Under the influence of Confucianism (儒家思想), my family has been observing 1-year mourning over the loss of my grandpa since Father’s Day last year. However, most of my relatives are urban dwellers who race against time while juggling between family and work. We hardly have time to do some visiting. So, Lunar New Year seems like the only opportunity for us to catch up with each other. We still join in the festivities – but less elaborately.
Reunion dinner is a must for many Chinese. We call it 團圓飯 (pronunciation in Mandarin: tuan yuan fan / Cantonese: too-WIN yoo-WIN fahn), in which 圓 means “round.” For us, beauty, happiness and perfection equate roundness, which is so true of family reunion. It’s such a beautiful thing and a complete entity on its own. I feel so blessed with constant shower of love and attention from my loved ones.
My elder baby brother helping himself with the food on our reunion dinner table. (Sorry for the lousy shot!)
Last year, I was invited to join the feast by my Chinese professor from Shenyang, Liaoning (遼寧沈陽). Being away from home, an occasional gathering such as this lessened my homesickness in friends’ company. It got even more fun when our American and other international friends came and reveled away with us. Authentic northeastern Chinese dishes (東北菜) were served. There was a bit of culture shock, but we learned a lot from each other. I even remember our friends saying, “Man, this is the best food I’ve ever had!” I miss you guys!
As a northern Chinese herself, my Chinese professor was one of those who introduced me to the art and joy of eating Chinese dumplings, or jiaozi (餃子). Jiaozi form an essential part of the Northern cuisines. My family is of southern Chinese descent. So, we weren’t too familiar with jiaozi. Because we aren’t big eaters, we just prepared more food, in greater variety, than what we’d usually have (大魚大肉). For us southern Chinese descendants, there’s got to be a plate of chicken or pork, fish or shrimps, vegetable and a big pot of soup on the table. Just to share with you though it’s sort of embarrassing, I tried to make boiled jiaozi – but they flopped! They looked downright ugly and unappetizing, but they tasted good. This won’t be my first ever attempt. I know it takes practice to perfect my wrapping and shaping skills. So, more jiaozi and gyoza (鍋貼) to come in the future! Argh …!
Ugly ducklings: my jiaozi
Beauties: my professor's home-made jiaozi
On the next morning, we turned into vegetarians just for that 1 hour. It’s been a tradition in our house. My mom got up early to make her version of Buddha's delight (羅漢齋) and soup dessert (or tong sui 糖水 in Cantonese.) They were all good old home-cookin’. (Yes, you heard me right! We love sweet runny desserts. LOL! Learn more about it here and here.)
My mom dishing up her tong sui right before we had breakfast that Morning.
The dessert was a soup sweetened with palm sugar and it had glutinous rice balls (湯圓), lotus seeds (蓮子), ginkgo nuts (白果) and dried longan (桂圓). It’s unusual; it’s my mom’s blend of stuff. On the other hand, the medley consists of edible fungi and algae, dried bean curd (腐竹) and vegetables — and perhaps, there are more that I can’t recall now – that are stir-fried together. (Hey, I should try cook this up one day and share with you all. We’ll see …) One thing for sure is it didn’t have any of the five pungent spices forbidden in Buddhism (五葷): garlic, onion, shallot, scallion, and Chinese chives. They are thought to easily provoke human’s sexual desire. Well, true or not? You’ll be the judge, yea?
Buddha's delight, or Law Hon Zah-eey 羅漢齋
So, besides being a troublemaker, what else would a snoopy Pei-Lin be doing in the kitchen?
Picture courtesy of Starstore.com
我終于在年三十晚收工了！(Mission accomplished on New Year’s Eve!) My Lunar New Year bake-a-thon officially ended on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. I worked on New Year’s Eve! Dang! We’ve been told to paint ourselves red every New Year. Ironically, one-half of my body was enrobed in black while the other half in gray. See, I totally forgot about this unspoken rule. But, that didn’t bother my family much. In the end, I became the Pillsbury Doughboy wannabe! Hahaha …! I became literally in “white,” thanks to the whirlwinds of flour from making jiaozi and these irresistibly yummy cookies!
