THE Chinese celebrated their New Year last Monday, February 8, the second new moon after solstice.
The festivities to welcome in The Year of the Monkey take place all over the world with the biggest celebrations outside Asia taking place in London where there are parades, traditional lion and unicorn dances, music, fireworks and lots of fun.
The feasting and excitement will continue onto the Lantern Festival — the 15th Day of the New Year.
Each Chinese New Year is characterised by one of the 12 animals which appear in the Chinese Zodiac.
The next year of the Monkey won’t be until 2028.
Chinese families gather together to celebrate the most important festivals of the year similar to Christmas for Westerners.
In 1984, one of the first guest chefs I invited to the Ballymaloe Cookery School was Deh ta Hsiung, a Chinese chef living in the UK.
Both he and his food were a smash hit.
Up to then, I knew virtually nothing about Chinese food nor did I have any proper equipment so a few weeks before the course, we met in London and he and I went shopping in China town for woks, cleavers, spiders, ‘wood ears’ and all kinds of ‘strange’ and unfamiliar ingredients and implements.
We had such fun and I had a crash course in all things Chinese including chicken feet for lunch which I loved much to Deh ta’s amazement.
In fact, the owner of the restaurant gave us a free lunch as he said I was the first Westerner ever to order chicken feet in his restaurant.
In Ireland we have a flourishing Chinese community and a long tradition and affection for Chinese restaurants and an ever-increasing trade with China.
So let’s all celebrate together and try to cook some Chinese at home.
Here are a few of my favourite recipes that are easy to rustle up.
Those of you who were born in the Year of the Monkey, check out the Chinese Zodiac, your lucky numbers are 1, 7, 8.
Lucky colours — white, gold and blue, lucky flowers chrysanthemums and alliums (the onion family) and your lucky directions are north, north-west and west.
Enjoy and Happy New Year of the Monkey!
Sticky Chinese Chicken Thighs
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp honey
½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, grated
Bunch spring onions, chopped
50g (2oz) cashew nuts, toasted
plain boiled rice (to serve)
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Slash the skin 2-3 times on each thigh and arrange the chicken thighs in a single layer on a large roasting tin.
Mix together the hoisin sauce, sesame oil, honey, five-spice powder, ginger, garlic and some salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken and toss to coat – allow to marinate for 2 hours, or overnight if you have time.
Roast in the heated oven, skin-side up for 35 minutes, basting as least once during cooking. Sprinkle with toasted cashew nuts and spring onions. Serve with rice.
Recipe taken from BBC Good Food Magazine
It’s such fun to make Chinese fortune cookies, each one has a strip of paper hidden inside with Chinese wish proverb. They are made from a simple tuile batter.
Spread them really thinly and mould as soon as they come out of the oven otherwise they become brittle and crumbly. Have your little wishes ready to pop in.
140 g (5 oz) butter
4 egg whites
210 g (7½ oz) caster sugar
155 g (5½ oz) white flour, sieved
3 tbsp cream
½ tsp pure almond extract
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Melt the butter gently and allow to cool a little.
Put the egg whites and sugar into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk for a few seconds. Fold in the flour and mix. Add the melted butter, cream and almond extract. Mix until well combined.
Spoon 1 teaspoon of batter onto a prepared baking sheet, spread with the back of a spoon into a thin even 4 inch (10 cm) round.
Allow room for spreading and don’t attempt to cook more than 3 or 4 at a time, otherwise it will be difficult to shape them quickly enough.
Bake until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown, 6-8 minutes.
Have all your Chinese proverbs ready.
Lift one of the cookies off the baking tray with a spatula. Lay the strip of paper across the centre, fold the cookie into a semi-circle and pinch the rounded edges gently together.
Insert your thumb and index finger into the open ends and fold them down to meet underneath.
This whole process should only take about 10 seconds. Cool on a wire rack.
Repeat with the others and eat within a couple of hours or store in an airtight container with a (silica crystal packet).
Happy Chinese New Year.
Bok cho, pak cho and tat soi are all fairly delicate in flavour and full of moisture so they take and benefit from and take on extra flavours readily.
Extra virgin oil
Fresh herbs or seasoning of your choice — crushed garlic, chopped chilli, marjoram, thyme leaves, rosemary, tarragon or Asian flavours such as soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, sesame oil, sesame seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Divide the leaves, wash, drain, then chop both the stalk and leaf in 2cm to 2.5cm (¾ – 1 inch) pieces.
Heat a little extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil in a wok or wide saucepan over a high heat, add the grated ginger and chilli. Toss in the bok choi. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss and cover for a few minutes, toss again, when almost tender add the chopped herbs or other flavourings.
Toss, taste and serve.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Smacked Cucumber in Garlicky Sauce
— Suan ni huang gua
1 cucumber (about 300g/10oz)
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp finely-chopped garlic
½ tsp white sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp Chinkiang vinegar
2 tbsp chilli oil
Salt to taste
A pinch or two of ground roasted Sichuan pepper, if desired
Lay the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it hard a few times with the flat blade of a Chinese cleaver or with a rolling pin — this will loosen its flesh and make it more easily absorb the flavours of the sauce.
Then cut the cucumber, lengthwise, into four pieces.
Hold your knife at an angle to the chopping board and cut the cucumber on the diagonal into ½ - 1 cm (¼ – ½ inch) slices.
Place in a bowl with the salt, mix well and set aside for about 10 minutes.
Combine the other ingredients in a small bowl.
Drain the cucumber, pour over the sauce, stir well and serve immediately.
Deh ta Hsiung wrote 19 cookbooks, including Chinese Cookery for Marks and Spencer in 1983.
His books are a brilliant introduction to Chinese food, his recipes really work and are authentic and delicious.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, is also worth seeking out.
Dublin City Council has an action packed programme around Dublin to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Visit the colourful website for more info… dublinchinesenewyear.com
Learn how to build an exciting Willow Structure with Norbert Platz: Norbert is a willow wizard from West Cork.
Visitors to our garden have admired several of his willow structures, scarecrows, dragons as well as willow tunnels, plant covers and baskets.
A few years ago we planted a willow garden here on the farm so we can now harvest our own willows and have fun making willow structures.
This year we plan to create a long wiggly worm in the wild flower meadow.
On Monday, February 15, at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, you will learn how to harvest and prepare willows and the basic techniques needed to create a variety of willow structures in your own garden.
Coffee on arrival and light lunch included. www.cookingisfun.ie
Fishy Fishy Pop Up Lunch:
Gary O’ Hanlon of The Restaurant TV show fame putting celebrities through their paces, will cook a Pop Up lunch at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale on Wednesday, March 8.
Tickets are still available for his pop-up lunch; it will be lots of fun; fishyfishy.ie
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