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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

Celebrate Chinese New Year with symbolic dish from TV chef Ming Tsai


By Bill Daley
Chicago Tribune

As the old gasoline ad urged, put a little tiger in your tank and your dinner plans this Valentine's Day.

Feb. 14 also is the Chinese or lunar new year the Year of the Tiger.

And who better to put the spice into festive fusion dishes for two than that champion of East-West cooking, Ming Tsai?

The host of public television's "Simply Ming" cooking series took to the assignment immediately.

Indeed, he even decided to do a Chinese-themed Valentine's dinner at his Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass.

"I've been on this planet 45 years, and I can't recall Chinese New Year happening on V-Day," Tsai said. "As a chef for 25 years, I've never had an opportunity to do it."

Though the fare will be considerably more complicated and "cheffy" at the restaurant, Tsai suggested a dish designed for the home cook.

"There are a hundred things you could do," Tsai said. "There is more symbolism in Chinese food than in any other culture. That's probably because Chinese food is the oldest cuisine in the world."

Chinese New Year traditionally calls for food that evokes prosperity, wealth and long life, like golden dumplings, extra-long noodles, egg rolls and whole fish. Tsai said the foods also would focus more on fertility and fidelity (such as his fried rice dish) than on love in a Western sense as epitomized by chocolates and champagne.

"The Chinese wouldn't think about a romantic food item or cooking technique," he added. "The Chinese think of the outcome children."

SHRIMP AND EGG FRIED RICE TIMBALE

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 12 minutes Makes: 2 appetizer servings

"Eggs symbolize fertility, and the Chinese word for shrimp sounds like the word for laughter and smile, which is great for a relationship," said Ming Tsai. If you don't have day-old leftover rice, spread cooked rice in a single layer on rimmed cookie sheets and chill in the freezer until the grains dry out. Let come to room temperature before using.

2 tablespoons oil

1 egg, beaten

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 pound small shrimp, cleaned, peeled, patted dry

3 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced, kept separate

1 carrot, grated

1 rib celery, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 piece (1-inch long) ginger root, peeled, minced

1 1/2 cups leftover cooked brown and white rice combination

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When oil is hot, pour in beaten egg. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste. Cook until egg puffs up and is cooked through, about 3 minutes; transfer egg to a large plate lined with paper towels.

2. Add shrimp to the wok; season with remaining 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste. Stir-fry until just cooked through. Remove shrimp to a plate; reserve 2 for garnish.

3. Pour in remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil, if needed. Add the green onion whites, carrot, celery, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry until softened, about 4 minutes. Add rice, shrimp and egg, using a spatula to break up the egg. Toss thoroughly until heated through. Add the soy sauce; toss. Adjust seasonings.

4. Moisten interior of 2 small bowls or cups with water. Place 1 of the reserved shrimp on bottom of each. Add fried rice to fill to the top; press to pack. Unmold bowls into center of 2 plates; garnish with green portion of green onions.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 400 calories, 40 percent of calories from fat, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 190 mg cholesterol, 43 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 1,149 mg sodium, 4 g fiber