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E5: Vietnamese-Inspired Turkey Meatball Rice Bowls

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E5: Vietnamese-Inspired Turkey Meatball Rice Bowls

Nov 02, 2023

The Crew shared their thoughts on last week's modified enchilada suizas recipe. Did Nayelli enjoy it enough to make it a regular meal? Meanwhile, Alex went rogue and learned a valuable lesson. Leftovers galore brought smiles to everyone's faces. For the final recipe, Theresa invites us to embark on a saucy and pickle-packed adventure with Vietnamese-inspired turkey meatball rice bowls.


    Serves: 4


    Pickled Vegetables

    • 1 cup shredded carrots
    • 2 radishes, cut into matchsticks or thin slices
    • 6 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
    • 3 tbsp. sugar
    • ¼ tsp. kosher salt


    • 1-pound lean ground turkey
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
    • 2 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
    • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
    • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
    • 3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts separated


    • 2 ½ tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
    • 1 ½ tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
    • 1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
    • ½ tbsp. brown sugar
    • 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
    • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
    • 1 small garlic clove, minced


    • 3 cups cooked brown rice
    • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
    • 1 cup thinly sliced English cucumbers
    • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
    • ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
    • hot sauce for serving (optional)


    1. Prepare the Rice per package instructions.
    2. Prepare the pickled vegetables: In a small bowl, toss carrots and radishes with the vinegar, sugar, and salt and place in the refrigerator.
    3. Prepare the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Spray a large sheet pan with olive oil. In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, bread crumbs, egg, and the white parts of the scallions. Mix thoroughly. Using your hands, form into 1 ½ inch meatballs, about 20. Place meatballs evenly spaced on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until cooked through.
    4. Prepare the sauce: In a medium pot, combine all the sauce ingredients, then add the cooked meatballs, tossing to coat. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for about 1 minute, to thicken the sauce slightly.
    5. Drain the pickled vegetables.
    6. Assembling the bowls: Place ¾ cup rice in each bowl and top with 5 meatballs and sauce. Add ¼ cup shredded cabbage, ¼ of the pickled vegetables, and ¼ cup cucumber, and top with the sliced jalapeños, cilantro, and green parts of the scallions. Drizzle with hot sauce (if using).  

    Nutrition Facts

    • Serving Size: 1 bowl
    • Calories: 435
    • Total fat: 13.5 g
    • Saturated fat: 3.5 g
    • Cholesterol: 131 mg
    • Carbohydrates: 51 g
    • Fiber: 5 g
    • Protein: 29 g
    • Sodium: 894 mg
    Vietnamese-Inspired Turkey Meatball Rice Bowls

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    Scot: Was it a flavor fiesta or did last week's enchiladas stray too far from tradition? Plus, this week's new recipe has us pickling veggies and making our own sauce. It's cooking with the U of U Health Crew, the Make More Meals at Home Challenge. If you want to participate, the first place to go is You can find all the recipes and other supporting information at

    The cooking crew is ready to go. Alex is here. How did shredding of el pollo go this week?

    Alex: I think that might've been the easiest part. I struggled a little bit this week.

    Scot: All right. Nayeli is "el polo" the way I should have said that? Everybody was laughing, so I think I screwed something up.

    Nayeli: Yes, it's el pollo.

    Scot: Oh, el pollo. Okay. Thank you. I appreciate you helping me there. Nayeli, did you come to terms with the non-traditional enchiladas?

    Nayeli: [sighs]

    Scot: Okay.

    Theresa: So telling.

    Nayeli: I'll leave it at that and then we'll dive into it.

    Scot: All right. Jhonny, did these enchiladas dethrone your beloved burritos?

    Jhonny: I mean, they're going to keep good company with my current burritos.

    Scot: All right. Well, we're going to discuss last week's recipe, and then we're going to get our fourth and final recipe during this episode. Also joining us, is our Recipe Architect and Nutrition Expert, Theresa Dvorak, Registered Dietician and Director of Culinary Medicine in the University of Utah College of Health's Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology. Theresa, welcome back.

