Lion's Head Meatballs with Napa Cabbage


This is a Shanghainese dish, reminiscent of the deep flavor of the region’s slow-cooked dishes. These meatballs are popular fare across China, both as a home-cooked everyday dish and as a banquet specialty. If the title doesn’t give it away, the large meatballs are meant to represent a lion and the shredded greens its wild mane. The finished dish will be brothy and aromatic, so I like to serve it over steamed rice. My favorite part of the dish is the cabbage broth that results from slow braising.


8 dried shiitake mushrooms

1 pound ground pork

5 or 6 scallions (white and pale green parts), finely chopped, plus more for garnish

1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 large egg, beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 head (about 3 pounds) napa cabbage, halved and cut into bite-size pieces

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Long Life “Supreme” Broth

Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Perfect Steamed Rice, for serving

MAKE THE MEATBALLS: Place the mushrooms in a medium bowl, add hot water to cover, and soak for 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid, and squeeze them dry with your hands. Pour the reserved soaking liquid through a coffee filter–lined sieve (or a colander lined with a paper towel) into a bowl; reserve 1 cup of the liquid. Thinly slice the mushrooms.

In a large bowl, combine the pork, scallions, water chestnuts, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, and kosher salt. Add the cornstarch and the beaten egg, and stir to combine. Form the mixture into 4 large meatballs. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add the vegetable oil and heat it until it sizzles. Add the meatballs to the wok and cook for about 2 minutes; then rotate them so that the meatballs are browned all around, about 8 minutes total. (Depending on the size of your wok, you may have to do this in batches.) Set the meatballs aside on a clean plate.

MAKE THE CABBAGE: In the same wok, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Reserving about 1 cup of the cabbage, add the remaining cabbage, a handful at a time, to the wok and stir until wilted, 10 minutes. Nestle the meatballs down deep in the wilted cabbage and cover them with the remaining cup of uncooked cabbage. Top with the mushrooms. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and the black pepper, and pour the chicken broth over everything.

Cover the wok tightly and cook the meatballs and cabbage on low heat for 90 minutes, until the cabbage is meltingly tender. Garnish with the cilantro and additional scallions. Serve with hot steamed rice.



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