My food daydreams always turn to Southeast Asia; the fresh ingredients, and clean yet complex flavors – I could eat them every day. The lone papaya tree growing in the middle of my raised bed garden inspired these meatballs. Initially planted for shade, it is now bursting with green papayas. I know, green papaya and meatballs? I thought it was worth a try since I knew that the skin and leaves of unripe papaya contain the enzyme papain, which is a natural meat tenderizer. I love green papaya salad and, although I was not sure if grated unripe papaya would work as a binder, these meatballs are tender, moist and delicious. I made them a few times and the smaller size seemed to hold together better. Sprinkled with peanuts, drizzled with the glaze and wrapped in a piece of cabbage, these remind me of the best street food (or hors d'oeuvres) – a tasty burst of sweet, salty, and a touch of spice. —gingerroot
about 45 bite sized meatballs
Sweet and Spicy Glaze
golden brown sugar
cloves garlic, peeled, smashed with the flat side of a large knife
canola or vegetable oil, plus more for cooking meatballs
minced lemongrass (I used the bottom two inches of the stalk, removed the tough fibrous outer layers and minced the soft, innermost part of the bulb)
grated green papaya - flesh should be white (trim stem end, halve, and peel off and discard green skin with vegetable peeler)
finely chopped cilantro stems
roasted, unsalted peanuts
Green cabbage leaves, washed, dried and trimmed to pieces (triangles, rectangles) big enough to hold a small meatball
In This Recipe
Sweet and Spicy Glaze
Place garlic and chopped Serrano into a heatproof glass-measuring cup.
Combine water, sugar, rice vinegar, sea salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces in volume to 1/3 cup (about ten minutes, depending on heat of stove). Pour hot liquid over garlic and peppers. Allow mixture to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about an hour.
Combine grape tomatoes and lime juice in a blender; puree to combine thoroughly. Strain mixture through a sieve into a small clean jar with a lid, pressing down on solids with a spatula or wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Add chilled garlic-pepper syrup to the jar by straining through a sieve to remove garlic and peppers. Scrape sides of measuring cup to get all of the syrup. Cover jar with lid and shake to blend glaze (I had about ½ cup of glaze). Set aside.
Green Papaya Meatballs
Heat oil in a 10 inch skillet (with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat; add shallots, garlic and lemongrass and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute (you don’t want anything to burn or brown so turn down the heat if necessary). Remove pan from heat and transfer mixture to a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine pork and beef. Add shallot mixture, green papaya, cilantro and fish sauce. Using a light hand, thoroughly combine ingredients. Form small bite-sized meatballs (about ¾ of a golf ball), placing on a large plate as you go. I was able to make about 45.
Heat same skillet over medium heat, adding a little more oil if necessary (to prevent sticking). When pan is hot, begin to cook meatballs in batches. To ensure they are cooked through, brown on all sides and then cover with lid and allow meatballs to steam. I found that they were just cooked through after 2 ½ -3 minutes with lid on. Transfer cooked meatballs to a broiler safe dish. Carefully wipe out hot pan with moistened paper towel, add a little more oil and continue with the next batch of meatballs. Repeat until all meatballs are cooked.
Once all the meatballs are transferred to the broiler safe dish, spoon about half of the glaze over meat, making sure to get some glaze on every meatball. Reserve remaining glaze for serving. Broil meatballs for five minutes.
Meanwhile, finely grind peanuts in a spice grinder.
When finished broiling, remove meatballs from oven. Spoon finely ground peanuts over meatballs to taste (you may have some leftover ground peanuts). To serve, arrange trimmed cabbage leaves on a platter, top with peanut-coated meatballs and drizzle with remaining reserved glaze. Enjoy while still hot.