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Chinese New Year meal

The Chinese New Year meal is, more than anything, a social event; after all, the New Year is the most important family celebration of the year. According to tradition, the family includes not only the surviving members but also relatives and ancestors who have already passed away. The ancestors enjoy their festive meal via the delicious scents that spread from the steaming food dishes throughout the room.

The New Year’s meal is exceptionally rich and delicious. There are dozens of differently prepared delicacies on offer: meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, mushrooms, cabbage, beans and bamboo shoots. In China, fish symbolises abundance, which is why fish is an integral part of the New Year dinner.

An essential part of the New Year’s meal in northern Chinese cuisine is jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings, which traditionally have a meat and vegetable filling. Making jiaozi is also a family event, and friends may also be invited. Jiaozi are either boiled, steamed or pan-fried. The cooked jiaozi are dipped in a soy-vinegar sauce – delicious! As there are more Asian food shops in towns, it is easy to buy frozen jiaozi and cook them at home to your liking. Asian shops also sell raw materials specifically for making jiaozi. If there are no specialty shops near you, you can try Marja Kaikkonen’s recipe below. You should be able to find the ingredients in an ordinary supermarket.

Jiaozi (饺子)

(This recipe is from the book Syödään kuten Kiinassa (Marja Kaikkonen, Finland-China Society, 1983)

Dough

750 ml plain flour
250–300 ml water

Filling

300-400 g minced pork (ground only once)
500 g Chinese leaf lettuce
1+1 tsp salt
1 small leek
1 tsp fresh root ginger, finely grated
½ tbsp soy sauce
pepper
2 tsp sesame oil
(2 tbsp bamboo shoots, finely chopped)
(½ tsp seasoned salt)

Start with the dough:  in a bowl, mix the flour and water. Knead the dough until smooth.

Finely chop the cabbage and toss with one teaspoon of salt. Marinate for an hour and then squeeze out the water. Mix the cabbage with the other ingredients.

Divide the dough into three parts and roll each part out into one long piece. Divide each piece into at least fifteen parts and roll each into a thin circle wrapper, about 5–6 cm in diameter. Place a little filling in the middle of each wrapper, fold in half, crimping the edges to create a pleated effect on top of the dumpling. Set the dumplings on a flour-dusted tray so that they do not stick together.

Boil a large pan of water and carefully place the dumplings in the water, about 20 at a time. Boil for about 5 minutes at a low temperature so that the dumplings do not break, and then lift them from the pan with a skimmer. Serve as soon as possible.

You can season the water with salt and serve as a soup at the end of the meal. Dip the dumplings in soy sauce. You can add minced garlic, chopped leek or sugar to taste to the soy sauce. Dumplings can also be steamed on a cloth like meat pies. Freeze the dumplings before cooking them.

Caramelised apples, anyone? Apples can be replaced with other fruit or even meat – the only limit is your imagination.

Caramelised apples (苹果 苹果)

(This recipe is from the book Syödään kuten Kiinassa (Marja Kaikkonen, Finland-China Society, 1983)

2 cooking apples
about 1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp sesame seeds
150 ml sugar
cooking oil

Dough

1 large or 2 small eggs
5 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp potato flour
3 tbsp water

Peel the apples and cut each one into eight pieces. Sprinkle the wheat flour over the apple pieces and mix so that the pieces are completely covered in flour. Mix together the ingredients for the dough.

Grease a serving plate with oil and sprinkle half of the sesame seeds on it. Have a bowl of ice water ready on the table. Heat at least 5 cm of oil in a small saucepan. Dip the apple slices in the dough and drop them one by one into the hot oil. Fry until beautifully golden brown and place on paper towels to drain.

Heat 2 tsp of oil and sugar in a thin-bottomed saucepan or frying pan. Stir all the time. Once the sugar has melted but has not yet turned dark, lower the heat under the pan, add the apple pieces and mix gently so that the apples are covered with sugar. Place the apples on the plate and sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds on top of them. Be quick!

Dip chopsticks in the water and lift the apples one by one high from the plate and dip them in the ice water. Place them on the edges of the same dish or directly in bowls ready to be served. Everyone needs to get involved in this process as it needs to be done as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the sugar hardens into a lump. If the sugar has reached the right temperature, it stretches into thin yarns when the apples are lifted and created an ornament over the plate and bowls. This gave the food its name.

It is not easy to control the temperature of the sugar so if you manage to make the sugar stretch on your first attempt, you can give yourself a pat on the back. It is important to know how your hob works – especially if it is an electric one – as is using the right cookware. The bottom of a thick-bottomed pan stores so much heat that the sugar continues to turn dark even after it has been taken off the stove, so it is better to use a thin-bottomed pan. You can try to delay the sugar from going dark by adding a little bit of oil to it when it has melted. You will achieve the best results by experimenting.