them have been entirely successful. I've tried adding more and less filler, more and less liquid, more and less fat, cooking directly in a sauce, roasting, sauteing, and chilling in various ways. The most successful tip I can offer from my trials and tribulations is that making them very very small is the key to quick cooking and maintaining a round shape. So if you care about roundness in your meatballs, use 1 teaspoon or less per ball.

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A couple of other notes:
- I've found that cheese is a better agent for adding moisture than milk because it doesn't make the mixture too slack. But while there is cheese in these balls, they don't taste cheesy at all, which makes the flavor more adaptable.
- I encourage you not to overcook these. Since there isn't a lot of fat or filler in these balls, they can dry out if left on the heat for too long. Using a meat thermometer is your best bet for cooking things fully, but not overdoing it.
-Speaking of cooking, I equally like roasting and sauteing these balls. I don't find that it makes a difference in the taste, texture, or shape of the final product. However, it's currently summer here on the east coast of the USA and hot as hell, so I don't always have it in me to turn on the oven. Either cooking method is great, so do what feels best (and least sweaty) for you.

 

Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl 

Chicken meatballs
1 lb ground chicken
¾ cup panko
¼ cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp full-fat ricotta (optional, as it may make the meatballs flatten slightly, but adds more moisture)
1 egg
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp kosher salt
pepper to taste

If roasting, preheat the oven to 425.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix minimally with a spoon, spatula, or your hands, just until the ingredients are incorporated.

If sautéing the meatballs, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan and heat over a medium-low flame. 

Using wet hands, scoop out between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture and roll into a ball. Add to a baking dish or the hot pan.   

If sauteing: Over medium-high flame, brown on one side and then turn the meatballs over to brown on the other side (about 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the size of your meatballs). Turn the flame to low and cover the pan. Cook until a thermometer inserted reaches 165 degrees or the meatballs are firm when you press on them and no pink remains in the middle, about 4-8 more minutes, depending on size.

If roasting: Cook for 8-10 minutes (again, the larger your meatballs, the longer they’ll need to cook) and check the meatballs (again, they’re done when the internal temperature reaches 165 or the balls are firm and no pink remains in the center).

Yield: 54 mini meatballs (1 tsp) or 24 small meatballs (1 Tbsp)

 

Cauliflower rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, chopped (a heaping ½ cup)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb cauliflower rice (either pre-riced or use a 1 lb [usually a small] head of cauliflower and chop in a food processor)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the cauliflower rice and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce the flame to low, cover, and cook for 13-15 minutes or until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I like a little bit of crunch to the rice, so I prefer to cook for slightly less time.

Yield: 4 cups

 

Pickled carrots and daikon radish
Adapted from The Banh Mi Handbook
1 medium daikon (about 1 lb)
3 large carrots (about 1 lb)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 cup warm water

Chop your vegetables into thin sticks and add to a large container.

In a separate large liquid measuring cup, add the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Mix with a whisk and microwave on high for 30 seconds and whisk again. Repeat as needed, microwaving for 10-15 seconds at a time, to dissolve the sugar.

Pour over the chopped vegetables and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one month.


For the rice bowls:
Meatballs (see recipe)
Cauliflower rice (see recipe)
Pickled vegetables (see recipe)
Fresh cilantro, torn from the bunch
Cucumber, sliced
Scallions, sliced
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Mayonnaise (optional)

To assemble the bowl, use as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. We usually get about two adult-sized portions and one kid-sized portion from the cauliflower rice with meatballs and pickles left over. If your family is larger, increase the rice as needed and adjust cooking times. Your onions and garlic may need another minute each and the overall cooking time for the cauliflower may be slightly longer as well (but test often after the above instructed 15 minutes to avoid overcooking).

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Mediterranean caprese salad

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I don't know if we can go back to regular oil-and-vinegar caprese after this. I love a good caprese salad, but I accidentally keep typing "craprese" and that's sort of a fitting description for a lot of them. If the mozzarella is rubbery or cold, if the tomatoes are mealy or our of season, and if the dressing isn't lively and tangy, then they're just...nothing. I mean, they're bad, but more than that they're just absent any flavor or texture or redeeming qualities.

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However, tomato season is upon us, so it's much more likely that your tomatoes will be delicious. And if you have any access to a backyard, side yard, fire escape, community garden, etc, I implore you to plant some basil and mint. Both of these plants are hardy in the summer and will save you so much money at the grocery store. AND, you'll have no excuse not to make the pesto that accompanies this caprese salad (and that you'll want to pour on everything).

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So, we have good tomatoes and a tangy interesting pesto, but what else does this salad need? Well, I also implore you not to serve cold mozzarella. Room temperature is SO MUCH BETTER. If you can get even a decent mozzarella, I think it's improved exponentially by sitting out for a short time (or, if you're also in the middle of our current heatwave, a few seconds?). And, I like to guild the lily by sprinkling a generous amount of crumbled, salty, briny feta on top. Is it necessary? No. Is it delicious? Yes. Should you do it? Without hesitation.

Buy a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes and you have a showstopper for a dinner party that requires basically no effort (I even opted for a pre-cut cheese because I'm that lazy) and better yet, NO COOKING. Did I mention the heatwave?

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We ate it yesterday as Sunday lunch on our back porch with some prosciutto and salami, some Bantam Bread, and white peaches. A glass of cold rose or Sancerre would have made it heaven, but I'm old now and can't day drink without needing a nap and an Advil, so we forwent the wine. Boo.

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Mediterranean caprese salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium balls of mozzarella
½ cup crumbled feta
¼- ½ cup mint and basil pesto (recipe below)

Mint and basil pesto
1½ cups basil leaves, loosely packed
½ cup mint leaves, well packed
1 large garlic clove (or 2 smaller ones)
1 medium shallot, quartered
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

To make the pesto:
Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a large food processor or blender. While the machine is running, pour in the oil and blend until you've reached your desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the salad:
Alternate the mozzarella and tomatoes in whatever color combination you like. Top with the mint and basil pesto and sprinkle with the feta.

Serves: 3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a side

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