is a flavourful winter dish from Huaiyang cuisine. The giant meatballs are said to represent a lion's head and the shredded cabbage represen...' />

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Lion’s Head Meatballs

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Lion’s Head Meatballs is a flavourful winter dish from Huaiyang cuisine. The giant meatballs are said to represent a lion’s head and the shredded cabbage represents its’ mane. This dish is perfect to celebrate Chinese New Year.

The oversized meatballs are traditionally served on a platter and diners scoop off a portion of the meatball along with some sauce and cabbage. To celebrate Chinese New Year this is a fun way to serve this recipe but for everyday, I divide the meat mixture into six meatballs making it a bit easier to cook and serve.

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The Joy of Cookbooks

Some people still love cookbooks and I’m one of them. Sure, I Google recipes all the time but I have several shelves of cookbooks and the one that inspired my love of Asian and Asian Fusion cooking is Hugh Carpenter’s Pacific Flavors. Years ago I attended one of his cooking classes and when he signed my book he recommended the Lion’s Head Meatballs. Of course I went home and made them since no long list of ingredients deters me. This is my gluten free adaptation from his book and I am grateful for his suggestion. I think that you’ll agree it is worth the effort once you taste it.

Organize For Success

To cook and enjoy a variety of interesting meals you need a well-stocked pantry. Then it’s nice to have at least a few favourite recipes that use those ingredients. I wrote an entire post on what you might put in your gluten free Asian pantry so you can check that out. Here are a few recipes in case you need more convincing to add something to your pantry.

A bowl of my everyday Vegetable Stir Fry served on rice
Everyday Vegetable Stir Fry -photo credit Jim Little
  • -I buy W&H Dry Sack sherry at the liquor store and use it in this Asian salad dressing
Garden Greens with Asian Dressing and Crispy Bean Thread Noodles
Garden Greens with Asian Dressing and Crispy Bean Thread Noodles -photo credit Jim Little
A bowl full of a gluten free Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad
Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad -photo credit Jim Little
  • -Soy sauce is now a staple ingredient in every North American kitchen (isn’t it?). I hosted a soy sauce vs tamari tasting to find my favourite gluten free brand and I served this sushi pizza for the tasting.
Gluten free soy sauce vs tamari tasting
Gluten Free Soy Sauce vs Tamari Tasting -photo credit Jim Little

Canned foods in the pantry can be a life saver too. They sometimes remind me to make a dish or stretch it a bit when I’m short on fresh veggies. I like to have a can of water chestnuts in the back of my cupboard for this recipe. They add a nice crunch and unique taste to these meatballs and then I use them up in my everyday stir-fry. You can freeze them too.

Chinese New Year only comes once a year but you can make this dish anytime. Let me know in the comments below if you tried this recipe and if you made the giant lion’s head meatballs.


6 dried black Chinese mushrooms
3 green onions, finely chopped
6 water chestnuts, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp cornstarch (and more for dusting meatballs)
2 Tbsp dry sherry
1 Tbsp GF soy sauce
1 Tbsp GF oyster sauce
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp pepper
1 lb ground pork
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 cups shredded green cabbage
1½ cups GF chicken stock
¼ cup dry sherry
2 Tbsp GF oyster sauce
1 Tbsp GF soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp pepper
FINISHING - 2 Tbsp cornstarch & 2 Tbsp water


Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms to cover and let soak for 20 minutes to soften. Discard the stems and finely chop mushroom caps.
In a large bowl combine mushrooms, green onions, water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, cornstarch, dry sherry, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and pepper.
Add ground pork and gently mix until combined. Form mixture into 3 giant meatballs or smaller ones if you prefer. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Combine all sauce ingredients in a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup.
In a small dish whisk 2 Tbsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp water. Set aside.
Sprinkle a few spoonfuls of cornstarch over the meatballs. Gently toss the meatballs between your hands until they are lightly coated with cornstarch.
Heat a large pan over high heat. When hot add 2 Tbsp oil. When the oil is hot add the meatballs. Cook until nicely browned gently turning them as they brown, about 8 minutes.
Transfer meatballs to a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Pour sauce on top and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes.
Just before the meatballs are done cook the cabbage.
In the pan you cooked the meatballs (or a clean pan) add 2 Tbsp of oil and place over high heat.
When hot add the cabbage and stir-fry 3-5 minutes until slightly wilted.
Spread cabbage on a serving platter. Remove meatballs from sauce and place on top of cabbage. Set aside while you thicken the sauce.
Add cornstarch/water mixture to the hot sauce and whisk until thickened, 1-2 minutes.
Pour some of the sauce over the meatballs and serve the remainder on the side.


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