Well, dear readers, gong xi fa cai and happy new year! February 14th marked the start of the Year of the Tiger (the metal Tiger, specifically) and like all good holidays, this one involved a lot of delicious food. (It was also Valentine's Day, I know, but the extent of my celebrating that involved looking at all the pink-hued treats on Foodgawker and Tastespotting!)
We had a very low key CNY dinner at home this year of hot pot (steamboat), and a non-traditional one at that. Of course we had all the usual suspects of fish balls and fish cakes, tofu, cabbage and other leafy vegetables, but my dad also added zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes. Different...but good! There were also some shirataki noodle bundles, but of course, the main event is the thinly sliced meat (pork and beef this time). Hot pot is a very communal way of eating and is good fun as everyone is gathered around the pot, busy dipping their slices of meat into the bubbling soup. Swish it around for a few seconds, and it's ready to eat!
And here is the most important component of hot pots (at our house, at least)--sa cha jiang (or as the bottle says, barbecue sauce). I can't explain what this tastes like--salty, savory, sure, but much more complex than that. This is the main ingredient in the sauce that the meat and other ingredients are dipped in before eating; everyone mixes up their own sauce to their taste. Mine is relatively simple and just includes a good dollop of this, a splash of soy sauce, a bit of sesame oil, and a bit of the soup. Some people would insist on fermented tofu, but I am just not a fermented tofu kinda girl.
Sorry for the er, half-eaten fishball photo but I wanted to show you the inside of my faaaavorite kind of fishball, the fuchow type! It's got a little, juicy pork filling that is just amazingly delicious. More so dipped in sauce! Mmm. I wish I had one right now. But it's not all savory foods, we also had to have some dessert!
To me, there is no sweet that is more traditional for Chinese New Year than nian gao. It's a sticky rice cake and there are some old stories about how you offer this to the Kitchen God so that you glue his mouth shut so he can't report anything bad about you or your family (hmph! there would be nothing bad to report for me!). It's also a bit of a play on words--it means new year's cake, but it also means "year higher"--as in, every year, you become more prosperous, more fortunate, etc. etc. But none of that is important--this is delicious and so easy to make. I am providing a simple recipe for coconut nian gao, although this is not quite as traditional as the good old brown sugar kind, which, sadly, I don't know how to make. Ready for the recipe?
Take one can of coconut milk (shake well!), one can of evaporated milk (shake well), 4 eggs, 1/2 to one cup of sugar, and one package of glutinous rice flour (available at any Chinese grocery). Whisk together until smooth. Stir in one cup of shredded, sweetened coconut. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch pan, and sprinkle an additional cup of sweetened coconut over the top. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 50 minutes, or until browned and crusty on top. Easy, no?
Serve in small squares with a cup of tea. Actually, this is more civilized than how I usually eat it, which is to cut a piece off everytime I walk past it. It's chewy and stretchy and coconutty. You can keep this in the fridge if you can't finish it within 3 or 4 days, but you want to give it a quick buzz in the microwave to soften it up in that case.
I mentioned the classic brown sugar nian gao above...well, I didn't make one because I don't know how! Fortunately, my friend gave me a wedge made by her future in-laws--thanks!! I love this kind of nian gao specifically because of what you do with it after you refrigerate it and gets all bricklike--you batter it and fry it! Nian gao fritter!
The batter is very simple--a cup of all purpose flour, combined with an egg and enough milk to make a thick-ish batter. Sorry, I never measure this so I can't be more precise, but hopefully you can see from the photo how thick the batter should be. Dip your slices of nian gao, then pan fry in a little vegetable oil until nicely browned on both sides. The batter will puff up a bit as it fries, and you will feel the nian gao soften up. There's a variation of this where you make a sandwich with thin slices of nian gao and sweet potato, and THEN batter and fry it, but I was feeling lazy.
Drain on paper towels for a few minutes; this both removes the excess oil, and allows the nian gao to cool off a bit which is good. Trust me, this stuff gets and stays hot and since it's sticky, you can give yourself a nasty burn if you bite into it right away.
This isn't the greatest picture, but I just wanted to show the inside of one of these fritters. Hopefully you can see how sticky the nian gao gets.
Well I think this might be my longest post ever--if you made it this far, I congratulate you ;). Gong xi fa cai, xing nian kuai le! I think I'm going to play it safe and eat some more nian gao to ensure luck. And New Yorkers, don't forget--the Chinese New Year parade is tomorrow in Chinatown! Check back here for photos on Monday or Tuesday (I know, I know, the HK posts keep getting pre-empted! Soon!)