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Lion's Head Meatballs

Rated as 5 out of 5 Stars

"People throw out the term "melt-in-your-mouth" pretty casually, but these meatballs really are. 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 reminded the inventors of this dish of a lion's mane."
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2 h 15 m servings 315
Original recipe yields 6 servings


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  1. Pour boiling water over shiitake mushrooms, and let sit until soft enough to slice, about 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, combine chestnuts and tofu in a large bowl. Add ground pork, green onions, garlic, and ginger. Pour in rice wine, soy sauce, salt, cayenne, brown sugar, and egg. 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. 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 the remaining leaves on the top. Slice and scatter the mushrooms on top of the cabbage; reserve shiitake liquid. Nestle the meatballs into the cabbage leaves and pour juices over.
  7. Strain reserved shiitake liquid into a bowl. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil, brown sugar, and cornstarch. 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 raise heat to medium-high. Continue cooking, basting the meatballs often, until liquid reduces slightly and meatballs are no longer pink in the centers, about 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
  9. Ladle into serving bowls and arrange cabbage over the meatballs. Top with green onions and chili oil.


  • Chef's Notes:
  • If you can't find dried shiitake mushrooms, feel free to use fresh, but be sure to saute them first. You can use rice wine instead of sherry, if you like.
  • A few tablespoons of a 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 the meatballs in a 475-degree (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 and let sit for 3 hours to overnight.
  • This can be served as-is, or with noodles added to the bowl.

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving: 315 calories; 18.1 18.5 20.6 82 1608 Full nutrition

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Read all reviews 9
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This recipe was surprisingly delicious. I usually make Swedish meatballs, which while delicious are very rich and something you can’t eat too much of. The meatballs in this, on the other hand, a...

Easy, delicious and inexpensive. Lazy Girl served it over ramen for a complete meal. We loved the Napa Cabbage. I used drained tofu and that was the way to go. Next time I'd dice it a bit more ...

Will make this again, delicious and comforting. Low Broil didn't get my meatballs browned enough, so next time I'll put it on high despite the smoke. A squeeze of siracha sauce on top brought it...

Excellent flavor! I didn't squeeze water from the tofu, so meatballs were very wet. otherwise, easy to prepare, easy to serve

Simply delicious! it gave me a chance to use some tofu I had...

I will definitely make this again. I didn't change anything. Wonderful flavors that go so well together. I wasn't too happy with the Nappa Cabbage though. I never had it before. It has a light...

I added a teaspoon of ground furikake to the broth. I do recommend!

I love this recipe ! Thought it was very fun to make as the ingredients were different from ones I usually use. Love the water chestnuts to provide the crunch. Juice was incredible !! I even bo...

I made it as per recipe the first time and then i got creative. I made the second batch with a pound of ground salmon and i tweeked the broth with miso and hondashi skipping the soy sauce - outs...