Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lion's head meatballs (with okara) + experiments with rice and nut milks

This has been a strange food month for me because all I've really wanted to cook and eat are hot pots and noodle bowls, and I have made literally dozens of them by now.  I'm not quite sure what the deal is with that, why they're so irresistible to me, but I think it has something to do with their being light (i.e., served in broth rather than a thick sauce), and not based on onions (though I love onions), and the whole arranging-everything-so-prettily-in-the-pot-thing has bewitched me entirely.  And also in the fall for some reason I always crave Asian food.  Then I went away on a holiday where I was forced to eat other dishes, delicious ones cooked by others and by me, but not hot pots, and I just couldn't wait to get home and have a steaming, fragrant, colourful hot pot and indeed had to restrain myself from having it for breakfast the day after I got back, and managed (just) to hold off until lunch!

So I think I'm just going to have to give in and post about them, because one post in two weeks is just not acceptable, especially when I've been cooking and experimenting the whole time.  But I'll do my best to make them all different, introduce new recipes and techniques and so on so it won't be too boring and samey.

Plus, because it's relevant here, I'll take this opportunity to announce my VeganMoFo 2010 theme, which is to try something new (to me) every day during the month of October.  Not new recipes, since I do that all the time, but new ingredients.  They may be things that some of you eat almost daily, like grits, or something perhaps not many of you have even heard of, like natto or bat nuts, but they'll all be new to me.

A bat nut: tell me you've ever seen anything this creepy at the grocery store...
 Another thing that happened when I returned from my holiday (which by the way was visiting my brother Bert and favorite SIL Pieternella along with the rest of my family near Kelowna, British Columbia, where we had a lovely time--if you click on the Flickr link in the sidebar you'll see pictures of deer and bighorn sheep that were taken basically in their backyard, neat-o!) was that I had no soymilk and no soaked soybeans on hand.  So after experiencing shame about cooking the same dish every day for two weeks I decided to step out of the box milk-wise at least and try some of the other recipes in my SoyQuick instruction book.

The pictures are underwhelming, as you might expect, but what you see here is rice milk made with jasmine rice and shredded coconut on the left, and plain jasmine rice milk with no coconut on the right.  I can tell you that rice milk made with jasmine rice smells absolutely wonderful, like wildly, headily great, and the fragrance stays with it throughout its incarnations in smoothies, etc.  The texture of rice milk is slightly glutinous, and you can see the plain rice milk is somewhat translucent.  Neither kind was very good in a latte, in my opinion, but on the plus side I didn't have to soak the rice before making the milk, and it only needed one filtering through the filter that came with the maker, so there was hardly any mess and the whole process from measuring the rice to the end of cleanup took little more than 20 minutes--plus, and it's a nice plus, the rice milk "okara" is basically rice pudding, and very tasty on its own!  The rice-coconut "okara" I ate with a little brown sugar and rice milk as rice pudding, and the plain rice "okara" I had with a little zucchini dal that I made for lunch--both ways were delicious, so there was no waste at all.

The dal
Then I tried almond milk, which was okay, but in my opinion the above plusses for the rice milk didn't really apply.  I got about 3/4 cup of "okara" which was pretty tasteless and fibrous and though I did do something with it, one is faced with the same problems as with soy okara.  I followed the directions in the book to soak the blanched, slivered almonds for 12 hours on the counter and another 12 in the refrigerator, which the SoyQuick people claimed would keep it from separating (true, it did).  The milk is very white and better for lattes than the rice milk but still not as tasty as soy, in my opinion.  Plus, it was very much more expensive.  The almond milk didn't have much taste, though the colour and texture were nice, very white and opaque.  Again, though, I filtered this through just a gold filter right into its storage container and only had to do it the once, so apart from soaking the time involved, and the cleanup, were minimal.   Next up, mung bean milk!

So with the almond okara, I made meatballs.  These are based on the ones from Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine, which I have made several times in the past, always with good success.  Lion's head meatballs are traditionally made with pork and if you look up recipes for them you'll see that everybody has a theory about where the name came from, and every recipe is different, but the unifying feature is that these meatballs are big.  So is the head of a male lion, so, er...anyway, this is another good use for okara:

Lion's head "meatballs"
adapted from Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine
serves 4

1 cup TVP
3/4 cup warm water
3 tbsp soy sauce (or 2 tbsp regular soy sauce and 1 tbsp mushroom soy sauce)
2 tbsp dry sherry or sake
3/4 cup well-squeezed okara, almond milk "okara", or mashed tofu
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, mashed
1 tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup gluten powder

oil for pan frying

In a medium bowl, stir together the TVP, the warm water, 2 tbsp of the soy sauce, and 2 tbsp sherry or sake.  As you prepare the other ingredients, except the gluten flour, just place them on top of this mixture, then when everything is in the bowl, mix it up well.  Wait to add the gluten powder until the mixture is cool, or it will congeal into unappetizing strings.

