Lion’s Head

This recipe is originally from eastern China. The name of the dish comes from the way it looks; the big balls, traditionally made of pork, resemble lions’ heads, and the shredded Chinese cabbage looks like its mane. (Come on, use your imagination!)

Lion's Head

Presumably the more skillful the cook, the bigger the lions’ heads are. I had some qualms whether my vegan lions stay together or not, so I played it safe and made my Lions’ heads a bit smaller. The original recipe (using pork) is from a Finnish cookbook “Syödään kuten Kiinassa” by Marja Kaikkonen, but I modified it quite a bit.

It took me almost an hour and a half to cook this dish, but for a quicker cook (like Anni) this would only take about an hour, I think. Together with some boiled rice, this portion would be enough for three. We managed to eat only 6 balls, and we barely ate any rice!

This is what I used:

  • about 5 tablespoons canola oil for frying
  • 500 g Chinese cabbage
  • 5 dl vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch diluted in 2 tablespoons of water

For the Lions’ heads:

  • 100 g cashew nuts
  • 100 g textured soy protein bits (about 2.1 dl or 3/4 cup)
  • 1 slim leek
  • 2 tablespoons crushed ginger
  • 1 teaspoon egg replacer (substitutes 1 egg)
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 4 dl vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

First I roasted the cashew nuts, and ground them smoothly in the food processor. I mixed the boiling vegetable stock with the textured soy protein in a bowl and covered it. While the soy bits were soaking up, I crushed the leek and ginger in the food processor, and mixed them with the rest of the Lions’ heads ingredients. Before adding the soy protein bits, I drained and pressed them to get rid of extra water. What I had in the dough mix so far was: textured soy protein (soaked in vegetable stock), leek, ginger, egg replacer, sherry, soy sauce, and corn starch.

Now, at this point, I forgot that I had the cashew nut powder, and I got almost desperate, since the mix I had so far was not sticky enough to be made into balls. I tried to add a bit of canola oil, but that didn’t help. After realizing that I forgot to add the cashew powder, I combined it with the rest of the ingredients, and that did the trick!

Before starting to fry the Lions’ heads, I cut the Chinese cabbage into thinnish strips, and put them in a separate bowl.

I rolled 8 balls out of the dough, about 2 inches diameter each, heated up the oil in a frying pan, and carefully fried them until they had a nice brown color. While frying the balls, I heated up the vegetable stock into a boil in a separate kettle, and a couple of minutes before I was finished with the frying, I threw the shredded cabbage into the kettle along with the sugar. Because I already had used one vegetable stock cube for the dough, I was somewhat concerned that the balls would be too salty, so I only used half of a stock cube for the sauce.

After frying the balls, it was time to boil them in the stock. I wasn’t sure whether it would affect the taste, but I wanted to follow the original recipe.

I put the Lions’ heads into the kettle carefully, even though their consistency was much firmer after the frying. They settled on top of the boiling cabbage only partially submerged, but I thought that’s ok, and let them simmer for about 15 minutes. After deciding they were ready (for no particular reason, we were just getting hungry), I carefully spooned the balls out of the kettle, spread the cabbage on a serving platter, and put the Lions’ heads on top. I poured the corn starch mixed with water in the remaining sauce, and brought it to boil, after which I poured the sauce on top of the Lions’ heads.

I’ve been wanting to cook these things for a long time, and I’m glad I finally got around making them. They turned out to be delicious! Anni thought they tasted great, too.

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