    Theresa: Thank you. Glad to be here.

    Scot: Can't wait to get to this new recipe. It looks like a doozy. I don't know. It looks like a lot of kitchen time, but we'll talk about that in a second.

    Let's talk about these chicken enchiladas. Crew, how was it? Nayeli, I am dying to find out how it was for you and your thoughts.

    Nayeli: So overall it was good. I won't say that it was bad or it tasted bad, but I just don't think I would make these again. I just didn't like the taste. It just wasn't what I was used to. And I tried to put it in my head to not expect the usual enchiladas I make.

    Scot: All right. So if they were just called Nayeli's Cheesy Delight and weren't called enchiladas, would you have liked them?

    Nayeli: Maybe.

    Scot: If you didn't have the baggage of enchiladas in your . . .

    Theresa: There's too much emotional connection to the word enchilada, I think.

    Nayeli: You know what? I think that's the issue.

    Theresa: And that's okay. It takes time sometimes for us to make some of those transitions. And maybe you never will and maybe you'll never cook this recipe again, or maybe three years down the road you might say, "Let's try it again and see if it's different."

    Scot: I think Theresa can handle it if you don't like them and you're never going to make them again.

    Theresa: It's okay.

    Nayeli: Yeah, it was just a combination of different things that I wouldn't usually use, but as I mentioned, it was good. Overall, too, the preparation was easy. I felt like Jhonny with his 100 burritos.

    Theresa: It just kept going.

    Nayeli: It made a lot of enchiladas, and the serving size too. Another thing that I noticed was that usually when I make enchiladas, I do make them with corn tortillas, which are smaller, but I end up eating a lot. Let's say five or more if I'm really that hungry. And with these enchiladas, I ate two. I think I ate one and a half because it was enough. I felt very satisfied. It was a great portion size and I made a lot. I can have some today and until whenever.

    Scot: All right. Jhonny, where are you at on these enchiladas?

    Jhonny: Well, I'm no enchilada expert like Nayeli, but I think I know my way around a burrito. And as far as the burrito meter goes, I think it was excellent.

    Theresa: I like that, the burrito meter.

    Scot: So you enjoyed them. What was it that you enjoyed about them, would you say?

    Jhonny: I thought they were spicy-ish. They were not spicy, but they were spicy-ish. So it had just a little bit of a kick. The chicken, obviously, and the fact that I could eat it without feeling guilty about eating them, and the fact that I have a ton of leftovers and it's been my lunch for these past couple of days. I love that.

    Scot: And those are your priorities when it came . . . I think that's another interesting thing, right? Food serves different purposes and has different priorities for us, and you just kind of listed out yours.

    I agree. I loved those chipotle chilies. I put in a couple of extra ones. I like that smoke flavor . . .

    Jhonny: Yeah, me too.

    Scot: . . . that they gave the enchiladas. Alex, where are you at?

    Alex: I think part of it was me.

    Scot: Oh, no.

    Alex: I literally texted the group and I was like, "I went rogue and I probably shouldn't have done it because I think I paid the price."

    Theresa: Oh, no.

    Alex: I struggled. I ate them. They were actually better leftovers in my opinion. So I think I had said last week, "Well, I'm still . . ." It was the tortilla mindset. So I used these low-carb, keto tortillas, but they're street-size. Like, street taco size, I mean.

    Theresa: Yeah, much smaller.

    Alex: Much smaller, which meant I had so many. I felt like I was prepping burritos, like Johnny. And I was like, "I can’t. I don't need all of this food."

    Theresa: Like you needed to open up a food truck.

    Alex: Yeah. I really felt so wasteful. I had half of the mixture left, but I had no more tortillas and space. And I was like, “Oh, gosh, what if I don't even like them?” So I threw out half the food, which was really disappointing for me, again, because I bought small-size tacos.

    Jhonny: Well, in the future, you can just give it to me. I'll take them.

    Alex: Yeah, I know. I should have just bought more tortillas and more pans.