We’ve got a neighbor who’s a darn good baker. She’s good enough to sell her goodies, leaving people craving for more of her signature pineapple tarts (黃梨餅) and green pea cookies (豌豆酥). I can’t recall when, but I remember she introduced these little emeralds to us a few years ago. Too bad, she will never, ever share her knowledge and recipes with others. What’s worse, she criticizes what others have made and offered her even though the food itself is good, which sounds discouraging. Her tastes are too classy for a commoner like me, eh? She once told us, “All these are from my hard-earned money.” I do respect her stance on that, but what about all the bloggers who have been so willingly and generously sharing experience, knowledge and recipes with the rest of us! I even shut my mouth up as a secret food blogosphere admirer for 2 years! Tsk, tsk!
So, we love her green pea cookies. But, it’s just such a pain to spend USD8 for a jar of these cookies. (Yes, I’m stingy! ;P) Deep down, I know they aren’t difficult to make: It’s about patience, persistence and will. Boy, it was such a happy accident when I chanced upon Swee San’s recipe.
In Malaysia and Singapore, roasted and salted dried peas are a popular snack that are commonly found and sold by the local Indians. Once cooked and cooled, these peas turn crunchy and keep real well at room temperature. We snack on them like how you’d to M&M's. That said, green pea-ness is what green pea cookies (豌豆酥) are about. Duh! So, how can you tell if it’s a good one?
These little emeralds should look green – the natural way – due to the ground green peas. They will cast a spell on you with their highly addictive nuttiness – even children wouldn’t say “yuck” to green peas, like my peas-hating brothers. The cookies have to be sweet and outright salty. They stay intact in your hand; they fall apart in your mouth. They slowly dissolve as they reach your throat. They even surprise you with a lil’ crunch here and there, thanks to the green peas.
Swee San, thank you for sharing such a fabulous recipe! My family ate 1/3 of the batch and gave the rest to my vegetarian aunt as a gift (見面禮) for the New Year. She loves it, too!
On the next post, I’m going to share with you some of the special moments from my Lunar New Year this year. Till then, stay tuned! As for now, here’s the recipe for the yummilicious green pea cookies. Thanks once again, Swee San, for sharing this great recipe.
Green Pea Cookies 豌豆酥 (Adapted from Swee San's)
140 g unsalted dried green peas
30 g powdered sugar
30 g powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
*Omit salt if you're using salted dried green peas*
*Omit salt if you're using salted dried green peas*
170 g plain/all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cornstarch
100 mL neutral-flavored oil, or more -- please adjust the quantity accordingly
*I used rice bran-canola oil. Peanut and sunflower seed oil works, too! But no olive and palm oil, please!*
1 slightly beaten egg yolk, for glazing (optional)
**Milk works, too, especially for vegetarians who don't take eggs. The downside is the peas aren't going to stick to the top of the cookies real well. So, just leave out the extra peas, which are meant for garnishing**
Enough dried green peas, for garnishing
- In a wok (or something similar), constantly stir to roast the peas over low heat, till some sort of nutty aroma starts to seep out. Turn off the heat and let the peas cool completely. This additional step yields cookies that smell and taste much better.
- Once the peas have cooled completely, in a food processor or something with similar functions, thoroughly pulverize them together with 30 g powdered sugar. You won't end up entirely with real fine green pea meal, but that's OK. After all, you're going to need those specks of peas for that added aesthetic value and a little crunch along the way, right?
- Combine (A) together and sift well, then stir in the mixture of green pea meal and powdered sugar until evenly combined
- Gradually stir the oil into the dry mixture -- mixing as you pour in the oil -- until a dough has formed, i.e. one that stays intact and won't crumble. However, don't use too much oil because you may wind up with a very sticky and wet dough
***It took me close to 200 mL oil. All these depend on the quality of the ingredients you use. I didn't use any store-bought green pea flour, which is finer and greener in color -- less aromatic, too.***
- Divide the dough by 10 g, then roll each out to get the shape of a ball; arrange them those "green balls" on parchment-lined baking trays
****I started out by weighing the first few ones to get 10 g each exactly. Then, I got lazy and just eye-balled. Hey, talking about efficiency ...****
- Glaze those "green balls" with slightly beaten egg yolk, then stick one dried pea onto the center of each cookie -- press the pea down slightly to "lock it in place." If you're using milk to glaze the cookies, leave out the extra peas for garnishing entirely.
- Bake at 170C for 15 minutes until the surface of the cookies has turned golden in color
- Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them onto cooling racks to let cool completely before storing or serving.
Store the cookies in an airtight container. They keep pretty well.