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Where EAST meets the Northwest

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #7 (February 13, 2007), page 14 & 16.

Family recipes for Lunar New Year festivities

My Grandmotherís Chinese Kitchen:

100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons

By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Penguin, 2007

Hardcover, 275 pages, $25.95

Award-winning cookbook author and food expert Eileen Yin-Fei Lo learned how to cook from her talented and traditional grandmother. Growing up outside of Canton, China, Lo absorbed lessons from her grandmother, from how to steam a fish to the truism that vegetables should be chosen as carefully as in-laws.

My Grandmotherís Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons collects some of the traditional recipes that the author learned from her grandmother, along with observations and wisdom passed down through her family. The book includes holiday recipes for the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, birthdays, weddings, and the Dragon Boat Festival, as well as many recipes for standard Chinese fare, including steamed rice and a basic soup stock.

The Lunar New Year dishes are especially inviting ó loaded with emblematically meaningful ingredients and made to entertain guests and represent a yearís prosperity and joy. Lo notes that the Lunar New Year is "the most important time of the year in China for food."

"In my grandmotherís kitchen there was cooking for ancestor offerings, later shared by the family. There were New Yearís Eve banquets, and New Yearís Day banquets, with care taken to cook and serve dishes of symbolism and New Yearís significance. There was fashioning of special cakes to be served to visiting guests, and there were, of course, the regular meals to be cooked in the midst of this holiday, which lasts more than a month."

The Lantern Festival, which falls on the fifteenth day after the Lunar New Year, marks the official end of New Year observances. In addition to the colorful and elaborate paper lanterns lighted to honor Sheung Yuen (Lord of all the Heavenly Gods), an assortment of food is also prepared. Sweet round rice dumplings filled with sesame paste, crushed peanuts, or lotus seed paste are served to represent the sweetness of family relations and good fortune and the cyclical nature of the seasons and their bounty.

My Grandmotherís Chinese Kitchen offers an array of symbolically significant and palate-pleasing dishes to serve for the Lunar New Year or any other time of year, including the turnip cake (lor bok goh) listed below.

* * *

Turnip Cake

(Lor Bok Goh)

As with many foods at the New Year, this cake is at once nourishment and symbol. The cake, the goh, represents oneís job, business, or fortune, and as the cake rises during cooking, oneís position is said to improve. Noticeable in this recipe is the use of liquefied pork fat. This is traditional, but peanut oil can also be used.

  • 1 1/2 pounds (4 1/2 cups, tightly packed) fresh
  • Chinese turnips, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 3 1/4 cups cold water
  • 1 slice ginger, 1 inch thick, lightly smashed
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese white rice wine, or gin
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
  • Pinch white pepper
  • 10 ounces (2 1/3 cups) rice flour
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) glutinous rice flour
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1/3 cup liquefied pork fat or peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked in water to soften, drained, and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3 Chinese sausages (lop cheung), diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup Chinese bacon, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons scallions, finely sliced (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons coriander (cilantro), finely sliced (optional)
  • Grease a 9-inch round, 3-inch deep cake pan; set aside.

In a large pot, place the turnips, the 3 1/4 cups cold water, ginger, wine, garlic, and white pepper. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer, with lid left open a little, for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove pot from stove, allow to cool, then discard ginger and garlic.

In large bowl mix rice flours with 2 cups and 1 tablespoon water. Add liquefied pork fat and mix well to combine. Add dried shrimp, sausages, bacon, white pepper, and salt, and mix well to combine thoroughly. Add turnip mixture, including cooking liquid, to the bowl and mix well to combine thoroughly.

Place the mixture in a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Place cake pan on a rack, add 8 cups boiling water in wok, cover, steam for 1 hour, 15 minutes. During the steaming process, add boiling water to the wok every 15 minutes. Test cake by inserting a chopstick. If the mixture does not stick to chopstick, it is done. Turn off heat. Allow to set five to seven minutes. Remove cake pan from steamer, cut cake into portions and serve, sprinkled with finely sliced scallions and coriander (cilantro), if desired.

Note: This cake was kept on hand for guests. It was always served hot. To heat, resteam for five to seven minutes until hot. Slice and serve.

* * *

Pan-fried Turnip Cake

(Jin Lor Bok Goh)

"This most traditional preparation is a must for New Year visitors. Because my grandmother was a total vegetarian for the first fifteen days of the New Year, she did not eat this cake, but she insisted that it be on hand for visitors to her house. This pan-fried cake is quite different from the steamed version it is based on. Before pan-frying, the cake should be at room temperature. Whatever portion is to be used, the entire cake should be sliced into portions first, then pan-fried. Before pan-frying, slices should be cut from whole cake as needed. For the best taste, I recommend slices 1/2 inch thick by 2 1/2 inches long."

  • Peanut oil, as needed, to cover bottom of pan
  • 1 steamed turnip cake, cut into portions
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, finely sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander (cilantro), finely sliced (optional)

Pour sufficient oil to cover bottom of cast iron fry pan. Heat over high heat until a wisp of white smoke appears. Add turnip cake slices, lower heat. Pan-fry until light brown, about 3 minutes, turn over, fry for another 3 minutes. If oil is absorbed, add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional.

Drain slices on paper towels, serve immediately with sliced scallions and coriander (cilantro), as desired.

Leftover turnip cake cannot be frozen. It should be refrigerated, but before pan-frying should be allowed to come to room temperature.

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo has authored other books, including The Chinese Kitchen, The Chinese Banquet Cookbook: Authentic Feasts from Chinaís Regions, The Dim Sum Dumpling Book, and others.