Stirring up memories
Xin niam hao! (again)
January 29, 2003
I couldnít have
been happier in the strange surroundings.†
I sniffed and nothing smelled familiar, but it all smelled mighty
good.† The shelves were loaded with
unusual itemsódried seaweed, lotus root, dehydrated watercress, desert honey
powder, dried anchovies, whole and all but blinking their little eyes at
†No, I wasnít halfway around the world in
China.† I was giving myself a treat by
shopping in a Chinese grocery store on West Tennessee right down the road in
I enjoy cooking
Chinese food, but doing it right takes special spices, which arenít always
available at the local supermarket.† Iíd
stopped in to pick up some dried five-spice powder, the combination of anise
seed, fennel seed, cloves, cinnamon and pepper (all ground fine) that makes
Chinese food taste like Chinese food.†
But after looking around, I grabbed a basket and started shopping.† Too many things begged to go home with me.
unfortunate encounter with the salted duck eggs, I used restraint and ended up
with only snow pea crisps and candied ginger with an intriguing recipe for
gingersnaps on the side.† Iíd save more
shopping for the next trip after I went through my cookbooks and made a
list.† I wanted a reason to return.
Xin niam hao!
Happy New Year!† February 1 is Chinese
New Yearótime to welcome in the year 4700, celebrating the crowning of the
first Chinese king all those years ago. That would be 2697 B.C. on the Western
calendar. And itís a time to cook up some good Chinese food.
The Chinese know
how to celebrateóNew Yearís, sometimes called the Spring Festival, lasts for
two weeks.† Unlike the Western New Year,
the date of the Chinese New Year varies as it follows the lunar calendar.† Every year from the first new moon in the
lunar year Chinese communities and homes are decked in red (for happiness) and
gold (for wealth) until the moon grows full fifteen days later, and the holiday
ends with the Lantern Festival.
important Chinese holiday recalls the agricultural culture of Chinaóitís the
time for planting new crops and looking forward to the coming spring.† Naturally there are special foods associated
with the holiday.† Families journey back
to their hometowns to visit relatives and friends and partake in special
meals.† Often, a dumpling soup is served
on New Yearís Eve.† Visitors are offered
special tea eggs.† Golden oranges are
the lucky dessert.
dividing the year into twelve sections as the Western horoscope does, the
Chinese horoscope looks at a cycle of twelve years, with each year bearing the
name of an animal.† So instead of
asking, ďWhatís your sign?Ē they ask, ďWhatís your year?Ē† This year is the Year of the Sheep.† Sheep people are considered loyal, honest
and quiet. †They make good actors, and
get on well with Rabbits and Horses (in the horoscope, not for real).† Were you born in 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943,
1955, 1967, 1979, or 1991? Congratulations!†
Itís your year.
I hope to get back
to the Chinese grocery before Saturday night, with a long list for my
feast.† Maybe Iíll fix cuttlefish and
tofu?† Certainly some hot and sour soup.
But even if I donít make it back, Iíll tailor my February 1 menu to the
celebration, spread the red tablecloth, and pull out the chopsticks.† I may even take the easy way out and buy a
frozen stir-fry dinner at the grocery store (there are good one in the
refrigerated case as well) add some chicken and stir up a bowl of sweet and
sour cabbageólucky in all New Yearís traditions.† Weíll top it off with oranges and fortune cookies,
But come to think
of it, thereís nothing wrong with carryout.
2 star anise pods* (you can substitute a pinch of
anise seed or skip it altogether)
1/4 cup black tea leaves (or 3
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
the eggs with cold water, bring to a boil and boil 15 minutes.† Remove the eggs, cool them in cold water,
and then dry them.† Crack the eggshells
by tapping gently with a teaspoon, but do not remove the shells. Cover the cracked
eggs in water and bring to a boil.† Add
the remaining ingredients and simmer for 2 hours. Cool and dry the eggs, then
To serve, peel,
cut into quarters and arrange flower-style on a plate.††
in the international sections at some grocery stores or in Asian food markets.
††††††††††† †I was surprised eggs can survive a two-hour
boil. They tasted fine.† The tea and soy
are barely discernable, but the appearance is wonderful.† The eggs look like little ovals of
They will be a
wonderful year-round dish.† Iím thinking
about an Asian chefís salad with crispy noodles and soy dressing.† Iíll let you know.
of course, you donít have to make the whole dozen.† The soy and tea are mostly for the color, the more you use, the more
distinctive the marbling will be.
Cabbage with Hot and Sour Sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
(white and green parts)
4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
the oil in a large frying pan or wok.†
Add the onions, stir-fry for just a few seconds, and then add the
cabbage. Stir-fry for one minute; add 1/4 cup water.† Remove from heat and cover for one minute.† Uncover, add sauce.† Stir for about a minute to blend thoroughly,
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use the
light or low-salt version)
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or your
favorite hot sauce; Crystal is good)
1 teaspoon sugar
The cabbage cooks so little in this
that it is really more like a warm cole slaw.†
And itís delicious. †If spicy
food is not for you, omit the hot sauce.
Xin niam hao, everyone!† Happy New Yearís--4700.
†Remember, Iím looking for good cooks with
long memories who will share their kitchen secrets with me.†††
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network