Asian Meatballs in Yakiniku Sauce

Yakiniku (Meat Sauce… thanks for generalizing on that one, Japan) is a sweet and sour sauce with fruit juice and sesame seeds used on meat and is tastier than I just made that sound, I promise. So you make the meatballs and brown them, then simmer them in this sauce to finish cooking them and to thicken the sauce to more of a glaze, and then you serve the whole thing over rice and garnish with green onions and oh my god is it really good! PLUS, and here is the kicker and why I like meatballs- I ALWAYS make twice what I need and then freeze the other half (in this case I did the same with half the sauce) and then all I have to do is defrost, simmer, and dinner is le DONE on a school night when I’m dead tired. GEEN-US, mei oui?

I love meatballs a lot, actually, and heck, I even like making them too. I feel like a reflection in an infinity mirror… where you look in and see a million reflections coming to a point in the far distance. I am either the first reflection in this scenario, or the smallest… not sure how the physics work in this analogy honestly, but I am the most recent reflection of all the women, over all the years, who have stood at a counter doing this huge, hours long involved task for their families. There is Sara in ’84 (singing quietly to herself “Cause this is THRILLER, THRILLER night…” as she made her batch), Vi in ’73 (I can’t believe you voted for that asshole twice), Helen in ’56 (check yourself before you wreck yourself with that racism, Helen), Anna, in ’36 (“watch out for that Hitler, he’s a bad egg!”), Adina in ’17 (get a flu shot), and Martha in 1891 (opium’s a hell of a drug)… as well as all the others.

It’s a long winded way of unifying female history through meatballs… because I’m a writer.


Sara in ’84.               Image by novem a. wahyudi

Ingredients for Meatballs

2 lbs. ground pork
2 eggs
2/3 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
Generous fresh ground pepper
1” thumb sized fresh garlic, grated
4 garlic cloves, through a garlic press
Finely minced white part of 4 green onions
½ Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
(This recipe makes a lot- I froze ½ the meatballs and half the sauce for a future meal.)

Ingredients for Sauce
½ cup soy sauce (if using low sodium soy sauce you may need less water)
¼ cup water
1 Asian pear- grated w/ the juice (add the pulpy stuff to the sauce too. I’d never grated fruit before, but it’s easier than cheese. I used the smaller size than what I’d use for cheese on the grater)
4 green tops of green onions, finely diced
1.5 tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. sake
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
¼ cup Korean BBQ sauce w/ sesame seeds (Kinda a cheat, but I wanted a thicker consistency and more sweetness to the sauce so I added this)
3 garlic cloves, through garlic press

Form meatballs into… balls, roughly bouncy ball sized. Takes longer than you think. Will make one whole cookie sheet worth. Refrigerate for 1 hour- this helps them hold together when browning.

While meatballs are chilling, add all ingredients for sauce to a bowl and mix together, tasting to ensure flavor. Once mixed refrigerate for 1 hour while sauce flavors melds.

Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to a pan; bring to a medium heat on stove. Brown meatballs in batches, without cooking all the way through. Remove browned meatballs to a plate. Once all meatballs are browned add what you’re cooking that day back to the pan (single layer, but touching is okay) and pour sauce over meatballs. Bring to simmer cover with lid, and stir periodically to coat meatballs in sauce. Remove lid for last few minutes to reduce sauce to thicker consistency. Watch the sauce and don’t let it get too dry.

Serve over rice and top w/ green onions (or cilantro) and sesame seeds.

Die of exhaustion from most complex meal ever.


Questions Unasked

In the refrain of my last few years: the world lost another good one recently. (I am not, in fact, talking about John McCain, mind you. This one’s a little closer to home.)

I am both doing well and extremely sad- it’ll hit at weird times. Watering the plants. Picking tomatoes. Randomly this sense of such loss while I wash dishes. I’m fine though, don’t worry. Grief is the price come due for loving others, I get that. And it makes me think of the others I’ve lost too- which hasn’t happened before; this dredging up of all of them together. I’ll think about how I didn’t ask my uncle enough questions. And then I’ll realize I didn’t ask ANY of them enough questions.

How did my grandmother pick her children’s names? Her oldest son is named David- did she know he was the 7th David with our last name in the family line? Was the family name thing important, or was it just Catholic names are a limited pool to chose from? How’d she get into watching basketball? How’d she raise so many kids in a 3 bedroom house? How’d she ever mentally survive burying two daughters? Was she always so funny?

My uncle- that’s the problem with becoming pen pals with him as a kid- perpetually it seems he appeared in the world fully formed as an adult- springing from Zeus’s head like Athena, I imagine. The thought never actually occurred to me that he was a teenager once- so I never asked him anything about it. What did he do? How’d he get into journalism? Or like… what was his favorite pet when he was a kid? Or did he have any? Or how’d he get into golf. Or did he know how vital it was to an awkward child living so far away from him- who grew up as not the golden child of the family- to have someone who spent time writing her and thought she was great? That said child internalized that and held on to it, and unconsciously used it on the path to successful personhood?  I tried to tell him a few times, but I never asked him if he knew.

My father-in-law. He was a Golden Gloves boxer- and yet I never asked him about it? Why’d he stop and when? Why did he love horses so much? How did he end up so different from his siblings- just because he was the only boy, or what? Why so afraid of the doctor? Why so kind and funny when life hadn’t been to him? How’d he find that sweet spot for so long of “taking no shit but causing no harm?”

Or my grandfather… who I sat with late at night once and watched parliament on C-Span.  I remember how we laughed at the insults and barbs and… was a shoe actually thrown? That doesn’t seem too British, so it may just be the brain playing tricks. But I LOVE Churchill and so did Grandpa… but we never talked about him. We missed that conversation by about 5 years because I came to really like Churchill after grandpa was already gone.  Or his brother… Grandpa had a picture of himself, my grandmother, and his brother on the wall in his TV room… but I never asked him about him. How did his brother die? Why my grandfather left home so young as a teenager… I’ll never know.

I range between “God damn it I never asked enough” and “You can’t ever know someone’s complete life so don’t beat yourself up over it.” Back and forth like ping pong. It’s just… the missed opportunity to know someone better weighs heavy. Or maybe it’s the three volume book about Churchill I’m reading. Minutia and details on someone I never met, and yet I’m over here with just a handful of scraps and facts about the people I actually did.

I don’t know. I do know I am lucky.

When we were in the hospital with our oldest we met a dad of one of the other kids on the floor. Con man obviously pretending to be devoutly Christian. Begged money from us to buy his kid a Christmas gift. We gave him $20. I remember thinking- it isn’t only good people who’s children are sick. It isn’t only good people who are here with their dying children over Christmas. But our child was getting better and so we give $20 to someone who’s child was not because what the hell else could you do?

And so, in a similar vein to what I realized about humanity in that hospital; it isn’t only good people who die. To change the saying a bit- the graveyards are full of replaceable men. But man, how lucky am I that all of mine were good ones? That all of mine are the actual irreplaceable men in those graveyards?

I try to be grateful for the time I had with all of them. It’s a conscious effort to stay on that side of it, and not wallow because they’re gone. But i HAD them, they were there. How lucky to have had so many that were so good.

But god damn it- like, what was their favorite color? I know that for literally none of them… you see what I’m saying?