After you've added the gluten, form the mixture into 16 golfball-sized balls.  My mixture seemed a little wet, but it kept its shape well, which seems to be the test.

Heat a non-stick pan to medium-high.  When hot, so that drops of water bounce off the surface, add about 2 tbsp canola or other oil, and when the oil is hot, add the meatballs.  I did mine in two batches and had to add extra oil at various times.  Move the meatballs around to brown them on all sides.  You're not cooking them at this point, just browning them, so it should only take a few minutes.  The meatballs will be very delicate, so treat them kindly.  Once they're browned, remove to a plate.

Now, ahem, build your hot pot.  Traditionally, this dish is cooked only on chopped cabbage, but where's the fun in that?  Keep in mind that you will be steaming the meatballs with the vegetables but that the meatballs will fall apart if they're boiled right in a broth, so you'll need to raise them up on top of the vegetables.  For this reason, a smaller, higher pot is better.  I cooked four of the meatballs in a small saucepan and froze the rest.

Pile up chopped cabbage and, on top of that, anything else you're using, and lay the meatballs carefully on top.  Make a fragrant little broth.  This one is based on Bryanna's, and is for the whole recipe, not just four meatballs in a little pot, so if you're making less you'll want to adjust accordingly:

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp light soy cauce
1/2 tbsp sugar or sweetener of choice
1/2 tbsp cornstarch

Mix all this together well and pour it into the pot.  Looking down into the pot, you shouldn't be able to see any liquid.

Cover, bring to a quick boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.  If you're adding quick-cooking ingredients like snow peas, add them after the 15 minutes are up and cook another minute or so.

Serve hot, over rice, or in this case over a multi-grain mix (Kingo brand, which I bought at the oriental market, containing short grain brown rice, hulless barley, French red rice, rye berries, purple barley, black China/Japonica rice, and no, I couldn't resist taking a super-macro shot).  This looks a bit gross in the bowl, but the taste is lovely, very chewy and flavourful; I was experimenting and added a bit too much water.

End result: thumbs up; I love these meatballs.  Okay, I love all meatballs...


  1. Do you cook your hot pots in a donabe? I always want to buy one because they are so aesthetically appealing to me, but I can't justify adding another piece of kitchen equipment at this time. If I were you, though, I'd probably be ordering one right now. All the food you've presented looks wonderful except maybe the bat nut. That is perhaps the creepiest food thing I've ever seen. Is it real or a little pre-Halloween joke?

  2. Andrea, I don't own a donabe, though I love the idea of them, mostly because I'm too scared to put a clay pot on the stovetop and too cheap to cook my hot pots in the oven. That little hole in the lid though would be very handy. I'm using various stainless steel pots right now but keeping my eyes open for something a little more fancy...

    And yes, the bat nut is very real. I have a whole package of them. They're sitting on my counter now scaring the wits out of all the nice vegetables (and me)!

  3. That nut totally looks like a bat! I wonder what it tastes like? I haven't seen those around here. It is a little creepy looking, but would make a great Halloween snack!

    Your theme for mofo sounds fun. I'm sure the new stuff you try will be intriguing to all of us...can't wait to hear the lo-down on the bat nut.

    That dal looks so good too!

    Thanks for the meatball recipe: I'm usually too lazy to make them, but I definitely want to give them a try soon.

    Also, inspired by your beautiful hot pots/noodle bowls, I've made a few over the last week or so, and they were good, but not as pretty as yours always are.

  4. You're smart to live way up in Edmonton, Canada. If you weren't up in the hinterlands a lot of people (me included) would probably be breaking down your door to eat your dinner.

  5. I agree, that bat nut is creepy. Very festive for Halloween, though!

    The "meatballs" and dal look fantastic! I'm always craving Asian food, too, so I see nothing wrong with having hot pots and noodle bowls all the time. :)