My mother painted that! She’s getting really good!
The house has been cleaned from top to bottom, flowers are gracing our living room, and Chinese New Year goodies can be found throughout our home.
And in true Chinese fashion, we’ve been consumed with good eats lately. 😛
We started the celebrations the other night at Golden Star Seafood Restaurant, where my favourite was the crab:
Last night was New Year’s Eve, and so we followed the tradition of having a big family dinner at home, with traditional eats. By big I mean we sure had a lot of food for the 3 of us. On the menu: my mom’s crispy fried prawns, her Buddha’s Delight, soy sauce free-range chicken, and my version of Lion’s Head Casserole. We had a scrumptious dinner!
Here’s a picture of my mom’s crispy fried prawns:
They were so tasty! Not exactly health food, but as my mother declared, it’s only once a year.
And in the Buddha’s Delight was this lovely stuff that looks like a gelatinous clump of hair:
Heh. 😛 Don’t be alarmed, it’s Fat Choy, which is a fungus of sorts, if I understand it correctly, and is actually pretty tasty. It’s commonly eaten at Chinese New Year because of its name. When it is dried, it resembles black hair, which is how it got its name (translates as “hair vegetable”). And Fat Choy sounds very similar to the “Gong Hei Fat Choi” Chinese New Year wish of Good Fortune, Prosperity, etc. So the tradition is that by serving and eating it at New Year, it will bring lots of good luck and propserity. So here’s to hopin’ that we’re gonna make lots of money this year after eating it last night! 😉
And I made a Lion’s Head Casserole, Saucy-style. I’ve actually never had this dish before, and neither had my mom, because it’s not a traditional Cantonese dish; it comes from Shanghai, I believe, and so we’ve never had it before in our family. I’m not sure how closely my version resembles the original, but it was very tasty!
Lion’s Head Casserole is supposed to consist of giant meatballs that resemble a lion’s head, and served alongside Napa cabbage or Shanghai Bok Choy, which represent the lion’s mane. I’ve seen many pictures of this dish, and I gotta say, you really have to use your imagination to see how this is supposed to represent a lion’s head.
Anyhoo, the meatballs are usually made of ground pork, but the ground pork that I find in the grocery stores are always super fatty, and I did not feel like grinding my own. So to lighten things up a bit, I used extra lean ground chicken and a bit of silken tofu. And as per usual, I googled about a hundred recipes online beforehand, but then ended up winging it and putting my own spin on things.
Lion’s Head Casserole
- 1.5 lb extra lean ground chicken
- 130 g silken tofu
- 1 egg
- 2 – 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 TB cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp rice wine (Note: rice wine, not the vinegar)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- a couple pinches of black pepper
- 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp organic cane sugar
- 1 tsp canola oil
- 1 TB corn starch
For frying the balls:
- 1 TB low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 TB corn starch
- 1 TB water
- 2 tsp canola oil
The rest of the ingredients:
- about 1/2 head of napa cabbage (also called suey choy) ~ 20 leaves, sliced lengthwise down the middle of each
- 1 C low-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 C water
- 3 thin slices of fresh ginger (you don’t have to be exact here)
- 1/2 TB low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 TB rice wine
- 1/2 tsp organic cane sugar
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- for garnish: 1 thinly sliced green onion and a few sprigs of cilantro leaves
First slice all green onion, mince ginger/garlic, and chop cilantro leaves; throw it all into a big bowl.
Lightly beat egg and briefly drain any excess liquid from the tofu (I used about 1/2 of the package), and add to the mixing bowl.
Now add the ground chicken and all the rest of the ingredients from the list under “meatballs”. Using your hands or chopsticks, mix well.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or oil (this is where you’re temporarily going to put the meatballs as you form them). Wet your hands, and form 8 balls from the mixture (you can make bigger, fewer balls, but they’ll take longer to cook and 8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture!). You’ll need to wet your hands after every 2nd ball or so to prevent the mixture from sticking too much to your hands. Also, it helps to “throw” the meat from one hand to the other a few times to help shape them and condense the mixture a bit so it stays together (rolling them between the hands doesn’t work as well I found).
Next comes the pan-frying. Heat the 2 tsp canola oil in a large (and fairly deep) skillet over med-high heat. (I used a non-stick pan, which I think is best so the balls don’t stick.)
In a medium bowl, mix together the 1 TB each of cornstarch, soy sauce, and water. Stir well until it becomes a sort of runny slurry.
Now this next part got messy. I had read that you need to “coat” the balls in the cornstarch/soy/water mixture prior to frying, but when I put a ball into the mixture, it lost its shape quickly and completely and I had to re-shape it. The balls are quite soft in texture at this point. So I resorted to using my hands to “spoon” a bit of the mixture over the balls one by one, and lightly coating it as I passed the ball back and forth between my hands. In the process, the mixture splattered all over the counter. MESSY. I gently placed the balls into the hot skillet one by one as I finished coating them.
Oh, and I also realized at this point that by pan-frying them, the balls don’t retain their round shape and instead, became more like very fat, slightly rounded patties. My mom told me (afterwards, unfortunately) that if I wanted them to retain the roundness, I’d have to drop them in boiling water for a few minutes first to firm up, and then fry them. Note to self for next time.
Fry the balls patties for 5 mins on the first side. Flip over, turn down heat to medium, and fry for another 6 mins, or until both sides are golden brown.
Remove balls from heat and set aside onto a plate for now.
Oh, for the cabbage, I think the leaves resemble the long hair of a lion’s mane more if they’re left long (sliced lengthwise down the middle of each):
So now crank up the heat for the skillet up to high. Throw in the cabbage; it’ll be a whack load of veggies at this point, but they do cook down quite a bit. Stir them around to pick up any tasty bits left behind by the meatballs. Let them cook for a few minutes until they start to soften and develop some colour. Then remove cabbage to a plate or bowl.
Leaving the heat on high, pour into the skillet the broth and water. Add all remaining ingredients except the green onion and cilantro garnish. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (med-low). Add the meatballs back in. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until meat is cooked through, flipping once halfway through. Then add cabbage again. Try to maneuver the cabbage to the bottom of the skillet and under/around the balls so that the leaves steam in the broth. Cover and let everything simmer for about 3 mins further so the veggies are soft and cooked.
To plate, place cabbage on the bottom of a casserole dish that is deep enough to hold all the broth. Then place the meatballs on top of the cabbage. Pour all of the broth over the balls. Garnish with the sliced green onion and chopped cilantro.
The meatballs were moist and succulent, the broth had a deep, rich flavour, and the cabbage leaves retained a bit of a contrasting crunch and were steeped with the delicious broth. Hearty and comforting, this dish was a hit at our Chinese New Year dinner!
And tonight, I finished work extra early, so we headed to La Notte for some Italian food! I had my favourite pasta, Linguine alla Vongole, and it was so good! (Lighting was way too dark, so no pictures) I only managed to eat about half of it, so I’m looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow!
We definitely don’t go all out with the traditions of Chinese New Year, and we have our own unconventional takes on them, but it’s certainly been a fun, satisfying, and decadent few days of celebratory eats!
What kind of fun eats, Chinese or otherwise, have you had lately?
May the Year of the Rabbit bring you all good health in your bodies, smiles and laughter on your faces, and peace and love in your hearts!