This Vegan Lion’s Head stew (素狮子头) is healthy and delicious which is perfect for any season of the year. The recipe is easy and made with an assortment of crunchy ingredients such as cashew, carrot, and water chestnut.
Vegan Lion’s Head Stew ‘素狮子头’
狮子头 in Chinese means Lion’s Head which is a famous dish in China that consists of large meatballs braised in vegetables. It is believed that these meatballs got their name as they resemble the head of the Chinese guardian lion ornament.
I personally have not heard of this dish before until I met my Taiwanese friend whose mom owned a small restaurant that specialized in Shanghainese food.
To veganize these famous meatballs, I used tofu and other crunchy vegetables to form them into balls which were then fried until golden brown. These balls were great as-is but it was more delicious when she braised them with lots of Napa Cabbage.
The result is a light and luscious meal packed with a flavorful and crunchy texture that you’ll want the whole bowl to yourself.
How to make Vegan Lion’s Head Stew ‘素狮子头’
It may seem like a lot of chopping work for these balls but you can streamline this process using a food processor. I prefer to chop my veggies manually for that uneven sizes to get that rustic look and crunchy texture.
Step 1: To prepare the tofu filling ingredients, chop cashews, water chestnut, carrot, and mushroom into tiny bits, set aside.
Step 2: Then, place a block of tofu in a cheesecloth bag and wring out all the liquid until tofu turns somewhat pastey.
Step 3: Next, transfer the mashed tofu into a bowl and add the rest of the filling ingredients then mix until all incorporated. Then, season the mixture with soy sauce, sugar, salt, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. I added some cornstarch to bind all the ingredients together.
Step 4: Divide the mixture into 9 portions and form each into a ball.
Step 5: To cook the tofu balls, preheat the air fryer to 390°F (200°C) for 3 minutes, then air fry them for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Set aside.
Step 6: Meanwhile, heat a pot or saucepan over high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Then, sauté ginger, mushrooms, garlic, carrot until fragrant.
Step 7: Slowly add the vegetable broth and Napa cabbage along with the seasoning.
Step 8: Lay tofu balls on top of the vegetables. Then, place a lid over, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Be sure you have enough liquid to cook the vegetables in. Serve warm as-is or with rice. It’s SOO good…
Cooking Tips and Variations
- Chop vegetables into tiny bits so they will bind well with the tofu. This also prevents the mixture to fall apart easily.
- Napa Cabbage is the most common vegetable to use because of the sweetness it lends to this dish. However, you can definitely sub with other vegetables such as bok Choy, savoy cabbage, or cabbage.
- Water chestnut and cashews are two of my favorite ingredients to use to add the extra crunch. Other alternatives include jicama, edamame beans, and assorted nuts.
- Other ways to cook the ‘meatball’ – I used the air-fried method in this recipe but deep fry and bake are two great alternatives.
- To bake, preheat the oven to 425F, then lay ‘meatballs’ on a greased baking pan, and spray or brush the top with a thin layer of oil.
- Bake until golden brown, turning in between if needed, about 25-30 minutes. For a crispier crust, broil for another 2-3 minutes. Please note that the balls may have a flat bottom due to the weight from the inside moisture. If you like a crispier and firmer tofu ball, turn the recipe into 12 balls instead of 9 and lower the baking time.
This Vegan Lion’s Head Stew ‘素狮子头’ is
- Delicious with a juicy
- Healthy and light
- Easily customizable
- Tasty as-is or serve it with rice
- Great for make-ahead meals
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Vegan Lion’s Head Stew (素狮子头)
- 14 oz [397g] firm tofu pressed
- 3-4 caps mushrooms used Bella
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
- 1 tablespoon toasted cashew chopped
- 3-4 water chestnut finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- a drizzle of toasted sesame oil
- 1½ tablespoons corn starch
- a handful of chopped scallions
- oil for cooking
- 3-4 cups chopped Napa cabbage
- 1 small carrot sliced
- 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms softened and stems removed
- 4 slices ginger
- 1 small bulb garlic smashed
- 2 cups [473g] vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt or more if needed
- a pinch of white pepper
- a drizzle of toasted sesame oil
- Chop mushrooms, cashews, carrot, and water chestnut into tiny bits and set aside.
- To prepare the tofu, place tofu in a cheesecloth bag and wring out as much liquid as possible into a somewhat dry paste.
- Transfer tofu into a large mixing bowl, add the chopped ingredients, then season with soy sauce, salt, sugar, white pepper, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, cornstarch and mix until well combined.
- Divide the mixture into 9 portions. Form each portion into a ball by pressing it between both palms.
- Preheat the air fryer to 390°F (200°C) for 3 minutes, then air fry tofu balls until golden brown, about 10 – 12 minutes. Remove and set aside
How to make the stew
- Heat a ceramic pot over high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the pot.
- Add in the ginger and sauté until golden brown, then add the mushrooms. Continue to cook until mushrooms release its fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic and then carrot and continue to cook for another minute or so by stirring continously.
- Slowly pour in the vegetable stock and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Add the Napa cabbage and sauce seasoning, then stir to combine.
- Arrange the tofu balls on top of the Napa Cabbage, place a lid over, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Check to make sure there is enough liquid to cook the vegetables from time to time.
- Garnish with chopped scallions, a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and season accordingly, if needed. Serve warm and enjoy!
- TIP: To prepare the tofu with the best binding, you’ll need to remove as much moisture as possible. Additional cornstarch can be added to increase the binding but do not go over 3 tablespoons.
- For a gluten-free option, please use tamari or any gluten-free soy sauce.
- If you can’t find water chestnuts, please use other crunchy vegetables such as jicama or edamame beans
- Other nuts can be used to replace cashews or omit if you are allergic to nuts
- White pepper has a wonderful aroma and more peppery but black pepper is also a good sub.
- Napa cabbage is the best option but other vegetables such as cabbage, bok choy, and Savoy cabbage are great alternatives.