Dim sum brings Chinese New Year in on a delicious note Bite-size Delights

January 25, 1995|By Kim Pierce | Kim Pierce,Universal Press Syndicate

Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan. 31, is China's biggest holiday -- and an ideal time to discover the ease with which dim sum can be prepared at home.

Loosely translated as "heart's delight," dim sum is an array of appetizer-sized morsels, from meat-filled dumplings to sweet buns, offered on trays to diners, who select the ones that "delight their heart."

In southern China, teahouses have served dim sum since the 10th century. The ancient tradition probably grew out of holiday feasting. People wanted to enjoy the parade of goodies more often than two or three times a year.

Today, some restaurants employ entire separate kitchen staffs dedicated to preparing the bite-sized foods.

But home cooks need only look as far as the freezer case at specialty Asian markets for a wide selection of dim sum possibilities. Preparation is as easy as boiling, microwaving or sauteing.

Dumplings are among the easiest to prepare. You drop them in boiling water, like ravioli, and cook for five to six minutes until they float to the top, or until the bottoms puff out.

The round wheat buns with such stuffings as pork, sweet red bean paste or vegetables can be popped in the microwave.

The pancakes are best sauteed, still frozen, in a medium-hot heavy skillet coated with oil. Total cooking time is less than two minutes.

More ambitious cooks might try pot stickers, which are first steamed or boiled and then pan-fried.

The most common dipping sauce for dim sum is a combination to taste of soy sauce, rice vinegar (mellower than other vinegars) and hot chili oil.

To this sauce, you can add some chopped green onion, garlic and ginger. Some people also like sweet-and-sour sauce, which is available at Asian groceries. Hoisin sauce also is an option.

Add Chinese Coleslaw and rice to complete the meal.

Although dim sum started in southern China, the tradition of making dumplings for holidays runs deep in the northern part of the nation. Families make dumplings together for New Year's.

This year, the Chinese will usher in 4693, the Year of the Pig.

On New Year's Eve, celebrants rush home to eat what may be their last meal together, according to ancient tradition. A great beast or dragon was believed to emerge and kill people on New Year's Eve, so waking up alive on New Year's Day was reason to rejoice.

The 15-day celebration has been trimmed to three in modern times, with the first day reserved for family and friends, the second for married daughters to feast with their families, and the third for the start of doing business.

Dipping Sauce

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup dark soy sauce (see note)

1/2 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

4 tablespoons hot oil

Combine all ingredients and blend well.

Note: Dark soy sauce is available at some grocers and at Asian grocers.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: calories, 38; fat, 3 g; no cholesterol; sodium, 344 mg; percent calories from fat: 78.

Chinese Coleslaw

Makes 4 servings

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage

1/4 cup coarsely shredded carrot

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine cabbage, carrot and green onion in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir well. Pour over cabbage; toss well.

Per 1/4 cup serving: calories, 32; fat: 1 g; no cholesterol; sodium:,182 mg; percent calories from fat: 30 percent.

Sesame Mustard Sauce

Makes 1/2 cup

1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons minced cilantro (optional)

Blend all ingredients except cilantro. Stir in cilantro.

Per 2-teaspoon serving: calories, 24; fat, 2 g; no cholesterol; sodium, 67 mg; percent calories from fat: 91.

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