Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Happy Lunar/Chinese New Year! As per usual, allow me to give you a little insight as to what Chinese New Year is like at my house when we have guests over. ;)

Spicy Cold tofu dish
 This traditional Sichuan dish consists of dried tofu that is mixed with Chinese chili oil and various other seasoning. Like most Sichuan dishes, the spices leave a tingling and numbing sensation on your tongue after you eat it. Since the tofu is very porous, it easily soaks up the the chili oil and the sauces it is tossed with, making it very flavourful, and quite spicy.

Vermicelli salad
 It's not really a salad per se, but there isn't really another English term to describe a tossed cold dish. This is another one of my mom's creations. She puts coriander and bokchoy and - get this - julienned apples in with the vermicelli and tosses it with vinegar, salt and other seasoning. The sourness from the apple and the vinegar makes this dish light and refreshing despite the high starch content of the vermicelli.

Tofu skin rolls
 This dish was supposed to be homemade vegetarian chicken, but since my mom ran out of time, she just turned it into tofu skin rolls. The tofu skin is springy and chewy and only soaked briefly in soy sauce. Uncomplicated, but still delicious.

Pickled peppers and Eggplant salad
 This is another one of my mom's spur-of-the-moment creations, and one of my favourites. She slices up lightly cooked eggplants and pickled peppers, then tosses them with garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and Chinese chili oil. The flavours here are very bold, and the softness of the peppers and eggplants and the chewiness of the eggplant skin create a nice balance of textures.

Fish cakes
 This dish consists of a cooked fish puree wrapped in tofu skin. The pieces are then lightly battered and then fried until puffy. The soft chewiness of the fish contrasts nicely with the crispness of the fried batter, and the plum dipping sauce gives just enough tang to cut some of the heaviness from the fried batter.

Salt-water Chicken
 This is my mom's take on a dish that is pretty commonly-ordered in Chinese restaurants. It's really just a chicken that has been boiled and marinated in saltwater, chilled and then sliced. Still, the meat was very tender and, having been soaked in saltwater brine for hours, the meat was was much more juicy and flavourful than the meat on roasted chickens.

Sliced braised beef
 I'm not entirely sure how my mom cooks this, but she braises the beef in a murky mix of soy sauce and other seasonings, chills it, and then slices it into ridiculously thin pieces. Definitely flavourful, but not one of my favourites.

 If you've ever gone for Dim Sum, then you might have seen something similar to this. This is my grandma's recipe for Shumai. Traditionally, in Cantonese Dim Sum restaurants, Shumai are served as little open-ended dumplings with a beige-yellowish skin and are stuffed with a mix of pork and shrimp. My grandma's version of these little dumplings are much less meat-intensive, and, in my opinion, much more tasty. She uses a mix of sticky rice, diced shiitake mushrooms and smoked ham for the stuffing. Much more complex in flavour than the ones served at dim sum, and much less oily too.

Egg dumplings
 They're just like regular dumplings, but instead of using dough for the skin, my mom used egg.

Tempura lotus root with shrimp stuffing

This is a dish that a friend of the family came up with, although she uses ground pork for the stuffing instead of a shrimp puree. Each piece of tempura consists of two thin slices of lotus root with a thin layer of the stuffing sandwiched in between. The whole thing is then battered and then fried. Crispy, crunchy and very nummy.

So that's how my New Year's dinner went. Hope you all had a great Chinese New Year, and hope this post inspired you all to try something new! 新年快乐!

Happy Year of the Dragon!


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