Monday, December 1, 2008

Pearl Balls - Louie's Chinese Porcupines

Now that every day is Sunday it's hard to remember the more trying aspects of the work I did before retirement. I was employed by an international conglomerate and was responsible for an area that was always "on". I really enjoyed problem solving but emergencies meant long hours and sometimes nights spent in the operations center. We were more fortunate than most in that an in-house kitchen was staffed to feed us regardless of the hour. Around 3:00 AM congee (an acquired taste for those not born to it), noodles, and some type of rice were brought to an area just outside the computer room by Louie - an honorary member of our staff who selected and delivered our breakfast. Louie worked in the kitchen as a clean-up man - not an official designation but one that made him happy enough and aptly described his job. He was hired shortly after WWII following his release from a military prison. Louie, functioning though retarded, was drafted and had a hard time in basic training because he looked so very normal. Unhappy, bullied and not understanding the concept of AWOL, Louie walked off the base, dropped his dog tags in an envelope and mailed them to President Roosevelt with a note that corporate legend insisted said "I quit." It took the JAG corp a while to straighten out the mess, but Louie was finally released and met the man, my VP and mentor, who became his benefactor. Fast forward to the coffee room where Louie would join us for tea and an early breakfast. Louie loved dim sum in any form and pearl balls - he called them porcupines - were a special favorite. He would count them out so everyone would have a fair share and then he'd sit with us and tell us about his day. This floored folks from other facilities and an enduring and favorite memory is that of my "second", John - a purported atheist, but the most godly man I've ever known - using scripture (Matthew 25:40) to still any who failed to respect or mock the simple soul who had become part of our family. Louie died several years before I retired. An employee collection effort and corporate matching funds saw that he was properly buried with a service, a headstone and friends who came to celebrate his life and say a last goodbye. I'll always associate pearl balls with Louie and John - his champion. These are really good. Children love them. I think you'll enjoy them, too.

Pearl Balls - Louie's Chinese Porcupines

1 pound ground pork or turkey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
8 water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 cup glutinous rice
Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
Salt to taste

1) Combine pork, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a paste forms. Add egg, water chestnuts, scallions, ginger, garlic, cornstarch and water; process just until blended. Set aside.
2) Place rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water. Fill a tea kettle with water (about 2-quarts) and bring to a boil. Pour boiling water over rice; rinse again with cold water and drain well. Spread rice on a plate or cookie sheet.
3) Form pork mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll meatballs in rice. Arrange meatballs on a steamer rack. Bring water in base of steamer or wok to a boil. Set steamer rack over water, cover, and steam for 20 minutes over rapidly boiling water. Reduce heat to low and steam until rice is tender, about 15 minutes longer.
4) Meanwhile, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, sesame oil and salt (if using) in a small bowl; whisk to dissolve sugar and form a thin sauce.
5) Remove rack from steamer. Serve meatballs from steamer rack or transfer to a serving platter. Serve piping hot with dipping sauce. Yield: 20 pearl balls.


Martha said...

What a delightful memory. And food should be memories.

Peter M said...

That's a very moving're very dear to have been friends with Louie and I'm sure he was a wonderful human being.

Thanks for sharing the story and the dish.

Cathy said...

Thank you for sharing your very special memories with us. I've never tried making pearl balls but have a steamer so will give it a go. So many of my favorite textures and flavors in one little bundle.

Allie said...

Wonderful memory to share. I love the texture of the porcupines it looks delish.

Maria said...

What a great memory! I love the porcupines!

Pam said...

What a great memory, thanks for sharing with us. I've never had these pearl balls but they look delightful.

Melissa and Zack said...

Mom, this has Josh's name all over it! finally, a recipe he can have! :)

Mary Bergfeld said...

Melissa, there is an egg in the meatballs. It's used as a binder - probably could use tofu instead.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks for introducing us to Louie. And I'll think of him when when I make this dish. Great story about a wonderful person!

Tracy said...

What a nice story. Interesting about an atheist quoting Matthew.

I've never had anything like those balls but I'm intrigued. I was just thinking that my electric steamer hasn't seen the light of day for awhile.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Tracy, John was a fascinating man. He had an unbelievable memory and a quick, keen intelligence. He was not a "fighter" in the physical sense but he had no aversion to embarrassing those he thought were fools. Matthew was a quick way to protect Louie. John insisted he was not a believer. He was kind, compassionate and ethical and generally loved all people.

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