japchae

Korean Stir-Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae)

I heart noodles.

Ramen.

Chow mein.

Pancit.

And especially my mom’s mie goreng (Indonesian fried noodles).

But today, I’d like to give a shout-out to a lesser known noodle dish—japchae.

A classic Korean dish, you’ll find japchae on the menu at just about any Korean restaurant in the U.S. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a party at a Korean friend’s house, japchae will probably show up on your plate together with kalbi and kimchi.

Like many other Asian noodle dishes, japchae is a stir-fried mix of noodles, vegetables and meat. It happens to use an unusual type of noodle made from sweet potato starch, which seems to be unique to Korean cuisine (I’m happy to be proven wrong–anyone?).

Koreans have already shown their ingenuity by mixing rice with other grains to make supplies go further—et voilà, jabgok-bap (mixed grain rice), So perhaps they invented sweet potato starch noodles when wheat was unavailable.

Clear and chewy, sweet potato noodles are a fabulous blank canvas for soaking up the sweet and savory flavors of soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. These pale gray strands are also the reason why japchae is commonly known as glass noodles.

Plus, japchae has mass appeal: it’s popular for feeding a crowd because it’s easy to make in bulk and is tasty both warm or at room temperature—perfect for a buffet or a picnic.

Noodles–signifying long life–are a must during birthdays and the new year. Since Lunar New Year is next week (February 15, 2015), you might want to try slipping japchae into your celebration menu!

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Stir-Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae)

japchae

Japchae is often a co-mingling of noodles and an assortment of vegetables and meat. My recipe uses only vegetables but feel free to add your choice of protein. I’ve sliced up leftover sirloin steak and and barbecued pork (about 1 cup) and tossed them in with the noodles. Sweet potato noodles are sold at Asian markets. If you can’t find them, substitute the fattest mung bean/cellophane noodles available and follow the package directions to cook.

Time: 30 minutes plus soaking
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

1 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
Hot water
8 ounces spinach, trimmed (4 to 5 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
6 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into thin slices (3/4 cup)
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (1-1/4 cups)
3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  1. Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl and soak in hot water for 15 minutes.
  2. With kitchen shears, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. You just want the noodles to be manageable so don’t worry about getting exact lengths. Drain and set aside.
  3. Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and soak in very hot water for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Gently squeeze the water from the spinach and cut into 3 sections.
  4. Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots, green onions, and garlic and stir and cook until the carrots are crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and toss in the noodles (here’s where you add precooked meat if you’d like).
  5. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Stir everything swiftly around the wok for 3 to 4 minutes, coating the noodles evenly with the seasonings. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the bottom of the wok. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
  6. Mix in the spinach and sesame seeds at the very end and toss with a couple more flourishes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature.

Note:  Japchae keeps well and can stay fresh for up to a week in the refrigerator. To reheat, cook in a skillet and add sesame oil until the noodles are supple and heated through.

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This post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter.  The theme this month is noodles, hosted by Betty Ann at Asian in America. Please keep coming back for more #Let’sLunch noodle dishes (perfect for Lunar New Year!):

Annabelle‘s Emergency Anti-Hibernal Salad at Glass of Fancy

Betty-Ann‘s Chicken Noodle Soup with Roast Barbecue at Asian in America

Cheryl’s Gingery Chicken and Bokchoy Noodle Soup at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Demetra‘s Southern Style Ramen with Bacon at Sweet Savant

Eleanor‘s Marinara Chicken in a Wok — With Pasta at Wok Star

Juliana‘s Grilled Tofu Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad at J. Loh

Linda‘s Taiwanese Hot Pot at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Lokshen Kugel at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Naomi‘s Biang Biang Noodles at The Gastrognome

Tammi‘s Thai Glass Noodle Salad at Insatiable Munchies

Celebrating Lao New Year with Green Papaya Salad

We all know about Lunar New Year, celebrated most notably by Chinese and Vietnamese in January or February every year. However, under-the-radar new year festivities take place at the start of spring.

A banner welcoming everyone to celebrate Lao New Year at Lao Wat Buddhist temple of North Philadelphia.

Lao New Year is celebrated as a three-day-long festival from April 13-15 (it can vary and may occur April 14-16 according to some calendars). The 13th is the last day of the old year, the 14th is the “day of no day”, and the 15th marks the start of the new year. Catzie Vilayphonh, creative director of LaosintheHouse.com (a collaborative arts project that brings together the collective stories of Lao-Americans) puts it simply, “On the first day, we clean everything, on the second we don’t do anything and on the third, we celebrate!”

