TND – Kung Hei Fat Choi

January 26, 2012

In the mid 1980’s we lived in Hong Kong for 18 months during which period we somehow managed to have enough time to visit Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, China, Macau and Singapore.  On the apparently rare occasions that we were at home, we used to meet my father at noon every Saturday and go have Dim Sum.  We’d meet my father at his office, and then cross through a public garden which on a Saturday was full of brides in bright red wedding dresses having their wedding pictures taken (possibly Statue Square?), to the Dim Sum restaurant at the top of the neighboring office tower.  

There were two floors of the Dim Sum restaurant, one for the gweilos, and one for the locals.  I have no idea what happened if you frequented the gweilo floor because we never went.  The floor for locals was a labyrinthine series of rooms full of round banquet tables set just far enough apart to allow the passage of the dim sum carts.  You got a big bowl of rice, a bottomless pot of tea, and then you waited until a Dim Sum lady passed by your table at which point she’d open up steamer baskets of dumplings and you’d point to the ones you wanted.  Each basket of dumplings garnered you a stamp on a card, and at the end of the meal – which was never over until you’d had at least two rounds of the bao filled with sweet barbecued pork – you paid for however many stamps you’d racked up on your card.

I spent a lot of years after we moved away from Hong Kong with fond memories of weekly dim sum, and eating a lot of Chinese brunches in search of that experience again.  I have to admit, I didn’t think that Boston was going to be the place that I rediscovered the delight of properly served dim sum given that I spent the first few years I lived here trying to find a Chinese restaurant that feel the need to include Italian bread with your takeout order.  However, first I found Yangzee up in Lexington, which serves a limited cart-style dim sum brunch on the weekends.  Lexington has a fairly sizeable Chinese population, and you see a lot of them eating at Yangzee which is always a good sign.  Then friends introduced me to Hei La Moon in Chinatown and I refound the nirvana of dim sum on a weekend morning.

You have to get to Hei La Moon early, because if you get there too late in the morning you’ll be standing in line forever.  You should to wear loose clothing when you go because you’re going to want to eat your body weight in dumplings – and you always end up eating more dumplings than you planned while you wait for that one cart with the dumpling you’re absolutely craving to come around.  If possible take a growing boy with you so that he can vacuum up all the leftover dumplings on the table while you wait for the bao cart.  If you’re really lucky you’ll know someone who speaks Cantonese who can maybe tell you what’s in all the dumplings you’re devouring (although, sometimes ignorance is the best policy).  And, most importantly, you need to go in a group because the more people you have at the table the more kinds of dumplings you can order without leaving food on the table, and without feeling like you’ve just committed the sin of gluttony.

Dim Sum at Hei La Moon is the dim sum of my childhood – a bottomless pot of tea, an endless stream of dim sum carts (always wheeled by women – the waiters are all men, but women control the carts), and a card full of mysterious stamps at the end of the meal (which somehow never ends up being more than about $15/person no matter how much you eat).  I’ve seen reviews that suggest that the Winsor Dim Sum Café in Chinatown has a better Dim Sum menu, but you have to order a la carte, and for me if you aren’t pointing at mysterious steamer baskets full of dumplings you’re missing half the fun of going out for dim sum.  We no longer go to dim sum every weekend – which for the state of my waist line is probably a good thing – but in honor of Chinese New Year, and because I’ve been craving dim sum since early December, we are going this weekend and as a result the rest of this week cannot pass fast enough to suit me.

(Pork & Chive) Wonton Soup
Lemongrass Meatballs
Peanut Sesame Noodles
Black Tea (baked) Dumplings
Ginger Dipping Sauce
Chinese Greens

We moved to Hong Kong in January of 1984, and a few weeks later we watched the fireworks for Chinese New Year over Hong Kong Harbor.  Coincidentally that year Chinese New Year fell on my father’s birthday and he tried to convince me that the fireworks were in honor of him.  For the record, even at 8 I was skeptical of this claim.

