Weeknight Meal Idea: Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls (Gluten-Free Optional)

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Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls — all the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a simple one-pan meal topped with loads of fresh herbs and veggies. Easily made gluten-free.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.

The Beauty Of Bowl Recipes

If you guys follow me on Instagram (@thepigandquill), it’ll come as no surprise that bowl food is kiiiinda my thing. Heck, even if you’ve read one of the foodie roundups I’ve done here for TME, it’d be fairly (or, in the case of this one, blatantly) obvious. It’s not as if bowls really offer anything more in the way of nutrition than the same components compiled alongside each other on a plate — but there’s something very forgiving about schlepping everything into a bowl. Not to mention the fact that, in the process of creating the many layers of a bowl, there is the potential for more, uhhhh, food.

But perhaps the most beautiful thing about bowls is that they’re generally the result of component cooking — that is, assembling an array of complementary and mostly pre-prepped or low-prep ingredients into one eating vessel, and then calling it a day. Yes, in some instances they’re just as much work as preparing a traditional entree with the usual two or three accompanying sides. But for the most part — and in the case of the Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls you see here — it’s as easy as prepping one main item and then loading that up with what really amounts to be a crap ton of glorified condiments.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.

Vietnamese-Inspired Caramelized Pork Bowl Ingredients

So let’s tuck in.

In these Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls, you’ll find:

  • Sweet and savory caramelized ground pork
  • fluffy rice
  • quick “pickled” cabbage
  • shredded carrots
  • kimchi (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it…several times)
  • loads of herbs
  • bright lime juice
  • aaaand toasted sesame seeds! Bonus points if you can wrangle up some finely chopped roasted peanuts, too.

As for how it comes together — well. Pop the rice into the Instant Pot (or rice cooker…or if you’re a bigger badass than me, hit up the OG stove top method), get the crazy flavorful pork going in the pan, and while that takes place, get your garnishes in order. Within 20 mins or so — ta-da!!! Bowls that are big on flavor, short on effort and highly reminiscent of your fave takeout situation.

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.
Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.

Proof that we really do eat all the meals that I develop for The Mom Edit as a family: Chris’ bowl (sans kimchi), Lana’s bowl (sans herbs) and my bowl with, shocker, all the dang things.


Vietnamese-Inspired Caramelized Pork Bowl Recipe

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.
Yield: 4 Servings

Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls

Vietnamese-Inspired Caramel Pork Bowls
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • FOR THE PORK:
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 T dark soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari, for GF)
  • 2 T shaoxing wine
  • 3 T coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp five spice
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • black pepper
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 giant handfuls baby spinach
  • FOR THE BOWLS:
  • 1/4 head purple cabbage, shredded
  • juice of 1 lime, plus extra lime wedges for serving
  • 4 servings prepared white or brown rice
  • 2 carrots, shredded (buy 'em shredded!)
  • large handful EACH cilantro and mint
  • kimchi (see note)
  • sesame seeds or crushed roasted peanuts

Instructions

    1. Thinly slice or shred cabbage. In a large bowl, toss shredded cabbage with the juice of 1 lime and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Set aside.
    2. In a large cold skillet, add pork and press firmly into a single layer. Bring heat up to medium until you hear sizzling and cook undisturbed until deeply browned, about 5 mins (you can lift pork to check for color -- turn back heat if necessary). Meanwhile, stir together dark soy sauce, shaoxing wine, coconut sugar, five spice, ginger, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
    3. When pork is brown on the bottom, carefully tip pan and drain off excess fat, holding meat in place. Return pan to heat and break up pork with a wooden spoon. Add scallions and drizzle soy sauce mixture over pork. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until pork is fully cooked through and "sauce" is mostly absorbed. Add spinach and cook until wilted, another minute or two.
    4. Portion rice and pork among serving bowls, adding cabbage, shredded carrots, kimchi, fresh herbs, sesame seeds (and/or peanuts) and a lime wedge, to taste. Enjoy!

Notes

A quick note on cooking rice: we use our trusty (very unfancy) rice cooker or the Instant Pot. If using the Instant Pot, my fave method is: 1:1 ratio of rice to water, high pressure for 3 mins (white rice) or 15 mins (brown rice), and let the pressure naturally release for 10-15 mins. Couldn't be simpler.

Re: kimchi. I love the kimchi that my local Costco stocks -- it lasts forever in the fridge and just gets funkier and fizzier over time. If you aren't sure if you love kimchi, I encourage you to try, try again. The spice and flavor can vary greatly from brand to brand (unsurprisingly, I like just about all of them) -- so if you're generally a fan or pickled, spicy or fermented foods, chances are there's a kimchi out there for you!

Here’s to easy weeknight cooking that (almost) tastes like you got to leave the house.
Cheers, friends!
Em

Guys! Follow me on Instagram for more peeks into our life on the Northern California coast. And if you feel so inclined, pop over to my personal food + lifestyle blog, The Pig & Quill, where I share salty scribblings from my kitchen and home life. Byeeeeee!

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Bowl recipe -- an easy weeknight meal w/ the big flavors of family-friendly takeout in a 1-pot meal w/ fresh herbs & veggies.

18 COMMENTS

  1. This looks amazing! I have a request…a round up of BOWLS. Pasta-sized bowls…ones for recipes just like this!! I’ve really struggled to find ones that are just the right circumference and depth. Target’s Hearth & Hand line made some great pasta bowls, but when I went to purchase more…they were discontinued. Help!!