I asked Catzie to give me some insight into her new year experience, especially the foods eaten.

Unlike the Chinese, Laotians don’t celebrate with a lavish reunion dinner at home. Instead, families head to the closest Lao Buddhist temple (called a wat) to pray and seek blessings, to take part in cultural activities, and of course, to eat lots of good food. Here, they also follow an important tradition: splashing water on each other. “It’s a cleansing ritual signifying starting anew,” explains Catzie.

Catzie points out that because of schedules, and perhaps competing wats, Lao New Year is celebrated almost every weekend in April.

Girls dressed in traditional Laotian costumes line the parade during new year festivities

There aren’t any symbolic foods or traditions that usher in wealth and good luck, nor are there sound-alike ingredients for gold and long life. A practical people, Laotians eat everyday foods to ring in the new year. “There’s no one thing that we must eat,” says Catzie. “We’ll just eat everything that we like.”

As a teenager, Catzie, who was born in a Thai refugee camp and raised in Philadelphia, went along to the temple for one reason—the street food vendors who thronged the temple grounds.

Street vendors busy shredding papaya to make salad for the masses who visit the temple during Lao New Year

She describes some of her favorites:

  • Mieng kaham is an aromatic street snack. Sticky rice is dried, fried and smashed in a mortar with a pestle and pork broth is added to it until it becomes a sticky mush. You put the mush in lettuce and wrap it with lemongrass, toasted coconut, peanuts, dry roasted pepper and tomatoes.”
  • “There’s always barbecued meat on sticks—beef chunks on skewers, chicken wings, and lemongrass sausage (som sai gok) made with ground pork that’s allowed to sit for a day to ferment.”
Lemongrass sausage being boiled in a huge pot before being skewered and grilled
  • And probably the most well known Lao/Thai dish:“Lao papaya salad is made with just papaya (Thai papaya salad, som tam, has plenty of extras) and garnished with pork rind for extra flavor and texture. It’s served with cabbage which is used like a spoon to pick up the salad. It’s extra sour and extra spicy, not like Thai papaya salad!”
A special tool makes easy work of shredding green papaya

For those of us who are accustomed to gathering at mom and dad’s for Thanksgiving or Lunar New Year dinner, it might seem odd not to celebrate this important cultural celebration with a large family meal.

But eating together as a family is just as special any time of the year, not just during the holidays.

Catzie recalls annual visits to a cattle ranch as a little girl with her extended family—uncles, aunts and cousin–to pick a cow. The cow was slaughtered and butchered onsite and everyone brought home a share of the animal.

“That first meal was the best part. We had to eat certain parts (of the cow) right away and we had a big family meal (usually raw laab),” she reminisces. “Everyone took turns working and we all had a part to play.”

“Sitting down with the family all together and sharing the meal. That’s truly, authentically Lao.”

Photo credits: Fawn Grant
Pictures taken at Lao Wat Buddhist temple of North Philadelphia, 2012

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Sheng’s Papaya Salad

Recipe excerpted from Cooking from the Heart–The Hmong Kitchen in America (University of Minnesota Press, 2009)

Photo credit: Robin Lietz.
Photo credit: Robin Lietz

The country of Laos comprises three main ethnic groups—Lao (60 percent), Khmou (11 percent) and Hmong (6 percent). Papaya salad is a dish that’s prepared by all but this particular version comes from Sheng Yang who is Hmong. In Lao, it’s called thum bak hoong, and in Hmong, see taub ntoos qaub. This papaya salad is probably rather different from what you’ve had at a Thai restaurant—it’s earthier and more complex than its Thai counterpart thanks to fermented shrimp and crab pastes; it also lacks the usual accoutrements like crushed peanuts, garlic, snake beans, etc. Leave out the funky pastes if you prefer, and by all means add peanuts if you’d like.

Makes: 6 servings

4 cups shredded green papaya or 4 medium sized carrots
2 to 4 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)
1 to 3 Thai chili peppers (depending on desired heat)
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ tablespoon shrimp paste (optional)
½ tablespoon crab paste (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
Juice and some pulp of 1 lime
6 cherry tomatoes
3 cups shredded cabbage (optional)

Some Asian markets sell shredded green papaya or you can shred it yourself using a special shredding tool available at Asian markets. If preparing this dish with carrots, scrub them well and cut off top ends. Peel into long, thin strips with a vegetable peeler and set them aside.

