This week, let’s take a break from Covid 19 and the dawning realisations of the unexpected implications of Brexit on our lives. Life seems to be full of ‘Aaaaaah’ and ‘Ah Ha’ moments at present….
So, I thought I’d concentrate on the Chinese New Year coming up on Friday February the 12th 2021. Festivities have already begun to celebrate the beginning of a New Year on the traditional lunar calendar. In China and East Asian countries the festival is commonly referred to as Spring Festival . Chinese New Year marks the transition between zodiac signs but this year, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. 2020 was the year of the Rat and 2022 will be the year of the Tiger.
It’s a fantasticly colourful and flamboyant festival with lion and dragon dances, fireworks, family gatherings and special foods.
Red is the auspicious colour. The Nian Dragon doesn’t like red so look out for lots of red lanterns to scare him away. Red envelopes are another endearing part of the celebrations, these have a monetary gift inside and are also gifted for special occasions such as weddings and graduations. Have you heard of Chunlian couplets? Me neither, I have no idea but Google came to my rescue. They are Chinese decorations ‘fai chun’, that people frequently hang in doorways during Chinese new year “to create a jubilant festive atmosphere”.
Celebrations last up to 16 days, the first seven are considered a public holiday where Chinese travel home to their families – not much chance of that this year! If they truly can’t travel home, a spot will be laid and left empty for them at the New Year’s Eve dinner.
Chinese New Year officially begins on February the 12th 2021 and ends on February the 22nd 2021. Then guess what…..preparations start for Lantern Festival on February 26th – enough festivities to distract minds from Covid 19.
There are a myriad of customs and taboos to be taken into consideration. Words with negative connotations are forbidden, they could jinx your good fortune, including death, pain, empty, poor, sick and presumably Covid 19 is added to the list this year. Avoid breaking glass or ceramic, it shatters your chance of prosperity and good fortune. However, a handy tip, immediately wrap the shards in red paper and throw them into a lake or river after Chinese New Year.
Sweeping during the actual day of celebration apparently also causes problems, so only on the designated cleaning day otherwise you may sweep away or throw out your good luck. No showering on Chinese New Year’s day either…
Sharp objects can cut your streams of wealth and success. In olden times this was to give women a well deserved break from chopping, cooking and sewing …..Hair cutting is also taboo and forbidden till festivities are over – double Covid 19!!!!!
Don’t borrow money or demand debt repayment or you could end up having to borrow all year long. No fighting or crying otherwise there could be a turbulent year ahead!
Try not to take medicine during the Spring festival. Not sure about that, could be wiser to follow your doctors instructions….and there is also a taboo about giving people a blessing in bed – allow them to get out of bed first otherwise they could be bedridden. There are a myriad of taboos about gift giving – it’s a mindfield but this is a cooking column so back to the kitchen.
Chinese take enormous pride in their food – it is after all one of the great cuisines of the world. Each family will have their own traditions but there are some dishes that may be found on virtually every table.
Spring rolls – to celebrate the coming of Spring.
Dumplings – many different types, apparently they are shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots. After eating these you will live a wealthy and prosperous life. I adore Chinese dumplings and the tradition that all members of the family must participate in making them.
Noodles – for Chinese New Year people like to eat long noodles, the longer the noodle the longer the life – this calls for a lot of slurping!
Steamed fish, chicken, rice cakes, vegetable stir frys, hot pots….all are symbolic, and bring luck and good fortune, are truly delicious and nourishing and comforting. Just what we need to cheer us up during this super challenging time. Keep safe and well and enjoy.
Siu Mai Pork, Bacon and Ginger Dumplings
Makes about 20
500g fresh prawn meat
250g streaky pork, minced
3 cloves garlic, crushed finely
1 x 5cm piece ginger, grated
2 eggs whites
2 teasp. cornflour
Juice of half lemon
1 tablesp. Oyster sauce (optional)
1 tablesp. Soy sauce plus extra for dipping
1 tablesp. Sesame oil
¼ teasp. salt, approx.
¼ teasp. freshly ground pepper
Hong Kong style, round wonton wrappers
Oil for brushing the steamer
Cabbage leaves for lining the steamer
25cm Bamboo steamer
Put all the ingredients into a wide bowl. Season well and evenly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix very thoroughly, better still pulse in a food processor, it shouldn’t be too smooth, a little texture is perfect.
Next assemble the dumplings. Hold the wonton wrapper in your hand between your thumb and cupped fingers. Dip a spoon into cold water, then drop a blob about (2 teasp.) into the centre of each wrapper. Gather the edges of the wrapper up around the filling and squeeze the sides slightly with your fingers, leaving the filling slightly exposed, the sides pleat a little.
Tap the base on the worktop so the bottom will be flat and the dumplings won’t topple over in the steamer. Continue until all the filling is used up. Cook or cover and keep refrigerated.
