For many Singaporeans, Chinese New Year is often an uncomfortable amalgamation of family reunions, the begrudged giving and grateful receipt of ang bao’s, and forced feeding. Of the latter, merriment at the initial prospect of gorging oneself on yusheng, bakkwa and those most glorious of gloriosities – pineapple tarts – almost always gives way to the greasiest of hangovers that tends to sit in the stomach and digestive tract long after the gong xi, gong xi’s have abated. Not pleasant. Often (and, perhaps, thankfully) there is little to sate a healthy vegetarian appetite (beyond the ‘tarts of course), so a home-made, small-scale version of a reunion dinner is almost always the best vegetarian option available. And besides, i’m not Chinese. And neither is M. So with imitation in mind, here’s what we enjoyed for our Very Vegetarian Chinese New Year, the 2015 edition.
We started on a healthy note: kang kong. Lightly cooked with some chopped chilli and drizzled with lime juice, this was the zestiest and most grease-less kang kong dish I have ever eaten. So far so green.
Next we upped the stakes slightly by hand grating, stuffing and crimping a veritable platter (there were plenty of leftovers) of vegetarian siew mai. The ‘mai were stuffed full of grated lotus root, garlic and ginger; and finely diced tofu, spring onion and shiitake mushrooms. And then topped off with a humble garden pea. They were steamed and eaten with copious amounts of vinegar. Despite being immensely fiddly to make (although in my defence my digits are notoriously fleshy), they had a delightful ginger flavour and could quite possibly give Xin Man Yuan a run for their yuan. I kid you not.
Back down to reality with a simple vegetarian fried rice. Rice, egg and spring onion, that’s it. It was light and clean to the taste, with the commitment to simplicity helping to purify the mind and cleanse the palate. That was, of course, until we embarked on the grande finale and pièce de resistance: the vegetarian spring rolls.
Oh yes. Just as you thought we must have eaten the healthiest, most greaseless CNY meal ever to grace a Singapore tabletop, out came the vegetarian spring rolls. These things put the ring into spring, that good they were. Stuffed with shredded carrot, ginger, black fungus, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoot, glass noodles, spring onion and mock meat, they were then rolled and wrapped and pan-fried until hard and golden. Bellissimo. Unlike just about every other spring roll I have eaten in my life, there was not a single dull, watery beansprout in sight. No, not even a hint. Instead, each was packed with a kaleidoscopic array of flavours, all of which had a slightly sweet and salty edge thanks to the sauce used to pre-cook the veg. If the year of the goat/ram/sheep turns out to be anywhere near as good as these things were, then a very auspicious year it shall be!
That’s all for now; next stop, Taiwan. A belated Gong Xi Fa Cai to one and all!