Remove the papery skin from the garlic cloves and put into a large mortar. Remove the stem ends of the chilies and add the chilies to the garlic. With a pestle, pound the garlic and chilies until they are mushy. Next, add the green papaya or carrot strips, fish sauce, shrimp and crab pastes (if desired), sugar, and MSG (if desired). Squeeze the lime juice into the mixture, discarding the seeds. Use a spoon to scrape some of the lime pulp into the salad. Pound together a minute or two, turning the mixture over with a spoon. Continue until the flavors are extracted and mixed but the papaya strips still retain their shape.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and mix them into the salad. Put ½ cup of the cabbage on 6 individual plates and top with the salad mixture.

Celebrating Lunar New Year with Foods From Different Cultures

Every year, Lunar New Year is celebrated around the globe with great fanfare: lion dances, red packets stuffed with money, and of course, 10-course banquets comprising dishes made with exquisite ingredients and brimming with symbolism–foods that are homonyms or look-alikes for gold bars, prosperity, family unity, fertility, good fortune, etc. This year, Lunar New Year falls on January 31st–it’s the year of the Horse!– and families will gather from far and wide over the next two weeks to eat dishes from long-life noodles to whole fish and fried egg rolls.

In pockets of Asian communities, this important holiday is also feted with special foods, albeit  lesser known and a little lower-key. Here’s a delicious assortment for you to choose from.

Singaporean

yu sheng ingredients 2
My take on yu sheng using homemade tea-cured salmon

In Singapore where I grew up, my family and I would celebrate with raw fish salad, or yu sheng in Mandarin Chinese. This “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants, not at home.

The dish’s make-up varies from place to place and comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced raw fish (salmon, ikan parang [mackerel], or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices. Like many dishes served during the New Year, yu sheng is popular because of its name (a homonym for the words for prosperity and longevity) and the “lucky” ingredients that go into it. The ingredients are served neatly laid out on a platter and then pandemonium breaks out as diners start tossing with their chopsticks, and crying out auspicious sayings. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll have for the New Year!

While yu sheng is traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the New Year (the celebration lasts 15 days, the length of a moon cycle), restaurants tend to have it on their menus starting a week before the New Year, up till several weeks after.

Vietnamese

Photo credit: Ben Nguyen, b00ng/Flickr
Neatly bundled bánh chưng (Photo credit: Ben Nguyen/Flickr)

Tacoma, Washington-native Mary Huynh’s parents gift her with many pounds of “bánh chưng,” glutinous rice bundles stuffed with mung beans and pork wrapped in banana leaves, every Tết, the Vietnamese New Year. The bundles are boiled anywhere from six to 12 hours. It’s basically “cooked to death!” but for good reason–it gives bánh chưng a long shelf life.  “(It’s) delicious!” Huynh describes. “I’d lug it as checked baggage when I visit, and there have been mailings to my sister.”

Sweets like dried fruit candies and coconut candy are also abundant during Tết. Huong C. Nguyen has vivid memories of dried candied fruit offered on huge plates for visitors. “We served them with tea before sitting down to eat meals,” recalls Nguyen who grew up in Denville, New Jersey.

On the dining table, an assortment of traditional Vietnamese dishes like lemongrass chicken, braised duck, and thit kho, pork belly and eggs braised in fish sauce and coconut juice would be laid out. “Sometimes my mom would even mix in turkey!” she laughs.

Taiwanese

Red bean soup with rice flour dumplings (Photo credit: Grace Hwang Lynch, HapaMama.com)

The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Grace Hwang Lynch celebrates Lunar New Year enjoying hot pot with her family. Lynch, who blogs at HapaMama.com, describes the visually stunning array of foods: “There’d be a variety of meats–beef, chicken, sometimes lamb or pork. Seafood like shrimp, scallops, fish and shrimp balls, different veggies, leafy greens, mushrooms. The final item would be bean thread noodles to soak up the flavorful broth.”

On the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, Lynch says it’s customary to have sweet red bean soup (ang-tau-thng in Taiwanese) with dumplings (in-a). “The dumplings are made with sweet (glutinous) rice and are really small, about marble-size, and come in pink and white.” The round dumplings and the bowls the sweet soup is served in symbolize family togetherness.

