Last Thursday, exactly 20 years ago, I left Macau for London. All I have with me that day were one suitcase, equivalent of 600 Euro (which I saved up over a period of two years) in my pocket, a British Airway one-way ticket and a million butterflies in my stomach. I remember most of my family had accompanied me to the airport in Hong Kong (it was and still is the most straight forward way to travel internationally from Macau), we had a little late night snack in one of the restaurants inside the airport before my departure. I was excited but also really sad that I was about to leave my family for the first time. I don’t quite recall what our conversations were about, perhaps how much I would be missed, how lucky I was to be able to study aboard and I should do my best. And I am quite certain we talked about how to look after myself especially in the cold English winter (since Macau’s winter is very mild, it was a big change I had to adapt to. And I was over the moon when I saw snow the very first time in my life shortly after I arrived in London). I did’t know how much advise I took in when anticipation was all I possessed. Up until then, I had never been to anywhere else outside of China (apart from Taiwan where I visited for the first time when I was still a high school student), leaving a place where I grew up, moving to a city which was thousand miles away and had no idea whatsoever what this journey would entail, it was daunting as one can imagine, to date I am still surprised how brave and determine I was! As per my sister’s instruction, I walked out of the restaurant alone toward the boarding gate (as the family didn’t want to see me enter the gate with teary eyes), embarked on a journey that has changed my life forever.
At that time, my plan was to study in university in hope for a better career prospect when I returned to Macau after a few years (it was a common thinking of the time, and in many cases, it did make a difference). But I fell in love with London, the diversity of the people, the cultures and the city is constantly bursting with energy which in my opinion, can not be found anywhere else. If you know London or have been there, you will understand what I mean. So before I knew it, 14 years have passed by. Now what I can hold dear to are the peculiar memories, both good and bad that I will cherish on a day like this. And for Berlin? I love Berlin too and it has been my home for the last 6 years, my experience in the pass 20 years is immense and maybe one day, I will write a book about it, yes, maybe.
But for now, I am thinking of something more assessable to cure my homesickness, and to celebrate this unforgettable day with some comfort food that tastes like home. This recipe is the type of food that always reminds me of home, comfort and security. A type of dish that my mother would cook on a regular basis, especially on chilly autumn days.
Notes: this dish can be as versatile as you want it to be, the sauce is the back bone of the dish, but the meat balls can be replaced with ribs, beef brisket, chicken pieces etc. other options of vegetables include cabbages, radish, squash and potatoes. Cooking time varies depending on the choice of ingredients. The best way is to try, experiment with different ingredients and find your favorite version, I promise, you will find the one, your one.
Braised Meatballs with Leeks
serves 4 generously
For the meatballs: (makes 8 balls)
- 500g good quality minced pork
- 3 large dried shiitake mushroom, soaked, finely chop one of them
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp. Tamari (or regular soy sauce)
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. Shoaxing wine
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 heaped tbsp. breadcrumbs (for gluten-free version, use brown rice flour)
- 1/2 small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
For the sauce:
- 1 glass white wine (use a good one that you will drink)
- 500ml good quality chicken stock
- 200ml water
- 2 tbsp. Tamari (or regular soy sauce)
- 1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
For the rest:
- 1 large leek, remove the tough leaves, washed and sliced, leave a small handful for garnish
- 2 soaked shiitake mushrooms (from above) sliced
- 1 small handful of dried shrimps (optional)
- 6 pearl onions, peeled and leave whole (or use normal onion, diced)
- 2 pieces of ginger
- 1/2 small bunch of coriander, leaves picked for garnish, stems chopped
- 1 large kohlrabi or 2 small ones
- vegetable oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the meat balls by combine all the meat ball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use your hand to mix and knead the meat mixture for two minutes until it comes together and slightly spring back when pressed. Then form about 8 balls and leave them in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a cast-iron casserole (or other heavy-bottomed ones), sauté ginger, coriander stems, leeks, pearl onions (or onions) and a pinch of salt in medium-low heat for about 5-8 minutes or until the leeks soften. Pour in the glass of wine and let it bubble away for a minute.
While the leeks are cooking in the casserole, in a non-stick pan, heat a glug of vegetable oil, and brown the meat balls (you might need to do in batches) all around until they are nicely brown. Transfer the meat balls to a plate and set aside.
Pour the water into the pan to deglaze any browned bit left on the pan from the meat balls, then transfer the liquid to the casserole, add the chicken stock. Then season with the tamari and dark soy sauce. Add sliced shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimps (if use), bring the sauce in the casserole to boil then add the meat balls and any resting juice. Lastly add kohlrabi in the casserole. Let it simmer with the lid on for about 20 minute, remove the lid and turn the heat up to high and let it boil rapidly for about 5 minutes or until the sauce slightly thicken and reduced (stir once or twice). Check the seasoning.
Just before serving, add the remaining leeks and coriander leaves to the casserole. Served with steamed rice.