I had a discussion with friends about the foods we ate during Lunar New Year when we were children. We all grew up in different parts of the world, and although there were common dishes - such as whole fish and whole chicken - much of the other food differed from family to family. You might not have eaten these dishes as a child, but they are delicious nevertheless.
Shanghai spring rolls (pictured)
A friend said her family makes these at Lunar New Year because they are said to resemble gold bars. Her family make their own wrappers, a difficult skill to master because the dough is very soft. I buy the wrappers, which you can usually find in the frozen-food section of supermarkets. Chinese wrappers are different from Thai and Vietnamese spring-roll wrappers, which are made of rice flour (instead of wheat) and need to be soaked in water to be pliable. Buy wrappers that are about 16cm square (or 16cm in diameter, if round).
6 Chinese dried mushrooms
1 fresh bamboo shoot, about 350 grams
250 grams bean sprouts
200 grams pork belly
10ml soy sauce
10ml rice wine
½ tsp granulated sugarA pinch of ground white pepper
2 slightly heaped tsp cornstarch
Cooking oil, as needed
Fine sea salt, as needed
40-50 fresh shrimp, with bodies about 6cm long
40-50 Shanghai spring-roll wrappers, thawed
1 egg, whisked
For the dipping sauce:
Chinese brown rice vinegar
Finely minced ginger
Soak the mushrooms in warm water until soft. Squeeze out the liquid. Remove and discard the stems, then cut the caps into fine dice. Peel the bamboo shoot until you reach the tender flesh. Slice the bamboo shoot about 3mm thick. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the bamboo slices and simmer for five minutes. Drain and, when the bamboo is cool enough to handle, cut the slices into fine julienne.
Cut the pork belly into fine strips about 2cm long, put them in a bowl and add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, the pepper, cornstarch and 10ml of cooking oil. Mix thoroughly then leave to marinate for about 30 minutes. Peel the shrimp, leaving the tail intact. Devein the shrimp by cutting a slit on the back close to the tail, then carefully pull out the dark digestive tract. Cut a slit down the front of each shrimp along its entire length, then lay each one belly side down on the cutting board and cut perpendicular slits about 1cm apart down the length of the back (this helps the shrimp to remain flat when cooked).
Heat a wok until very hot, then add about 20ml of oil. Add the bean sprouts, sprinkle lightly with salt then stir-fry briefly, just until the sprouts start to wilt. Transfer them to a bowl. Heat about 20ml of oil in the wok, add the mushroom, bamboo and a little salt and stir-fry for about a minute before putting them in the bowl. Heat 20ml of oil in the wok, add the pork and stir-fry until the meat loses its pink colour. Add the vegetables back into the wok and stir until thoroughly combined. Taste the mixture and correct the seasonings if needed. Put the ingredients into the bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring often to release the steam.
Stack the spring-roll wrappers on a plate and cover with a clean dishcloth. Put one wrapper on a cutting board (if they are square, lay it so one angle is pointing towards you). Lay a 7cm-long strip of filling down on the wrapper. Fold up the bottom of the wrapper over the filling then fold in the sides. Roll away from you until you reach about a third of the way, then lay one shrimp down so just the tail is sticking out. Continue to roll until you almost reach the other side. Very lightly brush egg on the far edge, then finish rolling. Put the spring roll seam-side down on a baking tray lined with cling-film. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.
Heat oil to a depth of about 2cm in a skillet. When the oil is 180 degrees Celsius, fry the spring rolls in batches until pale golden, then drain on paper towels. After frying all of them, briefly fry them a second time (this makes them crisper). Drain on paper towels then serve with the dipping sauce.
This fish "salad" is popular in Malaysia and Singapore.
Lay the ingredients in separate piles on a large plate and let everyone mix the salad with their chopsticks while shouting " lo hei" ("mix together"); this is supposed to bring good fortune in the new year.
100 grams daikon, julienned
100 grams carrot, julienned
10 sheets wonton skins
Oil, for frying
300 grams top-quality skinned and boned fish (such as sea bass or salmon)
1 or 2 suen mui (preserved sour plums)
About 15ml light soy sauce
About 10ml sesame oil
About 15ml fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon or five-spice powder
A pinch of ground white pepper
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
75 grams roasted and skinned peanuts, lightly crushed
2 tsp white sesame seeds, toasted
2-3 spring onions, julienned
30-45 grams pickled ginger, julienned
A small handful of fresh coriander
Soak the daikon and carrot in ice water for about an hour, then drain. Lay the vegetables on a clean dish towel and squeeze out as much water out as possible. Fry the wonton skins in hot oil until crisp and golden brown, then drain on paper towels. Thinly slice the fish across the grain. Remove the pits from the sour plums then mash the flesh and mix it with the soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, cinnamon or five-spice powder, pepper and lemon zest. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Arrange the fish, daikon and carrot in piles on a platter, then drizzle with the sour-plum dressing. Lightly crush the wonton skins and sprinkle them over the top. Sprinkle with the peanuts and sesame seeds, then add the spring onion, ginger and coriander. Toss the salad together at the table just before eating it.
Stylist: Nellie Ming Lee