Indonesian

kue nastar ready
Homemade pineapple tarts or kue nastar

Although she didn’t celebrate Lunar New Year in a big way in Indonesia, Yusi Sasmitra fondly remembers kue keranjang, also called kue cina (literally Chinese cakes), that were sold widely during Imlek (the Indonesian name for Lunar New Year). They’re similar to Chinese nian gao (sticky rice cake) but with a Southeast Asian twist. “The brown cakes are cut into slices, grilled and rolled in shredded coconut,” the real estate specialist explains.

Sasmitra’s eyes light up when she rattles off the wide selection of cookies made available to guests who come round to visit after the first day of the New Year: kue bangkit (made from sago flour), kue satu (made from mung bean powder), cheese sticks and her favorite, kue nastar (pineapple tarts).

Korean

dduk_mandoo_guk
Dduk mandoo guk topped with seaweed (Photo credit: Amy Kim, kimchimom.com)

Growing up, kimchimom.com blogger Amy Kim vaguely remembers having dduk mandoo guk (rice cakes and dumpling soup) on January 1st. According to Korean custom, this dish is served during the Korean New Year, called Solnal or Seollal, that follows the lunar calendar. But in an effort to assimilate to American culture when they migrated to the U.S. in the 1960’s, Kim’s parents stopped celebrating the holiday. Kim only learned about it through friends, Korean language classes, and stories her mom told her.

“Now that I have a family of my own, I decided to start this tradition several years ago. Better late than never!” she says.

A typical bowl of dduk mandoo guk comprises ground beef and cellophane noodle dumplings served in beef broth. Kim, who lives in Northern New Jersey, created her own version made with Japanese dashi and shrimp dumplings. She buys the rice cakes from the Asian store.

A lot of symbolism is present in this simple bowl of soup. The New Year is considered everyone’s birthday and eating the soup symbolizes becoming one year older. The white rice cakes symbolize blessings and purity, and when cut into perfect rounds or “coins,” represent money and prosperity.

Japanese

ehomaki smithsonian
Eho maki (Photo credit: Elizabeth Andoh, TasteofCulture.com)

While Lunar New Year is not a major festival in Japan, many Japanese celebrate Setsubun, a seasonal marker on the ancient, lunar-based koyomi calendar. This year, February 3rd marks the beginning of spring as well as the lunar new year.

In recent years, eating eho maki-zushi–Good Fortune Setsubun rolled sushi–has become part of the Setsubun fun (in addition to the bean-throwing ceremony!). These sushi rolls are similar to the futo (plump) maki (rolls) available at American Japanese restaurants. “The biggest difference is that these Good Fortune Rolls are not sliced,” explains Tokyo-based Japanese culinary instructor Elizabeth Andoh. “Some people include seven fillings (to represent Shichi Fukujin, the Seven Gods of Good fortune), others just four or five. A few takeout places in Tokyo this year are offering very plump rolls with 15 fillings!”

The proper way to eat eho maki is to face the eho, the auspicious direction for the year, and gobble down your sushi roll uncut to keep the good fortune intact.

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HAPPY YEAR OF THE HORSE 2014 EVERYONE!

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LINKS TO RECIPES:

Yu Sheng

Red Bean Soup with Rice Flour Dumplings (HapaMama.com)

Bánh chưng (Gastronomy Blog)

Pineapple Tarts

Dduk Mandoo Guk (Kimchimom.com)

Eho Maki-Zushi (+ more about Setsubun!)

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican weddign cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader was adamant that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this reference. If you have an opinion please comment below!). And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last long because we moved away.

Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).

To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hecticness of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome–and pretty to look at–treat on your table. 

Have fun baking cookies and Merry Christmas everyone!

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Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, try dried lemongrass bits available at some herb and spice shops or lemongrass paste available at some supermarkets.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon Pandan Extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.

Pandan Extract

Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.

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Today’s post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring festive and edible foods! For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below (please check back throughout the day for additions): 

Lisa’s Chocolate Almond Tree on Monday Morning Cooking Club
Anne Marie’s Ornament Sandwiches on Sandwich Surprise
Betty Ann’s Mini Bibingka on Asian in America
Lucy’s Peppermint Candy Tray at A Cook and Her Books
Tammy’s Chewy Gingerbread Cookies at Insatiable Munchies
Vivian’s Festive Gingerbread Cookies at Vivian Pei
Linda’s Merry Kale Trees at Free Range Cookies
Annabelle’s Pecan Caramels at Glass of Fancy
Linda’s Ottolenghi-Style Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate at Spicebox Travels
Nancie’s Bûche de Noël at NancieMcDermott

Egg Rolls and Gold Bars

The Lunar New Year celebration lasts 15 days so there’s still plenty of time to eat your fill of lucky and auspicious foods for a prosperous year ahead.

egg rolls uncooked
Freshly wrapped egg rolls waiting to be fried

Egg rolls (also called fried spring rolls) are a favorite all year round but they’re considered an auspicious food during the new year because they resemble gold bars and thus symbolize wealth and prosperity!

