Lion’s Head Soup was never one of my favorites as a child. My mother made it in the Szechuan style with large meat balls the size of a softball. They make them that way in Szechuan Province because the large head of a lion represents strength and longevity. The cabbage represents the mane. But I like smaller meat balls. I also like mushrooms and spring onions in mine.
Today, as I sat down with my steaming bowl of soup in my hands, I was thinking how my body ached, my head ached, and my sinuses ares topped up. I feel terrible. But when I took my first drag on that big spoon of soup and soft cabbage and meat ball I moved into a place of complete enough-ness. It reminded me that the Buddha’s preaching on suffering are often mis-translated. He did not so much mean “suffering” as he meant “not-enough-ness” or “dis-satisfaction.” It is what Jesus is getting at when he invites us not to worry about the lilies of the field. But even that is not the same as being satisfied with what one has.
Even with the flu and other imperfections in my life, that moment of sipping that soup was a transcendence of not-enough-ness to a place of total enough-ness. And that is the goal of life; to live between asceticism and sensual-craving-satisfaction where the chord that is too loose does not sing and the chord that is too tight breaks – but the chord which is pulled to just the right tension between loose and tight sings on the violin.
Praise God for those moments when we see that what we have, in this moment, is enough and is wonderful.
Recipe: Lion’s Head Soup
(Use less broth and you have Lion’s Head Meatballs)
Ingredients: 1 pound Napa cabbage (about one small head) 1 – 2 green onions (spring onions, scallions), minced 1 teaspoon minced ginger 1 large egg 1 pound ground pork 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon granulated sugar 2 1/2 teaspoons pale dry sherry 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, divided 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil Black or white pepper, to taste, optional 2 – 3 tablespoons cornstarch or flour 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1. Wash and drain the bok choy or other greens. Cut crosswise into 3 inch strips. Mince the ginger and green onion.
2. In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork. In a medium bowl, combine the ground pork with the green onion, ginger, salt, sugar, dry sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, Asian sesame oil, pepper if using, and the egg, using your fingers to mix together the ingredients thoroughly. Add as much cornstarch as needed to make so that the mixture is not too wet. (I start with 2 tablespoons and then add 1 teaspoon at a time).
3. Form the ground pork into 18 or so small meatballs. Flatten them a bit so that they are not completely round.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet or wok on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs. Cook for 5 minutes until browned on the bottom. Turn and cook the other side (adjust the heat if the meatballs are cooking too quickly). Sauté sliced mushrooms in some of the meat oil if you are not using dried ones – I use dried because they are easy to keep around) For a soup I add the entire 2.5 additional cups of of broth ( total 4 cups or a 32 oz box or can of good broth) and chopped scallions. For the soup version, I also add watered corn starch (about 2 table spoons) to the broth for a creamier, heavy broth.
5. In a flameproof casserole dish or saucepan that is large enough to hold the meatballs, heat the chicken broth and 2 tablespoons soy sauce to boiling. Add a fist full of dried mushrooms.
6. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the cabbage on top . (You can arrange the cabbage on top of the meatballs so that it steams, or lay some right in the broth if there is room – I like it that way since it shows the lionheads and their manes.) Simmer for another 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through and there is no pinkness in the middle.
Rather than simmer, you can place them in oven or crock pot to bake off for 20 minutes or so