Chinese New Year was Monday, welcoming in the Year of the Dragon, which as it happens is my sign.  In honor of that, Dinner this week is a panoply of pan-Asian(ish) dishes ranging from the Chinese(ish) (Pork & Chive) Wonton Soup, to the Vietnamese(ish) Lemongrass Meatballs, to the Thai(ish) Peanut Sesame Noodles, to the distinctly California-Chinese fusion Black Tea Dumplings.

(Pork & Chive) Wonton Soup

I won’t lie, making wontons is a little fiddly and time consuming.  On the up side, you can do it in advance and freeze the wontons.  This means that (a) you’re not making wontons the night you’re trying to serve them, and (b) if you make enough you can have leftovers in your freezer for any emergency wonton needs you might have at a later date.

Pork & Chive Wontons (makes 30-40 wontons)
½ lb ground pork
½ Tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
¼ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp chili-garlic sauce
1 ½ tsp finely grated ginger
½ tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp kosher salt
Pinch of pepper
3 Tbsp finely chopped chives
3 Tbsp finely chopped scallions
24-30 wonton wrappers

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Place a slightly rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.  Moisten the edges of the wrapper with some water and fold wrapper over filling and seal (make sure you don’t have air pockets).  Bring the corners together and moisten with water and press to seal together to form a tortellini kind of shape (see below).  Repeat until you run out of filling.

Either cook immediately in simmering soup for 3 minutes.  Or, freeze on a baking tray, and then add to soup directly from the freezer and cook for 7-8 minutes in simmering soup.

Wonton Soup (serves 8)
12-14 cups chicken stock (use the good homemade stuff)
4-5 heads of baby bok choi, leaves separated and rinsed
24-32 pork & chive wontons (3-4 wontons/person)

Bring the soup stock to a simmer.  Cook the wontons for 3 minutes (fresh) or 7-8 minutes (frozen).  Divide the wontons evenly among the bowls (3-4 wontons/person) with a ladle of the broth to keep them warm while you cook the bok choi.  Add the bok choi leaves to the simmering soup and cook for 1-2 minutes to wilt the leaves.  Divide the bok choi evenly among the bowls.  Fill the bowls with as much stock as desired.  Serve.

Lemongrass Meatballs with Scallion Oil
(serves 4 / about 16 meatballs)

There was so much food on the table for Dinner that I actually achieved leftover meatballs.  This is not something that has ever happened to me before, I almost didn’t know what to do with them I was so startled.

Scallion Oil
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet, then add the garlic and cook over medium heat until softened but not browned.  Add the scallions and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

1 ½ Tbsp minced lemongrass (from 1 stalk)
1 lb ground chicken
1 ½ Tbsp minced shallots
1 Tbsp fish sauce (or 2 tsp soy sauce + 1 tsp lime juice)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 serrano chili, seeded & minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp light brown sugar
½ tsp kosher salt

Remove and discard the tough outer layer of the lemongrass to reveal the pale inner stalk.  Trim off the bulbous tip of the stalk.  Then thinly slice the lemongrass until you reach the tough upper stalk.  Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Measure out 1 ½ Tbsp minced lemongrass (freeze the remainder for later use).

Combine the lemongrass with all other ingredients and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to 4 hours.  Shape into 16 meatballs (I use a 1 oz scoop which makes forming evenly sized meatballs very quick and easy).

You can either grill the meatballs on an indoor or outdoor grill for about 4 minutes/side.  Or you can put them on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush lightly with vegetable oil, and bake in a 375 oven for 20-25 minutes.

Serve the meatballs with the scallion oil and ginger dipping sauce (see below for recipe).

Note:  I served my meatballs with lettuce cups (Boston lettuce makes for nice convenient cups) so that people could form little packages of meatballs and scallion oil.

Peanut Sesame Noodles
(serves 6-8 as a side dish)

½ cup smooth peanut butter
¼ cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Can be made in advance and refrigerated.