    Scot: Or refrigerate the mixings and you could have . . . Yeah.

    Theresa: Yeah. Or I'll put it on a salad or just on top of rice or a different grain if you want to.

    Alex: Yeah. So then I came into the issue too, though, I think it was too much cumin. I'm not actually a super big cumin fan and when I saw two tablespoons, I was like, “Oh.” So I did one and a half and even that was pushing it, so I probably could have backed off on that.

    I didn't add enough salt. And then I was super confused about this milk/chicken broth combination. When I took it out of the oven, it was just liquid at the bottom. So I drained out the pan. I was like, “What am I doing?”

    I don't know if I did them right. My husband liked them and we had some leftovers. But yeah, I didn't want to eat enchiladas for like five days.

    And then it took me a long time to prep. So I really struggled. I was super excited about them. I would maybe make them again, but it was a long prep time for me for some reason. Again, I think it might've been user error. I'm going rogue. That was me.

    Theresa: Sure. That's really great feedback. I think if I was using smaller tortillas . . . kind of like Nayeli had mentioned, when she traditionally makes them, she makes them with a corn tortilla. I can see how that would get . . . You're rolling and rolling and rolling these tortillas. And sometimes those smaller ones are ones that aren't made with a wheat-based flour or an almond flour. Then they can sometimes break or crumble a little bit and not hold together so well.

    And so I would make it a little bit more like a Mexican lasagna where you're layering the tortillas and then the mixture and then tortillas and then the mixture and do it that way. That might be one way to try it out and see if it's not quite so overwhelming.

    But with the seasoning, I think recipes are kind of a guide when it comes to seasoning. As you start to read more recipes and try recipes from different sources, you'll find that in certain cookbooks or certain blogs, you need to increase the spices because the food often tastes bland, or vice versa. Certain flavors tend to come through.

    And so some of that is kind of that recipe literacy that we're also getting at. The more you read different recipes, you start to kind of feel, "Given the quantity, is this too much? Is it not enough?"

    But then tasting it throughout. Play around with the spices a little bit more, always starting on the less side because you can always add more of anything, rather than trying to take something away. Especially cumin, which can be pretty flavorful.

    Scot: Alex, my experience was similar in that I felt like . . . So I used the appropriate-sized tortillas, although I found eight-inch ones instead of seven. I don't know. I was with my tape measure going around, "Is this the right size? Is it diameter or is it the radius? Is it the circumference? I don't remember any of this math."

    It took me a long time to prep as well, and I don't know why, because the recipe didn't look that involved. So I don't know what my problem was, if it was that I had to keep going back to the recipe, losing time. If I made this a few times, I could be a lot more efficient. I don't know if I was a slow chopper.

    So I was a little put off by that, the amount of time, because I had other things I had scheduled, I had to get done that night and I'm just watching myself go over my time.

    But I will say, after I was done, the amount of leftovers I got divided by the time I invested was a pretty good ratio. So I'm pretty happy about that.

    And I thought mine were pretty good. Like, I said, I put in extra of those chilies and I liked that flavor. I completely forgot to salt and pepper mine, but I didn't miss that at all personally.

    And I thought, like Nayeli, they were really filling, which I enjoyed. A couple really filled me up and kept me satiated for the whole night. Very satisfying. Very comforting.

    Again, it kind of made me think about, "What do I want out of food? Not only do I necessarily . . ." Because I could have made a lot of other things that would've taken a lot less time that could have been probably just as nutritious or even more so. But after I ate them, I felt satisfied. I felt happy. So maybe there's something to be said for that.

    And I'm looking forward to having some leftovers that make me happy again. I'm finding happiness in enchiladas, guys. Are you worried about me yet? Are you going to call an intervention?

    What's the best way to store these? I struggle with that. I got a Tupperware that was big enough to put in a couple of enchiladas. I didn't want to put any on top of those because I was afraid that they'd freeze together and stick together.

    Theresa: Yeah, I wouldn't stack them.

    Scot: Wrapping them in tinfoil individually, or what would you recommend?

