LIGHT & LOCAL
While browsing through the new books at Barnes & Noble, I came across a Chinese horoscope book. This book brought back memories of Chinese New Year. We celebrated the holiday with sumptuous food and family gatherings. My dad always went to Chinatown to buy the typical things for the antique red-and-black lacquer boxes. I can still picture my Mom filling the sections of these boxes with candied squash, lotus root, coconut strips and dried watermelon seeds. When relatives came to visit, they were offered tea along with these condiments, sweetmeats and cakes. My cousins and I always loved to sit on the front porch and crack the watermelon seeds between our teeth. (Next best thing to eating green mango and shoyu.)
Auntie Peggy always made jai, a vegetarian dish sometimes called monk's food. Days before, she would go to Chinatown and shop for all the special ingredients, then spend an entire day making the soup. Since she lived next door, we always got jai and other dishes that were so delicious.
My cousin, Velma, now carries on Auntie Peggy's legacy. She gave me a recipe for fu jook, which would be a great soup during Chinese New Year. It doesn't require all the preparation of jai, and it would be a great project to shop for while you are in Chinatown enjoying the festivities. I have learned so much about the food, the language and the culture through cooking. Don't be afraid to bring in the following recipe, and ask for the ingredients.
VELMA LAU'S SLOW-COOK FU JOOK (DRIED BEAN CURD STICKS SOUP)
Place all of the above except ginkgo nuts in a slow cooker at least 4 hours before serving. Cook 2 hours on high and lower the heat to low and cook for 2 more hours. Add ginkgo nuts the last half-hour.
To cook on the stove top, place the above ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer for 2 hours.
Serves 8 or more.
Want a local recipe lightened up? Write Light & Local, Taste Section, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; or firstname.lastname@example.org. Carol Devenot is a Kaimuki-raised kama'aina, teacher and recipe consultant, and author of "Island Light Cuisine" (Blue Sea Publishing, paper, 2003). Learn more at www.islandlightcuisine.com.