Enter the Year of the Dragon. Our family has been a bit too tied up to plan this year’s Chinese New Year properly, as sadly we have been spending time planning my father-in-law’s funeral.
Planning a funeral is a little like planning a wedding, but with very little lead time and a whole lot of sadness. Friends and relatives have to be informed, the venue booked, accommodation reserved, catering organised, flowers arranged, speeches refined and guests received. About the only thing cheerful about the whole endeavour is that we get to see in person the extended family we only send Christmas cards to, and we can consume vast amounts of cake without feeling guilty.
But before Mr Gochugaru and I embark on our journey to the West Country, we tuck in a small and informal dinner with Travel Couple and St George’s Doctor. I am determined not to miss the annual yee sang so I sneak this in as a starter before our meal of slow-cooked roast pork shoulder and rice with confit shallots.
This year I started with an empty platter and asked for help with the assembly, to make it more of an event. The children usually take over and we don’t get a chance. I think we did quite a good job, despite the simple design.
As a reminder of the ingredients, I went through the Chinese New Year meals we had in previous years. Here are the creations from Junior 2 + Co for the following animal years: Rabbit in 2023, Tiger in 2022, Lockdown Ox in 2021, Rat in 2020, Pig in 2019, Dog in 2018 and Monkey in 2016. We missed a family gathering in the Year of the Rooster in 2017 due to my travelling, as my father was receiving treatment for cancer at the time.
The comment I get most from everyone who has eaten our family yee sang is how ‘it really tastes like the ones we get back home’. Back home is Malaysia. I am sharing the recipe with new readers, from our family to yours. Make a big sharing plate to celebrate with your family and friends wherever you are in the world.
Note: our family version of yee sang is vegan and oil-free. The vegetables are shredded fresh on the day, unlike commercial yee sang served in restaurants where most of the vegetables are dry, pickled or coloured and deep-fried. It takes some time to make this salad but it gives so much pleasure to everyone involved in the tossing of the salad to bring good fortune.
Yee Sang in a Nutshell:
The shopping list is long and made up of red and green salad leaves, carrot, daikon/mooli, unripe mango, pomelo, pomegranate seeds, fresh coriander, spring onion, pickled sushi ginger, pickled silverskin onions, roasted unsalted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, red and green chillies, lime leaves, plum jam, limes and rice vinegar. The crackers are deep-fried sliced gyoza skins.
Yee Sang in Detail:
Wash and refresh one or two heads of red salad leaves e.g. radicchio, red oak leaf, red chicory or ruby gem lettuce. Sometimes we add green salad leaves e.g. rocket, little gem or butter lettuce. This will line the tray.
Start with sensible quantities of spiralized carrot, daikon/ mooli and shredded unripe mango. This will form the backbone of the dish. Sometimes we add finely shredded red cabbage.
For a burst of flavour add small quantities of peeled pomelo, pomegranate seeds, fresh coriander leaves and shredded spring onion.
For additional sweet-sour flavours add pickled sushi ginger and thinly sliced pickled silverskin onions.
For nuttiness add chopped roasted unsalted peanuts and toasted sesame seeds.
For real crunchiness slice some dumpling skin and deep-fry to make the crackers. I have found that gyoza dumpling skins are better for this than wantan dumpling skins as they are thicker and puff up attractively.
Add sliced chillies (one red and one green) for a shot of heat.
Finally for the je ne sais quoi moment, add the secret ingredient of finely shredded lime leaves. You need to take the centre stem off the leaf then place them in a stack and using your sharpest knife, slice them as thinly as you can.
For the Dressing (for a 6 person salad, so please double or triple as necessary)
200g plum jam (I use Bonne Maman’s Mirabelle Plum Jam)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
There are more yee sang platters planned for the next two weeks as we see our extended family based in the UK. I then leave for Kuala Lumpur and arrive just in time for Chap Goh Mei, which is the 15th and final night of the Chinese New Year. I have a strict timetable when looking after my mother so there is usually very little time for social activities. It is therefore so lovely that we are able to gather round the table to share family meals when I am here in London.