'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

笑口棗 Fried sesame balls for Chinese New Year

As I write, it's New Year's Eve in Chinese calender, and soon we'll enter the year of the sheep. It's also the first time in five years that I'll spend the holiday in Hong Kong. Like Christmas, this is a time of homecoming when long separated family members reunite and gather round the parents' home. The customs vary in different parts of China, but it always involves 1. red packets (which I have received a couple) which are essentially pocket money from the elders to the young, and 2. lots of seasonal food.

Most of the food consumed in this time is made with rice, as the word for rice cake (年糕) rhymes with 年高 (a better/higher year). They come in many varieties and in Guangdong the three main varieties are radish, yam and cane sugar. Since these can be bought everywhere now even outside of China, I'm sharing another New Year's snack that is popular in Hong Kong: 笑口棗 which literally means 'laughing doughnuts'. Traditionally Cantonese families would fry crispy treats before the New Year to stock up their pantry for guests to nibble on. These doughnuts are essentially the same as a scone dough except that no dairy is used, and are fried as little balls coated with sesame seeds (rather than baked). The name 笑口棗 refers to the white interior which looks like a laughing mouth that puffs up after frying. To achieve this, the oil temperature mustn't be too hot or the protein on the surface of the dough will coagulate prematurely and the ball will not puff up in a 'laughing' manner. Who can resist crunchy fried doughnuts studded with sesame seeds? Forget the storebought versions that are as hard as a rock and taste of rancid oil and get frying!