If you’d like to see a demo of me rolling egg rolls as well as learn more about lucky new year foods, here’s a video of my segment on King5 TV’s New Day Northwest (click on the still below and you’ll be taken to the video):

King5

Here’s my recipe, enjoy!

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Fried Egg Rolls (蛋卷)

fried egg rolls

I’ve adapted this lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) recipe from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. I used carrots because in Mandarin, orange carrots are called hong luo bo (红萝卜), i.e. “red carrots,” and red symbolizes good fortune, while the yellow carrots are close enough to a golden hue and gold symbolizes wealth. Chinese chives are known as jiu cai (韭菜) which sounds like “forever vegetable,” and who doesn’t want a long life? Feel free to add or subtract whatever ingredients you’d like. Ground pork, glass noodles, cabbage, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, etc., are all great ingredients to add to the mix. The filling can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes: about 25 egg rolls
Time: 1-1/2 hours

2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
3 medium orange and yellow carrots, shredded (1-1/2 cups)
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped green beans
1 stalk Chinese chives, finely chopped
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 package egg roll wrappers (usually 25 wrappers, click here for my favorite brand)
1 egg white, beaten, or water for sealing
3 cups (or as needed) vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sweet and Sour Sauce (recipe follows)

To make the filling, place the chicken in a medium saucepan and fill with water until the chicken is submerged by about an inch. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and cover. Let the chicken stand for 15 minutes. Test by cutting into a piece: it should not be pink. Let cool and shred the meat along the grain into tiny shards with your fingers, or chop into a confetti-sized dice. Reserve the stock for another use or discard.

In a small skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft and light golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken, carrots, and green beans, and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce, remaining salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste) and mix thoroughly. Add the Chinese chives and stir and cook until the mixture is heated through.

Allow the filling to cool completely.

To assemble the egg rolls, carefully peel one wrapper from the stack (cover the remaining wrappers with a damp cloth to keep them moist). Lay the wrapper on a dry work surface with one corner pointing toward you.) Place 2 tablespoons of filling just below the center line of the wrapper parallel to your body. Shape it into a mound 1 by 3 inches, leaving about 2½ inches on either side. Fold the corner closest to you over the filling and tuck it under snugly. Roll once, then fold the left and right sides in to form an envelope. Continue to roll the filling tightly into a fat tube until you reach the end of the wrapper. Before you reach the end, dab some egg white or water along the top edge to seal the egg roll. The egg roll should measure 4 to 5 inches in length and 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. Place on a plate or tray and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a plate with paper towels. In a large wok, heavy skillet, or Dutch oven, heat the 3 cups oil over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer.

Reduce the heat to medium-high. Using tongs, gently lower the egg rolls into the oil one by one; fry in a batch of 5 or 6 until both sides are evenly golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the egg rolls with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven.

Bring the oil temperature back to 350 degrees F before frying the next batch. Repeat with the remaining egg rolls. Serve immediately with sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and Sour Sauce
3 tablespoons rice or distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water to form a slurry

In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce to a boil over medium heat. Stir the cornstarch slurry and add to the pan, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Pour into a small bowl and serve with the egg rolls.

Some egg roll making tips (don’t heed at your own risk!):

  1. Keep your egg roll wrappers frozen and defrost in the refrigerator for an hour or two, or on the counter for 3o minutes.
  2. If your wrappers dry out, cover with a damp towel and microwave on medium for 10 seconds. They should soften up but work quickly before they dry out again and keep covered with a damp towel!
  3. Allow your filling to cool completely before wrapping your egg rolls. A warm filling may cause your wrapper to soften and tear, and your egg roll to fall apart.
  4. Don’t overfill your wrapper or #3 will happen.
  5. Make sure your oil is at the optimum temp before you start frying. Otherwise your egg rolls will come out soggy instead of crisp.
  6. When frying, don’t overcrowd your pan, otherwise #5 will happen.
  7. You can freeze unfried or fried egg rolls. Lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about an hour. Then transfer them to a ziptop bag and freeze for up to three months.
  8. When ready to eat, deep-fry the frozen egg rolls (don’t defrost) for 2 to 3 minutes (pre-fried) or 5 to 7 minutes (unfried).
  9. To warm up fried egg rolls (that have been refrigerated or kept at room temp), preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp.

