The Chinese are gearing up to celebrate their most important annual festival – Chinese New Year. This year it falls on Monday 23rd January which heralds 15 days of celebration and the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. The Dragon is the fifth sign of the Chinese zodiac – a creature of myth and legend – the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying happiness and success.
For the Chinese, it’s the most prestigious event of the year and involves lots of fun, exciting preparations, colourful traditions and even taboos. Homes, offices and trees are garlanded with red lanterns and beautiful and exotic paper decorations. Doorways are pasted with New Year paintings and couplets to greet visitors. All the symbols have a meaning; the colour red is associated with happiness and good fortune in Chinese culture.
In South China a kumquat tree rather than a poinsettia is the plant of choice for the New Year symbolising an abundance of wealth and good luck.
On New Years Eve the house is thoroughly cleaned – “sweeping out the dust bids farewell to the past and ushers in the New Year.” Families get together to feast and celebrate. Each day has a different tradition, children are given ‘lucky money’ in little red envelopes by their parents and grandparents. There are lots of fireworks to celebrate the ringing in of the New Year and then there is the New Years Feast.
Most families start their preparations by buying lots of delicacies such as dried mushrooms, abalone, sharks fin, silver ears, birds’ nests, cured sausages, duck and a large selection of dried vegetables – anything for a special treat.
Southern Chinese eat Niangao – a cake made with glutinous rice flour piled higher and higher each year for good luck and prosperity in business.
In Northern China the traditional dish for the feast is Jiaozi or dumplings shaped like crescent moons. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations the more money you make in the coming year. Favourite fillings are pork, shrimps, minced chicken, beef and vegetables – they can be boiled, steamed, fried or baked.
The favourite Cantonese dim-sum Spring rolls are another element of the Chinese New Year Celebration – everyone loves them.
This gives me the excuse to share some recipes from lovely Ching-he Huang’s book China Modern published by Kyle Cathie whom some of you may already know and love from her appearances on UKTV Food, Saturday Kitchen and Saturday Cooks.
So let’s celebrate with the Chinese and incorporate some of the elements into our menu this week
Steamed Pork and Prawn Siu Mai Dumplings
Taken from China Modern by Ching-He Huang published by Kyle Cathie
Serves 4/makes 16
For the filling
200g (7oz) pork
200g (7oz) fresh raw prawns, shelled, deveined and finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornflour
Pinch of salt and black pepper
16 wonton wrappers (available in Chinese shops)
For the Vinegar Soy Dressing
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (Chinese black rice vinegar is best)
1 teaspoon finely chopped coriander
1 teaspoon chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
Siu Mai dumplings are pork and prawn bites enclosed in a wonton wrapper and served in a bamboo basket. These open wrapped parcels of deliciousness are a ‘dimsum’ favourite and very healthy too as they are steamed. I first tried dim-sum in Hong Kong when I was about 13. My father took my me and my brother on trip to visit my aunt.
Put all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Take two teaspoons of the filling and place it in the centre of a wonton wrapper. Gather up the sides of the wrapper and mould around the filling in a ball shape, leaving the centre open. Make all the dumplings in this way. Oil the bottom of a bamboo steamer. Fill a wok or pan with boiling water to a depth that will not submerge the base of the steamer. Place the steamer in the wok and steam for about 6 – 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing together all the ingredients. When the dumplings are cooked, serve with the dressing, or you could dip them in sweet chilli dipping sauce,
Duck, Ginger And Peanut Spring Rolls With Ginger Dipping Sauce
From Cook At Home With Peter Gordon
2 large duck legs, approx. 500-600g (18-20oz)
2 teasp. salt
2 ‘thumbs’ of ginger, peeled and finely minced
100g (3½oz) roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 cup coriander leaves
8 spring onions, finely sliced
10 x 15cm (6in) square, spring wrappers
1 egg, beaten, to seal the wrappers
300ml (10fl.oz) soy sauce
50ml (2 fl.oz) cider vinegar
50ml (2 fl.oz) light honey
Put the duck legs into a saucepan, cover them with cold water, add the salt, bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 60 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the meat to cool in the liquid. Remove and discard the skin, then take the flesh off the bones and shred it finely. Mix it with half the ginger, all of the peanuts, the coriander and spring onions then taste for seasoning. Separate the spring roll wrappers, then stack them on top of each other to prevent them drying out. (They separate best at room temperature.) Have them in front of you in the shape of a diamond. Brush the egg-wash along the corner furthest away from you, then place a heaped tablespoon or so of duck mixture, shaped into a fat sausage, running left to right in the centre. Roll the edge closest to you tightly over the filling, then fold each side (left and right) over it, overlapping slightly. Roll it away from you towards the egg-wash until you have a firm, sealed spring roll. Place it on a tray lined with clingfilm. Continue until you have used all the mixture.
