Monday, February 7, 2011

OMG a Recipe: Tasty Lunar New Year Wishes

Last Thursday was the kickoff of the Lunar New Year, and I'm sure there were many feasts to be had. I didn't grow up celebrating Chinese New Year, beyond knowing what gung hay fat choi meant, and that the Chinatown in Los Angeles always threw a big, loud party. I'm also not Chinese, but that's beside the point, because in the end, isn't it nice to have another reason to celebrate a new year? Our edible ode to this Year of the Rabbit was less grand, more simply Asian-inspired, but I thought I'd share the little things that kicked off the new year, from January on through now.

Leftovers never looked so fancy - Photo by Wasabi Prime

One of the first things I made was more out of necessity than the Year of the Rabbit -- I used the ju bao or baked bun recipe from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings cookbook.  This has become one of my new favorite recipes, for its simple ingredients and versatility with different fillings. I've used the dough to stuff cooked meats and vegetables before baking, and also just baked it un-filled as little buns, then split to make it into rolls for Asian-style barbecue sliders. This time, I used it in a more traditional way, stuffing it with defrosted barbecue-style pork that I'd had in the freezer since the holidays, originally used for an Asian barbecue-style twist on a bahn-mi sandwich. I've been snacking on these little pork-filled buns, dipping in spicy chili paste and soy sauce to my heart's content. Or possible discontent, as I just got a cholesterol test done last week, so we'll see if this kind of eating will be the end of me.

Before February even strolled in, back in January I celebrated the new year Japanese-style, with typical shogatsu accoutrements like having mochi on the first day of the year and having soup with noodles. I didn't have the traditional mochi soup, a savory and simple broth that has a single plain rice cake set in the bottom of the bowl, but I do like the idea of starting out the first breakfast of the year with something a little lighter than fried eggs and bacon. I had my mochi as dessert and admittedly, I cheated, buying it ahead of time and cracking open the hermetically-sealed package on January 1st. But happy new year, nonetheless. Maybe it means 2011 will be wrapped in shrink wrap. And made in Taiwan.

Celebrating the new year with tasty family favorites - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Last week, it was less Lunar New Year and more mom's cooking that got me craving sweet and sour pork. I'm fairly certain this dish is about as traditional as General Tso's Chicken, but I do remember my mom making sweet and sour pork as one of her weekly mainstays. It was quick, not a lot of ingredients, and tasted good with rice -- the last item being a must in our household when I was growing up. Rice makes it nice. And yes, along with my cholesterol test, I had them test my blood sugar levels as well. Oy.

I did a more complicated twist on my mom's sweet and sour pork UnRecipe. I say UnRecipe because this was one of her usual dinners and after so many years of making it, I don't think she ever bothered to measure or keep track of exactly what was going in her version of the dish. I used pork shoulder and slow-cooked it for a day to help break down the fat and sinewy bits, as it's not a tender cut on its own. This adds extra cook time and the prep time can be cut down considerably by substituting with using a better cut of pork that cooks quickly, but I do like how the shoulder shreds up once it's slowly braised for hours. I used all dry powder seasonings just because when it's cooking for such a long time in the slow cooker, I don't really notice the difference between the fresh ingredients since it's all simmering away for so many hours and the flavors sort of run together.

Wasabi's Riff on Mama Wasabi's Sweet and Sour Pork

Ingredients for braising the meat - yes, you'll need a slow cooker/crock pot, it's just easier that way
2-3 lbs pork shoulder meat, cubed into large chunks
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons coriander powder
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

Ingredients for the final cooking of the dish
2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped into large bite-sized chunks
1 large onion, sliced
3-2 cups of fresh pineapple, cut into large chunks
1/4 cup of fresh pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of canola oil

Take your slow cooker and add the cubed pork shoulder and all the seasonings into the crock, both wet and dry. Toss to coat evenly, cover with the lid and let it cook on the highest setting for 6 to 7 hours until meat is tender and can easily be cut with a fork. This is good to do first-thing in the morning or the night before.

When the pork is cooked, skim off excess fat, remove the pork and the sauce formed from the cooking and set aside. Get a large skillet or wok  heated to medium high on the stove. Add the canola oil (or some of the skimmed pork fat) to coat the pan and start to saute the onion and bell peppers. Just cook until onion is starting to become translucent. Add the pork and the cooking sauce, toss to combine. Cook just until bell peppers are softenend, but not overcooked.

When everything is heated through, add the fresh pineapple chunks and pineapple juice. Turn off the heat so the pineapple chunks stay firm. Taste the sauce and add more rice wine vinegar or honey to modify the sweet or sour-ness of the dish to your taste. If the sauce is too loose, thicken by adding a cornstarch slurry, or leave it loose and serve over rice.  
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