For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup light coconut milk
- 1/2 cup soy milk
- 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced hot red chile pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onions
- 2 tablespoons vegan fish sauce*
- 14 ounces vegan ground beef (such as Lightlife)**
- 1/3 cup chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon minced hot red chile pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2. To make the meatballs, combine the ground beef, 1/3 cup green onions, the water chestnuts, the cornstarch, the flour, 1 tablespoon ginger, the soy sauce, the sesame oil, 1 teaspoon red chile pepper, and the salt in a large bowl; mix with your hands, then shape the mixture into 8 meatballs.
3. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook for 7 minutes, turning frequently so they brown on all sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
4. Place the coconut sauce in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes. Garnish with the basil and lemon rind. Good side dishes for these hearty meatballs include stir-fried vegetables, sticky rice, miso soup, or rice noodles. I also enjoyed mine with a cup of ginseng tea as a beverage, instead of water, since hot tea is often served with the main meal in China. However, if you want a good wine to pair with all the flavor going on in this dish, try the Les Enfants Terrible Zinfandel from Dashe - it is unfined and unfiltered, so a good vegan option, and the fruitiness will work with the ginger and spices.
*I cannot tell you how long and hard I have agonized over the paradox that is vegan fish sauce. I have considered (and read online) everything from simply substituting soy sauce, to using shiitake mushroom stir-fry sauce, to using vegan Worcestershire sauce (itself a British attempt to recreate fish sauce), to using the liquid from soaking dried shiitake mushrooms, to using a vegan version of dashi (fish stock) flavored with seaweed instead of bonito flakes, to using a mixture of soy sauce and lime juice to add a little funk - and on and on and on.
Finally, I turned up the following recipe online yesterday, and was absolutely thrilled with the result. You'll recall that real fish sauce is nothing more than anchovies, water, and salt, left to ferment and get all funky over time, and I felt that the recipe below captured that essence best. It also works out to be nutritionally equivalent to real fish sauce (about 5 calories per tablespoon), which I think is an important consideration whenever I veganize a non-vegan food.
To make your vegan fish sauce at home, combine 1 and 1/3 cups water, 2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 6 (1 and 1/2-inch) pieces dried kelp, and 1 sun-dried tomato (packed without oil) in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, strain through a sieve; discard the solids. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a jar and store in the fridge. Take one whiff of this and the lovely, ocean-y smell of the seaweed will make you think it's fish sauce after all.
**If you prefer, you can also make these meatballs with vegan pork, which is closer to how authentic lion's head meatballs are prepared. In that case, use 12 ounces thawed Match pork in the recipe above.
8 servings (1 meatball, 3 tablespoons sauce), Calories 297
There was a lot going on in these meatballs. From the ginger, to the hot chile pepper, to the green onions, to the coconut, my taste buds were popping. My only complaint? With everything else bundled in, I could have used a little more 'meat' in my meatballs! I would recommend adding another half package of vegan Lightlife ground beef (so 18 ounces total), if you want meatier meatballs. Still, delicious. Use a touch less red pepper if you don't want them too spicy.