Thursday, February 7, 2008
HAPPY YEAR OF THE RAT!
Image from ratical.org
NOTE: I FINALLY ORGANIZED THE RECIPE PAGE LINKS INTO CATEGORIES!
KUNG HEY FAH CHOY!* (*means “I wish you a prosperous New Year”)
This is my year! yes, I have to confess that I am a Rat! But:
"Being born a Rat is nothing to be ashamed of. In China, the Rat is respected and considered a courageous, enterprising person. It is deemed an honor to be born in the Year of the Rat and it is considered a privilege to be associated with a Rat. Rats know exactly where to find solutions and can take care of themselves and others without problems. They use their instinctive sense of observation to help others in times of need and are among the most fit of all the Animal signs to survive most any situation."
More about Rat personality and The Year of the Rat:
Anyway, it is a time to party BIG TIME!
(We usually call this holiday "Chinese New Year", but actually, it is probably more accurate to say “the Lunar New Year”, because many Asian communities besides the Chinese celebrate it—- the Vietnamese, Korean, Laotian, Cambodian, and Tibetan people, particularly. Read more about the Lunar calendar here.)
It is actually two big celebrations in one—- New Year’s Day and everyone’s birthday! According to Chinese tradition, everyone adds one year to their age on New Year’s Day. It is also an important family get-together event, because one must try to see every family member face-to-face! Since Chinese families used to be large, and perhaps spread far apart, the New Year’s festivities used to last for a month, in order to see everyone! Now they generally last for about a week.
On New Year’s Eve there is a huge family feast for as many members of the family as possible. The children get to stay awake all night, because the Chinese believe that the longer the children stay awake, the longer their parents will live! (Better not let that get around!) Red is a good luck color, so you will see red everywhere. The table for the feast is set with a red cloth and red candles. And, surprise! THE NEW YEAR'S EVE MEAL IS A VEGETARIAN FEAST! No meat is served because harm would have to be caused to obtain meat and this would be bad luck (too bad this doesn’t extend to the rest of the year!).
Some Chinese New Year food customs:
Oranges and apples are the usual fruit, since apples are symbols of good luck and apples and oranges are both round (another lucky symbol) and are red and orange— colors of joy! Kumquats are another round, orange fruit that symbolize “golden luck”.
Fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the color signifies death and misfortune. Candied lotus seeds symbolize more sons; watermelon seeds more children. These days, gold-wrapped chocolate coins symbolize wealth. Candied lotus root is for endless friendship, and coconut for good relations between fathers and sons. Sweet things are for the sweetness of life; dumplings represent wealth, and romaine lettuce is for prosperity.
In other Asian communities that celebrate at the same time, many customs, such as cleaning the house, visiting, exchanging gifts of food and red envelopes of money, games of chance, fireworks, new clothes, etc.. are the same. Tibetans eat a special nine dumpling soup with fortune-telling tokens in them.
In Vietnamese communities, there is a two-day holiday called Tet. Homes are decorated with peach blossoms, which represent peace and luck. During the two days of celebration no real cooking is done-- snack foods (such as steamed rice cakes) and sweets are eaten. But on the day after the official celebration there is usually a big family meal with traditional foods such as spring rolls.
If you have a party, to find a book or website on Chinese horoscopes so that your guests can find their signs and predict their luck in the year ahead!
Read more about this holiday here.
A YUMMY DISH FOR ANY TIME OF THE YEAR
Below is a recipe that is one of DH's favorites, and very easy to make. I give you several options for the protein part of the dish, but our favorite is textured soy protein chunks. Now if you are under the impression that textured soy protein is not good for you, read on:
Actually, textured soy protein is simply de-fatted soy flour cooked with water, then extruded through machinery to make granules, chunks, cutlets, etc., then dehydrated.
Organic and/or solvent-free textured soy protein (TVP®, BTW, is the same thing, but it is a registered brand name, and is also the same thing as "textured vegetable protein" or TSP), is available!
From Bob's Red Mill (they call it "TSP")
Frontier Co-op has unflavored organic textured soy protein in three different sizes.
And from healthy-eating.com:
"These textured soy protein bits are made with organic soybeans, using a manufacturing process certified by the Organic Growers and Buyers Association...Because there are no chemicals used to grow or process the soybeans used in this organic product, please expect variations in size and color from one order to the next."
