Drew and Chef Pilar Valdes' Lemongrass Beef Skewers
For the Beef Skewers:
- 4 lemongrass stalks
- 1 large lime leaf, finely chopped, or zest of 2 limes
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems, plus cilantro leaves, reserved for serving
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped (1 heaping tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 pound (85% lean) ground beef
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided, plus additional as necessary for searing
- 12 Thai basil or Italian basil leaves for skewers, plus additional for serving
- 12 butter leaves, for serving, if desired
- Mint, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Nuoc Cham, for serving (recipe follows)
For the Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce):
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
For the Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce):
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 Thai bird chili, finely minced, or 1 serrano chili, thinly sliced (feel free to adjust to how much heat you like)
- 1/4 cup water
Lemongrass Beef Skewers:
Finely mince 1 stalk of lemongrass, to measure 2 tablespoons. In a large bowl, combine the minced lemongrass, lime leaves (or lime zest), scallion, cilantro stems, shallots, fish sauce, and curry powder. Stir to combine. Add ground beef, and mix until thoroughly combined. Be careful not to overmix or the skewers will be tough.
I recommend cooking off a small portion of the mixture first, to check taste and make any last-minute flavor adjustments. It should taste well seasoned and fragrant with a variety of notes and aromas—salty, sweet, sour, and funky. Adjust the beef mixture with additional fish sauce or spices to suit your taste.
Cut each of the remaining 3 lemongrass stalks into 4 skewers (12 pieces total). Divide the beef mix into 12 equal portions, roughly 3 tablespoons each. (We use a mini ice cream scoop to help things along.) Roll each portion into a 2-inch log. Make a lengthwise indent with your index finger. Take a lemongrass skewer, wrap a piece of basil around it and place it into the indentation. Pinch the meat to seal (rolling it between your palms also helps) so that the basil is fully enclosed, and it looks something like a lollipop. Repeat with the remaining 11 portions. (Skewers can be fully assembled and frozen, up to 1 month in advance. Defrost in the refrigerator before cooking.)
Heat a large, heavy bottomed pan (like a cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon coconut oil and swirl to coat. Gently add skewers, making sure not to overcrowd the pan (you may have to work in batches). Sear each side until deeply golden and just cooked through, about 8 minutes total. (That’s 4 sides at 2 minutes apiece.)
Serve skewers with a side of lettuce, basil, cilantro, mint, lime wedges, and Nuoc Cham dipping sauce. (These can be enjoyed on the skewer and dipped in the sauce, or removed from the skewer and made into a wrap with the lettuce and herbs.)
Make the dipping sauce:
In a small bowl, combine lime juice, fish sauce, honey, chili, and water. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste and preferred level of spicy. The sauce should be salty and slightly funky, but balanced by sour and sweetness. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. The sauce can be made up to 1 day ahead.
"These fragrant skewers are real crowd-pleasers, and truly as easy to make as your favorite meatballs.
We took inspiration from Vietnamese bò lá lốt, parcels of seasoned beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled over charcoal. Instead of betel leaves, we use basil leaves—which are much easier to source—while still tipping our hat to some of the original flavors of curry, fish sauce, and lemongrass. If you can get your hands on Thai basil and lime leaves, great, but if not, they can be easily (and deliciously) substituted with lime zest and Italian basil.
For this recipe, we are cooking on the stovetop, but I think that they would be really delicious if you took them outside and cooked them on the grill.
Salty, sweet, sour, and funky—a delicious party in your mouth.
These can be made ahead, and the fully assembled (raw) skewers can be frozen, up to 1 month in advance."
-Pilar and Drew