We missed the new year deadline to move in to our new place, but realised later that we could make it for the Lunar New Year, so we worked tirelessly in January to speed up the renovations, and here we are! Yes, I'm writing to you from our new home! Hello, yoo-hoo, are you getting the signals from here? I'm not known to be superstitious but I do enjoy the significance of some symbolism in life. On the day we moved in, mandarin oranges were rolled into the house from the front door. Citrus fruits symbolize prosperity in Chinese culture, and the intention of this custom is obviously to encourage the flow of fortune into a new household. Oh, and we are not to sweep the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year lest we chase away good luck. These are some of the traditions I grew up with, and over the years, I've questioned some, neglected some and made some my own.
Mandarin oranges are called "kam" in Cantonese, which sounds similar to the word gold, making them a very important fruit during Chinese New Year for eating and gifting. I'm missing out on the festive feasting back home in Malaysia, a tradition I try to show up for every year, and this colorful salad recipe is my way of creating our own food tradition for the occasion.
The Chinese New Year ritual I miss the most is the communal tossing of a salad called Yee Sang that is unique to Malaysia and Singapore. As with most food and dishes during the celebration, every ingredient in the salad represents the abundance of goodness wished for in the new year. I've put this rainbow salad together in a similar fashion: purple, green, orange and red ingredients for all the healthful qualities they present, with slices of the symbolic mandarin orange as the star of the show.
The dressing is a rich, creamy blend of avocado with tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, considered to be a lucky ingredient. The avocado tree in the old house has finally bore fruit for the first time in five years, and I had to include it as a tribute to the wealth of fresh fruits and vegetables the backyard has blessed us with during our year there. That's the kind of symbolism I'm talking about. And for the grand finale, the salad is topped with toasted pistachios, known literally as "happy nuts" in Chinese because the cracked shells look like smiles! In the tradition of Yee Sang, one way to serve this salad is to toss all the ingredients as high as possible with chopsticks while uttering wishes for the new year. Or you can enjoy it quietly with a fork and be thankful for smiling nuts.
I wish everyone a healthy, happy and fulfilling new year!
Tell me in the comment section below: What's your lucky food?
Mandarin Rainbow Salad with Avocado Tahini Dressing
Eat the rainbow with this salad! Seasoning the salad ingredients before dressing the salad goes a long way, and adding ground cumin gives it an earthy touch that complements the creamy avocado tahini sauce. The sweet-tangy brightness of mandarin oranges and the rich crunch of pistachio nuts complete this hardy salad with a nice balance of taste and texture. Serves 4.
1/2 head purple cabbage, sliced thinly crosswise
1 large carrot, cut into thin strips
5 leaves of Swiss Chard, stems removed and cut into thin strips
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
A generous pinch of salt and pepper
1 mandarin orange, peeled and sliced crosswise
1/4 cup shelled and toasted pistachios, lightly crushed
1 ripe large avocado
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1 large mandarin orange
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
Prepare the dressing by blending all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until fully combined. Add water to your desired consistency. Mix all the salad ingredients, except mandarin orange and pistachios, in a large bowl and season with ground cumin, salt and pepper. Dress the salad and serve it topped with slices of mandarin orange and toasted pistachios.