My Bun Cha recipe consists of Vietnamese Meatballs loaded with bright, fresh vegetables and herbs, layered on a bed of vermicelli rice noodles. Served with nuoc cham, a tangy Vietnamese dipping sauce.
This Bun Cha recipe (also known as Vietnamese meatballs) is another addition to my Vietnamese cuisine offerings.
It is essentially a cold noodle salad with my spin on Vietnamese meatballs, fresh veggies and herbs, and an amazing sauce called nuoc cham. This salty umami sauce takes the dish over the top.
As you can see, the overall presentation is amazing. There are lovely, bright colors that are only to be outdone by the flavor.
My family always has fun with this dish. It's served buffet-style, so the kids get to load up their bowls with the toppings they like.
The hardest part is getting them to add enough veggies. They just want meatballs and noodles. Ugh!
It might seem a bit challenging to make, but it really isn’t. From the homemade meatballs to the veggies to the noodles, I've got you covered!
How to make Bun Cha Vietnamese meatball noodle bowls
Making the Vietnamese meatballs
For my spin on the meatballs, I prefer to use a mixture of ground turkey and pork. This makes the meatballs just a bit healthier.
These meatballs have all the usual suspects that you'd find in Italian meatballs…bread crumbs, egg, etc, but they also include some heavy duty flavor enhancers.
These include chili garlic sauce, garlic, lemongrass, fresh ginger, scallions and mushrooms.
They get rolled into balls then baked in a 350 degree oven. Although baking is healthier, feel free to pan fry them if that's your preference.
Prepping the essential toppings for Bun Cha
These bun cha Vietnamese noodle bowls are easy to meal-prep.
I like carrots, cucumbers and scallions cut into about 1 ½ inch long matchsticks. I do this with a mandolin and then slice them into sticks.
No mandolin, no worries. A butchers knife will work too.
Simply chop up the cilantro, but save the Thai basil and mint to tear directly onto your bowl.
My recipe calls for pickled red onion. Don’t skip this: it adds another amazing layer of flavor and texture.
This is a simple matter of microwaving sliced red onion with vinegar and sugar for 30 seconds. Then cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Easy-peasy!
I also roast some peanuts then chop them. Again, another texture and flavor element.
I put all these toppings into their own ramekin bowls, or in small containers so I can take it all to work and assemble the most amazing office lunch you've ever seen:
This allows everyone to assemble their noodle bowls with just the toppings they like.
Selecting the noodles for Bun Cha
I use dried vermicelli rice noodles, which are also known as bean threads.
You should be able to find these in most well-stocked groceries, but definitely at any Asian market.
These noodle bowls are served cold, so after following the package instructions, make sure to rinse them thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process and prepare them for serving.
Making the Vietnamese Nu0c Cham Sauce
This is probably the most critical element of these Bun Cha noodle bowls.
This sauce is applied after your noodle bowl has been assembled with all your toppings. It ties in and amps up the flavor to all your ingredients.
How couldn’t it, check out what is in it…fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, chili garlic sauce, sugar, garlic. This is a flavor explosion.
After all, Vietnamese food is about a balance between textures as well as sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy flavors. And let's not forget umami!
Simply mix the ingredients for the sauce. No cooking needed!
About the fish sauce
I realize that some people with be turned off by the mere mention of “fish sauce”.
Let me assure you, this dish will NOT taste fishy. It does have a strong, unique flavor, but we cut this with vinegar and lime juice.
Fish sauce is a critical component to the nuoc cham sauce. If you are familiar with Vietnamese cooking, it is used in just about every dish.
Fish sauce brings a much-needed, subtle umami flavor in the background. Without it, a dish will seem a bit off (because of that balance I mentioned before!).
Are Bun Cha noodle bowls heathy?
A significant part of the dish consists of raw vegetables and herbs with all the attendant nutrients and antioxidants.
You bake the meatballs rather than frying them. Also, vegetables are incorporated into the meatball mixture.
The sauce is salty, but it's used in moderation (well, I have to admit that I'm quite liberal with it).
The noodles are high in carbs, but—again, moderation is key.
But above all, you'll enjoy assembling and eating these meal-prep meatball Vietnamese noodle bowls.
And there you have it! A vibrant, healthy meal that will be a delight to eat at the office, at the park for a picnic, or right at home.
I'm linking my recipe for meal-prep meatball Vietnamese noodle bowls with these fantastic link parties:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share at Easy Peasy Foodie.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
- #RecipeOfTheWeek hosted by A Mummy Too.
- #BrillBlogPosts, a link party with a variety of lifestyle reads hosted by Honest Mum.
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- ½ lb ground pork
- ½ lb ground turkey
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
- 1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
- 1 tbsp lemongrass, (soft, center part only; see recipe note 1)
- ¼ cup scallions, finely chopped
- ½ cup cremini or shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and finely minced
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- 1 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE NUOC CHAM (DIPPING SAUCE/DRESSING)
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar (see Recipe Note #2)
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tbsp chili-garlic sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
FOR THE NOODLE BOWLS
- ~12 oz dried vermicelli noodles, (also called bean threads)
- 1 cup English (seedless) cucumber, julienned
- 1 cup carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup scallions, julienned in ~1 ½" sections
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup Thai basil leaves (sweet will also work)
- 1 cup mint leaves
- ½ cup pickled red onion (optional, see Recipe Note #4)
- lime wedges, for serving
- 2 tbsp raw peanuts, (toast and chop; optional)
- Sriracha, (optional)
- tamari, (optional)
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil. Set a metal rack on top of each baking sheet and spray lightly with cooking spray.
- Add all meatball ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Work the meat mixture together with your hands, making sure not to overmix.
- Roll into ~1 ½-inch diameter meatballs and place on the rack. (You should have ~25–30 meatballs.) When your meatballs are all rolled, place the cookie sheets in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then store in a freezer bag or plastic container until use. The meatballs will keep for ~3 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
FOR THE NUOC CHAM (DIPPING SAUCE/DRESSING)
- Add the nuoc cham ingredients to a small jar and shake well. Keep in the refrigerator until use, up to 1 week. (See Recipe Note #3)
MAKING NOODLES AND ASSEMBLING THE NOODLE BOWLS
- Place noodles in a heatproof bowl. Pour enough boiling water over the noodles to cover. Let sit for 3 minutes, or until soft (up to 5 minutes). Drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain again.
- For eating immediately: divide noodles into 4 bowls. Add ¼ cup of each veggie (except pickled onion) into each of the 4 bowls, arranging ingredients separately around the outside of the bowls. Pile in several whole leaves of each herb (let your guests tear them over the top of the dish). Add 1 tbsp of pickled onion (if using) and 4–5 meatballs to each bowl. Reserve the remaining meatballs for snacks (or freeze for another time). Finish with a sprinkling of peanuts (if using) and lime wedges. Serve with nuoc cham sauce in a ramekin on the side.
- For packing a lunch: the noodles and meatballs can be packed together in a plastic container. Pack nuoc cham and pickled onion (if using) in separate spill-proof containers. Sliced veggies can either be packed into a single plastic container or (if you want it to look pretty with the vegetables separated) into separate containers or baggies. Herb leaves can be packed together into another baggie. Refrigerate. Just before leaving for work, add ice packs to your lunch bag (take particular care to place an ice pack in contact with the container of meatballs and noodles). Be sure to bring an empty salad or soup bowl for assembling the final dish (follow steps for assembling in step 2 above).
- You can substitute 1 tbsp of lemongrass paste.
- For the nuoc cham, I frequently use only rice vinegar if I don't have limes on hand. In this case, I add 4 tbsp of rice vinegar to the mixture.
- If you have tried nuoc cham and do not like it, try using tamari rather than fish sauce. It will be quite different, but should still be delicious.
- Pickled red onion: add 1 small sliced red onion, ⅓ cup rice vinegar, and 2 tbsp of sugar to a microwave-safe container. Microwave for 30 seconds. Store in a screw-top container, shaking occasionally. The onions will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks: they're great as a condiment for meats, salads, and more.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: ¼ cup noodles, 4 meatballs, plus vegetables, herbs, and nuoc cham
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 562Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 160mgSodium: 2437mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 6gSugar: 10gProtein: 39g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!
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