When I was growing up in Shanghai, winter break from school usually began a week or so before Lunar New Year. My mother would take me and my brother to the fabric store, and then to the tailor’s to have new clothes made. For many years during our childhood, this would be the only time when new clothes were made — one set for cold weather and one set for warm weather. Though I loved to have new clothes, the more exciting part about winter break was the food preparation for the New Year. My brother and I would get up very early in the mornings leading up to the New Year’s Eve to stand in line to buy eggs, pork or rice cakes. Meat or poultry or belt fish would be hung on the clothesline on the balcony, which was like a natural fridge, to get “wind dried.” Once a year before the Lunar New Year, each family could also purchase the rationed luxury food of half a kilo of red dates, half a kilo of smoked black dates and half a kilo of peanuts. A man who traveled with a coal stove and a fire blackened popping contraption would arrive around this time to pop corn, rice or dried rice cake slices for the children in the neighborhood. The contraption would make a loud explosive sound when it was ready to pour out the popped grains, and the waiting crowd would cheer wildly. During those years of scarcity, the anticipatory thrill of the New Year feast was almost too much for me to bear.
There would always be cousins from out of town coming back to see their grandparents during this time. Their parents — my parents’ siblings — had been assigned jobs in remote regions where life was much harder than ours in Shanghai. I envied them for having the opportunity to ride in trains. Little did I know how hard the train trips were during Lunar New Year when some of my cousins had to sit or sometimes stand in packed trains for two days to get to Shanghai.
My mother called me from Shanghai to tell me that she and my father are meeting with their siblings in Shanghai for lunch today. Like me, most of their children now live in America. And our children have no idea what New Year feast used to mean to us.
Today, I taught Audrey how to make dumplings — a Lunar New Year must-eat food. It’s supposed to bring prosperity to the family for the shape of the dumpling resembles Yuan Bao — the ancient gold bullion.
2 pack store-bought dumpling wrappers
Water, for wrapping
Filling for Pork Shrimp Cabbage Dumplings:
8 oz ground pork
4 oz shelled and deveined shrimp, cut into small pieces
1/2 heaping cup thinly sliced Napa cabbage 1 stalk scallion, cut into small rounds
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Shaoxing wine or rice wine
3 dashes white pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
A good pinch of salt
Filling for Spinach Braised Tofu Dumplings:
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry
6 oz. braised tofu, or Five Spice Tofu or Wildwood Savory tofu
5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and squeezed dry, chopped
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A good pinch of salt
A dash of white pepper powder
1 egg white
1 teaspoon corn starch
Chinese black vinegar
Mix all the ingredients of the Filling in a bowl, stir and mix to combine well. Set aside. To make the Dipping Sauce, combine some 1 portion of black vinegar, 1 portion of soy sauce, 1/2 portion sesame oil, scallion and pepper flakes in a small sauce dish.
To assemble the dumplings, take a piece of the dumpling wrapper and add about 1 heaping teaspoon of the Filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your index finger into a small bowl of water and circle around the outer edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold the dumpling over to form a half-moon shape. Finish by pressing the edges with your thumb and index finger to make sure that the dumpling is sealed tight.
If you want to the dumplings to sit up, you fold the wrap one said flat and the opposite side bunched. Place the dumplings on a flat and floured surface to avoid them from sticking to the surface. Repeat the same to use up all the filling. The dumplings taste the best when eaten freshly wrapped, but you can also freeze the dumplings for future enjoyment.
Heat up a pot of water until it boils. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and cover the pot. As soon as the dumplings start to float (meaning they are cooked), remove them using a slotted spoon, draining the excess water and serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
Or you can make potstickers by heating up 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick pan, making sure the the entire bottom of the pan is coated with oil. Line the dumplings in the pan. Let the dumplings sit and sizzle for half a minute and pour 2/3 cup of water with 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar into the pan and cover the lid. When the water is dry, the potstickers are ready.
Recipe adapted from: http://rasamalaysia.com