Happy New Year!

IMG_3030 Cung chuc tan xuan!  Xin nian kuai le! Growing up, I took for granted that we would always celebrate Lunar New Year by going over to our grandparents’ house, where my grandfather would put on his traditional blue robes and gift us with lucky red envelopes after we had wished him “prosperity, happiness, and more than 100 years of long life.”  He never seemed to mind hearing that over and over ;).  I did not realize then how much I had internalized or how much I would miss the traditions my parents sought to pass on to us, even as they lamented how U.S. celebrations paled in comparison to their memories.  I used to dress up with my friends in grade school and give our classmates a mini-presentation on Lunar New Year traditions and foods.  I should have had an inkling then of how much I had absorbed.

My first lunar new year away from my family was buffered by being in Boston, where there was a vibrant Asian community and college student groups got together to share the holiday.

In medical school, however, I had a taste of the disappointment my parents likely felt the first time they celebrated after leaving their homeland.  While I was excited by the holiday and its associations with spring (in California, anyway), my classmates were surrounded by snow piled several feet high and oblivious to why they should think about wearing red or eating noodles, sticky rice cakes, or dumplings.  So…I took matters into my own hands, and decided that I would cook as much as I could on my own.  I spent an entire day making nian gaoluo bo gaojiao zi, abalone, fish, noodles, chinese broccoliand cha gio.  It was a little crazy, but the best form of procrastination I could have wished for, and brought the holiday spirit even all the way out to the snowy tundra.

J loves dumplings so much that he has a bottomless stomach for them, so we made a batch a little while ago.  It seemed appropriate to make some today, and perhaps to share our recipe version.  As with many home recipes, quantities are more like guidelines and should be adjusted to personal preference.

Pork, shrimp, and leek dumplings (makes ~90)

Ingredients:

3 packages of round dumpling skins (about 3o per pack)
1 lb ground pork (not too lean)
1/2 lb shrimp, shelled, deveined, and finely minced
1/2 bunch of chinese chives, finely minced (about 3 cups chopped)
~1/2 napa cabbage, finely chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
~1-2 tsp grated ginger (optional)
kosher salt, divided use
freshly ground pepper
~1 tbl oyster sauce
~2 tbl soy sauce
~1 tbl Shaoxing wine
~1 tbl sesame oil
~1 tsp sugar
small bowl of water (for sealing the wrappers)
canola oil (for cooking)

Instructions:

  1. Lightly salt chopped cabbage and set aside for about 15 minutes at room temperature.  Squeeze cabbage in a cheesecloth, clean dish towel, or your hands to drain excess water.
  2. Combine pork, shrimp, napa cabbage, chives, and ginger in a large mixing bowl.  Season with oyster sauce, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, and sugar, using hands if necessary to mix very well.  Check seasoning by cooking a small dollop of the mixture in a skillet over medium heat.  Adjust with further salt, sugar, and pepper to taste.
  3. Working with one wrapper at a time in the palm of your hand, spoon ~1 tbl of the filling onto the center of the wrapper.  Moisten the outer edge of one side of the wrapper with your index finger.  Fold one edge over and pleat – you can start from one end and pleat to the other, or pinch the middle together first and pleat from the middle to the end, one side at a time.  Be sure to press pleats tightly to seal. *
  4. To cook, you will need to cook in batches since they can only be cooked one layer at a time.  Heat 1-2 tbl canola oil in a nonstick pan (ceramic, cephalon, etc) over medium high heat.  Place the dumplings in one layer (flat side down) into the pan.  They should sizzle!  Let the dumplings cook about 2-4 minutes so that the bottoms become golden brown.  Add enough water so that there is about 1/4 inch of water in the pan, cover, and reduce heat to medium.  Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the water evaporates and you again hear the sizzling.
  5. Serve hot, with soy sauce, which can be mixed with black vinegar, sesame oil, hot chili sauce, chopped ginger, garlic, and/or scallions.

IMG_3027 IMG_3029

*if freezing, place dumplings in single layer on a tray and freeze the entire tray until the dumplings are frozen. Then remove them and pile them individually into a freezer bag.

Longing for spring…ramps.

When I lived in New York, I lived only a few blocks away from the green market.  As a transplant from California and homesick for the amazing produce, I reveled in the bounty of summer and fall, when the market was laden with seasonal fruits and vegetables.  By winter, the market’s colors waned as the leaves in Central Park also disappeared.  But as soon as the first glimmers of spring came, I saw stirrings of the glorious greens to come.

It was at the green market that I first discovered ramps.  RAMPS!  I’m not sure exactly how my obsession began, but from the first time I brought these somewhat pricey alliums home, I could not get enough of them.  I made ramps with soft scrambled eggs, ramp pizza, ramp risotto, and ramp pesto.  Perhaps my obsession stemmed from knowing that their arrival meant the coming of warmth back to the City and the Park, which would regain the beautiful lush green that I enjoyed on my runs.

Back in California, I brought home a bunch of chinese chives* the other day to make dumplings.  With a large portion of the bunch remaining, I decided to pay homage to the versatility of this other member of the allium family.  They are wonderful paired simply with softly scrambled eggs, but I chose to make a simple soup with chives and tofu, and stir-fried them to accompany pan-seared tofu.  Chinese chives and tofu two ways.  Not quite ramps, but still delicious and evocative of meals from my mother’s kitchen.

IMG_3131Stir-Fried Chinese Chives with Glazed Tofu

Ingredients

2/3 block of organic tofu (10-12 oz), sliced

4 tsp canola or safflower oil, divided use

3/4 lb chinese chives, cut into 3 inch segments (about 3-4 cups)

1 tsp red chili flakes (or to taste)

1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1.5 tsp ginger, minced

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tbl oyster sauce

Instructions:

  1. Heat a well-seasoned wok over high heat
  2. Add 2 tsp canola oil, swirling to coat wok evenly, and heat until hot.
  3. Add chives and red pepper flakes and stir-fry, letting chives rest on bottom and sides of wok several seconds between stirs, until chives are tender and slightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
  4. Season with salt to taste.  Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Wipe out wok and heat over medium-high heat.
  6. Add remaining 2 tsp canola oil and pan sear tofu slices on both sides until golden, about 3-5 minutes each side.  Set aside.
  7. Add 1/2 tsp sesame oil and swirl to coat bottom of the pan.  Add minced ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add in oyster sauce, turn off heat, and return tofu slices to the pan, turning gently to glaze.
  8. Top stir-fried chives with the pan-glazed tofu and serve immediately.IMG_3123

* Apparently, raw chinese chives have quite the pungent odor, unlike their cousins the ramps.  It was their ‘fragrance’ that led J’s friend Bao, who is no stranger to the likes of fish sauce, kimchi, durian, and other pungent Asian foods and condiments, to comment on how my kitchen smelled like a ‘proper Asian home.’  If that is synonymous with “Asian supermarket,” I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  :-/