San Choy Bau.
San Choy Bau. Photo: Graham Tidy

I like to cook Chinese dishes for family and friends each year during the Chinese New Year. This year, I'm making san choy bau or lettuce rolls, to have as a starter or as a light meal. It is an easy and delicious dish that can be varied as you like. There is a bit of preparation but it really is worth it.

My second recipe is for tasty pork meatballs with sweet and sour sauce. The meatballs can be served as a main dish with rice and a green vegetable or as canapes with dipping sauce and toothpicks.

I have shallow-fried them but they could be baked in the oven or deep-fried if you prefer.

Chinese pork balls with sweet and sour sauce.
Chinese pork balls with sweet and sour sauce. Photo: Graham Tidy

To finish, I would serve a refreshing fruit salad.

Chinese sweet and sour meatballs

Serves 6 (makes 24 meatballs)

500g minced pork

4-5 spring onions, thinly sliced

1 tsp finely chopped ginger

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 free-range egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp shaoxing wine or dry sherry

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

peanut oil or rice bran oil for frying

sweet and sour sauce, to serve (below)

spring onion greens, to garnish

Combine the pork, spring onions, ginger, garlic, egg, wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornflour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Wet hands and, using fingers, mix the ingredients until thoroughly blended and smooth. Chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes.

With wet hands, scoop up rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture and roll into walnut-size balls. Place on a paper-lined tray. If you can chill them for another 30 minutes, so much the better.

Heat a frypan with a film of oil on medium heat. Fry the meatballs in two batches until brown on all sides. Drain on paper and keep warm in oven. Alternatively, brush the meatballs with a little oil and bake in a 200C oven for 15 to 30 minutes.

Serve with rice and spoon over sweet and sour sauce. Accompany with steamed green vegetable such as broccolini or bok choy. 

Sweet and sour sauce

½ cup orange juice (from 2 oranges) and ½ cup water

1½ tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar or to taste

2 tbsp shaoxing wine

2 tbsp light soy sauce

pinch of salt

1 tbsp cornflour and 1 tbsp water

Place all ingredients (except cornflour and water) in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cornflour and water and let it boil for a moment to thicken. Taste and adjust as you like.


The meatballs can be served as a canape - make them smaller and serve with a dipping sauce or salt and pepper and toothpicks.

San choy bau

Serves 4

4 dried shiitake mushrooms

4 squares of five-spice bean cake (pressed tofu, in Asian grocers) or 200g firm tofu

4 spring onions, sliced

1 bunch coriander, including stems

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk celery heart, finely diced

⅓ cup diced water chestnuts (optional)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp finely chopped ginger

½ carrot, grated

1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil

2 tbsp lightly toasted pinenuts or roasted peanuts


Seasoning sauce

1 tbsp shaoxing wine or dry sherry

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp oyster sauce (vegetarian if you like)

pinch sea salt and ¼ tsp white pepper

½ tsp sugar to taste

2 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tsp water to thicken


To serve

1 iceberg or baby cos lettuce

hoisin sauce

1 lime (optional)

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for at least 30 minutes. If using fresh tofu cut it into one-centimetre slices and drain on a kitchen towel.

Separate the lettuce leaves, then wash and chill. If using iceberg lettuce, you may need to trim the large leaves to a more manageable size. Set aside some coriander sprigs and/or spring onion greens to use for garnish. Slice the spring onions and separate into piles of white and green and chop the coriander.

Prepare all the other ingredients as listed and have them set out next to the wok, as the stir-frying takes only a few minutes. Have the serving dish warmed and waiting.

Squeeze the water out of the shiitakes, cut off and discard the stems and dice the caps. Cut the tofu (either type) into dice of between six and seven millimetres. Quickly fry the fresh tofu in a little oil in the wok until golden and then remove and drain.

Mix the seasoning sauce ingredients together in a small dish. Blend the corn flour and water in another dish.

Heat the wok over medium high heat and pour in the oil around the edge. Add the onion and stir-fry for about a minute. One by one, add the shiitake, celery, garlic, ginger, tofu and water chestnuts. Lastly, add the grated carrot and the spring onion greens and cook for a few seconds. Add the seasoning sauce and stir-fry for a few moments, then add the slaked cornflour to thicken. Stir through the coriander. Taste and adjust; it should be tasty.

Tip the mixture into the serving dish and sprinkle with pinenuts or peanuts and the reserved coriander sprigs and spring onion garnish. Serve straight away with the lettuce leaves.

Let people spoon the mixture into lettuce leaves, then wrap and eat in their hands. Offer hoisin sauce and cut lime.


Stir-fried diced chicken, pork or prawns can be used instead of tofu. You could add diced broccoli stem, peas or snowpeas, button mushrooms, green beans, spinach, bean sprouts, mung bean noodles (soaked) or fresh red chilli.

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer,