Monday, 26 December 2011

Winter Solstice 2011 Feast

I had completely forgotten that the Chinese traditionally has a festival to celebrate or commemorate the Winter Solstice.  Known as Dongzhi, the main (southern) Chinese traditional activity is for family to get together and have some tangyuan.  Feasts can also occur, especially in light of the family get-together, a significant event in any world culture.  Unfortunately, work commitments meant that my sister couldn't join us in time for Dongzhi.  Aside from tangyuan, neither my family or I have been aware of other traditional dishes from where my parents were raised, so my mother decided to make a few dishes involving food items I've really enjoyed at home.

A bowl of fuzzy melon soup.  Resting atop a piece of fuzzy melon is a slice of some form of reconstituted conch, added to enhance the flavour of the soup.
For starters, to warm the belly on a cool evening, was fuzzy melon soup.  Though at times pork bones or lean cuts of pork can be used to flavour the soup, my mother used a form of conch, packaged in dried form, instead.  Dried seafood can be very rich in flavour, and, unlike with pork, there's the bonus that the cook need not be concerned about trimming fat, ensuring a healthier soup.
Oysters stir-fried in what I'd call a "house sauce".
As for the main course dishes, all but one of the five dishes had seafood in it (with one of the non-seafood dishes being blanched gai lan to ensure some veggie content).  Mom knows that I loave oysters, so she stir-fried some with some red onions and what I'd call a "house sauce".  She mentioned that she was in a bit of an experimental mood and so tried mixng a variety of things such as satay, black bean and chili sauces together.  Not like the more traditional ginger-and-green-onion variety, but hey, it still tasted fine.
Salt and Pepper Tiger Prawns
Another dish my mother cooked was Salt and Pepper Shrimp, only that tiger prawns were used this time.  Definitely couldn't go wrong with these at all!
Steamed Chicken, Shiitake and Fish Maw
Mother also knows that I love fish maw, so she made Steamed Chicken, Shiitake and Fish Maw.  Fish maw is also known as a swim bladder, used by fish to maintain a degree of buoyancy.  It holds flavours from sauces and broths well, and is soft and slightly chewy in texture.
Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetable
The only meat dish that didn't feature seafood that evening was one of my childhood favourites, Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetable.  The pork belly is slowly cooked until much of the pork's fatty oils have been "squeezed" out, and it makes for quite a hearty and belly-warming dish!
Tangyuan, with lotus seed filling, in a ginger and rock sugar dessert "soup".
Later in the evening Mother made some tangyuan.  Tangyuan are small dessert dumplings made with glutinous rice flour and is often stuffed with something sweet.  Though red bean paste is often used, knowing that I still am no fan of red beans, my mother used lotus seed paste instead for filling.  For the dessert "broth", my mother also typically made one consisting of ginger root and rock sugar.  As glutinous flour is used, tangyuan can be quite chewy, and it is not surprising that it may sometimes try to stick on one' teeth or spoon if the surface those dumplings touch is dry.

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