lion’s head meatballs with collard greens
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lion’s head meatballs with collard greens

chinese lions head meatballs with collard greens

First of all, let me be clear: I do not, nor have I ever, had access to lion’s head meat. Lion’s head meatballs, or shi zi tou, are actually a Chinese dish made of ground pork. I think it has something to do with their gargantuan size (around 2.5 inches each). Lion’s heads are large, and so are these meatballs.

I have a very long relationship with lion’s head meatballs. This dish, which involves searing the meatballs and then braising them with napa cabbage, was and is a staple in my family. I loved shi zi tou night as a kid, and now my dad makes them for my kids almost every time we visit. It’s comfort food, especially when eaten with steamed white rice. Today I’m sharing a Southern riff on this classic Chinese dish that’s easily made in the slow cooker.

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chinese lion's head meatballs with collard greens
I made these lion’s head meatballs last week when the kids told me they were craving them. I usually don’t make this dish myself because I know I can always count on my dad to make a batch big enough to feed 20 if I asked him to. Plus, if I called him for his recipe, I’d get a vague series of non-answers. “You take some meat, and then you mix it with tofu, and then you cook it. How hard is that?” If I pressed him for specifics, he’d give me even more vague, inexplicable instructions — “enough soy sauce to cover a knuckle” or “the meatballs should be brown on the outside, but not browner than the back of my old spatula.” What???!!!

Luckily, there’s a recipe for slow cooker lion’s head meatballs in my new favorite cookbook, Lucky Peach’s 101 Easy Asian Recipes. As you probably have guessed, I have a lot of cookbooks. Specifically, I have a lot of Asian cookbooks, especially ones I bought when we lived in Malaysia from 2009-2011. But I really love Lucky Peach’s cookbook because it breaks down Asian recipes into very accessible recipes that don’t require a ton of extra pantry staples that you’d otherwise only use for one dish.

chinese lion's head meatballs with collard greens

For a Southern twist on my lion’s head meatballs, I simmered the meatballs along with torn-up shreds of collard greens. As any good Southerner knows, collard greens are wonderful when you cook the daylights out of them, and even better when they’re cooked alongside hearty, fatty pork (preferably a smoked, bone-in kind). Plus, the leaves of collard greens are more rugged than napa cabbage, which means that the collards don’t melt away the way that napa cabbage does from hours of slow cooking.

I assembled my lion’s head meatballs and collard greens in the slow cooker and left them to simmer while I worked. At the end of the day, the collards and meatballs did exactly what I’d hoped — they’d melded together into a juicy one-pot dish of meat and greens. We had ours over tender, flat rice noodles, since the pork and the greens had released enough savory liquid to make a nice broth, too.

And really, at the end of the day, this dish is totally me. I am, if nothing else, meaty with some Southern greens.

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slow cooker lion’s head meatballs with collard greens

Time8 hrs 20 mins
CourseMain Course
CuisineAsian
Servings4
This classic Chinese dish is made Southern with the addition of braised collard greens (recipe adapted from Lucky Peach’s 101 Easy Asian Recipes)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts included)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (I use white cooking wine and it works just fine)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb collard greens (leaves separated from stems and torn into 2-2.5 inch pieces)
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • + salt and pepper to taste
  • + rice noodles or steamed white rice for serving

Instructions

  • Place the pork in a large bowl, breaking it up with your hands. Add the scallions, soy sauce, sugar, wine, garlic, ginger, salt and sesame oil and stir to combine evenly. Add the egg and corn starch and mix vigorously so that the pork becomes tacky. Form into eight 2-inch meatballs.
  • Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet (or the insert of your slow cooker, if it is stovetop safe). Brown the meatballs on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side until all the meatballs are browned. Remove the meatballs from the pan and transfer to a slow cooker.
  • Cover the meatballs with the chicken broth, then surround the meatballs with the collard greens. Season with salt and pepper and cover the slow cooker, cooking on low for 8 hours.
  • Serve with rice noodles or steamed white rice.

 

These traditional Chinese

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About me

I’m Ann, a mom / wife / lawyer / certified culinary enthusiast. I share recipes, travel guides and home life tips while living overseas. Currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.

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