    Theresa: If you had a piece of parchment paper or wax paper that you could layer them with. You could also just not put the top cheese on, and when you take them, say, out of the freezer or out of the refrigerator and you're warming them back up in the oven, do the final sprinkling of cheese at that point. Then you're not having to worry about that cheese, you losing all of that cheese and it sticking to your outer wrapper.

    Scot: Any questions on the chicken enchilada before we get to the new recipe? Does anybody else have anything they want to contribute?

    Alex: Well, I do still have a question about the liquid. And again, maybe because I used the wrong tortillas, but what was supposed to happen with the milk and the chicken broth?

    Theresa: Yep, great question. So you should end up with a little bit of liquid. Most of it is going to get absorbed into the tortilla. So if you were to bake it without the milk and chicken broth, your tortillas would really dry out and you would end up with really crisp, brittle tortillas as well as sticking more to your pan. And so you'd kind of end up with this mess and a very different flavor.

    Whereas with the broth and milk and keeping it covered for the initial part, it's helping to keep the moisture in the tortilla and the burrito.

    It's possible that different tortillas are going to absorb that moisture differently. And so that certainly could have been happening.

    If you noticed that it was too much and it really didn't kind of thicken afterward and you're using those tortillas again, then you could certainly decrease the amount and just make sure that your tortillas aren't drying out too much or that they're not sticking to the bottom of your pan too much when you're pulling them out after it's cooked.

    Scot: I feel like I had to cook mine longer than the recipe in order to get that sauce to kind of boil away, like we discussed in the last episode. And I think if I had to do it over again . . . I took the tinfoil off when the recipe said. I think I would've left the tinfoil on for another five to eight minutes and done that, because I did end up with some of my tortilla shells a little brittle, even though I had liquid in there. So I think I would've kept it tented and cooked it . . .

    It feels like my oven, I need an extra 5, to 10 minutes on everything I do. Is that even possible? That seems like a lot of extra time.

    Theresa: Variation. Yeah, that's normal. Up to about 15 minutes, plus or minus, is what I typically find across brands, as well as the age of an appliance will also take into effect. Certainly, there's a big difference too if you're doing it under a convection mode versus a regular oven setting mode. So, yeah, there can be quite a variation in the timing. Usually about 15 minutes, plus or minus.

    Scot: All right. Well, it sounds like it was a little bit of a mixed bag this week on the reviews and on the success in the kitchen. Let's see if, for this fourth recipe, we can get things back on track. Theresa, what are we making this week?

    Theresa: Banh mi turkey meatball rice bowls.

    Scot: What do you guys think? Sounds pretty fancy, doesn't it?

    Nayeli: It does. I had to look up where this . . .

    Theresa: What is banh mi?

    Nayeli: Yeah.

    Theresa: So it's a traditional Vietnamese-style dish. A banh mi will typically be a sandwich vehicle rather than in a rice bowl. So this is a little bit of a spin on your traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. And using ground turkey instead of maybe the traditional pork that is often found in Vietnamese sandwiches. But they also use a variety of ingredients. Hopefully, that kind of comes through in the sauces, as well, in the mixtures with the ground turkey.

    Scot: Why did you pick this recipe?

    Theresa: I picked this recipe because it's maybe something new. When I was thinking about all of the recipes that we've done over the podcast, I wanted kind of a wide variety of skills being used as well as different meal prep or ways that we can bring variety into what we're cooking.

    And I'm a saucy person. I enjoy sauces and I think sauce is often the key to taking a dish from just okay to over-the-top amazing. And so I wanted to make sure that we were bringing in some of that.

    Grain bowls are . . . when I think about meal prep and kind of just putting everything in a bowl and having different ingredients and anybody at the table can make it to their own liking, I really enjoy the ability to have a meal where folks can pick and choose and choose their own adventures based off of what flavors they enjoy.

    Scot: Alex, how's the husband going to like this? Is this a little different than what you normally have?

