Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gong Xi Fa Chai

Happy New Year

Our first experience of this festival in Malaysia was an unforgettable one. For the Chinese, the most important festival is Chinese New Year, which falls in either January or February. It is ushered in with the lighting of fire crackers at midnight on the eve of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Preparations begin long before the celebration. Traditional food, new clothes, a spotless and beautiful house are a must to welcome the New Year.
Many traditional dishes include ingredients that have special meaning. The symbolic significance of foods is based on appearance and also the sounds of the food pronounced in Chinese words (Mandarin or dialect). For example fish, should be a whole fish, to represent togetherness and abundance; a chicken presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness and prosperity; Uncut noodles represent long life.
One of the rituals I really enjoyed, was the tossing of the colourful Yee Sang before the start of the festive meal.
Yee Sang, a symbol of prosperity and abundance, originated in Chaozhou where simple ingredients were used, like fresh raw fish, strips of turnips and carrots that go well with a sauce made of oil, vinegar and sugar. The ingredients can be changed to reflect one's personal creativity and preference.

The Recipe
Vegetarian Yee Sang
50 gms white radish, shredded; 50 gms carrot, shredded;50 gms raw mango,grated;
25 gms spring onion, cut fine; 1 red chilli, minced; 25 gms raw papaya, grated; 3 leeks , sliced fine; 50 gms pomelo, peeled with pith removed; 2 kaffir lime leaves, cut very fine; 2 tbsp wonton wrappers fried crisp, crushed; 50 gms sweet potato grated and fried crisp; 25 gms sesame seeds, toasted;35gms toasted ground nut seeds, coarsely crushed.
NB: I used diamond cuts since I had just made some.
Arrange the shredded ingredients attractively on a big, round serving platter.

150 gms plum sauce;1/2 tbsp. apricot jam;1 1/2 tbsp lime juice;1 1/2 tbsp. honey; 1/2 tbsp crushed sesame seeds; 1 tsp. sesame oil; salt to taste; 5gms 5 spice powder in a red packet.
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmering boil. Leave aside to cool completely before use.

If you don't have plum sauce, use plum jam. Be creative. You'll be surprised with the end result.

To serve, pour the sauce over the yee sang and sprinkle the with five-spice powder.
Add a sprinkling of sesame seeds and roasted peanuts.

Traditionally everyone gathers around the table to toss the salad, as high as possible, while uttering good wishes.

Char Siew/Roast Barbecued Pork

"Char siu" literally means "fork burn/roast"( after the traditional cooking method for the dish: long strips of seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and placed in a covered oven or over a fire. This is one of the most delectable creations of Chinese Cuisine and can be eaten plain, as a snack with rice or bread, the list is endless. Traditionally, it’s marinated in a mixture of honey, five spice powder, soy and/or hoisin sauce.

600 gms pork cut into thick strips
Seasoning Ingredients: 4 tbsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. thick soya sauce, 1 tbsp. maltose mixed with 2 ½ tbsp. hot water to dissolve maltose, ¼ tsp. red colouring ( optional); salt to taste.

Rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towel. Marinade with seasoning ingredients for 5 hours or overnight. Grill 15 minutes each side at 175 C or 350 F till done pouring the marinade over the meat before grilling.
Can be used for sandwiches, noodles, fried rice or as a snack.

Five Spice Powder

Five-spice powder encompasses all five flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty and a must to flavor meat and poultry dishes in Chinese cooking. It's easy to make your own.

2 tbsp black peppercorns (supposed to use Szechuan peppercorns), 3 star anise;2 tsp fennel seeds (somph); Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces; 6 whole cloves.
Toast peppercorns over medium heat in a small dry pan until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Shake pan often to prevent burning. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat toasting process separately with star anise ,fennel seeds, cinnamon, and cloves.

Blend the toasted spices to a fine powder. Allow to rest in the grinder for 1 minute, then transfer to a glass container and tighten lid. Store in a cool, dark place up to one month. Use sparingly as quite pungent.

Yield: about 1/4 cup

Let's welcome the Year of the Tiger!

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