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Here are some other dishes to help usher in a happy and prosperous new year:

A Multi-Culti Christmas and New Year To You!

I was about 14-years-old in this picture taken during a family celebration. You can see the tippity top of the nasi tumpeng in front of my parents. No one is smiling except my mum! Hmm… My excuse? I was a teenager!

When I was growing up, fragrant yellow coconut rice was right at home sitting next to the roast beef and/or honey-baked ham during Christmas dinner.

Every year, my mum would make nasi tumpeng, yellow coconut rice served with a smorgasbord of Indonesian dishes. Come to think of it, the roast beef and the Bûche de Noël were probably an afterthought!

Mum’s first task was to make rice imbued with the fragrance and flavor of coconut milk and turmeric (nasi kuning or yellow rice, my recipe here). She would then mound the rice into a cone atop a bed of banana leaves folded in an intricate pattern origami-style. This “mountain” represents the numerous mountains and volcanoes that dot the  thousands of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago.

Around the base of the cone, Mum would arrange various foods that she’d prepared over the past week in neat piles: shredded egg omelet, ayam goreng, (fried chicken), empal (sweet and spicy fried beef), teri kacang (anchovy with peanuts), tempe orek (fried tempe), perkedel kentang (potato cutlets), and anything else that she fancied.

My mum recently made this nasi tumpeng for a friend's wedding
My mum recently made nasi tumpeng for a friend’s wedding

The cone mimics the holy mountain, once revered as the abode of ancestors and gods, and its height symbolizes the greatness of Allah. The rice’s golden hue symbolizes prosperity and wealth. The food at the base of the cone symbolizes nature’s abundance.

Traditionally, this feast was created in thanksgiving for an abundant harvest or a blessing that a family has received. Today, nasi tumpeng is still widely served to celebrate any special occasion, be it a birthday, a marriage, or even a successful business venture.

Without a doubt, nasi tumpeng fit perfectly into our holiday celebrations, a time of thanksgiving and hope for a prosperous New Year.

Buoyed by my own memories, I asked my friends if they had any fusion holiday traditions to share. They sure did!

Filipino

Large bibinka (bebinca).
Bibinka is a popular Christmas treat in the Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Happy, Filipinos traditionally go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. When they come out, the streets in the Philippines are usually lined with vendors selling tasty, freshly steamed treats. “People look forward to Christmas midnight mass because this is the only time the vendors sell these items this early in morning,” she says. The treats include “puto bongbong,” a purple rice flour treat steamed in a bamboo tube and served with shaved coconut; and “bibinka” is a rice flour and coconut milk treat, steamed in banana leaves and cooked in a clay pot.

“In America, it is common for families to continue cooking these treats during the holidays to remind them of the Philippines,” she explains.

Japanese

New Year's Dishes
A variety of Japanese New Year’s dishes (Photo credit: JanneM)

Hiroko spends two days preparing a traditional Japanese New Year’s Day feast for family and friends. “For New Year’s Day, each food has meaning… We always start with these three as the root,” she says, describing the following foods: “kuromame,” black beans, which represent the hardworking ethic of the Japanese people; “kazunoko,” salt-cured herring roe, the thousand eggs symbolizing a wish for a large and prosperous family, and “gomame,” a tiny fish that reflects growth and good luck.

Chinese

Sticky rice stuffing is a common dish served by Chinese Americans during Thanksgiving and Christmas

Every Christmas, Virginia’s family combines American traditions of turkey and ham along with their  family tradition, Chinese Sticky rice, at the dinner table. “Inside the sticky rice, my parents would add … Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms, and dried shrimp,” she says. “For us, sticky rice represents family unity and togetherness — which is especially important now that my siblings and I live in different parts of the country.”

“Sticky rice is something I look forward to every year!” she says. (Find my recipe here.)

Taiwanese

hot pot!
Assorted ingredients surround a hot pot waiting to be dipped into the soup (Photo credit: StudioGabe // Gabriel Li)

Tina, a Taiwanese who grew up in Guam, remembers spending New Year’s Day around a hot pot. “It brings the entire family together over one pot of boiling soup with a variety of ingredients,” she says. “Moreover, it’s a hot soup dish and simply appropriate for the cold winter.”

