My Mother’s New Year Dish

The Chinese New Year celebration was always the biggest holiday in my family. We would pay the traditional homage to our ancestors by burning incense at the small family altar that stood at one end of the living room. My job was to rub some honey over the kitchen-god poster on the kitchen wall so that he could report only sweet and good things to the Jade Emperor in heaven.

Then the New Year’s food preparation would begin. Certain foods were always served at the New Year table because they symbolized particular good and noteworthy aspirations. Fish, which represents abundance and good fortune, was an essential item; likewise noodles, a symbol of longevity - what good are abundance and good fortune without the time to enjoy them?

My mother, being a good and faithful Buddhist, always made her vegetarian dish, a savoury vegetable casserole that I remember to this day. I have altered my mother’s recipe by using chicken stock; she used water, though a vegetarian stock could be substituted. The bonus is that this dish reheats well.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) firm bean curd
  • 30 g (1 oz) Chinese dried black mushrooms
  • 115 g (4 oz) dried bean thread noodles
  • 30 g (1 oz) dried hair vegetable
  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese leaves
  • 350 ml (12 fl oz) groundnut oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 350 ml (12 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons whole yellow bean sauce
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Method

Cut the bean curd into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes. Drain on kitchen paper. Soak the mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes, then drain them and squeeze out the excess liquid. Remove and discard the stems, and finely shred the caps into thin strips. Soak the bean thread noodles in warm water for 20 minutes and drain well. Soak the hair vegetable in warm water for 20 minutes and drain thoroughly.

Cut the Chinese leaves into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Pour in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, deep-fry the bean curd cubes in 2 batches. Drain each batch well on kitchen paper.

Drain off all but tablespoons of oil and reheat the wok. Toss in the mushrooms, Chinese leaves, salt and pepper and stir-fry for 4 minutes. The mixture will be rather dry. Then toss in the bean thread noodles, hair vegetable, rice wine, stock, soy sauces, bean sauce and oyster sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer, toss in the fried bean curd, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Finally, swirl in the sesame oil and serve at once with plain rice.

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