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Eric Akis: Bulgogi-style meatballs an umami bomb over noodles

Korean-inspired dish is flavoured with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and chili sauce
Flavourfull Asian-style meatballs are served with stir-fried vegetables and udon noodles. ERIC AKIS

Meatballs and noodles are always a popular combination, such as Swedish meatballs with egg noodles, or Italian meatballs with spaghetti. Asian cultures, of course, also combine the two and that’s the direction I took with today’s umami-rich recipes.

I call the meatballs bulgogi-style because I flavoured them with ingredients I would use when making Korean-style beef bulgogi, such as soy sauce, garlic, ginger and chili sauce. But instead of marinating strips of beef in them, I mixed them into ground beef, rolled them into meatballs and roasted them. The meatballs also come with a sauce, that you can drizzle on just before enjoying them.

I served the meatballs with thick, fresh udon noodles that I cooked, drained and tossed with a colourful mix of stir-fried vegetables.

To prepare the meal in an orderly fashion, I first mixed and rolled the meatballs, set them on a baking sheet and put in the refrigerator. I then cut the ingredients needed for the stir-fry, putting the vegetables I would add at the beginning of cooking on a plate, and the ginger, garlic and green onion in a bowl. I also measured the liquid ingredients needed for the vegetables and noodles.

I then preheated the oven to cook the meatballs. While it warmed, I brought a pot of water to a boil to cook the noodles. I also made the sauce for the meatballs.

When the oven was heated, I roasted the meatballs 20 minutes. While that occurred, I cooked the noodles in the boiling water, drained them well, set them in a bowl and tossed them with some sesame oil.

When the meatballs were 10 minutes from being cooked, I began to cook the stir-fried vegetables. By the time I heated the oil in the cooking pan, added the vegetables, stir-fried them, tossed in the noodles and the mixture was ready to serve, the meatballs were, too.

The meatballs, stir-fried vegetables and noodles when dished up together as a meal yield four servings. If that’s too many for you, freeze the leftover meatballs and noodles in a suitably sized container, to later thaw and reheat in the microwave, or in a skillet on the stove.

Bulgogi-style Meatballs

Salty-, sweet- and sour-tasting meatballs you can serve on or alongside the udon noodle recipe that follows.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: four servings

For the meatballs

1 lb. (454 grams) lean ground beef (see Eric’s options)

2 Tbsp minced shallot or onion

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp granulated sugar

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp Sriracha or other hot chili sauce, or to taste

For sauce and garnish

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp hoisin sauce

2 tsp roasted sesame seeds (see Note)

1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tsp Sriracha or other hot chili sauce, or to taste

1/4 tsp paprika

1 green onion, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced, widthwise

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place meatball ingredients in a bowl and gently mix to combine. Roll mixture into 20, roughly one-inch round balls and place on a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast the meatballs 20 minutes, or until cooked through. While meatballs cook, make sauce combining its ingredients, except green onions, in a serving bowl.

When meatballs are cooked, set in a serving dish, sprinkle with the green onions and serve with the sauce, for drizzling on them once plated.

Note: Roasted sesame seeds are sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: Ground pork could replace the beef in this recipe.

Stir-fried Vegetables and Udon Noodles

Thick udon noodles, cooked, drained and tossed into a hot skillet (or wok) filled with stir-fried vegetables. Serve with the bulgogi-style meatballs.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: about eight minutes

Makes: four servings

2 (200 gram) pkgs. fresh udon noodles (see Note)

2 tsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium shallot, halved and thinly sliced

1 small green bell pepper, halved, seeded and sliced

1 small red bell pepper, halved, seeded and sliced

1 small to medium carrot, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced widthwise on the bias

16 to 20 small thumbnail-sized broccoli florets

6 white or brown mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup water

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp Sriracha or other hot chili sauce, or to taste

• cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Set a large pot of water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook until just tender, about two and half to three minutes, gently pulling them apart with tongs as they cook. Drain noodles well, set in a bowl and gently toss with sesame oil.

Pour vegetable oil into a very large skillet or wok and set over medium-high heat. When oil is very hot, add shallots, bell peppers, carrot, broccoli and mushrooms and stir-fry three minutes. Mix in garlic, ginger and green onion cook 30 seconds more.

Add noodles, water, soy sauce and chili sauce to the pan, gently toss to combine, and cook one to two minutes more, or until noodles are piping hot. Transfer noodles to serving dish, or serve right from the pan. Garnish plated servings of the noodles with cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Note: Udon noodles are available in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. I used Six Fortune brand nama udon noodles.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.