These caramelized pork meatball “vermicelli” bowls are made with paleo-friendly caramel and spaghetti squash instead of noodles.
My favorite thing to order at our local Vietnamese restaurant is bún chả, a bowl of vermicelli topped with pickled vegetables, peanuts, and grilled sliced pork or pork meatballs, served with a generous bowl of nước chấm (sweet fish sauce) on the side. This caramelized pork meatball “vermicelli” bowl is a paleo version that hits all the right notes without refined sugar, legumes, or actual vermicelli–the noodles are spaghetti squash instead!
I’m not always a fan of swapping spaghetti squash for regular noodles, but it really works in this dish. There are so many flavors and textures intermingling that the squash flies almost completely under the radar.
For the bowls:
- 2 large spaghetti squash
- 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned or spiralized
- 1 large seedless cucumber, peeled and julienned or spiralized
- 1/4 cup toasted, chopped cashews
- Sprigs of fresh cilantro and/or Thai basil
For the meatballs:
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon raw sugar or coconut sugar
- 3 tablespoons Red Boat fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- White parts of 2 scallions, finely minced
For the sauce:
- First, prepare the spaghetti squash. Preheat the oven to 400. Cut each spaghetti squash in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon. Place the halves cut side down in a roasting pan and pour in enough water to fill the pan about 1/4-inch deep. Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a fork to pull out the squash noodles.
- While the squash is roasting, get started on the caramel for the meatballs. Mix the honey, sugar, and 1/3 cup water in a medium saucepan. Set the heat to medium-high and stir gently just until most of the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture come to a boil undisturbed and cook for about 10 minutes without stirring, or until the syrup is a darker shade of amber and smells slightly burnt. Turn off the heat and stir in the fish sauce. Let the caramel cool for at least 15 minutes, so it is warm but no longer hot.
- While the caramel is cooling, make the sauce. Mix the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and lime juice in a large bowl. Add 1 cup warm water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Transfer about 1/4 cup of the sauce to a medium bowl, add the carrots and cucumber, and toss to coat. Add the scallions and chiles to the large bowl of sauce. Set the bowl of sauce and the bowl of marinating carrots and cucumbers aside.
- Preheat the broiler or grill. If using the broiler, line a large baking sheet with foil.
- Next, stir the baking soda into the warm caramel until no lumps remain (it will bubble and froth). Put the pork, pepper, garlic, and scallions in a large mixing bowl, and pour in the caramel. Knead thoroughly with your hands until the mixture is uniform. Form meatballs about the size of golf balls and place them in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Broil the meatballs for about 5 minutes, until charred on top. Remove the pan and carefully flip the meatballs over. Broil for 5 more minutes, until charred on the second side and cooked through. (Cut open one meatball to check for doneness. If the meatballs are still pink in the center, place them in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Even though the oven is off, the residual heat from the broiler will finish cooking them.)
- Divide the squash noodles between 4-6 serving bowls. Top with meatballs, carrots and cucumber, cilantro or basil, and toasted cashews. Serve the sauce on the side so each person can spoon on as much as they'd like.
*I like the long red chiles pictured in these photos because they are less spicy than the tiny red Thai chiles, but you can use any chile you like (or omit it if you're spice-averse). Asian markets have a good selection of chiles, but you can also use minced jalapeño in a pinch!
Meatballs and sauce adapted from Saveur.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 674 Total Fat: 35g Saturated Fat: 12g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 19g Cholesterol: 142mg Sodium: 1626mg Carbohydrates: 49g Fiber: 6g Sugar: 31g Protein: 44g