Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Celebrate... Chinese New Year

I really love Chinese food, and making your own at home can be a great way to keep an eye on sodium and additive levels. The following are two ideas for popular family friendly Chinese dishes, and great way to get some fresh vegetables into the kids.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

With a heritage in both Chinese and Southern States cooking, there are loads of variations on sweet and sour sauce, but I'd say this definitely one from the Chinese camp. Obviously chicken and pork are the meats best associated with sweet and sour dishes, but if your not a meat eater this can make a great glaze for vegetable kebabs (perhaps add a dollop of honey for extra stickiness). Pineapple seems to be one of those love/hate ingredients; personally I love it, but if you're a hater, this recipe will do fine without. This will do enough sauce for four people.

100ml of soda water
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar or failing that, white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of tomato purée
2 tablespoons of sherry
1 tablespoon of corn flower 
Zest and juice of half a large, unwaxed lemon.

Optional Stir Fry ingredients
50g pinapple, cut into chunks
1 Green Pepper, sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped

In a bowl mix together the cornflower, lemon zest and soda water with a balloon whisk or fork until combined. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

In a wok, stir fry the onion and any meat you are using until browned (extra crispiness can be achieved by tossing the meat in a little seasoned cornflower first). Add the peppers and pineapple and cook for an additional 5 minutes on medium heat. Finally add your sauce, stirring continuously until thick and shiny. This should only take a few minutes.

Spinach Fried Rice

A great accompaniment to Sweet and Sour dishes, and an excellent means of vegin' up the dish. Normal rice cooking instructions would say 50-75g per person and will have range of cooking times depending on what type of rice you use. Follow the packet's instructions and have the rice just cooked, drained and ready to go into this dish. When cooking your rice, in order to get a great flavour and fluffiness, I recommend covering in plenty of cold water, bringing to the boil, squeezing in the juice of half a lemon or lime, giving a rapid stir, leaving the lemon or lime in pan, putting the lid on and turning right down for the remainder of the cooking time.

Cooked rice for 4 people
Four handfuls of fresh spinach
Two cloves of garlic, crushed.
Four or five scallions, finely chopped
Generous amount of rape seed oil (aprox 4 tablespoons)

When cooking use a good quality non stick pan or wok. Fry your scallions and garlic on high heat in about half the oil until soft. Add the remainder of the oil and add your cooked rice. Immediately turn down the heat to a low setting, stir the rice continuously, making sure it is all being coated and absorbing the oil. If the pan and oil are hot enough this should only take a few minutes - any longer and you risk burning the rice. Finally remove from the heat and stir in the spinach. Put the lid on the pan, let rest for a minute or two before serving, breaking it up with a large fork before hand.

If you can, make an event of celebrating Chinese New Year. Use chopsticks, which the kids will love and is a great skill to pick up at a young age. There are many variations when it comes to using chopsticks, in terms of regional etiquette, dining location and chopstick design. Asia Recipe has a great 'how to guide' that is worth checking out. Put more than anything, enjoy the family event and maybe slip the kids a bit of lucky money if they've been good (perhaps as a reward for trying something new?).

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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