Sunday, 11 September 2011

Meat Balls in Three Lemony Leaves Sauce

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This is the first post for cooked on the stove dishes. All the previous posts are desserts, cookies, macarons... those baked sort of things. In this page you'll find not just recipe for the meatballs, but some instruction of how to cook rice for you who don't have a rice cooker. Other than rice, this dish can be served also with almost any kind of starch: bread, flat breads (naan, roti, paratha, pita, tortilla), kuskus, etc.

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I like the flavor combination of lemongrass, kaffir-lime leaves, and lemon basil, and frequently cook using those leaves. The three lemony leaves...

Most of you might not familiar with these three tropical herbs, but I believe you would love them. I always have some supply of lemongrass and kaffir-lime leaves in my freezer, together with all those chillies, salam leaves, sliced ginger, galangal and turmeric. Yes, I am a freezer-freak, eehh.. maybe even a little bit obsessed on it. Well, I am that kind of shop-once-in-a-week person, so I always try to find the best way to keep my vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices as fresh as possible at least for a week without loosing its flavor.  My freezer is not only for frozen fish, meat or chicken, but for spices and herbs, and fruits also. Of course, not everything can be kept inside the freezer without damaging its texture, flavor or aroma. Lemon basil for instance. Just like sweet basil, we can't freeze it. The best way to have lemon basil in stock is to have it in a pot and water it daily. Yes, plant and take a good care of it. Fortunately, it's quite simple and easy to grow anyway.

Those three lemony leaves are quite often used in asian cookings, especially in South and South East Asia. You might be familiar with Tom Yam Soup from Thailand... so you probably already know lemon grass and kaffir-lime leaves flavors. But lemon basil?

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Lemon grass
Here is the link to wikipedia for this aromatic grass. You can see that it can be used for so many good purposes, not only for cooking. Personally, this is one of my favorite herbs. I like the aroma and the flavor, and use it a lot in my cooking. Sometimes, I make lemongrass syrup or simply infuse it in my hot tea. Simple, refreshing yet calming at the end of a hard busy day.

To make lemongrass syrup, simply boil one liter of water, 1.5 kg of sugar, and a big bunch of lemongrass (slice thinly or smash them using a hammer or a pestle on a cutting board to help releasing the flavor). After boiling, reduce the flame and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain and keep in a clean bottle in refrigerator.

Kaffir-lime
The ugliest lime in the world. Ok, first the wiki link, if you are interested to know about this particular plant. For cooking we use the leaves, the lime juice, and the lime rind. The leaves and the lime rind have the same aroma, so they substitute one to the other. If using frozen leaves, add more leaves to the recipe because the flavor is less strong than the fresh one.

Lemon basil
Lemon basil looks similar to sweet basil, but has quite different aroma and flavor that cannot be substitute with sweet basil or other basil leaves. It's kemangi in Indonesian language. I did try cooking this Meat Balls in Three Lemony Leaves Sauce with sweet basil and it was ok, but sweet basil gives a different perspective to this dish. Personally, I prefer using lemon basil that would give a perfect combination with the other two lemony leaves. When I smelled lemon verbena in France for the first time, the aroma immediately reminded me of this lemon basil. Exactly the same aroma! I wonder if we could substitute lemon basil with lemon verbena. Well, I have never tried it.

So, for this recipe, those three lemony leaves play a significant role to flavor the dish. Without one, then the dish would taste totally different. It could be ok, but you will miss the fun of having those lemony flavors coloring your day in nice calming pastel colors (uh, forgive me, I am starting to imagining things...). Anyway, you can substitute the minced beef meat balls with any other meat such as lamb, chicken, beef (cut in slices or cubes), or even shrimp and fish. They would turn out nice and delicious.

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Meat Balls in Three Lemony Leaves
(served 4)

500 g minced beef
2 sticks of lemongrass, use only the white part
1 small bunch of lemon basil
6-10 kaffir-lemon leaves
5-7 garlics
10 shallots
Chilies, as much as you like
2 cm of ginger
150 ml coconut milk
350 ml water
3 tbsp canola oil
Salt to season

Using your food processor, process all the spices (except lemon basil): lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlics, shallots, chillies, and ginger.
Process until fine and grainny. If you can make paste out of them, that would be the best.
Take 1/3 of the ground spices, and mix well with the minced beef. Make balls with diameter of 2-3 cm (or bigger.. it's up to you), set aside.
In a pan, on medium heat, using canola oil saute the remaining 2/3 of the spices until it releases its aroma. Add the meat balls in, coconut oil and water, cook to boil. When it's boiling, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Stir once in a while so the bottom would not burned. Add water if necessary.
Mix the lemon basil in, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Not longer, so we can get most of the lemon basil flavor.
Served hot with rice.

Note:
For you who substitutes the meatballs with shrimp or fish, to avoid overcook the shrimp or fish, cook or simmer the sauce for at least 10 minutes as directed in the recipe before adding the shrimp or fish at the last 5 minutes of cooking. This 10 minutes simmering is necessary to soften the fibrous herbs (lemongrass and kaffir-lime leaves).

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For the rice:
(served 4)

1 cup of brown, red or black rice
1 3/4 cups of water (or 1.5 cup water for white rice)

If you have rice cooker... it would be much easier. If not, then I will tell you how.
It is important to cook rice in a thick heavy base pan with a tight lid. So if you don't have it also... just forget the rice and replace it with bread, potato, kuskus or any other starch.

Wash the rice before cooking, strain, put them in a heavy base pan, and add cold water.
On a medium heat, bring it to boil. Once it's boiled, reduce the heat to low, and keep simmering uncovered until almost all the water is absorbed, but still wet and has very few liquid in it.
Put the lid on and reduce the heat as low as possible, continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
Without opening the lid, turn off the heat, and let it continue cooking without flame for another 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, open the lid, and stir the rice. It should be cooked and fluffy.

Note:
Remember the ratio of rice and water. However, it is only approximate, as different kind of rice needs different amount of water. Even different kind of white rice needs slightly different amount of water. Brown, red, and black rice need more water than white rice.

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