Tuesday, January 27, 2009

how to (not) celebrate Chinese New Year, or why masochism is not a positive trait

Start by agreeing to write a post for Chinese New Year. Reason that you spend plenty of time mucking about with recipes for food from other people's cultures; you should be able to muck about with recipes for food from your own.

Realize that you have no idea when Chinese New Year is. Consult Wikipedia. While you're at it, look up the page on Chinese New Year traditions. Note that the traditions listed appear to be both extensive and largely unfamiliar. Remember that your family's primary food-related tradition is paying other people to prepare it.

Scan the list of traditional foods for something manageable. Notice that dumplings (jiaozi) are on the list. Remember that dumplings are one of the few things your mother makes well, and that you even watched her make them when you were a child. Reason that dumplings bear a passing resemblance to ravioli. Decide that you will make dumplings for Chinese New Year. Rope two poor, unsuspecting friends into joining you for dinner.

Make a trip to the Asian grocery store for all the seasonings you don't own because you order takeout when you want Chinese food: sesame oil, soy sauce, Chinese brown vinegar. Marvel at how Chunking appears to have cornered the brown vinegar market on three continents.

Look for ready-made dumpling wrappers. Realise that it's Chinese New Year, and that the Asian grocery's supply of ready-made dumpling wrappers has already been depleted by Chinese families who did their grocery shopping earlier. Contemplate making your own dumpling wrappers; decide that masochism is not a positive trait. Buy wonton wrappers instead.

Scan the produce section for huei xiang (non-bulb fennel.) Come up empty-handed. Scan the produce section a second time, with the same results. Curse. Make a trip to your regular supermarket for green onions, ginger, and fennel bulbs with fronds instead.

Look for ground pork. Find that the only ground pork available at your regular supermarket is dubious, frozen, and industrially-produced. Briefly wonder if you could substitute ground beef. Grit your teeth. Make a trip to Whole Foods for fresh ground pork from free-ranging, hand-fed, lullabye-serenaded pigs instead.

Stagger home with all your shopping bags. Unpack everything, and set up your workspace.

Make the filling by combining the pork with the vegetables and adding sesame oil and soy sauce until it smells something like the way you remember it should. Discover that the filling is much more difficult to stir with a fork than with chopsticks.

Take out the ready-made wrappers. Pick up one wrapper and lay a forkful of filling in the center. Press the edges together. Curse when they won't seal. Remember that you need to wet the edges with water in order to make them stick. Get a small bowl of water. Wet the edges and try again. Breathe a sigh of relief when it works. Pick up another wrapper and repeat.

Observe that your dumplings look funny because dumpling wrappers are round, but wonton wrappers are square. Debate getting a water glass to cut rounds out of the squares. Remind yourself that masochism is not a positive trait. Carry on with the squares.

Turn the job of stuffing the dumplings over to your poor, unsuspecting friends when they arrive for dinner. Justify this by explaining that you need to put a pot of water on for boiling the dumplings.

Put a pot of water on to boil the dumplings. Drop the dumplings into the pot. Remember that your mother said something about bringing the water to a boil three times. Realise that you can't remember if that was before or after you actually put the dumplings in. Briefly contemplate calling your mother long-distance to find out. Remind yourself that masochism is not a positive trait. Proceed to cook the dumplings as you would ravioli. Observe that this method works.

Set the platter of cooked dumplings on the dinner table. Set out bowls of brown vinegar for dipping. Sit down to eat.

Note that the dumplings are surprisingly edible. Breathe a sigh of relief when your poor, unsuspecting friends agree. Briefly contemplate making this an annual event. Remind yourself that masochism is not a positive trait.

Next year, stick with your family’s traditions, and practise the art of ordering takeout.

Pork, Fennel, and Green Onion Dumplings
(hui xiang jiaozi)

The fennel used in these dumplings is supposed to be the leafy, non-bulb variety, but it can be difficult to find. You can substitute the fronds from bulb fennel (strip them from the stalks, which are tough), or use fresh dill, which has a similar aroma.

(Recipe not for one. Round up two or three people to help you make and eat them.)

Make a trip to the Asian grocery store. You'll need sesame oil, soy sauce, Chinese brown vinegar, a package of ready-made dumpling skins, a pound of ground pork, a bunch of green onions, a chunk of fresh ginger, and either a bunch of fennel greens (see note above) or the fronds from two fennel bulbs, or a bunch of fresh dill.

Get out a big mixing bowl and dump in the ground pork. Finely mince the green onions and fennel greens/fennel fronds/fresh dill and add them to the bowl. Grate in the ginger.

Pour in two teaspoons of sesame oil and two teaspoons of soy sauce. Grab a fork or a pair of chopsticks, and stir the mixture until well-combined. (If it doesn't combine well, don't be afraid to stick your hands in.)

To test the filling for seasoning, either fry up a spoonful or drop a spoonful into boiling water. If it seems too bland, add a little more soy sauce. If it seems a little on the salty side, don't worry. The vinegar used as dipping sauce will help counteract the salt.

Once you've seasoned the filling to your taste, get ready to fill the dumplings. Set out a small bowl of water. Ready a few trays or plates to put the dumplings on. Set out your wrappers and the bowl of filling.

Pick up one wrapper and put a lump of filling on it. Dip a finger into the water and wet the edges of the wrapper. Fold over the wrapper and press the edges to seal. Repeat until you run out of filling.

To cook the dumplings, set a pot of unsalted water on to boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, drop the dumplings in. Unless you're using a truly enormous pot, you'll need to do this in batches, about ten or fifteen at a time.

According to my mother, you'll need to bring the dumplings to a boil three times in order to cook them correctly. To do this, wait two or three minutes after you've dropped the dumplings in - the water should come back up to a rolling boil - and pour cold water into the pot. When it reaches a boil again, wait a few more minutes, and add more cold water. Do this one more time, then transfer the dumplings to a platter.

Serve immediately, with vinegar for dipping on the side.


Pam said...

You're hilarious!

adele said...

Pam - I'm glad someone thinks so. :)

Virgin In The Volcano said...

I love this post. Sounds like good Chinese daughters are just like good Jewish daughters--not very!

adele said...

Virgin - Pretty much. :P

Cakelaw said...

LOL - even if they were a struggle, your dumplings look good.

adele said...

Cakelaw - Thank you!

JacquelineC said...

How to (not) get to bed at a decent hour after only a little sip of wine. Or, opening your feedreader for the first time in a week is really dumb if you really wanted to get to bed.

Adele, I tried to just skim through the posts, but this one got me. Had to refil the wine glass (I know you can hear me heaving great sighs here) what a chore. And literally snorting and chuckling at the screen.
Okay so it's 1 AM. It was worth it!


adele said...

Jacqueline - I'm glad you liked it. Sorry I disturbed your sleep schedule! :P

JacquelineC said...

File under too little too late: http://tinyurl.com/btbrwm

adele said...

Jacqueline - There's always next year, if I don't stick to my guns and order takeout. :P

Yulinka said...

Ha ha! I always use Wikipedia as a reference whenever I write about Jewish traditions (the ones I'm vaguely aware of).

adele said...

Yulinka - Wikipedia, for the culturally clueless. :)

Amy Jemima said...

Wow - those look amazing!

adele said...

Amy Jemima - Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Greets dudes!

I just wanted to say hi :)