Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lion's Head Faux Meatballs (素獅子頭)

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This is yet another classic Chinese dish made vegan for Chinese New Year. The traditional Lion's Head meatballs would be made of ground pork mixed with seasoning and water chestnuts for crunch. They would be pan fried gently and stewed with some napa cabbage until the meatballs soften and the flavors melt together. I took a very similar approach to these vegan meatballs. They turned out very nicely on the first day but were even better at day 2 and 3 because the napa cabbage had enough time to cook and release all its sweetness.

For this vegan Lion's Head meatballs recipe, you'll need:
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/4 cup wheat gluten
  • 1 large shallot, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 1 green onion, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms, very finely chopped (preferably in the food processor)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped water crestnuts
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 cup cold vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 medium head napa cabbage, chopped into 1-inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil, plus more for greasing
  • salt to taste
Finely mash cannellini beans. I passed them through my trusty food mill to ensure that they have a fine texture. Add chopped shallots, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, grated ginger, grated garlic, chopped water chestnuts, nutritional yeast, and wheat gluten. Mix well together. Stir in cold vegetable stock and soy sauce. Mix well. Knead lightly for 8 to 10 minutes. Then form into balls by hand. This mixture is not as firm as real meat. Generally, Lion's Head meatballs are fist-sized. But I find that it's difficult to retain the round shape in the cooking process at that size. So I made these meatballs a bit smaller.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line lightly greased baking dish with meatballs. Bake for 1 hour. Turn heat down to 350 degrees.

In a medium cast iron pot fitted with a lid, heat up 2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil until hot. Stir in napa cabbage. Season with salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Nestle cooked meatballs into the napa cabbage mixture. Transfer covered pot into the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

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