Grilled Pork Balls with Peanut Dipping Sauce | Far Eastern Odyssey

I think I own every single one of Rick Stein’s books.  I love them all.  I  haven’t cooked from them much, but I do love to sit at night, and flick through them, reading about his travels and drooling over the photographs.

I suppose this may be where the term ‘food porn’ comes from? I’m pretty sure that me taking a copy of Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey to bed with me does nothing for my husband, but I’m in ecstasy.

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The book covers his travels around the Far East, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and finally, Bangladesh. All places that I’ve,  I’m afraid to say, never had the fortune to visit.  Did you see the TV series that accompanied the book? I’m not into travel programmes, but if it’s about food, I’m sold.  Everywhere Rick Stein visited was fascinating: world’s apart from the grey skies of England.

To stock up for ingredients for the month, I visited the massive Wing Yip Superstore in Birmingham.  That was an experience in itself! I went alone, and found myself feeling very out of place.  Everyone, the shoppers and the staff, all seemed to be chatting in Cantonese. And I spent most of my time trying to decipher what was what on the shelves. I LOVED it!

I went with a shopping list, but came away with a few more things that I just couldn’t live without: a huge packet of banana leaves, a giant onion, and a rather overpriced Japanese plate.

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The first recipe I wanted to try was a Vietnamese dish: Grilled Pork Balls with Peanut dipping Sauce (Thit lon vien nuong co nuoc leo). I’ve never tried any Vietnamese food, so I thought a ‘satay’ sounding recipe would ease me in gently.

The first step was to roast jasmine rice until it was golden and nutty, before pounding into a powder. This isn’t meant to take too long, and Rick suggests whizzing up the rice in a processor or spice grinder for speed. Well, I did as I was told, and put the roasted rice in the small bowl of my magimix processer, but it did nothing.  I transferred it into my mortar and pestle and proceeded to loose a good half hour of my life.

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The powdered rice is added to pork mince, along with shallots, garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar. Under instruction to leave it to chill for one hour, I made the peanut dipping sauce.

Whenever a recipe asks for tamarind water, from the pulp, I just buy it ready-made in the jar. Anyone else do this? Maybe I’m just lazy. But then recently, whilst watching Saturday Kitchen, I witnessed an argument between James Martin, and another Chef, who’s name I can’t recall, over the use of tamarind pulp versus the ready-made jar paste.  The anonymous chef, was adamant, to the point of almost shouting at James Martin that there was simply no comparison, and so, I bought a block of the dried pulp.  When someone’s that passionate about something, they’re worth listening to!

The sauce made, I left it to thicken slightly for 30 minutes on a low heat. It smelt divine.

So, the book suggests that this dish can be served with Pickled Carrot & Mooli. And here comes my first piece of advice : make this first!! Turns out, this little add-on actually takes 1.5 hours to prepare. How frustrating! Rick, you could have warned me!

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I’ve seen mooli’s in the supermarket before now, but had absolutely no idea what it was, or how to use it.  It needed to be shredded, so I dug around the back of the drawer to find a little gadget that I’d bought myself last year: a little Thai peeler, that essentially, shreds vegetables. So much fun, it works a treat.

So a little while later, it was finally time to cook the pork balls. Skewered, and cooking under the grill, they smelt great. The only thing I’d say, was I found the texture a little odd.  I don’t know if it was the fish sauce, but when I took the meat out of the fridge, it was a little brown, rubbery and well, quite frankly, smelt of wet dog.

Delighted that I’d found a use for the banana leaves, I put all of the separate components together on a sharing plate.

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The satay sauce, was, as I had predicted, a delight. I’ll be making this on it’s own in future, just to put with anything and everything.  The pickled mooli and carrot gave the little lettuce parcels a wonderful, sharp crunch. The pork balls though. Hmm. For me, they were overpowered by the fish sauce.  I double checked the recipe to make sure I hadn’t added too much, but no, it was correct.  I’m sure this is an authentic recipe, but if I made them again, I’d be much lighter with the fish sauce.

Also, this recipe took me the best part of an afternoon to make.  Now, I love cooking,  (which should be perfectly clear from me writing a food blog), but this was an awful lot of faff for not much food.   If anyone knows of any great Vietnamese restaurants let me know!

Next week : Pork Kalu Pol Curry

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