¾ lb soba noodles
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 peppers, julienned (use pretty colors)
1 cucumber, quartered and then thinly sliced
1 cup edamame, cooked and drained
3 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Cook the soba noodles until tender.  Drain and then rinse in cold water.  Drizzle with a little sesame oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.

Toss the cooled soba noodles with the vegetables, sesame seeds, and dressing.  Serve immediately (the noodles absorb the sauce, so this doesn’t hold particularly well over night).

Black Tea (baked) Dumplings
(makes 24-30 dumplings)

One of my requirements for entertaining is that I get to enjoy the evening with my guests.  This means that I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking while everyone else is eating and is why Dinner will never involve individual pizzas, or pancakes or anything else that has to be made in batches. This is also why there are no steamed or fried dumplings on the menu tonight (ditto on why the meatballs are baked not pan fried).  I lack the stove space to pan fry enough dumpling at once to feed Dinner, and I don’t have huge woks in which I can stack steamer baskets full of dumplings to cook (even if I owned steamer baskets).  This is another reason to go out to dim sum, they have large industrial kitchens and an army of people making and cooking all the dumplings you could possibly want.

1 tsp black tea leaves (Lapsang Souchong is particularly good), ground to a powder
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 shallots, finely chopped (or half a red onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms, finely chopped
1/3 head Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
2 handfuls baby spinach
2 Tbsp soy sauce
24-30 wonton wrappers
2 tsp sesame oil

In 1 tsp of the sesame oil sauté the Chinese cabbage until it is wilted and starting to brown a little.  Transfer to a bowl.

Add another 1 tsp of the sesame oil to the pan and sauté the mushrooms.  Cook until they release and then reabsorb their liquid.  Continue to cook until they start to brown.  Transfer to the bowl with the cabbage.

Add the rest of the sesame oil to the pan and sauté the shallots and garlic until softened.  Add the spinach and cook until it wilts.  Transfer to the bowl with the cabbage and mushrooms.

Season the mixture with the soy sauce and ground tea.  Mix well, and then adjust seasonings to taste.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.  Moisten the edges of the wrapper with some water and fold wrapper over filling and seal (make sure you don’t have air pockets).  Repeat until you run out of filling.

Place the dumplings on a parchment lined baking sheet.  At this point you can either freeze them, or you can bake them immediately.  Just before you bake them brush each dumpling with a little sesame or vegetable oil, then bake in a 400 oven for about 8-10 minutes, turning the dumplings over halfway through, until they are golden and crispy (if you’re baking directly from frozen this will take about 12-15 minutes).  Serve with ginger dipping sauce (see recipe below).

Ginger Dipping Sauce
(makes enough for 2-3 people)
This gets better if it has time to sit and let the flavors intensify and meld, and it will keep quite nicely in your fridge for a while.

2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp chicken stock
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
2 Tbsp scallions, finely minced
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar

Whisk together and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to marry.

Chinese Greens
(serves 8)

The key to making broccoli rabe is blanching it.  I spent years trying to get around this, because it’s another step and another dirty pan and it seems like something you should be able to skip.  Unfortunately, you really can’t.  Blanching the broccoli rabe softens the bitter flavor, it also means that when you sauté it later you won’t turn the leaves to mush as you wait for the stalks to get tender.

3-4 bunches broccoli rabe (or Chinese broccoli if you can find it), tough lower stalks cut off
8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1” chunk fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Sesame/Vegetable/Olive Oil
Soy sauce

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil.  Add the broccoli rabe to the water and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain and immediately rinse with cold water.  Place on a towel and pat off excess water.  At this point you can wrap the broccoli rabe in paper towels and refrigerate it for up to 2 days.

In a little oil sauté the thinly sliced garlic and grated ginger until the garlic is just softened, and starting to turn golden around the edges (1-2 minutes).  Add the broccoli rabe and toss to coat.  Saute until broccoli is heated through (about 5 minutes).  Season to taste with salt and pepper (and/or a splash of soy sauce).  Serve.


One comment

  1. […] Recipe previously given:  Kung Hei Fat Choi […]

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