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Grandma's Kitchen:   Prosperity for the New Year

New Year Food Art by Connie Hom
During the Chinese New Year a mung bean dish called "Chai" is usually served. Mung bean threads are clear, plastic-looking noodles that are made from the mung bean, the same bean which is the source of bean sprouts. "Chai", a traditional vegetarian dish, often will contain some auspicious sounding ingredients. A popular ingredient for its homonymic sound is "fat choy" or sea moss. Fat choy is a seaweed that looks like black human hair. The homonym of fat choy, sea moss, is fat choy, a word which means prosperity; a good omen for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Ancient Buddhist monks strictly adhered to the traditional vegetarian New Year dish of "Chai." Today, a variation of this mung bean dish called "fun see," made with or without the sea moss and even meat, is found on the tables of many local San Diego Chinese families' tables during the Chinese New Year. A favorite among early San Diego Cantonese settlers here would be a simple combination of lop chang (Chinese sweet sausage), dried shrimp, celery, eggs, onions, and, of course, mung bean threads. The following recipe is what I call "Village Style Mung Bean Threads."

Village Style Mung Bean Threads

Soak six dried black mushrooms in cold water for about an hour. Drain, remove stems, and slice into matchstick pieces.

Soak 8 ounces of Mung Bean Threads (Sai Fun, Cellophane Noodle) in enough cold water to cover. When pliable enough to work with, drain and cut with cooking scissors or a knife into 2-1/2 inch pieces.

Prepare egg shreds. Use a 7-inch crepe or frying pan to make "egg crepes." Beat one extra large AA egg in a bowl. Season with salt if desired and fry in a pre-heated greased pan. Do not brown. When cooked, remove and repeat the procedure three more times, forming a total of four "egg crepes." Stack one on top of another. When cool, roll together like a jellyroll and cut into 1/8-inch shreds. Set aside.

Soak 1/4 pound of dried shrimp in water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Boil 2 or 3 Chinese sweet sausages (Lop Chang) for 15 minutes. When cool, slice on the diagonal into thin pieces. Precooked Chinese barbecued pork (Cha Shil) may be substituted.

Preheat a wok. Add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil and add:

  • 1/4 pound presoaked dried shrimp
  • 6 pieces Chinese dried mushrooms, matchstick cut
  • 1 whole onion, matchstick cut
  • 3 Chinese sweet sausages, precooked, sliced
  • 3 sticks of celery, sliced thin diagonally

Add the presoaked, pre-cut Mung Bean Threads and 1/2 cup to 1 cup chicken broth as needed. Finish stirfrying with:

  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (Sang Chow)
  • 1 bunch green onions, cut 1-1/2 inch
  • Prepared egg shreds
  • 1/2 teaspoons, sesame oil

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding is one of those Chinese New Year desserts that you may have tried once or twice in your life, perhaps at a Chinese banquet or party, but have never bothered to learn how to make. At first glance it looks like SO much work. Attempting the multicolored design made from candied fruit, molded into sweet rice can be a threatening task to anyone who feels that he or she is less than an artist. Contrary to what it seems, Eight Treasure Rice Pudding is probably one of the easiest Chinese desserts I have ever made, aside from fresh-cut oranges.

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding is a cake-shaped pudding made with glutinous rice and a sweet bean or lotus filling decorated with a variety of candied fruit and lotus seeds. It is interesting to note that glutinous rice or "sweet rice", as it commonly is called, is not sugary sweet by nature. In this recipe, sugar is added to sweeten. A quick way to prepare Eight Treasure Rice Pudding is to boil rather than steam the rice. (The steam method requires rinsing the rice and soaking for about 5 hours before steaming.)

Wash 2 cups of sweet rice until the water looks clear. Add a scant 1-1/2 cups of water to the washed rice and soak for about 1/2 hour. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer. Leave heat on low for 20 minutes and then turn the heat off. Let sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. Do not open lid. Add to the rice 1 tablespoon of shortening and 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Coat the pudding mold (or you may use a 7-inch aspic mold, bunt pan, or heat proof bowl) with 1 tablespoon of shortening. (Note: Greasing the pan with a nonstick cooking spray is not as effective as using the shortening since the shortening acts as a "glue" for the candied fruit when decorating, as well as provides a barrier so that the rice does not stick to the pan.)

Arrange candied fruit such as cherries, apricots, pineapple, prunes, papaya, wintermelon, red dates, coconut, and lotus seeds in the greased pudding mold. Add half of the cooked rice on top of the design, taking care not to displace the candied fruit design. Form the rice along the sides of the mold, leaving room for about 1 cup of lotus paste or sweet bean filling in the center. (Note: Prepared filling may be purchased in a can). Cover filling with the remaining rice, packing tightly and steam for 20 minutes. Place serving platter over mold and invert. Boil 1 cup of water with 4 tablespoons of sugar and thicken with a cornstarch solution. Pour over top and serve hot.

Folklore has it that cleaning the home before the Lunar Chinese New Year is important as we sweep out the evil spirits and prepare room for the good spirits. I have always just thought of it as making a fresh start in the new year. Another Chinese custom requires us to pay all debts before the end of the year. Well, my kitchen shelves are organized and my Eight Treasure Pudding was a success, so I guess two out of three is not bad!

Connie Hom is the Food Service Marketing Coordinator for the San Diego City Schools and an accomplished chef and instructor. Well-known for her lively performances on KFMB-TV8 "Sun Up San Diego" and KGTV 10 "Inside San Diego," she has entertained audiences and students for over a decade. Through television, radio and gourmet cooking schools, UCSD, Mesa College, community colleges, charity benefits and at the former Woo Chee Chong stores, Connie Hom has taught thousands of Americans and international audiences how to use exotic Asian ingredients to produce delicious, authentic meals with excellent results.

Copyright © 1999 by Constance J. Hom

If you have any easy, tasty Asian recipes to share, please send them to us at P.O. Box 23744, San Diego, CA 92193-3744. E-mail: editor@jadedragon.com. If we use your article, we will send you a Jade Dragon Online t-shirt.

Other recipes from Grandma's Kitchen:

Soybean Magic
Fiesta – Filipino Style
Chinese Kitchen Medicine
Filipino Party Foods
Healthy Summer Eating
Inarizushi
Vietnam’s Chicken in Lemon Grass
Korean Homestyle Cooking
The Fine Art of Korean Cooking
The Ever Pan-Tropic Bamboo and Indonesian Soup
Tofu Bubble and Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Hui Tofu
Fighting the "Baby Fat" Blues with Asian Food
Connie's Cuisine
Eat Drink Man Woman - Starring .... Food
Asian New Year's Recipes
More Asian New Year's Recipes

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