Lion's Head Meatballs

In honor of Chinese New Year (this year on February 10th) and in observance of Super Bowl Sunday (this year today), I'm posting a recipe that works for both:  Chinese-style meatballs!  

These meatballs are called Lion's Head because of their size.  Have you noticed that inferior restaurants overcompensate for the lack of taste in their meatballs by forming them outlandishly large?   Unlike those, here the combination of different flavors and textures is in direct proportion to their size; the only complex thing about them is the taste.  In fact, because of their size these babies are easy to (gently) throw together.   TIP ALERT!  It's easier and faster to make large meatballs than itty-bitty ones.  You're welcome.

I'll be partying to the Puppy Bowl (still no idea who is in The Big Game ... I watch the commercials), but if you plan to serve them as Superbowl appys later, feel free to make the balls about an inch in diameter, and only broil for 5-8 minutes.

The lemon peel and basil garnishes are a little unusual (to me, anyway) for a Chinese dish, but definitely add to the taste.  Leave them out only if you have to.

I tinkered a tad with the ingredients, most notably substituting ground beef for the pork, and soy sauce for the fish sauce (by the way, if anyone ever finds a kosher fish sauce, please let me along with the rest of the world know about it).  I also broiled the balls, which avoided the use of additional oil.

The sauce turned out to be a little on the thin side so I added corn starch as an option in case you don't care for thick.  The original recipe did included corn starch and flour, but for the meatballs.   I wasn't sure why both were needed instead of just using one, but just in case I left it as is.  If spice isn't right for you, reduce crushed red pepper flakes in the meatball ingredients to 1/4 teaspoon.  Oh, and I omitted additional salt since kashered meat contains a bit of salt, plus I used regular soy sauce.  Adjust to your own taste. Which reminds me, why do so many recipes in the raw meat steps say "salt to taste"?  Isn't consuming raw meat a potential health hazard?  Granted I like my hamburgers practically mooing, but at least they are cooked a bit.  But I digress ...

Gong Hay Fat Choy!  And let's go ... Mets?

Lion's Head Meatballs
Adapted from:  Cooking Light
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb. ground beef or veal
 1/3 cup finely chopped scallions (about 2 scallions)
1/4 cup finely chopped water chestnuts
2 Tbl. cornstarch
1 Tbl. unbleached flour
1 Tbl. minced fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. ground ginger)
1 Tbl. soy sauce (low sodium okay)
1 Tbl. dark sesame oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbl. dried), for garnish
1 Tbl. grated lemon rind, for garnish
2 cups hot cooked rice (optional)

1/2 cup coconut milk (regular or light)
1/2 cup rice milk
1 tsp. corn starch (optional)
2 Tbl. minced fresh ginger ( or 1 tsp. ground ginger)
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbl. finely chopped scallions (about 1 scallion)
2 Tbl. soy sauce (low sodium okay)

Preheat broiler.   Combine ground beef, scallions, water chestnuts, cornstarch, flour, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and crushed red pepper in a large bowl just until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Avoid overworking to prevent tough balls. Gently (for the same reason) shape mixture into 8 meatballs; place on a broiler pan in a single layer.  Broil on second rack from the top for 10 minutes or until meatballs are browned (they probably will not be cooked through).  If uneven browning annoys you, flip meatballs, then move pan to top rack and broil for another minute (I didn't bother).

Meanwhile, in a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, whisk the coconut and rice milks with the corn starch (if using).  Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients.  Bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, especially if you added the corn  starch.

Add meatballs browned-side down; cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 4 minutes.  Flip meatballs over, recover and continue to simmer an additional 4 minutes.

Transfer meatballs to a serving platter.  Spoon sauce over meatballs and garnish with basil and lemon rind just before serving.  Serve optionally over rice.


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