The greatest culinary crisis in my life came when I first started seeing a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This came after months of health problems that involved a large number of increasingly intrusive tests. When I finally got sick of being prodded and probed I took myself off to see Melbourne’s legendary Professor Lun Wong. At his clinic- which at times seemed like a field hospital during war time – I was assigned a truly wonderful doctor. I think I have been seeing this man for about 15 years now and he has been largely instrumental in putting me on an effective path to good mental,physical and spiritual health. Thank you, sir.
It has to be said, however, that in the early days he was constantly telling me things that I didn’t want to hear. This is probably largely because Chinese doctors seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing exactly what you have been up to and there is nowhere to hide from their cunning diagnostic techniques. Anyway, my first consultation memorably included a ‘massage’ with hot cups and spoons which made me look as if I’d lost a fight with a tractor and advice to give up the chili and garlic. The advice was far more painful.
These instructions, delivered in a fairly offhand matter, utterly panicked me. Actually, it also panicked Pete. At the time I literally used chili and garlic in everything I cooked. I mean, what the hell were we meant to eat? And, you know, I’m a hedonist and overall seeker of pleasure and (especially 15 years ago) tend to be disinclined to give things up just because they are bad for me. Anyway, we did it. We gave them up almost completely and in the process discovered a whole new world of home style Chinese and Japanese cooking. I do a lot of braising and poaching these days and the recipe that follows is a beautiful and homely hotpot. I believe that they are called lions head meatballs because the cabbage spills out around the meatballs like a lion’s mane. Pretty.
We went pretty much cold turkey on the garlic and chili for about 10 years. Although we very rarely eat chili now, the garlic has crept back in. I console myself with the knowledge that the fact that we live by the ocean apparently means that we can tolerate spicier food a wee bit more. Hurrah for the alchemy and balance of Chinese medicine! Either that,or my lack of self discipline is showing again…
Lions head meatballs
I think you’re meant to make these with pork but I do tend to get through an awful lot of pig so I do them with chicken. If you are braising these in a packet stock from the supermarket, water it down so that it is 50 / 50 chicken stock and water and add some ginger slices and a spring onion to the pan.
- 750g pork or chicken mince
- Couple of slices of peeled ginger finely chopped
- 3 spring onions finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon shao xing or dry sherry
- little splash of soy sauce
- little splash of oyster sauce
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon cornflour and extra for rolling
- 1 wombuk (Chinese cabbage) soaked in hot water until softened.
- peanut oil
- approx 2-3 cups of chicken stock (preferably home made and asian style).
Put the meat, ginger, spring onions, shao xing, oyster and soy sauces, salt and tablespoon of cornflour in the blender and blend well. Shape the meat into generous sized meatballs then roll them in the extra cornflour (making sure to dust off the excess) and fry them until light golden brown in the peanut oil. Wrap each meatball in a softened cabbage leaf and pack tightly into a heavy based pan or hotpot. They need to be packed in tight to keep their shape so make sure you choose the right sized pan. Add the stock, cover with a lid and bring gently to the boil. Drop them down to a simmer as soon as they boil and cook gently for around 40 minutes. Serve them with steamed rice and splash with soy sauce and/or black rice vinegar for seasoning.