Tag Archives: ground turkey

lion’s head stew (獅子頭)


lion’s head stew is one of those things that i never really  appreciated growing up. in my mind, it was really a rather humble dish that my mom made when she ran out of ingredients in the fridge and had to cobble something together. a bunch of meatballs stewed over napa cabbage. nothing really that special. (although if you really squint your eyes, the meatballs surrounded by cabbage, kinda look like the mane of a lion — hence the dish’s name).

however, in my encounters with the dish later in life, i began to realize that lion’s head stew was a bit more than a throwaway dish.  in college, i recall reading ming dynasty texts, where the dish appeared in many banquet dining lists.  i always thought it odd that a dish as humble as meatballs in napa cabbage would make it onto grandiose chinese banquet tables. i settled on the explanation that electric meat grinders didn’t exist in the ming dynasty and so the meat was in fact chopped by hand.  the amount of work involved with chopping the meat with cleavers, thereby qualified it for the banquet circuit.

many years ago, when i lived in a tiny cramped nyc apartment, my friend F came over and cooked lion’s head stew for Y and i.  Y and i thought his version was rather good.  F revealed himself to be a bit of a lion’s head stew connoisseur.  he critiqued his own dish from a myriad of angles. but, from him i learned that the meatballs were supposed to be both fragrant and tender, and that the soup had to be flavorful and thickened with the starch of the napa cabbage.

the other day, i picked up cecilia chang’s book The Seventh Daughter and flipped to her recipe on page 123.  she makes her version with bean thread vermicelli, something i’ve never seen in lion’s head stew before.  i simplified her recipe quite a bit and replaced the pork with ground turkey. i was delightfully surprised in how it turned out.  for me, the true star of the dish, though, were not the meatballs; it was the napa cabbage — soft, stewed, imbued with the flavours of chicken broth and meatballs — that truly sung. while the dish might not qualify for a place on the tables of  grand banquet halls in this modern age of electric appliances, it definitely qualified for the chinese comfort food prize.

Lion’s Head Stew

Napa Cabbage                                       ~1.5 lbs, cut into 1 inch strips
Ground Turkey                                        1 lb (traditionally, made with ground pork instead)
Scallions                                                    2 stalks minced, white part only
Ginger                                                        1 tbsp minced
Salt                                                             2 tsp for the meatballs, 1 tsp for the cabbage
Soy Sauce                                                  1 tbsp
Rice Wine                                                  1 tbsp
Sesame oil                                                 1 tbsp
Pepper                                                       1 tsp
Veg Oil                                                      2 tbsp
Chicken Broth                                          2 cups

  1. Combine turkey, scallion, ginger, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper in a bowl.   Mix the ingredients until well combined.
  2. With your hands, roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 2 inches in diameter. I got about 7.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot ( i used my 5 qt dutch oven) and brown the meatballs on both sides over high heat.
  4. Then, remove the meatballs from the pot and set aside.
  5. In the same pot, layer in the napa cabbage.  You should place the root ends of the cabbage on the bottom of the pot and the leafier layers towards the top.
  6. Arrange the meatballs back on top of the cabbage.  Add the remaining 1 tsp of salt. Pour in the chicken stock.
  7. Bring the stew to a boil and then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer until the cabbage has softened, and the stock reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.

turkey pad krapow (ผัดกะเพรา)

turkey krapow

a heaping plate of turkey pad krapow

my friend G (yes, the same one who OD’d in my hokkaido reverie) has been spreading the gospel on costco’s ground turkey. apparently, it’s not only low in fat, high in protein but also a true bargain!  $14 buys you 8 lbs or so, which compares to about $5-6 for 1 lb at WF.  then again, i suppose butterball brand ground turkey at costco isn’t exactly organic, free range or anything wholesome like that. life is about choices.

having followed his example and lugged back a 4-pack myself, i set about figuring out what to do with the stuff. turkey meatballs, bolognese turkey sauce, braised “lion’s head”, turkey burgers, turkey patties with salted fish, turkey fried rice, turkey tsukune, and the list goes on and on.  i really should be thanking G’s ground turkey obsession, as it led me to the promised land of thai basil stir-fry or pad krapow.  (i did some digging around and it turns out that the “pad” means  stir-fried and ” krapow” = basil).

i’ve seen chicken pad krapow on most thai menus but very rarely turkey.  i quite like the taste of the turkey version, and i think it’s because i eat it so often that i prefer it to chicken.

Turkey Pad Krapow
(Makes a heaping plate; ~4 servings)

Ground Turkey ~2 lbs (I usually use 1 package of costco’s butterball ground turkey meat)
Shallots 2 bulbs, julienned (yes, you can substitute for a small onion if you haven’t got shallots around)
Chili Peppers You can use any pepper to your liking; however, you should adjust the amount based on your spice tolerance.  For low/med heat, use 1 jalapeño peppers or about 2-3 thai chili peppers.  Please note that I have a rather high spice tolerance, so adjust accordingly.
Basil An entire bunch, leaves only
Veg Oil 2 tbsp
Brown Sugar 2 tbsp
Fish Sauce 4 tbsp
  1. Heat oil in a wok or large pot on med/high heat
  2. Toss in shallots and sautee until lightly browned
  3. Then, add ground turkey.  Stir-fry until browned and the liquid has mostly evaporated
  4. Add in chili peppers
  5. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar into fish sauce
  6. Add the sugar and fish sauce solution into the wok. Stir fry for 30 more seconds
  7. Add in the basil.  Cook for 20 more seconds until the basil has just wilted
  8. Remove from heat and serve with white rice

(NB. this dish is sometimes served with a poached egg on top. the egg yolk running into the pad krapow is really quite tasty)