Last night was Chinese New Years, so my friends and I made our way to a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan to hear the clamor of other Chinese people and the clinking of china. Like the obedient Chinese kids we are, we ordered all of the auspicious foods traditionally eaten during New Years. Our table overflowed with noodles (long life), fish (luck and prosperity), chicken (family coming together), oranges (wealth), dumplings (fortune), and more. We're gonna be rich, bitch!
This is the fifth year that I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year without my family. so I've been trying to recreate family dinners – minus the home-cooked dishes and sadly, minus Po-Po.
If I had gone home this year, however, things would have been a little different. First of all, I’m too old to collect red envelopes filled with cash from my elders. As a gainfully employed 30-year-old, I AM one of the elders. I would have jealously side-eyed my niece as she received hers. After all, those little red envelopes are a rich part of Chinese tradition, and they do so much to validate one’s youth and naiveté.
I was on the receiving end for a long time. But of course, I splurged on obnoxious things like this giant Hello Kitty doll that became a spooky, overly cutesy trespasser in my room. It sat in the corner – its big black circular eyes constantly watching me. Even so, I felt triumphant seeing it. I felt like a self-made woman.
Then, one year, my parents came up short for the electricity bill. My dad had foolishly squandered money in a company that foundered and time in an affair. When the lights wouldn’t come on, my mom panicked and unwillingly asked to borrow money from my New Year’s savings. I hesitated, naturally. I thought about all the Lisa Frank stickers and WWF lunch boxes I still wanted to buy. But those little red envelopes – they teach us that in order to receive, we must be willing to give back.
The second reason why Chinese New Years would have been a little odd this year is because Po-Po is no longer the kitchen headmaster. Our potluck-style family dinners – while fun – aren’t the same without Po-Po hurriedly scurrying from kitchen to dining room bearing impressive plates of food. She is physically unable to put in the hours it takes to chop, dice, steam, fry, boil for days. My mom likes to remind me that Po-Po deserves the break. I don’t think she wants it.
There is simply nothing like seeing her across the room, beaming as we devour what she’s cooked. Watching us attack the food like a pack of wild dogs makes all of the sacrifices she’s made in her life worthwhile.
Next year, I’m going to host my New Years dinner at home. I'll invite a ton of friends. We'll laugh a lot and enjoy some good home-cooking. And importantly, we're going to give each other red envelopes.
Pork and Cabbage Fried Dumplings 猪肉白菜锅贴
Makes a bunch
Dumplings are a MUST to eat during Chinese New Years. Shaped like Chinese golden ingots, dumplings represent fortune, luck, wealth, and all that other stuff we all want. This is my take on Po-Po’s recipe. Eat with a side of Po-Po's signature sauce.
5 cups flour + more for rolling
2 cups hot water (or more if needed)
1.5 lbs ground pork
5 cups cabbage, finely chopped
3 Tbs soy sauce
2.5 tsp salt
3 Tbs sesame oil
1 raw egg
3.5 Tbs ginger, minced
3.5 Tbs garlic, minced
1 cup green onion, minced
3 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp ground white pepper
To make the skins:
In a medium sized mixing bowl, gently pour hot water into flour mixture. With chopsticks or mixing spoon, stir together continuously while pouring. Keep stirring until dough forms. Knead with hands until thoroughly combined. Dough should be slightly sticky but shiny. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes, covered.
Dust cutting board and rolling pin with flour. Place dough on cutting board. Knead until ball forms. With a sharp knife, cut dough into four equal quadrants. Start three pieces aside. With the remaining piece, form a ball and then a long snake-like tube about 1.5 inches thick. Cut 1/2-inch thick pieces. With a rolling pin and wring with one piece at a time, roll out dough into a thin, circular disc. Flour the rolling pin and cutting board often. Flour dumpling wrappers often so they don’t stick to each other.
To make the filling:
Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
To make the dumplings:
(If you’re right-handed.)
Cup wrapper in your left palm. Spoon a tablespoon of filling into center of wrapper. Fold one side of the wrapper to meet the other. Pinch to seal the middle. Pinch dumpling skin from both sides to meet int he middle, creating a fan-like fold. Dust filled dumpling with flour and set on a baking sheet.
After baking sheet is filled, place in freezer. When dumplings are frozen, transfer to a ziplock bag.
Heat oil in medium skillet. Place dumpling flat side down in hot skillet, and cook until browned. Pour 1/2 cup of water into pan and immediately cover pan with lid. Check to see when water has evaporated. Time will vary depending on how many dumplings you’re cooking!