One of my family’s all-time favorite comfort meal is call “lions head.” It’s a fancy name for meatballs and napa, which is a Chinese cabbage. This vegetable can be found in most grocery stores now.
It’s called Lion’s Head because the meatballs are generally made larger than your average meatballs and they represents the head of the lion while the cabbage represents the lion’s mane. The Chinese can be so imaginative with their food!
This delicious hearty dish has simple ingredients and is fairly easy to make, but it does require you to come with a lion’s appetite! Just make sure you have white rice to go with it.
2 cup or more corn or vegetable oil
a bowl of water
1 pound ground turkey or pork
1 whole napa cabbage, chopped into two-inch squares
2 tablespoons soy sauce (NOT the brand Kikkoman as it has a more sour flavor. Get a Chinese soy sauce instead.)
1/2 tablespoon mushroom soy (This is used to darken the meat and add a deeper flavor. The dish can be made without this ingredient if you can’t find it!)
4-5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 can or carton of chicken broth
salt to taste
white pepper (optional)
deep pan or wok
large cooking spoon
long tongs or spatula
large mixing bowl
measuring cups and spoons
1) In a large mixing bowl, add the following ingredients to ground meat in this order: egg, soy sauce and mushroom soy, then a tablespoon of oil and top with a 2 teaspoons of cornstarch over ground meat. Combine all ingredients well. Set aside.
2) Pour about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch onto a plate and have a bowl of clean water prepared.
3) Dip fingers into bowl of water and form meatballs into the size of your fist or baseball. Dip fingers into water after each meatball to prevent the meat from sticking to your hands. Toss the meatball from hand to hand to tighten and remove any air bubbles. Place meatballs on a plate with a little water to keep them from sticking to the plate when you pick them up later to cook. Makes about 4-6 depending on size of your meatballs.
3) Pour enough oil into a deep pan, or a preferably a wok, to quick deep fry the meatballs. Eyeball it to fill up to 2 to 3 inches. You want enough oil to cover half the meatball. Heat oil until it’s hot, but not smoking.
4) While waiting for the oil to heat up, gently roll one meatball in the plate with cornstarch. Lightly pat meatball between palms. Then VERY GENTLY place into heated oil. Don’t throw it into the oil and risk splashing hot oil. If you’re not sure, use a large cooking spoon to put meatball into oil. Add only enough meatballs to size of pan. Turn temperature from high to medium heat and cook one side for about 2 minutes. Then turn meatball over and cook other side. Try to keep temperature of oil consistent. Once whole meatball is browned, remove from oil, draining excess oil onto paper towel.
Note: Turkey meatballs can just be browned on both sides and removed. Pork meatballs may take a little longer, perhaps 3-4 minutes on either side.
5) Carefully remove oil from pan and save in separate bowl. Clean and thoroughly dry pan/wok, add some of the saved oil and reheat.
6) Stir Fry Napa for 5-7 minutes. Add about 1/2 C of water or chicken broth. (I prefer to stir fry the napa before putting it into a soup pot to simmer, but you CAN skip this step and just put the raw napa with a teaspoon of oil and 1/2 C of chicken broth into the soup pot instead.)
7) Transfer 1/3 of the napa to soup pot, put the meatballs on top of the napa and then add remaining napa and cover all the meatballs. You can add another 1/2 C to 1 C of chicken broth or the whole can. Bring liquid to boil then lower heat and cover to simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
8) Test the napa. It should still have some crunch to it, not mushy. Add salt and white pepper (optional) to taste. Also make sure meatballs are cooked through.
9) Blend a little water with about 1 TBS of cornstarch until it’s all combined to a smooth liquid. Bring liquid to boil and add cornstarch mix. This is make the liquid thicker and be more a sauce or liquid gravy consistency. Don’t make it too thick, so add cornstarch slowly, stirring the whole time. Less is better than more here.
10) Serve this over white rice and enjoy!
Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!!