Indonesian

Chicken porridge, Jakarta, Indonesia
Indonesian bubur or congee or rice porridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Titania, congee and Chinese wine were staples to ring in the New Year when she was growing up in Indonesia. “We put preserved salty plum in the wine to create a unique salty and sour (from the wine) taste and we’d toast with that at midnight,” she says. “Then we would eat up the chicken and pork “bubur” (Indonesian-style congee) that my mom made to warm us up.”

By blending old and new, adding a dash of east meets west, plus a sprinkle of creativity, we can all design our own family traditions for the holidays. But regardless of what is served on the table or what gifts are under the tree, remember that being together as a family and sharing each other’s company should be number one on everyone’s wish list.

(These quotes were originally published in a 2007 Northwest Asian Weekly article)

Do you have a fusion holiday tradition to share?

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This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month, it’s holiday celebrations around the world.

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

 Annabelle’s Pecan Slices at Glass of Fancy

Emma’s Latkes at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace’s Persimmon Salad at Hapa Mama

Lucy’s Ham and Cheddar Scones at A Cook and Her Books

Joe’s Orange Honey Cake

New Beginnings Part II: A Chinese New Year Dish Called Yu Sheng (鱼生)

yu sheng ingredients 2
Clockwise from top left: carrots, cucumber, wonton chips, pomelo, daikon, and tea-cured salmon in the middle

As I mentioned in New Beginnings Part I, I’m investing all my New Year mojo in yu sheng (Mandarin for “raw fish”), only my version uses tea-cured salmon which is technically still raw.

Also called yee sang (in Cantonese), this “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish’s make-up varies from place to place and comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced raw fish (salmon, ikan parang [mackerel], or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

yu sheng ingredients
I hand cut all my vegetables so they look a little rustic. If you have a mandoline or box shredder, you'll have thinner, cleaner strips.

Like many dishes served during the New Year, yu sheng is popular because of its name (a homonym for the words for prosperity and longevity) and the “lucky” ingredients that go into it. The ingredients are served neatly laid out on a platter and then pandemonium breaks out as diners start tossing with their chopsticks, and crying out auspicious sayings. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll have for the new year. For more info on the dish read Robyn Eckhardt (of Eating Asia)’s article.

While yu sheng is traditionally eaten on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (the celebration lasts 15 days, the length of a moon cycle), restaurants tend to have it on their menus starting a week before the New Year, up till several weeks after.

I guess it’s never too late to seek good luck!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! GONG XI FA CAI! 恭喜发财!

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Lucky (Cured) Fish Salad (Yu Sheng 鱼生)

yu sheng 2

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did make some deviations. Instead of the traditional ikan parang (mackerel), she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad. This is my riff on her version using tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 large appetizer servings

3 1/2 oz/100 g Tea Cured Salmon (1/2 cup)
3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cup)
1/2 small daikon radish (1/4 pound), peeled and shredded (1 cup)
1 large cucumber, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup /2 oz pickled ginger (the sushi kind), shredded
1/2 cup pomelo sacs (from about 5 wedges)

Dressing:
3 tablespoons plum sauce or duck sauce (Sun Luck and Dynasty are 2 brands you can find at regular supermarkets)
2 teaspoons lime juice (1/2 large lime)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt to taste

Garnish:
1 cup Wonton Chips (see below)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

In separate bowls, soak the carrots and daikon in cold water for 30 minutes. Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain over the sink for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the carrots and daikon. Rinse the cucumber first and do the same. Set the vegetables aside.

To make the dressing, mix the plum sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water (or more) and mix until you like the consistency. Add salt to taste.

To serve, pile each vegetable and the wonton chips around a round platter (roundness symbolises fullness) with the fish in the middle. Scatter the sesame seeds, peanuts, and 5-spice powder on top. Pour the dressing over the salad.

Stand up and Lo Hei (Cantonese for tossing luck)! Toss the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes.

For a complete list of all the auspicious sayings associated with each step and each ingredient, go here.

Wonton Chips

To make the wonton chips, I cut wonton skins into 12 (about 1-by-½-nch) rectangles and deep fried them until golden. Once the oil is ready, the chips take seconds to cook so don’t dilly-dally, they burn quickly. One cup is equivalent to about 48 chips or 4 wonton skins.

Before:After

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Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck