1. Homepage
  2. ASIAN
  3. Lion's Head Meatballs

Lion’s Head Meatballs

  • recipe image cover





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 and welcome in the Year of the Rooster.

The oversized meatballs are traditionally served on a platter and diners scoop off a portion of the meatball along with some sauce and cabbage. If I was making them to celebrate Chinese New Year I would do this but for everyday I usually divide the meat mixture into about six meatballs. This just makes it a bit easier to cook and serve.

I once attended a Hugh Carpenter cooking class and brought my copy of his Pacific Flavors cookbook to be signed. He recommended the Lion’s Head Meatballs so I went home and made them. This is my gluten free take on his recipe and I am grateful for his suggestion. I have been making this dish ever since and although it is a little bit of work it is worth it. Once you taste it I’m sure you will agree.

A Little Pantry Tip for Lion’s Head Meatballs

If you want to cook and enjoy a variety of interesting meals you need a well-stocked pantry. Then you need a few favourite recipes that use all the ingredients you have. I wrote a previous post on stocking a gluten free Asian pantry so here I will simply suggest one recipe for each of the ingredients used in this recipe…just in case you need a reason to add it to your pantry.

  • -Make sure you find the gluten free oyster sauce then use it in your everyday stir fry,
  • -Use dry sherry in an Asian salad dressing,
  • -Use sesame oil in a noodle salad.
  • -Soy sauce is now a staple ingredient in North American homes (isn’t it?) so I suggest you try a soy sauce – tamari tasting to find your favourite gluten free brand.

Canned foods in the pantry can be a life saver…not too many but just enough. They sometimes remind me to make a dish but they can also be used to extend a dish when you are a little short on fresh veggies. I like to have a can of water chestnuts in the back of the cupboard for this exact recipe. They add a nice crunch and unique taste to these meatballs. This recipe uses about a half a can. You can freeze the rest or use them up in my everyday stir-fry.

Chinese New Year only comes once a year but you can make this dish anytime. Let me know in the comments below 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.


Join our community and see what’s cookin’ in my kitchen each week. Download the free ebook if you need some ideas for more everyday cooking at home.