    • YES PLEASE. I’m having the same issue. We have these Crate and Barrel bowls: https://shopstyle.it/l/bhrTs

      They aren’t terrible (come in a big pack, cheap, can be microwaved), but they’re still very ROUND. I’m constantly trying to decide between these or a plate when we do dinners like this. That said….I don’t have much room in my tiny kitchen so I’m wondering if there’s a bowl that can be both a bowl and a BOWL?

      Haha – good luck, Em. 🙂

  2. Question on the rice: We use our IP and use white rice with a 1c to 1 1/2c water ratio for the 10min preset. It makes the rice a bit stickier… What texture is the rice that you make in this recipe? I never get it right… although it’s always pretty good.

    • Hmm, interesting. I’ve only ever done rice in the IP with the method I mentioned, which still results in a slightly wetter rice than in a rice cooker, but it’s not truly soggy. It’s, like you said, pretty good. A lot comes down to which type of rice you’re using. Even within the white rice category, short grain rice and long grain rice cook up differently. Long grain tends to cook up drier and fluffier; short or medium grain will always be a bit more sticky. We used a medium grain for these bowls, but if you know you prefer lighter, fluffier rice, try reducing the amount of water and then letting the rice sit in the IP uncovered on the warm function for a bit before serving. And make sure you rinse your rice, too. That helps remove some of the starches that lead to stickiness. Good luck!

  3. So, I’m allergic to soy, but I love asian food (I know they are diferent, but I’ve loved basically every asian cuisine I’ve tried). I guess I really like that sweet/sour/spicy contrast thing a lot of asian food has going. Do you have any ideas for what you can sub soy with in recipes like this, where the soy is a large part of the flavour? I would experiment, but frankly I have forgotten what soy tastes like since I haven’t had any for about 15 years.

    • Ah, what a bummer. But you’re in luck! A lot of the savoriness that soy sauce lends to recipes like this can also be found in Bragg’s Aminos or Coconut Aminos. It’s not exactly the same, but if you’re marrying it with other Asian-inspired flavors (garlic, ginger, chiles, herbs, certain spices, etc.) it will get you there. If you’re not adverse to fish sauce or oyster sauce, those are two of my favorite Asian condiments for delivering loads of salty, savoriness, too. Fish sauce you would use more sparingly than soy sauce, oyster sauce you would use about the same, though it’s thicker, so in some instances you would have to thin it down with a splash of water, like if you wanted to marinate something in it. It has a bit of sugar in it, too, so it has the tendency to caramelize — or burn — if allowed. Don’t be scared off it, though. It’s DELICIOUS. And I just checked the ingredients on my favorite Lee Kum Kee MSG-Free Oyster Sauce (linking so you can see what it is, though it’s about half the price in an Asian grocery store) and it is, indeed, soy-free. Good luck!

  4. Wow, this looks delicious! Can I substitute regular or brown sugar for the coconut sugar? Gotta track down some five spice and shaoxing wine. I’m in San Francisco, so that shouldn’t be too hard. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Well hey, neighbor! How are things up in the city? 🙂 To answer your question: yes, you can use any sweetener, really. White sugar or brown sugar I might cut back by a T because I find them to be sweeter than coconut sugar. And if you don’t want to have get the wine, you could probably sub sherry in a pinch, if you’ve got that. The five spice is pretty clutch, though! Hope you enjoy!!

  5. Just made these for dinner tonight and, OMG…so yummy! I ended up subbing sherry for the wine and fresh ginger for dry. And I second trying to find bowls large enough to accommodate all these lovely flavors and not have to get seconds (or thirds in my case ?). I am one happily stuffed girl!

    • Nice! We actually subbed fresh ginger for dried the other night, too, which I forgot to mention in stories. And sherry is the perfect swap. So glad you enjoyed them! Hope the kiddos did, too! Cheers, friend. 🙂

  6. Thank you very much! I haven’t tried (or heard of) braggs/coconut aminos, so I’ll give that a try! 🙂 Fish sauce/oyster sauce I’m familiar with and usually keep around the house already. They do have a certain fishiness that I like, but maybe not with everything? I’ll experiment and see what happens.

  7. OK, Gals…I made this this weekend (with substitutions) and it was still amazing. I rushed through when ordering groceries, so I missed the Shaoxing wine, and I’m allergic to fennel, so I had to do a make-your-own five spice. For the Shaoxing, I went for what was in the cupboard after reading about it online, meaning I mixed white wine vinegar, fish sauce and balsamic vinegar. After living in VN, I knew the fish sauce wouldn’t throw off the flavor profile of the overall dish, but would add the umami. For the five spice, I looked at substitutions online and ended up including star anise, cloves, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger…I may have added something else, but can’t remember. I then didn’t include the additional ginger and black pepper the recipe calls for (I was rushing, and didn’t mise en place properly). Instead of red pepper flakes, which I don’t keep on hand, I used a little chili garlic sauce. We had it with rice ramen noodles the first night (kid’s choice), then with sushi rice last night (it’s stickier, which my daughter likes, so we always have it on-hand) — both were delicious. I also add a bit of coconut milk to water for cooking rice. It was all delicious. Thanks, Em.

    • Yay, Lex! So glad you guys loved it. Your mods sound stellar — never one to turn down fish sauce. My mom just made this and had it over ramen noodles, too! Now I feel like I have to do that the next time. And Lana loves sushi rice, so we do a lot of that, also — easier to pick up with chopsticks!

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