Inspired by the Chinese meatballs you’ve seen at the Dim Sum restaurants in your local Chinatown, these watercress steamed meatballs incorporate super-healthy watercress and a classic Chinese meatball recipe.
Make no mistake about it. As the name suggests, the star of these steamed meatballs is the watercress. Succulent beef with a light, bouncy texture combines with the fresh flavors of the leafy greens, making these a delicious meal or dim sum treat at home.
Note: We worked with B&W Quality Growers to create this post and recipe. All thoughts and opinions are our own. Enjoy!
What is watercress, and where can you buy it?
Watercress (西洋菜, xīyáng cài in Mandarin or “sai yeung choy” in Cantonese) is a well-known vegetable in Chinese cuisine but often overlooked in Western cooking.
Packed with Vitamin K and 18 additional essential vitamins and nutrients, watercress has a subtle peppery flavor when eaten raw and a fresh, sweet, and slightly bitter flavor when cooked. You can find watercress sold in small bundles in Chinese grocery stores and regular supermarkets.
There are many ways to eat watercress, whether it’s in salads, soups (like our traditional Cantonese watercress pork rib soup), or stir-fried by itself (one of our go-to weeknight vegetable side dishes is a simple stir-fried watercress).
While you may have eaten it raw in a salad, we prefer to cook it. Try this recipe, and you’ll see how cooking watercress and pairing it with a savory ingredient like beef can bring out the true flavor of this tasty, healthy vegetable!
Quick Tips for this Recipe
- Make sure your watercress is fresh! Look for tender, bright green leaves and clean, plump green stems. If the stems are wrinkled or the leaves are blackened, do not buy it! We worked with watercress from B&W Quality Growers in this post. They sustainably grow their baby leaves where they’re always in season and at peak freshness, as you can see from the fresh, bright green watercress in these photos!
- When blanching the watercress, be sure not to overcook it.
- Your cut of beef must have good fat without gristle, cartilage or tough membranes. We asked our supermarket butcher to recommend the fattiest cut of beef (70% lean) without gristle. He immediately recommended beef chuck, which is great, because it’s readily available in any supermarket.
- To get a good meatball texture, the beef must be ground coarsely. You will get better results by chopping it by hand (learn our simple method for grinding meat by hand with a knife and cutting board).
- This recipe does well when made ahead. Let the watercress and beef meatballs sit in the refrigerator overnight for the best texture and flavor!
- One of the most important seasonings for this dish is the dried tangerine peel. You can find it in Chinese grocery stores and online. Don’t skip this ingredient! To prepare it, simply break it into pieces and grind it to a coarse powder in a mortar and pestle.
Watercress Steamed Meatballs: Recipe Instructions
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the coarsely ground beef, cold water, and baking soda.
Turn the mixer on slow speed for 10 minutes. If you don’t have a mixer, vigorously stir the beef and cold water with a large fork or three chopsticks for 15 minutes (you’ll get a good workout making these meatballs!).
You’ll see that there may be bits of fascia/meat fibers that stick to the paddle or fork as the beef is mixed. Remove these as you see them, since they can be tough and sinewy. Scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure the meat and fat are evenly incorporated.
Add the ginger, scallions, sugar, salt, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, white pepper, dried tangerine peel, coriander powder, and egg white. Stir on medium speed for 15 minutes (or vigorously by hand for 20-25 minutes).
Again, stop the mixer every 5 minutes and remove any tough fibers or membranes from the paddle attachment. These tough pieces tend to cling to the paddle during mixing.
If making these watercress meatballs ahead or if you have the time, refrigerate the mixture overnight for the best flavor.
When you’re ready to steam the meatballs, bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Take 1 bunch of watercress and blanch for 30 seconds.
Drain, rinse in cold water, and squeeze out all the liquid.
Very finely chop the watercress.
Add the finely chopped watercress and chopped cilantro to the meat mixture, and fold in by hand until everything is evenly incorporated.
Lay down a bed of fresh watercress on a heatproof plate that you’ll use for steaming. If you want to steam in small dim sum-like batches, you can do that as well. Using oiled hands, portion the meat into 60g chunks, and roll them into round meatballs.
Set up your steamer. Once the water is boiling, steam the meatballs on high for 12 minutes. For more information on how to set up a steamer, see our post on how to steam food.
Serve these watercress steamed meatballs as a meal with rice or as part of a Sunday Dim Sum brunch!
The broth that collects at the bottom of the plate is delicious, so make sure that you enjoy it with a spoon.