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RECIPES REVEALED. S.C. Moey’s book, Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook, provides readers with detailed recipes to make special dishes, with ingredients listed in both metric and English units. Pictured above is Dried Sweet Barbecued Pork, a common New Year gift.
From The Asian Reporter, V21, #02 (January 17, 2011), page 13.
Create a feast for the Lunar New Year
Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook
By S.C. Moey
Periplus Editions, 2006
Hardcover, 144 pages, $24.95
By Julie Stegeman
The Asian Reporter
Wondering what dishes to prepare to ensure an auspicious Year of the Rabbit? Malaysia-based author and cook S.C. Moey provides answers to this dilemma in her book Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook.
Moey provides not only recipes for such dishes as New Year’s Cakes (niangao) and Traditional Chinese Jiaozi — dumplings which are popular in northern China — but she also gives insight into the significance of the food, as well as describes traditions for the celebration and their meaning.
"It is everybody’s wish to start off the new year well, a desire matched equally by the Chinese love of tradition, symbolism, and ritual," Moey states. She continues by detailing the preparations made in anticipation of the new year: The house is cleaned and decorated with symbols of wealth, luck, and happiness; people shop for food and gifts; debts are settled so as to start off the year with a clean slate; and a big feast, a reunion dinner for the whole family, is created for New Year’s Eve. All of this activity is in anticipation of the New Year, and when it arrives, noisy and bright firecrackers are used to drive away any evil spirits.
According to Moey, "The Chinese believe that the mood of the first day sets the rhythm for the rest of the year," and therefore, everyone is on their best behavior.
Highlights of the first 15 days of the New Year are described in detail in Chinese Feasts & Festivals. For instance, on day seven, also known as Man’s Day or Renri, the favored dish is fish, while on day nine, tributes are made to commemorate the birthday of the Jade Emperor. Throughout the first 15 days, children pay respects to elders and in turn receive lucky red envelopes filled with money and everyone visits with friends and relatives, "except the third day, which is considered unlucky."
Throughout Moey’s description of the New Year’s preparations and celebrations, food plays a starring role. Not only are elaborate feasts prepared at this time, but food is also given as gifts or as offerings to the gods. Moey recommends her recipe for Dried Sweet Barbecued Pork as "an excellent Chinese New Year gift." The recipe, like all the others in Chinese Feasts & Festivals, gives very detailed instructions to make the dish, with ingredients listed in both metric and English units.
While the barbecue pork recipe has ingredients that should be readily available in grocery stores, other recipes in the book — such as Festive Arrowhead Stir-fry, which calls for Yunnan ham and arrowhead bulbs — may require a trip to an Asian market.
The book’s penultimate section, "Vital Ingredients," is a handy reference guide to some of the more unusual items needed to create the recipes. It provides details on the ingredients and their uses as well as substitutions for harder-to-find items — for example, tapioca balls may be used in a recipe instead of sago beads, a starchy item used in Asian desserts.
The information and recipes for the Lunar New Year are only a small taste of what Chinese Feasts & Festivals has to offer. Details on four other festivals — Dragon Boat, Hungry Ghost, Mooncake, and Winter Solstice — are also included, as well as many recipes to create fantastic feasts to celebrate reunions, weddings, anniversaries, or other family affairs. "The food served on these occasions is a combination of symbols and sumptuous flavors, a spiritual celebration and an earthly pleasure," says Moey.
As the Year of the Tiger draws to its end, why not take a cue from Chinese Feasts & Festivals and be ready for a new year full of possibilities with a clean house and a delicious, traditional Chinese meal shared with family and friends?
* * *
Dried Sweet Barbecued Pork
Preparation time: 30 minutes plus 7 hours drying
Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes per batch
Makes 30 pieces
4 lbs (2 kg) ground pork, preferably from the hind leg
1/2 cup (125 ml) soy sauce
1/2 cup (125 ml) oyster sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce (yue lo)
2 1/2 cups (500 g) sugar
30 plastic bags (10" x 8"/25 x 20 cm each)
Large trays (for drying)
These tasty dried pork sheets make an excellent New Year gift. Cut into finger-sized pieces and served with drinks or as hors d’oeuvres, they are popular with everyone.
The sun-dried meat should be stored in the freezer between plastic sheets until they are ready to be barbecued, and are best when cooked over a charcoal fire. Cooked meat sheets keep well without refrigeration for 4 to 5 days and with refrigeration for 3 to 4 weeks. They should be brought to room temperature before eating or warmed in an oven or microwave.
Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix until well blended. Wet your hands and divide the mixture into 30 equal portions (each portion about 1/3 cup). Roll each portion into a cylinder with your hands, then flatten slightly. Place each flattened cylinder in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a thin layer, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Arrange the meat sheets in their plastic bags on large trays and dry in the sun for 6 to 7 hours, until the sheets are dry and firm. While they are drying, leave the mouth of the bags open and the top part of the bags lifted all the time to allow moisture to escape. Turn the sheets over at 1 hour intervals, wiping away the moisture inside the bags with paper towels. If you can’t dry the meat sheets in the sun, you may remove the sheets from the plastic and bake them on baking sheets in the oven using very low heat (140º F/60º C) for 4 to 5 hours, in several batches.
To serve, remove the dried meat sheets from the plastic bags and grill them on a charcoal grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Alternatively, sear the meat sheets in a heated nonstick pan for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Cut the sheets into tiny squares or finger-sized slices and serve hot or at room temperature.
This book review was published as part of The Asian Reporter's Lunar New Year special edition.
To view the entire issue in PDF format, visit <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>.