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CHEF ILONA: Chinese New Year is celebrated with great food, traditions


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The start of the new year is often associated with feelings of excitement, possibility and hope. These feelings begin to fade mid-January as we get back into the swing of things at work and at home.

However, the zeal of the new year can be recaptured through embracing the festivities of Chinese New Year, which is rung in this year on Jan. 28, the date of the first new moon.

The celebrations last for 15 days and are steeped in tradition, which reaches far back into the days of ancient China.

My travels to China are always eye opening; I learn so much about cuisine as a holistic concept from the unique cultural perspective found in the Chinese culture.

Food is a powerful medium wherein which symbolism is communicated and cemented in the collective consciousness of the people.

During Chinese New Year, noodles are traditionally eaten as they symbolize long life - the longer the noodle, the longer the life.

Noodle dishes are some of my favourite dishes I enjoy while I am working in China. It is argued Sichuan cuisine is one of the standout provincial cuisines of the nation, and I tend to agree.

I have been to Sichuan province twice, and my last visit was truly an authentic exploration of the cultural cuisine found in the area.

Lost Plate Tours took me along with some hungry visitors to the spots for the most authentic dishes of Chengdu. The tour was so authentic, one of the restaurants I ate at was found in an apartment turned abode/eatery located in a repurposed Second World War military communications bunker.

Dan Dan noodles are a perennial favourite that I had the chance to sample while on this wild culinary adventure, and I knew this was a recipe that demanded sharing once I returned to Canada.

Chef Ilona Daniel always finds plenty of tasty inspirations on her visits to China.

Dan Dan Noodles

Created By: Chef Ilona Daniel

To plate the Dan Dan Noodles you will need:

Meat Mixture:

1 tbsp minced ginger

½ cup preserved Chinese mustard greens “zha cai” (you can skip it, but it really makes the dish awesome I think)

1 lb ground pork

½ tsp ground white pepper

½ tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorn

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

In a wok, or skillet, heat up oil over almost max heat, then add preserved mustard greens (yu cai), and ginger. Stir until the ginger becomes fragrant. Add in the pork, and combine with the vegetables. Continue to cook the mixture until all of the pork has turned white and is just starting to caramelize. At this point, add in the Sichuan peppercorns, white pepper. Stir-fry until the peppercorns become fragrant. Finally, add in both soy sauces, and allow all the meat to be coated and glazed. Set aside until you are ready to serve. Reheat as needed.

Sichuan hot oil is a must for tasty Dan Dan Noodles.

Sauce:

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn

1 tbsp minced ginger

4 green onions chopped (use the whites for this sauce & greens for garnish)

2 tbsp broad bean paste (found at Asian markets)

5 tbsp sesame paste

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp (or more to taste) Chinese black vinegar

2.5 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

Up to 5 tbsp hot oil (with sediment stirred and included. Available widely in Asian grocery stores.)

¼ cup cold is optional if you need to thin out the sauce a bit

In a pan or wok, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Start by adding in the ginger, garlic and the white portion of the green onions. Cook for about 1.5 minutes. Add in broad bean paste, sesame paste. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add in the remaining ingredients making sure to completely combine all of the ingredients. Heat through for another 2 minutes. Reserve until you are ready to serve the dish up.

To Plate:


Divide the sauce between 4 bowls. The sauce goes on the bottom of the bowls.

Place a serving of hot, just out of the pot noodles (thin wheat noodles) on top of the sauce

Arrange a kid-sized handful of blanched (quickly wilted in the same boiling water you just cooked the noodles in) spinach or bok choi around the noodles

Top with the meat mixture

Garnish with reserved chopped green onion, sesame seeds, and *fried peanuts

*(optional, but I love them in this dish)

Seductress Tip:

You can find the specialty ingredients easily at any of the Asian grocers found in Charlottetown. If you feel intimidated by the prospect of finding the ingredients at the shop on your own, show screen shots of what you need. The staff members at any of the stores are more than happy to help you! I definitely bring screen shots of ingredients I’m not sure I’ll be able to find regularly!

Chef Ilona Daniel's food column, Food Seductress, runs on the last Thursday of each month. She welcomes comments from readers by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com or on twitter: Twitter.com/chef_ilona.

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