    Alex: He loves banh mi. We have a place close to our house that he loves, but it might be me that might need the convincing. It's new for me. I'm not super, like I said, adventurous. I know he will enjoy it.

    Scot: How about you, Nayeli?

    Nayeli: This is something new for my household. I mean, it sounds really good. I'm excited to try it and I have high hopes. I think it's going to be good.

    Scot: Jhonny?

    Jhonny: I have never had anything like this before. It looks like a lot of chopping. And I do have a question about the pickling, because I looked at the recipe and unless I missed it, it doesn't say specifically how long to pickle the vegetables. So, Theresa, what's the appropriate amount of pickling?

    Theresa: Yeah, so this is what we call kind of a quick pickle. As long as the vegetables are in the pickling brine for 10, to 15 minutes, they will essentially be pickled. Certainly, the longer you let it sit, kind of the sweeter the vegetables will get and really bring out this sweetness in those vegetables.

    Jhonny: Okay. So ideally if I want it more sweet, probably prep the pickle vegetables the night before.

    Theresa: You certainly could. Yep. The recipe only calls for two radishes, and you could certainly leave them raw if you like the taste of raw radishes. That's perfectly fine. Or you could try them a couple of different ways. You could try pickling some and leaving some raw, and you can kind of pick and choose with how you build your final bowl.

    Scot: I'm pretty excited about this. So, as I mentioned in our first episode, we do one of those meal services and they like to do a lot of recipes from a cuisine that I've never tried before. So this banh mi turkey meatball rice bowl would be something I would expect.

    One of the things they tend to do a lot in a lot of cultures that I didn't know is this quick pickling. And it's super easy and super good. So I'm excited about that.

    Where I'm a little intimidated by this recipe, Theresa, is I'm looking at some of these sauces I'm going to have to buy. The rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil. I don't know if I have that stuff, and that seems like it might get a little pricey, and I'm a little concerned then, "What am I going to do with these things that I've never had that I'm using once?" Is there a pre-made sauce solution for this that one could get, or did I just offend you to your core?

    Theresa: That is understandable. Some ways to think about some of these different oils and sauces is that if you have an Asian supermarket near where you live, these are often much less expensive than at a traditional kind of American grocery store.

    And so this is maybe something that if you wanted to share ingredients, the nice thing about this environment is that we're relatively close so we could maybe share some of these ingredients to try them out.

    Nayeli: I have a question.

    Scot: Yeah, Nayeli.

    Nayeli: I don't remember which recipe it was, but we had to use kosher salt, and I've actually been really wondering is there a difference between the salts we use. What is kosher salt? And do I absolutely need it?

    To be honest, I think in one of the recipes I went to go look at the salt and I just decided not to buy it because I'm like, “I have salt at home. Why am I going to buy another kind of salt?” But in reality, I don't know if it actually makes a difference.

    Theresa: So kosher salt compared to kind of table salt, chemically they're exactly the same. It's just that kosher salt is a larger granule than table salt. So table salt is really of a fine, kind of sandy granular size, whereas kosher salt is kind of the chunky salt. And with that, it tends to have a little bit of a saltier flavor, so you can get by with using a bit less.

    But something like this, because it's a relatively small amount, it's a quarter of a teaspoon of kosher salt, you could make that substitution of table salt just fine. It's going to slightly adjust the flavor, but not so much that you're going to notice.

    And so in some recipes, like if you were baking and you were using a larger quantity of salt, like a teaspoon of salt, you would want to adjust that measurement. But in such a small amount like this, table salt would be just fine.

    Nayeli: Okay. So it kind of just depends on what you're making?

    Theresa: Yep.

    Nayeli: Okay. Good to know.

    Theresa: Baking just tends to be a lot more sensitive to the ratios of the chemicals, like baking powder, baking soda, salt, those kinds of things. Whereas something of this sort is really just the flavoring and you can easily adjust the saltiness with a table salt as well as what you could with a kosher salt.

    Scot: Hey, Theresa, one of the things that has disappointed my wife about this cooking challenge is she's a vegetarian. She has not been able to share the recipes. Could I go to the store and buy vegetarian meatballs and then sauce them up and pickle vegetables and get something similar?

