Asian Pear and Dried Fig Soup + California Fig Road Trip

Asian Pear and Dried Fig Soup + California Fig Road Trip

Did you know that there are believed to be more than 1,500 varieties of figs in the world? The first time I had a fig and fell in love with it was in Turkey. It was one of the dark skin varieties, Mission or Brown Turkey, which to me at that time was mysterious and exotic. The love affair continued when I moved to a house in California with an old fig tree that produces little green figs called Kadota. 

I learned to identify the types of figs I was eating, even when they were dried. It wasn't much later that I realized my family in Malaysia had been cooking with dried figs, particularly to make herbal soups, and that I was enjoying these elixirs without knowing the presence of figs in them. The recipe I'm sharing today, although much simplified in terms of ingredients, is a tribute to that tradition. 

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Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

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.)  

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Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan) + A Pumpkin Party!

Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan) + A Pumpkin Party!

The last time I shared a kitchen with my family in Malaysia was on the night before my little brother's wedding, making tang yuan with aunts, uncles, and cousins I had lost touch with for many years. 

Tang yuan are sticky balls made of glutinous rice flour that sometimes have a sweet peanut, black sesame seed or red bean filling, served in a spicy ginger soup. These dumplings are usually made during the Winter Solstice festival (happening soon) or on the occasion of a family reunion. 

In Chinese tradition, the roundness and stickiness of the balls symbolize harmony and unity within the family. Rarely do we make tang yuan for no special reason, and they are almost always done around a table full of family members involved in various stages of the cooking process. Kneading, the shaping of balls, boiling and scooping, talking loudly, and laughing are all part of the ritual. 

That night, we were honoring the union of two people, and it was one of the most joyous tang yuan making sessions I've ever had in my life.  

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Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

I come to you today with several discoveries. Firstly: Parsnip! Can you believe I had parsnip for the first time only a few weeks ago? Well, it's actually perfectly believable considering I moved to California less than 1.5 years ago from a tropical country that eats vegetables like kangkung and choy sum. Believable but perhaps not forgivable that I took so long to get to it.

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