zhen1 zhu1 wan2 zi3 Which sounds an awful lot like zheng1 zhu1 as in ''steamed pork.'' However, ''steamed pork'' is 蒸豬. No, the name of this dish is actually Pearl meatballs with the first half meaning (precious) pearl and the second part being the term for a small round object.

This is my mother's recipe. You're lucky there are any ingredient quantities stated at all, as that's just not how she cooks. I've given some guidelines, but let your own tastebuds decide.

The basic recipe is easily multiplied. These are a little fussy but not difficult to make. If you have a steamer with multiple trays, you can make as many as you like. Otherwise, getting them to all fit in one layer in a steamer tray can be tricky. If they don't all fit, cover and refrigerate the excess and steam them on the next go 'round.

Serves 4-6 as a hearty appetizer or meaty side dish. Serves 2 as a meat dish.

  • One pound of mixed ground beef and pork, about 50/50. If you are avoiding pork, you can substitute it with ground turkey. Straight beef is too lean, and tastes too, well, beefy. Of course, straight pork or turkey works as well....
  • soy sauce - to taste, but about two tablespoons
  • minced ginger - to taste, but about a tablespoon
  • minced scallions - to taste, but about a tablespoon
  • sesame oil - to taste, but about a teaspoon
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 generous cup of sweet rice- soak it in water for at least several hours, although overnight is ideal.
  • several large nappa cabbage leaves, whole, for lining the steamer tray.

Mix together the ground meat, ginger, scallions, sesame oil and cornstarch. To taste the mixture, you can microwave a spoonful until it is cooked, or poach it in boiling water. Adjust the seasoning and then with wet hands form the meat mixture into balls about one inch in diameter or a bit larger.

Line a steamer tray with nappa cabbage leaves. Overlap them as necessary. The steamed cabbage is tasty too....

Drain the rice and place it in a shallow bowl or plate. Roll the meatballs gently in the rice until they are coated with a layer of rice. Do not press the rice into the meatballs. They should cling delicately to the exterior. Sprinkle any excess rice on top of the nappa cabbage leaves in the steamer tray and then add the meatballs.

Place the meatballs so they just touch. If they touch too closely, you won't be able to remove one without taking the rice off its neighbor. The idea is to place them closely in a single layer, but not pack them in.

Steam until done, about 30 minutes. They get cold quickly, so leave them in the hot steamer with the heat turned off until you are ready for them, or serve immediately. Over steaming won't harm them but they loose a lot of their charm reheated. These are best eaten right away, and don't expect a microwave to do them justice when reheating.

The rice grains will become translucent 'pearls' clinging to the savory meatballs. I adore these things and used to ask for it often, growing up. Some rice cookers come with a steam tray that fits over the rice pot, which is extra convenient when a craving hits.

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