    Theresa: I have used a teriyaki meatball before and those seem to do pretty well. That's kind of a quick cheat on this one of having a pre-made meatball. But something else that you could do is just tofu or a tempeh or something of that sort.

    And use the same sauce that you are incorporating with your meatballs to flavor the ground turkey. I would just dress or marinate your tofu in that same sauce. So the ginger, the garlic, the soy sauce, and marinate the tofu, and then sauté that up. I think that would be a delicious substitute as well.

    Scot: Okay. Those are some good ideas. I think I'm still going to try the turkey, but I would also like to make my wife a plate because she's been very disappointed.

    Theresa: Yeah, certainly. So just have your two fry pans, one with the tofu and one with the turkey meatballs.

    And the meatballs too . . . depending on the brand of ground turkey, some will have a higher moisture content than others. You might need to add more breadcrumbs if you're noticing that it's really moist.

    Jhonny: I also have one question. In the end, what is the dish supposed to taste like? Is it supposed to be savory salty or savory sweet? I kind of want to know if I messed up before I did.

    Theresa: I'd go savory salty. And it's going to have kind of that mixture of texture as well because some of your ingredients, like the cucumbers and the red cabbage, are going to be raw and crunchy whereas some of the other ingredients are going to be soft and really flavor forward.

    We've talked about that this group or members of this group like spicy things, and your jalapeno and if you choose to use some kind of hot sauce on it, you can certainly adjust that flavor combination or that heat intensity if you want.

    Keeping in mind that, if you are using jalapenos, the heat is going to be really in the white membranes and the seeds of your jalapenos. So just be mindful on that, of how much heat you specifically like when you're making your bowls.

    Scot: And this looks pretty involved. How much time should I budget to make this? Now, keep in mind I am a noob. I'm slow.

    Theresa: Yeah, probably about an hour if we're doing things at the same time.

    Scot: So, for me . . .

    Jhonny: That’s two hours for you, Scot.

    Alex: Yeah, two hours.

    Theresa: So making the rice while you’re doing the meatballs. And the meatballs are going to be baking in the oven. Your rice is going to be cooking on the stove. I liked Jhonny's . . . if you're unsure about the pickling, that's an easy thing to make the day before or very much in advance. And that's okay too.

    Scot: All right. Let's talk about nutrition in this recipe. We're at 435 calories per serving, fat 13.5 grams, carbs 51 grams, fiber 5 grams. So your net carbs are somewhere around 46. And pretty good protein again, 29 grams.

    Any other things from a nutrition standpoint? And then what do we add to it to make it a full meal, or is this really just truly a full meal?

    Theresa: I'm going to go with the full meal category, and I think the thing I like about bowls is that you can really customize it and you can move some of these pieces around.

    This recipe does call for using brown rice, so you're going to have a bit more fiber there. You can play around with how much rice. These numbers come from about three-quarters of a cup, so just less than a cup of rice in the bowl. But you can certainly up the vegetables more. You can add a couple more turkey meatballs if you want to.

    I think if anything, certainly because of the soy sauce, it's leaning toward being higher in sodium. And so if that's something that you're watching, then you could use something like a coconut aminos or a low-sodium tamari sauce that has slightly lower or significantly lower amounts of sodium in them as well. It's one other piece to keep in mind.

    Scot: All right, crew. No more questions? Are you guys ready to get cooking?

    Jhonny: We'll see.

    Nayeli: Yeah.

    Alex: We're ready.

    Scot: All right.

    Jhonny: It's always that "we'll see" with me.

    Scot: Go make this recipe. Let's share it with family and friends, and we'll talk about how it was and how it went in the next episode.

    And if you're listening, hopefully, you are taking the 4-Week Make Your Own Meals Challenge. You can go to and click "Take the Challenge" to get the recipes and to subscribe to the podcast.

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    The Cooking Crew will return next week with our take on this recipe and to wrap up the Make More Meals at Home Challenge.