I also like a product called Soy Curls®, which is like stir-fry slices. It is made from the WHOLE soybean (non-GMO). It is very tender and great for stir-fries, etc. Since it contains the natural oil, I keep this dried product in the freezer. Soy Curls® are solvent-free, and I use the crumbs on the bottom of the box sort of like TVP granules.
As for commercial textured soy protein products, Nexsoy makes a commercial organic textured soy protein that manufacturers use for organic meat substitutes.
Here is what they say about their product:
"The unique Nexsoy® process is totally solvent-free, yielding a product line that is free of the "soy" taste that some consumers find unpalatable, leaving you free to work on developing your flavor, not masking agents. Traditionally, most soy ingredients are produced using a chemical solvent called hexane. This method is believed to be responsible for the "grassy" or "beany" flavor that has historically slowed the acceptance soyfoods. The Nexsoy® processing method is entirely mechanical and requires no chemicals such as hexane. This process is responsible for very neutral-tasting naturally-produced soy ingredients that can be used by food manufacturers without negatively impacting the flavor of their product."
BRYANNA'S CANTONESE-STYLE CRISPY "PORK" WITH SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
This recipe, from my book "Authentic Chinese Cuisine for the Contemporary Kitchen", is more traditional than the usual pineapple version that North Americans are used to. It is one of the dishes I make once in a while with a fried ingredient because it is so good that way! I use a traditional wok for frying, because it is deep, but not wide, so you don't need to use cups and cups of oil.
2-3 cups reconstituted textured soy protein chunks (Cooking Tips below for how to reconstitute)
(See text above about organic textured soy protein chunks)
OR small chunks of seitan
OR reconstituted Soy Curls® (use 1 1/2 cups to 2 1/4 cups dry Soy Curls®, reconstituted for 5 minutes in an equal amount of boiling vegetarian broth; drain)
Cornstarch or water chestnut flour
1 Tbs oil
1 large onion, cut into 6ths, layers separated
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" squares
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts (preferably fresh)
OR 1 large stalk celery, sliced 1/4" thick
1/4 cup frozen petit pois (baby peas) thawed in hot water and drained
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 Tbs tomato sauce (or 1 and 1/2 Tbs EACH water and tomato paste)
2 Tbs rice vinegar, plain (or substitute cider vinegar or white wine vinegar)
2 Tbs light organic unbleached sugar
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
3/4 cup water
1 Tbs cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs cold water
Roll the reconstituted soy protein (or seitan) chunks or Soy Curls® in cornstarch or water chestnut flour, shaking off the excess starch. Heat about a cup of oil in a large skillet, wok to 375°F.
Fry the chunks in several batches in the hot oil until they are golden and crispy, then drain them on paper towels on a cookie sheet. Keep them warm in a 200°F oven.
Heat a large wok, stir-fry pan or heavy skillet over high heat. When it's very hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, pepper, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry until the onion starts to turn translucent, adding a few drops of water, if necessary to keep from sticking. Add the water chestnuts or celery, and the peas, along with the Cooking Sauce. Bring this to a boil, then stir in the thickener. Stir until it thickens and quickly add the warm fried gluten or soy protein. Stir well to heat through and serve immediately with rice.
Nutrition (per serving): 352.4 calories; 41% calories from fat; 17.3g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 172.7mg sodium; 857.5mg potassium; 39.7g carbohydrates; 2.5g fiber; 11.4g sugar; 37.1g net carbs; 15.9g protein; 8.0 points.
HOW TO RECONSTITUTE TEXTURED SOY PROTEIN CHUNKS
Reconstitute the textured soy protein chunks by simmering 1 and 1/2 cups dry chunks in 3 cups water with 3 Tbs soy sauce, 3 Tbs ketchup or tomato paste, and 1 Tbs nutritional yeast flakes for 15-30 minutes, depending upon how tender you like them. Cool and store in the cooking broth. (I usually make 4 or more times this amount and freeze it in 2 cup portions.) Drain the chunks before using them, and pat them dry before coating with flour, frying, or marinating. This amount will yield about 2 cups reconstituted chunks.
Happy New Year!