Ground meat is a staple in many homes. It’s easy to keep on hand in the freezer and forms the basis of many delicious meals. Ground meat comes in many varieties: beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey and even lamb or goat. Ground beef is often made from less tender and less popular cuts of meat, making it an inexpensive choice for budget-conscious families.
I had a pound of ground pork that I planned to make into steamed dumplings for dinner. But I took a cue from an old recipe for Chinese pork and rice balls and decided to create “little hedgehogs” instead. Some of the Chinese recipes I found online added chopped cabbage, water chestnuts or even bamboo shoots but I had to work with what I had available at home, which were onions, garlic, ginger and a jar of kimchee in the fridge. Although I suspect you could make the recipe using many different types of rice, I had some glutinous (sticky) rice which seemed ideal for the recipe.
What’s fun about this dish is watching how much children enjoy gobbling up the little hedgehogs. You can use any type of ground meat your family enjoys the most. And you can add your family’s favorite vegetables for an extra nutritional boost. If you don’t have kimchee on hand, substitute the same amount of finely chopped vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, arugula or any spicy green.
There are three tricks to making this recipe. First, season your meat filling very well. If it’s too mild your hedgehogs will taste very bland. Second, take the time to rinse the rice and then let it soak in a bowl of water for 1 to 2 hours. This will help pre-soften the rice and enable it to cook quicker. Third, when forming the little hedgehogs, first roll the balls of pork in some cornstarch, then roll them in the rice (or use your hands to stick the rice to the balls). As they steam, the cornstarch acts like a glue to help the rice stick.
2 cups glutinous or sushi rice
Extra virgin olive oil (or peanut oil)
¾ cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup finely chopped kimchee
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (grated or minced)
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce, more for serving
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon mirin (or white wine vinegar)
¼ cup cornstarch (more, if required)
A few large lettuce or cabbage leaves, or some parchment paper, for the steamer
1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions (for garnish)
Special equipment: Chinese bamboo steamer or vegetable steamer set over a pan of water
Put the rice into a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold water until the water runs out clear. Put the rinsed rice into a small bowl and pour in enough cold water to cover the rice by an inch. Let the rice soak for 1 to 2 hours, then rinse again and drain. Set aside.
Check to make sure your onion and kimchee (or whatever vegetables you are using) are very finely chopped. If the pieces are too large you might have problems forming the mixture into balls as the larger pieces may poke out the sides.
Heat a little oil in a small frying pan and sauté the onion, kimchee and garlic until soft. Let the vegetables cool slightly.
In a medium bowl combine the pork, grated ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and mirin. Add in the sautéed vegetables and gently mix to incorporate all the flavorings and vegetables throughout.
Using your hands or a small cookie scoop, form the pork mixture into balls about 1-inch in diameter. The mixture will make about 24 balls. I generally set them on a parchment-covered board or plate while I finish forming all of them.
Line your bamboo steamer shelves or vegetable steamer with some lettuce or cabbage leaves to help prevent the hedgehogs from sticking. If you don’t have any leaves you can use some small pieces of parchment paper.
Put the cornstarch into a shallow dish. A quarter-cup of cornstarch is usually enough, but keep some extra on hand in case you run out.
Setup a little assembly line with the pork balls, the cornstarch, the bowl of rice and the steamer.
I find the whole process works best if you use your hands. Taking one at a time, roll each pork ball in cornstarch, then press rice all around the ball. There might be some bare spots, but don’t worry about those!
Place each pork-rice ball into the steamer. In a large bamboo steamer, I usually fit 9 to 10 balls on a shelf. Be careful to not let the rice touch or they will stick together when steaming. Continue forming all the “hedgehogs.” If you don’t have enough room in the steamer, you can cook the balls in two batches.
Cover the steamer and bring the water to a boil, then steam the balls for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cover and quickly pinch off a couple pieces of rice to taste for doneness. If the rice isn’t quite soft and cooked through, then continue steaming for another 5 minutes or until done.
Top the hedgehogs with the chopped scallions and serve with extra soy sauce for dipping.