Chinese Soul Food | Lion’s Head Meatballs
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Lion’s Head Meatballs

Lion’s Head Meatballs

I so love humble dishes that give more than they take. Lion’s Head Meatballs is such a dish. I make the meatballs with ground Kurobuta pork and shape them about the size of a tennis ball. Usually, the meatballs are double the size – hence the name “lion’s head.” The dimpled Chinese cabbage leaves cook down around the meatballs and look like the lion’s mane. It’s soupy and hearty without being heavy.


I made this for an everyday family dinner tonight. But I also make this for Chinese New Year. At New Year’s the giant meatballs are symbolic of the family reunion. The big feast on New Year’s Eve is actually called the reunion dinner. It’s a time when family members return home to pay respects to the elders, celebrate with loved ones, feast on foods symbolic of good luck and prosperity, and set off firecrackers to scare away the bad luck.

Into the pot and before braising.

Into the pot and before braising.


Serves 4 as part of a meal

1 pound ground pork (see Note)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, or a dry white wine
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger (or grated with a Microplane)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 pound Chinese cabbage
1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
1 bundle cellophane noodles (mung bean thread)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, soy sauce, wine, ginger, green onions and sesame oil. Mix very well. Form meatballs the size of tennis balls. You should get about 6 meatballs.

Heat the wok over high heat. Add the cup of oil and heat until it just begins to smoke. Using a slotted spoon, gently lower several of the meatballs into the oil. You will need to do this in batches. Brown the meatballs on each side. You don’t need to cook the meatballs all the way through. The point is to brown the outside. it should take 2-3 minutes. You may have to adjust the heat as needed. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Cut the core out of the Chinese cabbage. You can leave the inner leaves whole. The larger, outer leaves, you can cut into segments. It’s OK if the pieces are large, because by the time the braise is done, the cabbage leaves will cook down. If the pieces are too small, they’ll “melt.” Place the cabbage leaves in a Dutch oven.

Add the browned meatballs and the quart of water. Bring the pot to a low boil, then turn down the heat to low. Let simmer for about 45 minutes, checking the pot to make sure it doesn’t cook down too fast. Taste the broth. Add the teaspoon of salt, more or less, as desired. Add the noodles into the broth and let soften for about 5 minutes. Make sure the noodles do get submerged in the broth. When the noodles are cooked through, the meatballs are ready to serve. Serve with steamed rice.

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