Let’s Talk Food: Lunar New Year is this Thursday

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Eight-treasure rice pudding.

This Thursday is the start of the Year of the Metal Ox in the lunar calendar.

According to the Chinese zodiac, if you were born in 1937, 1949, 1961, 1985, 1997, 2009 or 2021, you have an honest nature, you are diligent, dependable and are determined. Women oxes are faithful wives, who attach great importance to their children’s education.

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On Feb. 11, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is called a “reunion dinner,” with family members celebrating and staying up late to welcome the new year’s arrival.

Dishes that might be served are fish to increase prosperity, Chinese dumplings for great wealth, sticky mochi rice for a higher income or position and keeping the family together, steamed sponge cake for prosperity, sesame seed balls made of mochi flour for fullness, eight-treasure rice pudding for good luck, fried dough twists for reunion, sugar rings for togetherness and sweetness, fried flour-coated peanuts for vitality and longevity, peanut brittle for longevity and good fortune and walnut cookies for happiness.

Here’s a recipe for an appetizer, Cantonese Cha Guo, or savory rice cakes:

Cantonese Cha Guo or Savory Rice Cakes

Serves: 24

Parchment paper cut into 24 4-inch squares

5 dried Shiitake mushrooms

1 ounce dried shrimp

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 ounces ground pork

2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine

24 ounces daikon radish, coarsely grated

2 green onions, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon sesame seed oil

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 cup mushroom soaking liquid

5 cups glutinous rice flour or mochiko

1 cup flour

1/3 cup tapioca starch

2 cups boiling water

Toasted sesame seeds

Soak mushrooms in a bowl of hot water and place a small plate on top to ensure they are fully emerged for 30 minutes. Cut the stems off the mushrooms and discard. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside, reserving the water.

Soak the dried shrimp in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain shrimp and rinse before chopping. Heat 5 tablespoons vegetable oil in a frying pan or wok on medium low heat. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the heated oil and set aside for brushing the cha guo.

Add the dried shrimp to the oil and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Next, add the ground pork and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, or until opaque. Stir in the chopped mushrooms and the Shaoxing wine.

Add shredded daikon, chopped green onions, sesame oil, oyster sauce, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, sugar and white pepper. Cook on medium-low heat until simmering and continue to simmer for another 4 minutes, or until the diakon is just tender.

Combine 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup of reserved mushroom liquid, being careful to avoid any dirt or sediment that might have settled on the bottom of the bowl. Add to the wok and continue to cook and stir until all standing liquid has evaporated, 2 minutes. Set aside and let cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mochiko, flour, tapioca starch and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Gradually stir in 2 cups boiling water into the dry mixture and continue mixing with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the dough begins to form. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch, knead the dough into a smooth ball. Add extra mochiko 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky to knead. Once smooth, cover the dough in the bowl with an overturned plate, let rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces, keep them covered with a clean, damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out while assembling the cha guo. Press each small ball of dough to form a flying saucer, with the ends thinner than the middle, about 4 inches in diameter. It is important to make the edges slightly thinner than the middle or you will have too much dough on one side after you pinch and close the edges.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough disc. Use a spoon to press the filling together into a ball so there are no air pockets in the filling. Pinch the dough around the edges until the opening is closed.

Brush the dough with the reserved vegetable oil. Place in a steamer, steam for 10 minutes.

• • •

Eight-treasure rice pudding is a traditional Chinese New Year’s dessert in China and Taiwan. Its name is from the eight different kinds of dried fruits that are placed on top of the pudding.

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding

Serves: 8

Place in a non-reactive bowl and cover with cold water for 2-3 hours or overnight:

2 cups glutinous or mochi rice

Drain and place the rice in a steamer basket set over simmering water. Cover and steam for 30-45 minutes. While still hot, gently combine with:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Coat the inside of the heat-proof medium-sized bowl with oil and make sure the bowl will fit into the steamer basket. Cut in half:

A handful of sugar-glazed cherries

Make a decorative pattern in the bowl with cherries and:

Handful of black raisins

Handful of yellow raisins

1 dried apricot

Once the fruit is arranged, place half of the steamed, cooked rice in the bowl and press down gently. Spread in the middle and smooth out the top with:

1 cup red bean paste (koshi-an)

Use a little of the rice to cover the red bean paste and place around the edge of the bowl:

Handful of sugar lotus seeds

Evenly place the rest of the glutinous rice on top and press down.

Place the bowl with the fruit and rice into the steamer basket set over simmering water and steam for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the potato starch water, mixing vigorously until well mixed:

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon potato starch

Place in a small pot, bring to boil and add the potato starch mixture, stir until thickened:

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup water

Remove the bowl from the steamer basket and let rest for 10 minutes. Invert the bowl onto a plate and release the rice pudding. Brush the sugar syrup over the surface.

• • •

With these two dishes, the year will be full with lots of good luck! XIN NIAN HAO!

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Happiness and prosperity, or GON SSHEE FAA-TSEYE! (Mandarin) or KUNGHEI FATCHOY! (Cantonese).

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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