2 Chinese New Year dishes to make at home
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
The traditional Chinese New Year's meal is a major undertaking: All manner of foods are customary, including a whole steamed or fried fish, noodles that represent long life, hand-made dumplings and confections that resemble bright coins, the vegetarian stew called jai, and gau, the favored steamed rice pudding.
But in most contemporary families, the work is shared — or handed over to a takeout place or restaurant — and the object is to enjoy being together.
Either of these two recipes would make a traditional but not too taxing contribution to a family Chinese New Year feast, and both can be prepared ahead of time.
Longevity or Long Life Noodles — cheung sau jai mien — is a name given to a family of noodle dishes in which long, thin, high-quality egg noodles are used. The dish is often served on birthdays and at Chinese New Year, which was traditionally considered "everybody's birthday." It also happens to make a quick, easy, weeknight stir-fry that can readily be prepped in advance.
The "long life" refers not to the health of the dish (although it is very light), but to the hope that our life will be as long as the uncut noodles; the cook should take great care not to break the noodles. And it's good manners to serve the elders first.
In some families, the first day of Chinese New Year is a no-meat day, so Long Life Noodles is often a vegetarian dish. However, there are versions made with shrimp or chicken. We've also seen variations that involve a peanut sauce and more spice.
The noodles used, especially favored in Guangdong province (whose most famous city is Guangzhou), are briefly deep-fried, coiled into bundles, and packaged in protective boxes or plastic forms. In Honolulu, we found them in Chinatown but not in grocery stores. They are often labeled with the word Guangdong, some brands even say Longevity and widths vary from thread-thin to spaghetti-size. You can substitute any thin, prefried wheat noodle — chuka soba, chow mein — or even spaghetti. The noodles must be briefly boiled before use.
To prep this dish as much as 24 hours ahead of time: Boil the vegetables and noodles as directed. Wrap the vegetables in damp paper towels and refrigerate. Toss the noodles lightly with a few drops of peanut oil and store in zippered plastic bag in refrigerator. Mix up sauce and store in airtight container.
This recipe is adapted from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's "The Chinese Kitchen" (William Morrow, 1999).
Place large pot with 10 cups water on stove and bring to a brisk boil.
Place sprouts, carrots and snow peas in mesh strainer and lower into boiling water for 15 seconds. Remove strainer and run vegetables immediately under cold water to stop cooking; drain on a bed of paper towels and reserve.
Add salt to pot and bring water back to the boil. Add noodles and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, loosening gently with long chopsticks. Drain pot into colander in sink and immediately rinse noodles with cold water to stop cooking. Drain thoroughly and reserve. (Adding a few drops of peanut oil to the noodles will assure they don't stick together.)
Combine shoyu, wine or sherry and chicken stock in small bowl and reserve.
Heat wok or deep skillet over high heat for 45 seconds. Add peanut oil and coat the wok, turning or using spatula. When a wisp of white smoke appears, add ginger and cook for 10 seconds, stirring. Add vegetables and water chestnuts; stir and cook 1 minute. Stir sauce mixture and add; bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook, stirring well to combine all ingredients, until sauce is absorbed, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Transfer to heated platter and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Turnip cake — law bahk go — isn't a cake but a savory steamed pudding rather like polenta that's briefly fried in hot oil and served with a sauce of shoyu, hot oil and vinegar. Made from grated daikon (aka Chinese turnip), mushroom-flecked rice flour, dried shrimp and lup cheong, it's readily prepared at home and takes no special skill, unlike many dim-sum specialties. These — and a related dish in which daikon and sausage form a stuffing in round, fried pastry — are favored for Chinese New Year because their golden-brown color is reminiscent of gold coins.
The turnip cake can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated, then fried just before serving.
This version is from "Classic Deem Sum: Recipes from Yank Sing Restaurant, San Francisco" by Henry Chan with Yukiko and Bob Haydock (Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1985).
Dipping sauce: Equal parts shoyu, la yu oil, rice vinegar or red vinegar
Soak mushrooms in tepid water to cover 30 minutes until soft and pliable; discard stems and mince caps coarsely.
Soak dried shrimp in 1/4 cup tepid water for 10 minutes; reserve liquid and mince shrimp coarsely.
Mince lup cheung.
Peel and shred daikon. (You can shred it in the food processor.)
Place daikon in saucepan with chicken stock and reserved shrimp liquid; cover and simmer until daikon is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients except rice flour and oil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes; cool to room temperature.
Stir rice flour into daikon mixture and blend thoroughly.
Oil sides and bottom of 8-inch-square Pyrex cake dish.
Spoon mixture into dish in a flat layer; use a wet spatula to smooth top.
Place a steaming rack in the bottom of a wok; fill with water to 1-inch below rack; bring water to a rapid boil. Fill another pot with water and keep it simmering. Place turnip cake on rack, cover wok and steam one hour, refilling water every 15 minutes as needed to prevent the wok boiling dry. Cake is done when toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
Cool cake to room temperature; turn out and slice into 1- by 2-inch pieces.
Just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons oil in frying pan and fry cakes until lightly brown and heated through. Serve with dipping sauce.
Makes 32 small pieces.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at email@example.com.