Lion’s Head

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By Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely


The leonine name of this Chinese dish signifies a special occasion. Indeed, the giant pork meatballs draped in cabbage are said to look like the heads of lions. Both the name and size of the meatballs appeal to children, their delicious taste to all.


Makes 4 to 6 servings


1½ pounds Napa cabbage or bok choy

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1½ cups chicken stock (preferably low-salt)

1½ pounds pork, coarsely ground     

3 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root

2 Tablespoons dark sesame oil

2 Tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine

2 Tablespoons cornstarch


1. Remove 4 (or 6) large outer leafy cabbage tops and set aside.

2. Separate the thicker and thinner parts of the leaves, then slice the cabbage across thinly.

3. In a wok or large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high flame and stir-fry the cabbage, starting with the thick pieces. When they start to wilt in a few minutes, add the thin pieces and cook until all are wilted.

4. Add the stock and cook 10 minutes more. Pour the cabbage and liquid plus 1 tablespoon soy sauce into a casserole. Wipe out the pan.

5. Mix the sherry and cornstarch to make a paste.

6. Put the pork in a bowl with the scallions, ginger, sesame oil, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and the sherry/cornstarch paste. Thoroughly mix the ingredients. With your hands, shape 4 or 6 large balls; they will be quite soft.

7. Heat the remaining vegetable oil in the pan over medium flame, and brown the pork balls, turning carefully with spatulas or spoons, to color them evenly. When they get a bit squashy, don’t worry: just try to keep them together. With a slotted spoon, set the pork balls on the cabbage in the casserole, and drape a reserved cabbage leaf over each. Cover tightly and simmer slowly on the stovetop (or cook in a 375 degree oven if you prefer).

8. Directly from the casserole, serve each lion’s head in a soup dish or deep plate, with some of the cabbage and liquid spooned around.