Steamed Pork and Vegetable Balls

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    3 to 4

    servings as a main dish

Appears in

When Mee Lan first describes these meatballs, I’m skeptical as to whether the recipe will work. She cooks all the elements separately, including the pork, and then mixes them together with cornstarch and steams. Doubtful that the components will hold together, I follow her directions. Success! The cornstarch literally glues the ingredients together. Mushrooms, dried shrimp, rice noodles, and fish sauce lace the steamed pork meatballs with flavor and lighten the texture. I prefer her version to the heavy, dense meatballs I ate in China.

Mee Lan uses the local island vegetable chayote or the traditional long Asian white radish. Chayote (also known as vegetable pear, mirliton, chocho, or chouchou) is a pale-green, pear-shaped gourd that can be found in Asian and Latino markets. In North America I’ve seen it only with smooth skin; however, it may also have prickly (though not sharp) spines. The texture of the smooth white flesh is like a cross between zucchini and cucumber, and the flavor is mild and neutral. The seed is soft and edible.

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Ingredients

  • 5 dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms, each about 2 inches wide
  • 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, or ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces chayote or Asian white radish, such as daikon
  • 2 ounces dried thin rice noodles
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • tablespoons fish sauce, or 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ cup cornstarch ( ounces)
  • Soy sauce, to taste
  • Chile sauce, homemade or purchased

Method

  1. Rinse the mushrooms and shrimp (use salt later). Place the dried mushrooms and shrimp in separate small bowls and cover with hot water. Soak the mushrooms until soft, 20 minutes for thin caps to 2 hours for thick caps. Soak the shrimp until soft, about 10 minutes. Squeeze the water out of the soaked mushrooms. Cut off and discard the tough stems from the dried or fresh mushrooms. Squeeze the water out of the shrimp. Finely chop the mushrooms and shrimp.
  2. Peel the chayote. Using a food processor or the large smooth holes of a box grater, coarsely shred the chayote, including the soft edible seed. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the raw chayote. (If using radish, in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat, bring 3 to 4 cups water to a boil. Stir in the radish and return to a boil, then drain. Rinse the pan and dry. When the radish is cool, after about 10 minutes, press and squeeze the liquid out.)
  3. Inside a large bag to contain the noodles, use scissors to cut the noodles into 1-inch lengths to make about ½ cup.
  4. Set a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, after about 1 minute, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and rotate the pan to spread. Add the noodles, stirring and turning until they are golden and slightly puffy, 1 to 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the noodles to a medium bowl. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the mushrooms and shrimp; Stir-fry until they begin to brown, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and shrimp to the noodles. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the pork and Stir-fry until the meat is crumbly and has lost its pinkness, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the mushroom-noodle mixture, 1 cup of the raw chayote or blanched radish, ¼ teaspoon salt (if not using dried shrimp), and fish sauce. Stir the mixture until blended. Let stand until cool, 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add the cornstarch to the pork mixture and stir until well blended. Scoop out -cup portions of the mixture and, with your hands, squeeze firmly to form balls. Place the balls slightly apart on an oiled heatproof plate that will fit inside a steamer.
  6. Set the dish on a rack over 2 to 4 inches boiling water in a steamer or wok (if the bottom is round, place on a wok ring to stabilize). If the steamer lid is flat metal, wrap the lid with a towel to reduce condensation dripping on the food. Cover and steam over high heat until the meatballs hold together and no sign of powdery cornstarch remains in the center (cut to test), about 15 minutes. Watch the water level, adding more boiling water as needed. Carefully remove the dish from the steamer. Serve the pork and vegetable balls with soy sauce and chile sauce mixed together to add to taste.