Peanuts for a long life, sticky rice for togetherness, red beans for love, oranges for good fortune... And all that sweetness for a sweet life in the new year!
Make no mistake, Chinese New Year is about food: the preparation, cooking, and eating are all a part of the ceremonious celebration that lasts about two weeks. It is when we eat special foods that carry symbolic significance for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. It is also when food is in abundance and generously shared to bring forth a full and contented spirit to start the year with. At this time of the year, more is always better and sharing truly is caring!
Today, in celebration of the lunar new year, I have two sweet recipes for you: Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi that are especially delicious enjoyed together. The recipes are adapted from the impressive China: The Cookbook, my friendly cooking companion this festive season. And it could be yours too as I'm giving away a copy! (Scroll down for details on how to win.)
While desserts are not typically a part of everyday Chinese meals, sweet foods have a major presence during a special occasion like this, when cookies are gifted to family and friends, and sweet treats are offered on the customary Tray of Togetherness for guests to enjoy. Sweet dishes symbolize a sweet life and by offering them, well wishes are made.
There's a Chinese New Year tradition of eating sticky rice desserts like sticky rice cake (nian gao), sticky rice balls (tang yuan), and mochi because the stickiness symbolizes harmony and unity within the family. The cooking process, especially with the hands-on ball rolling, can be a fun social activity. The mochi we're making today is coated in a fragrant mixture of toasted ground peanuts, toasted ground sesame seeds, and coconut sugar for a really satisfying chew.
If you've read my previous post, you'd know that I'm a big fan of the lightly-sweetened tong sui (Asian sweet soup). I love it for two simple reasons: it can be made with healthful ingredients and is usually served warm, which is perfect for the winter lunar new year I find myself in now that I live in the US.
Red Bean Soup (hong dou sui in Cantonese) is an all-time favorite and extremely easy to make. All you really need are red beans, which are also called azuki or adzuki beans, and some sugar. This humble legume is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, making it a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. A bowl of simple red bean soup is filling, comforting, and healing. Serve it with peanut mochi for a delicious festive treat!
Making Dried Orange Peels
The addition of dried orange peels in red bean soup gives it an inviting citrus scent that contrasts nicely with the earthiness of the beans. You can buy the dried peels (known as chen pi) from Asian herbal stores but I've decided to make my own from the mandarin oranges I've been gobbling. Peels from different citruses will, of course, give different flavors. I used mandarin because it's in season now and the peel is usually thinner with less of the bitter pith (the white spongy layer between the fruit and the skin).
Opt for organic if you can, but in any case clean the oranges well under running water, then pat dry. Try to peel the skin of each fruit in one piece so you have larger pieces to work with. Place the peels directly under the sun for about three days or until they are thoroughly dried and brittle. If you're not getting enough sun, dehydrate them in the oven on low. Store the dried orange peels in an air-tight container.
Dried orange peels are not only used in desserts and, based on the recipes in China: The Cookbook, can also be added to stir-fries and stews.
China: The Cookbook
With over 650 authentic recipes from all over China, husband-and-wife team Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fung Chan have produced a hefty cookbook on one of the world's oldest and richest cuisines. The duo are accomplished authors whose authority in Chinese food is apparent in the clear instructions and nuggets of insightful information that accompany some of the recipes. Whether you're new to Chinese cooking or an old hand in need of inspiration, there's something to discover in its gilded pages that cover everything from stir-fries and soups to rice and noodle dishes from different regions of the country.
This is a cookbook I know I'll be referring to a lot for preparing Chinese food in my American kitchen, and I think you'll enjoy it too! As part of the Lunar New Year celebration, I'd like to give you a chance to win a copy of China: The Cookbook. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for instructions on how to enter. (If you'd like to purchase the cookbook, click here to get a 30% discount!)
Happy Lunar New Year! May your new year be filled with sweetness!
For more festive sweet recipes, check out the Sweet Lunar New Year post and the Chinese New Year Cookie Party. Let's connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.
Red Bean Soup
Serves 4. Adapted from China: The Cookbook.
1 heaping cup red beans (azuki)
1 large piece dried mandarin peel
100g rock sugar (or regular sugar), to taste
Coconut cream, to serve
Soak the red beans in water for at least 4 hours or overnight. They will expand in size so use enough water to cover the beans.
Drain the beans and place them in a deep pot with 9 cups of water. Bring to a boil and add the dried mandarin peel. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for about 2 hours, uncovered. Stir frequently to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add a little water if it gets too thick.
Add sugar to taste and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes to let the sugar completely dissolve. Ladle into individual serving bowls and serve warm with coconut cream on top.
· Refer to the notes in the post above for instructions on making your own dried mandarin peel.
· Rock sugar, also packaged as lump sugar or candy (see a photo here), is crystallized raw sugar commonly used in making Asian sweet soup. It usually comes in two forms, big irregular lumps with a coarse surface or more manageable in small rectangular shapes, and is better measured by weight in a recipe.
Serves 4. Adapted from China: The Cookbook.
1/2 cup raw peanuts, shelled
4 tablespoons white sesame seeds
4 tablespoons coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
100g glutinous rice flour (about 1 cup from the brand I used)
1/2 cup tepid water
In a small pan over low heat, toast the peanuts for 6-7 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool. In the same pan, repeat the process with the sesame seeds for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool. In a food processor, process the toasted peanuts until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl. Then process the toasted sesame seeds until coarsely ground. Combine the ground peanuts, ground sesame seeds, and coconut sugar in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
To make the dough, place glutinous rice flour in a large bowl and gradually add water while kneading with the hands until a putty-like dough is formed. The dough is ready when it no longer stick to your hands. Add a little flour or water as needed. It should be soft, pliable, and not too wet. Take out a piece of dough (about one-ninth) and steam, covered, for 30 minutes until sticky and cooked through. In the meantime, cover the rest of the dough with a damp towel and set aside.
Add the steamed dough to the remaining dough in the bowl and knead well until combined. With your hands, roll out balls of about 3/4-inch in diameter and place them on a heatproof plate. Place the plate in the steamer and steam, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the plate from heat and allow the mochi to cool down enough to handle. Roll the mochi balls in the ground peanut and sesame mixture until fully coated. Serve.
China: The Cookbook Giveaway
I am giving away one copy of China: The Cookbook. Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter.
- This giveaway is open from 28th January to 11th February, 2017 at 11.59PM PST
- It is open to residents of the US with a valid address in the US only
- One winner will be selected and notified by email (please enter valid email address)
UPDATE: This giveaway has ended. Congratulations, Anthony P.!