One of our favorite things to do when we harvest our basil plants each year is to take the biggest leaves we can find and make these Grilled Beef and Basil Rolls, from Steve Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. More on that in a minute.
Our 3 basil plants got out of control this year. I didn't pick much throughout the summer and by the time I was ready to make a big batch of pesto, well there was more basil than I knew what to do with. I actually just pulled the entire plants out of the ground and brought them in to clean and sort the leaves right in the sink.
For this recipe, the biggest leaves are the best, because they will shrivel up once they are grilled. You need about 60 leaves.
Here's my total stash, all cleaned and ready to be sorted out.
And here are the ones that made the final cut.
So Jeremy and I have a history with Steve Raichlen. When we first really got into grilling years ago, Steve Raichlen was our resource for everything. We (and by we, I mostly mean Jeremy) watched his show on Saturday mornings where he teaches the basics of smoking, meat cuts, marinades, and rubs, and then bought the Barbecue Bible which we turned to for all of our homemade grilling recipes. We came across this Vietnamese appetizer in the cookbook years ago and frequently crave it. The flavors are so earthy and unique because of the basil, but mainly because of one secret ingredient.
Here's what you need:
8 oz lean ground beef
2 cloves garlic
5 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1 T. sugar
1 t. freshly ground pepper
60 large basil leaves (give or take a few)
3 T. coarsely chopped dry - roasted peanuts (these are optional - just for garnish - we have always left them out).
Okay, now a word on the fish sauce. Don't be scared! It's not as bad as it sounds. And it is absolutely necessary to get the truly unique flavor of this dish. The fishy flavor is completely drowned out by the basil and beef. Trust me - it's worth it. If you have an Asian market near you, I would look there first. After looking for it in several grocery stores with no luck, I finally found it at Gerbes (also known as Kroger in the east and south). A little bit goes a long way, and as far as I can tell, it lasts for a really long time.
Start with a half pound of ground beef.
Add your garlic, pepper, and sugar.
And the fish oil. Mix it all up.
Until it's thoroughly combined.
Take a basil leaf and put a pinch of the beef mixture in the middle. There's no exact measurement, but you want the beef to be all tucked in (not sticking out of the ends). The bigger the leaf, the bigger the pinch.
And roll it up!
The skewers will help hold them closed.
Put 5-6 of the rolls on each skewer crosswise.
When you're ready to start grilling, put aluminum foil over the grate of the grill where the ends of the skewer will be. This will keep them from burning. Also, Steve Raichlin always recommends oiling the grate before grilling, but you definitely need to do so for this recipe. You don't want the rolls sticking to the grill.
Over medium high heat, cook the rolls for about 2 minutes and then turn them over and cook for another 2 minutes. Since they're so small, it doesn't take long.
This is what they look like when they're done. A crispy leaf texture on the outside, and the yummiest, spicy, chewy meatball on the inside. Oh my goodness. I could eat the whole tray.
You could take them off the skewer and eat them as a snack, but we like to serve them over rice for a meal. There are still plenty of leftovers to snack on later on. They are totally worth it - seriously! Try some soon!