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Just a quick post to say how delighted I am to have won the Chinese New Year recipe contest on Farina’s Asian Pantry blog. I entered my recipe for Sichuan braised beef cheek with orange, and Farina’s Singapore foodie judging panel loved the braise and found it to be both approachable and versatile. Yay! Farina has a fab looking new iPad and iPhone app on demystifying Asian cuisine and her blog is chock full of recipe ideas and lovely photography. I’m honoured that she enjoyed my food.

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I promised the vegetarians a CNY post and for the omnivores, this crisp and light dish contrasts nicely with the richness of the beef cheeks. I’m always on the look out for Chinese dishes that have the lightness I appreciate in Vietnamese food, and researching CNY, I came upon Jen from Use Real Butter‘s recipe for rui tsai, a ten lucky ingredient salad her mother made her every year. The dish looked wonderful and it percolated in my mind when I was shopping at the Asian markets this week. I didn’t want to replicate the dish exactly, and in any case, I didn’t have several of the ingredients. But the idea of a lightly cooked salad, featuring both fresh and pickled vegetables stuck with me, as did the idea of featuring ginger in a starring role. If you simply count each of my eight ingredients as a vegetable, the salad will seem plain, but when you consider that one of these ‘vegetables’ is a good half cup of fresh ginger, then you can see the sparky flavours lurking in its deceptively plain appearance. The combination of ginger with crunchy beansprouts, bitter mustard greens, and umami mushrooms gives the dish a lovely balance of flavour, even without much in the way of  added dressing.

Eight is, of course, a lucky number in China, and each of the ingredients in this dish has special significance for New Year. For example, bean sprouts represent a positive start to the year, black fungus signifies longevity, and mixed vegetables in general suggest harmony in the home. After the tumultous Year of the Tiger, harmony seems like a good thing to aspire to in the calmer Year of the Rabbit…

Eight rabbity vegetables

  • 1 cup black fungus mushrooms, soaked
  • 1 cup Chinese black mushrooms, soaked
  • 1/2 cup pickled mustard greens
  • 1 cup beansprouts
  • 1/2 cup ginger
  • 1/2 cup banana flowers, soaked
  • 1 cup bamboo shoots
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • oil for cooking
  • salt

First soak all of the dried ingredients in bowls of warm water. Watch out for the black fungus mushrooms – firstly, they plump up quite a bit so you don’t need too many to make a cup, and secondly they will need careful washing once rehydrated.

While you wait for the dried vegetables to hydrate, prep the fresh ingredients. The ginger, cabbage, bamboo shoots and ginger need to be julienned, with the ginger cut especially finely. Rinse the pickled mustard greens and wash and pick through the beansprouts. Once the dried veggies are soft, squeeze them out and chop them finely too. Keep everything in separate piles for cooking.

Heat a wok or large frying pan to medium and add a small glug of oil. Now fry the vegetables one at a time, sprinkling a pinch of salt over each one. You will want to replenish the oil now and again. Cook the mushrooms for two minutes or until golden patches appear. The others can be cooked quite briefly and the beansprouts not at all if you like them crunchy. As you finish each ingredient, add it into a serving bowl. Once all are cooked, mix the salad well and taste for salt.

That’s really it. Happy CNY!

Like most food lovers, I am a sucker for a food holiday. Whether it’s Christmas, Passover, or Tet, if I can learn about traditional celebrations and make splendid dishes, I’ll be a happy bunny. Hey, I said bunny! Yup, this week marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and I’ve been busily shopping for oranges, black fungus, and all manner of other exciting ingredients. While I’m happy to celebrate most anything, I have a soft spot for Chinese New Year from my years of living in downtown Manhattan. Every year, I would go down to Mott St. to find the crowds and watch the dragon and lion dances. All the shops would be full of New Year decorations — and the bakeries full of moon cakes, which I have to confess I think are vile. I tended to go for celebratory pork buns which might not be traditional but are nonetheless delicious on a cold day.

According to the Chinese horoscope sites I’ve been reading, the year of the rabbit promises a relaxing, laid back year after the dynamic tiger last year. Calmness, leisure and an unhurried pace are promised, which sounds like a Very Good Thing to me. In that spirit, my first new year recipe is a leisurely braise, using oranges, which are a common ingredient in Chinese New Year cooking. It’s rich, meaty and spicy, and I’m going to complement it with a light and crunchy lucky vegetable dish in my next post.

Sichuan braised beef with orange

This dish has a lot of ingredients but you’re mostly chucking them in a pot and leaving for hours, so it’s not hard. It begins with a braise and then adds the braised meat into a final stir fry. However, if you felt especially laid back (it is the year of the rabbit, after all) you could simply stop there and serve the braised beef with some steamed or wok-fried greens.

for the braise:

  • stick of cinnamon
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 8 dried red chilies
  • 3 star anise
  • 2 pieces of dried mandarin peel
  • 2 strips fresh orange peel
  • 2 heaping tsp chili bean paste
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 beef cheek

Trim the cheek of any visible fat and season with salt and pepper. Brown in vegetable oil in an ovenproof casserole. Meanwhile, toast the peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, chilies, and dried mandarin peel one at a time on a dry skillet until they release their scent. It will only take a few seconds per ingredient, so be careful not to burn them. Crush the garlic cloves roughly. When the meat is browned all over, take it out and put it on a plate for a moment. In the same pot, add the chili bean paste and fry. Add all the other ingredients, put the meat back in, and add 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and put in a medium-low oven (gas mark 3, 325 F, 170 C). Cook for 3 hours, turning the meat occasionally.

for the stir fry:

  • vegetable oil
  • bunch of spring onions
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 handfuls of sugar snap peas
  • 1 tbsp chili bean paste
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 12–15 dried red chilies
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • the peel and juice of 1/2 orange

Towards the end of the braising time, prep the next stage. Cut the onions into 1/2 inch slices, slice the red pepper thinly, top and tail the sugar snaps, chop the garlic to a paste, and julienne the orange peel very finely. Juice the orange. Make the sauce by mixing bean paste, soy sauce, wine and a little orange juice. Taste for flavour balance.

Once the meat is cooked, let it sit for a few minutes then shred it with a fork. You want it to look like pulled pork. Heat a wok or large frying pan and, once it’s very hot, add a tbsp of oil. When the oil shimmers, fry the spring onions and peppers. Stir for a minute then add the dried chilies, sichuan peppercorns, and orange peel, then the sugar snaps, then the garlic. Stir until the garlic no longer looks raw, then add the meat. Mix well and pour in the sauce. Fry for another minute until everything is well-combined.

Serves 3-4

Haggis Dumplings (photo Lydia Nagai)

I came across this article about Burns night crossed with Chinese New Year in Vancouver and couldn’t resist. Apparently, Chinese-Canadian Todd Wong founded Gung Haggis Fat Choy to bring together  the two major ethnic groups who emigrated to British Columbia: the Scots and the Chinese:

Wong, or “Toddish McWong” as he is known in the Scottish community, invented a new holiday by combining the Chinese New Year with Robbie Burns Day, the holiday that celebrates the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet. The two holidays fall close together in the calendar year, making it convenient to combine the celebrations, notes Wong, a fifth generation Chinese-Canadian. On Jan. 31, Vancouver’s Chinatown will host the 12th annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy festival where deep-fried haggis won ton will be served alongside single malt whiskey.

Scottish people and Chinese people…eating innards together. Could there be a more splendid version of multiculturalism in action?

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