I realize that we’re well into 2016 already, but I hope you’ll afford me the space to wish you a Happy New Year all the same. I spent early January snuggled up with a new niece and racing after a not-so-new-but-very-fast nephew. Mid-January, I was back in Scotland and wondering how we would ever cope with the pervasive grey. And the past two weeks, I have been noticing the lengthening daylight hours and trying to start this new year with the oomph it deserves.
The Chinese New Year is coming up this week, though, so I’m going to sneak this post in under the wire. When a friend invited us over to make dumplings and celebrate the Chinese New Year, I said yes immediately. I have vague, school-aged memories of paper dragons and festivals on television, but I I have never made dumplings before. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn, and communal dumpling making with an expert and her friends sounded like the perfect way to spend a mid-winter evening.
In the end, the dumplings were only a small part of the impressive meal. We arrived a bit later than planned, having gone back and forth about whether to bring a pot of braised stuffed cabbage leaves that I’d been making that afternoon, and I’m so glad we decided to leave them at home. The whole counter top and much of the dining table was covered in plates and trays of food that looked like preparations had been happening for a week.
While we waited for others to arrive, everyone made sure to be wearing at least some red, and our friend started dishing up treats that her family keeps on hand for special occasions. First up was a small dish of pork floss (rousong, usually a sweet/savory topping), followed by an intensely sweet and salty pork jerky (bak kwa), fried quickly to add a crisp texture.
Next, and more in keeping with the focus on round foods (Chinese pears, eggs, dumplings), were century eggs. Generally these are duck eggs that when preserved develop a deep blue/black color and a creamy, salty yolk.
The main event – the Prosperity Toss – saw the whole group gathered around a platter of salmon, carrot, cucumber, rice noodles, pickled daikon, cashews, plum sauce and lime juice salad. Calling out wishes for the new year, we all tossed the salad into the air with chopsticks to bring prosperity and wealth. With much of it now on the table, we tucked in quickly and collectively to the delicious, fresh-tasting first course.
Next, there was a noodle dish of bak choi, pepper, mushroom, sweet/savory chilli paste, fish sauce and sesame oil, also served in the middle of the table but this time with small plates. Apparently this was gone too quickly, or I was eating too eagerly, to capture it on film.
At last it was time for the dumplings. Our friend had made a big batch of carrot, beet, onion, cilantro (and some with feta) filling, which she and a housemate tucked into the first few rounds of fried dumplings. Piping hot, these were eaten with a black vinegar, fresh ginger and sesame oil sauce.
Once that pile of wrappers was finished, the dumpling-makers moved onto gyoza wrappers and the corresponding shape. I’d never known how to achieve the crispy-but-still-soft texture, and had a great time watching as these were pan-fried in a single layer first, then finished off with water and a lid to steam for a few minutes.
I was delighted to be watching and learning all evening, but the point was to get involved in building the dumplings ourselves. So we eventually joined those who had taken over the dumpling station and improved quickly enough to feel pretty confident that at least this part of the meal is something we will certainly replicate at home.