One my first essays on food was about my mother-in-law, who welcomed me to my husband’s home in Trinidad with curried armadillo, a local delicacy. This was an appropriate beginning to a relationship centered in the kitchen. We both love the kitchen and are both capable of letting the hours pass us by as we cook for our family in the kitchen. Just not at the same time. (I think there must be at least one other mother-in-law/daughter-in-law pair out there familiar with the scenario of too many cooks in the kitchen.) I’ve told my husband, with only the slightest hint of exaggeration, that no kitchen would be big enough his mother and me to cook together. More politely, I urge my mother-in-law, who we call “Mommy,” to take it easy, she is my guest, let me do the cooking this time.
A lot of that has to do with my difficulty handling play-by-play correction/advice (“Not like that, like this!”). But we also have two different cooking styles. I do enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, but I am also a fan of trying new recipes. My mother-in-law, I thought until recently, never used recipes, being instead the kind of intuitive cook that most of our mothers and grandmothers are. Well, the things you don’t know about people! After nearly twenty years of cooking in parallel, if not collaboratively, I learned, while chatting over the appearance of a boiled Hainanese style chicken, that my mother-in-law sometimes uses recipes. “They said to add one cup of water,” was the revelation that cast her in a whole new light. “Who said?” I queried. “The newspaper,” came the surprising response. Now, it seemed, I could learn to cook from her.
“Mommy,” I asked tentatively, “Can you teach me how to make har gao?” For those of you unfamiliar with the name, you’ve likely tasted these translucent and lovely shrimp dumplings if you’ve ever had dim sum.
Chinese New Year is on Monday 1/23/12, when we’ll usher in the Year of the Dragon. By now, Chinese households are traditionally given a thorough cleaning, new clothes are bought for new beginnings, and preparations are underway to prepare a special meal of symbolic foods to be eaten on the eve of the new year. Dumplings, whose shape resemble gold ingots, are traditionally made on the new year for prosperity. I usually make pork-filled dumplings in prepared potsticker wrappers, but I thought I try something new this time. In addition to the good luck associated with dumplings, shrimp is associated with joy and laughter. New year, new beginnings, and a new start in the kitchen with my mother-in-law, who shared with me her recipe for har gao. Gung hay fat choy!
Lucky Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gao)
Making the dough to wrap these dumplings is tricky. Instructions are sufficient as a start, but only side-by-side coaching and practice can perfect this skill. Boiling hot water is used to make the dough, which requires fast moving and teflon-coated hands. After the torturous kneading, make sure to keep the dough covered with plastic wrap or a moist cloth at all times because it dries out fast. It’s also a particularly sticky dough, so I recommend keeping your work surface and hands lightly oiled. Finally, the dough is delicate, so it needs to be rolled thin enough to be attractive, but thick enough to prevent breakage. Heed these warnings and you’ll create some lovely, love-filled dumplings. These make a great, light meal served with a soy based or chilli dipping sauce and some stir-fried Chinese greens.
Filling recipe is adapted from Chinesefood.about.com.
Yield: 30-36 dumplings (depending on size and your dumpling wrapping ability)
Here are a few other lucky Chinese New Year recipes:
-Tea eggs (eggs are symbolic of fertility)
-Potstickers (symbolic of traditional gold ingots and prosperity)
-Flowering chive omelet (the Chinese word for flowering chives is a homophone for “everlasting”, thus a symbol of longevity)
And please visit these other Chinese New Year posts on the Chinese New Year Blog Hop organized my friend Grace at HapaMama.com:
Bicultural Mama: Symbolism of Chinese New Year’s Foods
I’m Not the Nanny: Lunar New Year Activities in DC and Baltimore
Travels With Baby: Celebrating Chinese New Year in Taiwan
Cheryl Tan/A Tiger in the Kitchen: Turnip Cake
Jeanette’s Health: Chinese New Year Traditions
Wok Star: Chinese New Year Stir Fry