Chinese Lion Head Soup (SHI ZI TOU, 狮子头) is a classic Huaiyang dish made with meatballs, Napa cabbage, and broth. Huaiyang cuisine is one of the four main Chinese cuisines representing the culinary traditions of East China and Jiangsu Province located on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The cuisine is slightly sweet and almost never spicy. Many Huaiyang dishes have stories behind them or are named after poets or chefs who create poems around them. Some say that to be a chief of Huaiyang you have to have the heart of a poet.
Sources say this recipe gets its name from the fact that the meatballs look like a Chinese lion’s head and the cabbage looks like its mane. Stone lion statues were believed to have powerful mythical protective benefits. They stand guard in front of Chinese imperial palaces, imperial tombs, temples, government offices, and the homes of the wealthy across China.
This recipe is traditionally made with ground pork, but I used turkey. I could try a variation of this recipe with fish balls. To prepare this vegan dish, you can use tofu dumplings or meatless dumplings with vegetable broth.
The traditional meatballs for this soup are about the size of a tennis ball. When dividing the meat, try to follow Chinese traditions where the numbers eight and nine are considered auspicious. In Chinese culture, the number eight represents wealth and good fortune and the number nine represents longevity.
This recipe makes four servings. Serve this soup with a bowl of steamed white, brown or cauliflower rice.
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons of ginger – chopped
- 2 tablespoons of soy or tamari sauce
- 2 green onions – chopped – the white parts go into the meatballs and the green to garnish
- 2 baby bok choy
- 4 garlic cloves – chopped
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil – I used canola, olive oil is too heavy for this delicate soup.
- 1 head of Napa cabbage – chopped – use collard greens if you can’t find Napa
- 4 cups of chicken broth
- 1 cup of water
- Garnish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, a pinch of toasted sesame seeds, green onions and a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley.
Combine the ground pork, egg, cornstarch, sesame oil, half the ginger, soy sauce and onion whites. Roll into balls and set aside. Wet hands will help you roll the meat into balls.
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Carbonize the Bok choy by cutting it into quarters lengthwise then place it on a hot grill or an oil-free frying pan. When it has good charcoal, but not burnt, remove it to your cutting board. When cool, cut diagonally into large pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven and sauté the cabbage until softened, add the minced garlic and stir for about a minute. Pour in the chicken broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.
Pour the turkey meatballs and bok choy into the boiling soup. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve hot with the garnishes.