Monday, 7 March 2011

Mee Ku

9 !

These turtle shaped steamed dumplings are special to the Chinese community. Usually a prayer offering on special occasions (see my previous post "The Jade Emperor's Birthday), 'mee ku's are scarce these days. They can be found at wet markets in small towns but hardly anyone makes them anymore.

To us who grew up on 'mee ku', they are special. To me, it evokes memories of an idyllic childhood. The plump turtle shape has a natural appeal for kids (and adults). Fresh from the steamer, it is warm, soft and sweet - the ultimate comfort food. A really special treat is to dip slices of  'mee ku' in beaten egg and fry them in a pan like French toast.

The recipe is from 'At Home with Amy Beh'. (I'll type it out later :)

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Jade Emperor's Birthday

The ninth day of the Chinese New Year is the Jade Emperor's Birthday known as "Pai Thee Kong". It is celebrated by the Hokkien Chinese. Having married a strapping man from this clan, I have a standing invitation to the party each year.

Being one for those for Chinese rituals since I was a child (I have always loved burning the gold and coloured paper for my grandmother cause it was the closest I could get to adult-sanctioned burning), I have secretly been making notes. This is also important as I am sure many of you have felt frustrated by the lack of written instructions / clarity on what must be done on certain Chinese family occasions.

Day -4: Make green bean filling for 'ang ku' (red turtles)
Ingredients: Split green beans, sugar
Soak 500g of split green beans overnight.
Steam with XX amount of water for YY minutes. ( I didn't get specifics. Excuse: I think it takes trial and error to get it right. Real reason: I went out gallivanting while mother-in-law (MIL) slogging away at the hearth.)
Blend with 350g sugar.
Fry in wok to mash up.

Day -3: Make 'ang ku' (red turtles)

Ingredients: ??? flour, glutinous rice flour, water, red colouring, oil, sugar - I don't know the quantities
Excuse: Hokkien is my fourth language. Real reason: I was not paying attention when my mother-in-law (MIL) was mixing the dough. Please don't tell her. For the same reason, I am guessing some of the ingredients. What I got was it was a mixture of two types of flour. One being glutinous rice flour and the other I am guessing is wheat flour. A total of 600g. I hang my head in shame - hardly living up to my reputation for being scientific and documenting facts.

The next part is confusing. MIL took hot water and mixed it with cool water (1:4). She later told me that she should have used boiling water. Add colouring, oil and sugar to the water. Mix flour and water.

Roll for 20 minutes. Phew ! Tip: Try using the Knead function of the bread maker or Kitchen Aid. It is really hard work. I was sweating and my arms were aching. It is wasn't for my desire to stay in good books, I would not have completed 10 minutes.

You will also need to have a mould for ang ku and access to banana trees. Cut banana leaves into 3'x3' squares and paint with cooking oil.

Roll dough into strips. Cut into pieces. Dust mould with flour. Flatten dough with a rolling pin. Take a teaspoonful of bean filling. Place in the centre of the dough. Fold dough over the filling forming a ball. Put the ball into the mould and gently press the ball of dough to fill the mould. When you are satisfied with your efforts, tap the mould really hard so the dough drops out. You should get a lovely little ang ku taking the shape of the mould which I did not. Each time I got malformed orange lumps with filling spilling out of the sides.

Put the ang ku onto the oiled banana leaf square.

Steam for 7 minutes on high.

Day -2: Make 'mee ku'

A family of 'mee ku's
Ingredients: AP Flour 1kg (MIL has a large household), baking powder 1 tsp, sugar 300gm, yeast 1/2 packet, oil 2 tsp, vinegar 1/2 tsp, water XX

The night before, make the 'ibu' (starter dough) by mixing 400gm of flour with 1.5 bowls of water and 1/2 packet of yeast.

Err...mix the rest of the ingredients in and knead for 20 minutes or until dough is soft and shiny. At this point I left the house and went I came back I saw this (and a visibly tired MIL).

I bet the people at SEATRU (Sea Turtle Research Unit) wished the same on their beaches

Day -1: Make steamed egg cake (to replace commercially bought steamed cake aka huat kuih), sweet glutinous rice, red eggs, jelly
I deferred these modules to next year.

Purchase other party food which was not bought earlier - sugar cane, another type of glutinous rice cake (nee kuih), 5 types of fruits, pineapple (that makes it 6 types of fruits), flowers (which were my present to MIL). Staples from the Hokkien pantry which are included are 'mee suah', 'chai' - a combination of dried ingredients such as bean threads, black fungus, shitake, bean curd sheets which are used to cook a vegetarian dish, dried longan.

At 11:59pm, the table is set.
A feast fit for an Emperor
Offering of gold
Day 0: The Party
A few minutes after 12am, incense and candles are lit. Family members take turns offering incense and prayers. The generic prayer goes something like this. "Po pee peng aun....." Bless us with peace...

The gold is burned. The tea cups are refilled twice during the ceremony. We hang around the table chatting, comparing neighbours offering - waiting for our feasting to began.

At 1am, we bring the offering back in. My MIL makes us "mee suah" with a hot soup and XXL sized prawns. We tuck in. YUM !

Happy Birthday Thee Kong !