Brush the slats of the steamer with a little oil. Line the base loosely with cabbage leaves. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer with a little space between each one to allow the steam to circulate – 12 siu mai should fit comfortably into a 25cm bamboo steamer. Cover.
Bring approx. 5cm of water to boil in a pot or wok. Place the steamer over the pot, cover with the lid and steam for 10-12 minutes or until the filling feels firm to the touch and is fully cooked through. Serve the dumpling immediately in the steamer with a bowl of soy sauce for dipping.
Good to know: I like to steam just one or two at first to test the seasoning. Excess dumplings will freeze brilliantly for 2-3 weeks.
Chinese Garlic Chive Omelette
We love this simple omelette, super tasty and easy to make. I’ve been using the chopped leaves of the early wild garlic called Snowbells (see Wild food of the Week last week, allium triquetrium). The pretty white flowers as a garnish.
5 organic eggs
40-50g Chinese or garlic chives or wild garlic
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
½ – 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Generous tablespoon olive oil or peanut oil
Soy sauce, optional
Slice the chives into 5mm pieces. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the other ingredients. Add the chopped chives and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Heat a wok or a 25cm frying pan over a high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Drop in a teaspoon full of the mixture to test the seasoning. Taste and tweak if necessary.
Pour the egg mixture into the hot wok or pan, swirl to coat the base evenly.
Cook for a couple of minutes to brown the base lightly. Flip over to cook the other side. When almost set, – 2-3 minutes slide out onto a hot serving plate. Divide into quarters sprinkle with garlic chive flowers and serve with soy sauce.
Alternatively make 2 smaller omelettes.
Stir Fried Pork and Ginger Noodles with Peanuts.
Serves 4 – 6
200g Egg noodles
1tbsp olive oil (More usual to use peanut oil but I prefer a light olive oil)
450g pork fillet , cut into strips
2cm of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
2 cloves of garlic peeled and freshly grated
1 tbsp shrimp paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
D1 tbsp fish sauce
2 – 3 tbsp water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g toasted peanuts (optional)
1 carrot (approx. 5oz) cut into fine julienne
2 spring onions sliced at an angle into ‘horses ears’
1 – 2 tsps Chinese sesame oil
First prepare the carrots and onions. Then cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet, they should still have a slight bite.
Ready to Eat….
Line up all the ingredients beside the cooker. Heat a wok over a medium/ high heat. Add a dash of oil and the pork strips. Stir and fry for a minute or two, careful it’s really easy to overcook the pork. Turn out onto a plate.
Increase the heat, add another dash of oil if necessary, Toss in the peanuts, ginger and garlic, stir and fry to 20 – 30 seconds. Next add the shrimp paste, stir and fry for another 30 seconds until aromatic, then add the soy and fish sauces and a couple of tablespoons of water to create steam.
Toss in the well-drained noodles and pork. Toss to coat, sprinkle over the sesame oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste and correct if necessary.
Turn out onto a hot serving plate or plates. Sprinkle with some grated carrot julienne and spring onions. Serve immediately.
Gok’s Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers
Not sure if you know about Gok. My daughters are huge fans but I’ve only ‘discovered’ him recently. He is super cool and does a TV series on Channel 4 on fashion as well as food. First I borrowed his book, Gok Cooks Chinese from my daughter and then ordered my very own copy. Published by Penguin and Michael Joseph – full of fabulously simple Chinese dishes.
Serves 2 – 4
200g minced chicken
2 tbsps leek, very finely chopped
1 spring onion finely chopped
1-2cm piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg separated
Cornflour, for dusting
12 round white wonton wrappers
Tablespoon of groundnut oil
For the Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons of runny honey
1 tablespoons of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Put the chicken, leek, spring onion and ginger into a bowl or on to a board, and mix together well, adding the sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a little egg white if the mixture needs binding together.
Dust a work surface with cornflour and lay out the wonton wrappers. Place a small spoonful of the chicken mixture in the middle of a wrapper and brush the outside rim lightly with egg white.
Fold over the wrapper to make a half-moon shape, enclosing the filling inside. Press out any air bubbles and seal the join, pinching the ends to shut at the rim. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers and chicken mixture.
Heat a non-stick frying pan with deep sides, or a wok, over a medium to high heat. Add a glut of oil and place the dumplings in the pan. If using a wok, arrange them around the bottom and lower sides. Cook for 30 – 60 seconds over a medium heat until crisp and dark golden on the base. Then pour in enough water to create steam around the dumplings (about 200ml) at the base of the wok or pan. Cover the pan and steam the dumplings for 5 – 8 minutes (topping up the water if the pan is drying out) or until the filling is cooked through.
To make the dipping sauce mix together the honey and soy sauce in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the chives to garnish.
Remove the pot stickers from the pan and serve coloured side up with the dipping sauce on the side. Serve immediately.