Lion's Head Meatballs


These lion's head meatballs really are melt-in-your-mouth. Some people think the name comes from their large size, while others believe eating these gives you the strength of a lion, but the actual answer is not quite as mythical. The look of this crinkled-up napa cabbage in the rich broth reminded the inventors of this dish of a lion's mane. Serve this soup as-is or with noodles added to the bowl.

Prep Time:
30 mins
Cook Time:
45 mins
Additional Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
2 hrs 15 mins


  • 1 ½ cups boiling water

  • 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms

Meatball Mixture:

  • 1 (8 ounce) container firm tofu, chopped into small bits

  • ¼ cup minced canned water chestnuts

  • 1 pound fatty ground pork (at least 20% fat)

  • ¼ cup finely sliced green onions (white and light green parts only)

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced

  • 1 ½ teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger

  • 2 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry (see Note)

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (Optional)

  • 1 large egg

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch

Cooking Liquid:

  • 1 small head napa cabbage

  • 2 cups chicken broth

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (Optional)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch

  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil, or to taste


  • ¼ cup sliced green onion tops

  • 2 tablespoons hot chili oil


  1. Pour boiling water over shiitake mushrooms, and let sit until soft enough to slice, about 1 hour.

  2. Meanwhile, make the meatball mixture: Combine tofu and chestnuts in a large bowl. Add ground pork, green onions, garlic, and ginger. Pour in rice wine, soy sauce, brown sugar, egg, salt, and cayenne. Dust with cornstarch. Mix with a clean hand until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

  3. Form mixture into 6 large meatballs with wet hands.

  4. Set an oven rack about 8 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven's broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and oil lightly. Place meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.

  5. Broil in the preheated oven until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool while prepping the pot.

  6. For the cooking liquid: Trim off the bottom of the head of cabbage and slice 1/2 of the head. Arrange sliced cabbage on the bottom of a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Arrange remaining cabbage leaves on top. Slice and scatter mushrooms on top of cabbage; reserve shiitake liquid. Nestle meatballs into cabbage leaves and pour juices over.

  7. Strain reserved shiitake liquid into a bowl. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil, brown sugar, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Whisk until dissolved. Add to the pot, pouring over each meatball. Bring to a boil over high heat.

  8. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Continue cooking, basting meatballs often, until liquid reduces slightly and meatballs are no longer pink in the center, about 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

  9. Ladle into serving bowls and arrange cabbage over meatballs. Top with green onions and chili oil.

    close up on a bowl of mini lion's head meatballs
    Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Chef's Notes:

If you can't find dried shiitake mushrooms, feel free to use fresh, but be sure to sauté them first. You can use rice wine instead of sherry, if you like.

A few tablespoons of cornstarch slurry can be stirred in at the end for a thicker sauce. Just mix 2 tablespoons water with 1 tablespoon cornstarch.

You can also brown meatballs in a 475 degrees F (245 degrees C) oven instead of broiling.

To make your own hot chili oil for garnish, crush 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes with vegetable oil in a mortar and pestle; let sit for 3 hours to overnight.

Editor's Note:

This recipe appeared in Allrecipes Magazine and was adapted to make 36 mini meatballs.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

315 Calories
18g Fat
19g Carbs
21g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 6
Calories 315
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 5g 26%
Cholesterol 82mg 27%
Sodium 1608mg 70%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 3g 9%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 21g
Vitamin C 35mg 176%
Calcium 257mg 20%
Iron 4mg 21%
Potassium 672mg 14%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

** Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available nutrient data.

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a medically restrictive diet, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian before preparing this recipe for personal consumption.

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