Make the ginger dipping sauce: put the remaining ginger, the soy, vinegar and honey into a saucepan. Simmer to reduce by half, then strain.
Deep-fry the rolls in oil at 180C, 6-8 at a time, until golden.
Chinese Egg Custard Tarts (Dan-ta)
Taken from China Modern by Ching-He Huang published by Kyle Cathie
200g (7oz) read-made sweet pastry
Butter for greasing
For the filling
2 small eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
75g (3oz) caster sugar
375ml (13 fl oz) evaporated milk
“Crumbly pastry with a yummy not-so-sweet set egg custard in the middle. I have my mother to thank for this lovely recipe. An egg tart was sometimes my after school treat – delicious straight out of the oven, washed down with a glass of cold soya milk. You often find these little delights in dim-sum restaurants too and they can be make with puff pastry (equally tasty) Dan-ta resemble the Portuguese tarts (pasties de nata) and it may have been Portuguese travellers who introduced this recipe to the Orient, for they sailed the South China Seas and landed in Taiwan – my birth country – in the late 18th century, calling it Ilha Formosa, meaning ‘beautiful island’”
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6 and lightly grease a 12-hole tart pan with some butter. Roll out the pastry on a board to about 3mm thick. Cut out 12 circles using a 7cm round cutter and line the tart holes with pastry circles. Put the filling ingredients in a small bowl and beat lightly until smooth. Pour the filling into the pastry-lined tart pans but leaving 6mm at the top. Bake the tarts for about 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Mark 4. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the custard has set. Test by inserting a small toothpick – it should come out clean. These can be served cold, but are much nicer warm.
Almond and Kumquat Tartlets
Makes 45 approx.
2 ozs (50g) butter (softened)
2 ozs (50g) caster sugar
2 ozs (50g) ground almonds
4ozs (110g) kumquats
sugar syrup (made by boiling equal quantities of sugar and water together for just two minutes)
tiny tartlet tins
Preheat the oven to moderate, 180C/350F, regulo 4.
Cream the butter, stir in the castor sugar and ground almonds – stop as soon as the ingredients are mixed. Put a half teaspoon of the mixture into each tartlet tin and bake for 6-7 minutes approx. or until golden.
Allow to sit in the tins for a minute or two before lifting out onto a wire rack with a knife to cool.
Meanwhile, slice the kumquats into circles, put into a small stainless steel saucepan, cover with the sugar syrup and poach for 8-10 minutes or until just tender, allow to get cold.
Not long before serving, arrange the tartlets on a pretty plate; use a gold d’oyley if you can get one. Top each tartlet with a piece of kumquat, and if you fancy, pipe a little of rosette of cream on top and decorate with a tiny mint leaf.
Lime and Ginger Lemonade
4 fl ozs (110ml) freshly squeezed lemon and/or lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 ozs (175g) sugar
3/4 pint (450ml) water
Put the sugar, water and ginger into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup boil for 30 seconds. Allow to completely cool. Add the lime juice. Transfer the base lemonade to a jar or bottle, cover and chill thoroughly.
Serve with ice cubes and dilute with water to taste.
Learn to cook really delicious, balanced gluten free meals and a few treats too for Coeliacs at the half day cookery course – Gluten Free Cooking with Rosemary Kearney Part 1 at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday 28th January, 2.00pm to 5pm – 021 4646785.
Lettercollum in Timoleague are running a series of cooking courses that are designed to help people to eat more healthy food and also for those with food intolerences.
Saturday 18th February – Winter Warmers – soups, stews and casseroles and winter salads.
Saturday 25th February – Gluten-free Cooking
You can buy spring roll wrappers at Mr Bells at the English Market in Cork city or at the Chinese Shop on the Coal Quay.