Recipe courtesy of Ching-He Huang

Lion Head Meatballs

This dish was said to be an imperial dish that the emperor ate. It is called Lion Head meatballs because, once cooked, the meatballs are surrounded by Chinese cabbage, and the meatball is said to resemble the head of the lion, while the long pieces of cabbage resemble the 'mane' of the lion. My mother can be quite superstitious and when she cooked this dish when I was younger she told us that we would be as strong as lions if we ate it. It worked. This is something I plan to cook and share if I have children one day. Serve with steamed rice, as the rice helps to soak up the juices of the broth.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 50 min
  • Prep: 30 min
  • Cook: 20 min
  • Yield: 16 servings
  • Nutrition Info
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1 pound 2 ounces ground beef

2 ounces Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly cracked white pepper


3 1/2 ounces groundnut oil (peanut)

2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

11 ounces Chinese cabbage, quartered lengthwise from leaf to stem end

3 dried Chinese mushrooms, porcini mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch, blended with 2 tablespoons cold water, optional

Sea salt and freshly cracked white pepper

2 large spring onions (green), sliced

Basic Glutinous Rice, recipe follows, for service, optional

Basic Glutinous Rice

11 ounces glutinous rice, rinsed

18 ounces water


  1. For the meatballs: 
  2. Put the ground beef, rice wine, garlic, spring onions, egg, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, salt, and white pepper into a large bowl to combine, stirring in the same direction. 
  3. Using wet hands, scoop a large mound of the ground meat mixture, and mold it into a ball. The size should be a little larger than a golf ball. Transfer the meatball to a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture. 
  4. For the assembly: 
  5. Pour the groundnut oil into a large deep pan, and heat over a high heat. Using a metal ladle, carefully lower each meatball into the oil, and spoon some of the oil over the meatballs. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until browned. 
  6. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of oil into a heat-proof bowl. Add the vegetable stock to the pan. Arrange the quarters of Chinese cabbage around the meatballs, curving them lengthwise around the sides of the pan, then add the mushrooms, and soy sauce. Bring everything to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce its heat, and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the blended cornstarch slurry, if using, and stir until the sauce thickens. 
  7. Remove the pan from the heat, and season with salt, and white pepper, to taste, and sprinkle over the spring onion slices. Transfer the dish to a warm serving platter, and serve immediately. 

Basic Glutinous Rice

  1. Heat a pan, add the rice and water, cover, and cook over high heat for 15 minutes. 
  2. Reduce the heat to very low, and cook for an additional 3 minutes, making sure all the water has evaporated. Remove from the heat and, using a spatula, fluff the rice. It is now ready to serve.

Cook’s Note

Steamed or glutinous rice is a perfect accompaniment to this dish.