Are you ready to rise to the Rooster year? It is time to stop the playful tricks of the Monkey, and be determined, punctual and responsible in our goals and tasks like the Rooster. The Chinese New Year starts from 28 January this year. Today I’d like to share with you an indispensable dish for Chinese New Year called yu sheng, made raw and vegan, along with some auspicious sayings.
Chinese New Year festivities come along with many traditions – one of which is the Toss of Good Fortune. Known as “Lo Hei” in Cantonese (where 捞 “lo” means mixing), this interactive ritual involves diners tossing yu sheng (raw fish salad) as high as possible while belting out auspicious sayings, and is enjoyed with emotion and intensity by its members. Usually led by one individual, ingredients are added one by one in a predetermined order, while the server recites wishes of luck and prosperity evoked by the names of the ingredients used. Tradition upholds that the higher the toss, the better your prospects and fortune in the year ahead.
Traditional yu sheng, which origins trace back to more than 2,000 years during the Zhou dynasty, is a simple dish made up of thin slices of raw fish, shredded vegetables and a variety of seasonings and condiments. Over the years, the recipe has evolved into elaborate platters, some handcrafted with intricate designs and infused with exotic ingredients. In actual fact, it is not a common practice by all Chinese communities except Hong Kong and Southern China take this dish seriously. The custom was brought to Singapore in the early 20th century by immigrants of Cantonese and Teochew peoples. Because of this, until the 1960s, there were traditionally two different versions of yu sheng consumed in Singapore – Cantonese and Teochew. What we now associate with yu sheng today in Singapore is known as qi cai yu sheng (七彩鱼生) or “seven-coloured raw fish salad”. It is said to be invented by four chefs in 1964 to attract more customers to their newly opened restaurant, Lai Wah (now at 44 Bendemeer Road). They improved the visual appearance, aroma, and flavour of yusheng by making portions bigger and using a variety of colourful vegetables, while also giving it texture and depth through the addition of plum sauce, peanuts and flour crisps. In doing so, both the custom and dish became a more interactive and lively affair.
I prepared my own raw vegan version for the yu sheng. I changed the raw fish to my special sous vide Tomato Salmon (recipe to be released), golden pillow crackers to Chinese five spiced flax crackers and made a raw Chinese plum sauce from scratch. The vegetables, which evidently needed no alteration, comprised finely julienned carrots, daikon, pomelo (lots of!), cucumber and red bell pepper. The sauce is the key to the dish’s success – it should have a honey-like viscosity, sweet, sour and a little spicy. This raw vegan version uses fresh plums, dried apricots and thickened with Eucheuma paste. It tasted as far as I could remember like the ones I have had in yesteryears. I am so glad that I managed to come up with a replica for the salad that is suitable for all people (vegans, vegetarians, celiacs, paleo etc.). I think this is a good recipe to share with all of you; enjoy! Do recite the sayings as you make your yu sheng, it is all part of the festive fun.
- 110 g (2 small) red plums, peeled and dehydrated for 2 hours
- 60 g (1/4 cup) filtered water
- 24 g (1 1/2 tbsp) Eucheuma cottonii paste
- 20 g (2 pieces) dried apricots or prunes, soaked in filtered water until plump
- 16 ml (1 tbsp) apple cider vinegar
- 16 g (1 tbsp) raw honey
- 8 g (1/2 tbsp) coconut nectar
- 8 g (1/2 tbsp) ume plum paste (I used Eden Foods brand)
- 5 g (1/2 tbsp) grated ginger
- 1/8 tsp dried red chili powder
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground star anise (12-15 pieces whole star anise)
- 1 tbsp ground Cassia cinnamon (3-inch stick Cassia cinnamon)
- 1 tbsp ground fennel seed (1 1/2 tbsp whole fennel seeds)
- 1/2 tbsp ground Szechuan pepper (1 tbsp whole Szechuan peppercorns)
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves (1 heaping tsp whole cloves)
- 60 g (6 tbsp) whole golden flax seeds
- 150 ml (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) filtered water
- 2 1/2 tsp ground flax seeds
- 3/4 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder (recipe above)
- 10 cm (4-inch) young ginger, peeled and sliced finely
- 60 g (1/4 cup) brown rice vinegar
- 16 g (1 tbsp) maple syrup
- 15 g (1 tbsp) filtered water, or more as needed to cover the ginger
- 10 g (2 tsp) beet juice
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 130 g Tomato Salmon or plum tomatoes, sliced thinly to resemble sashimi
- 1 small pomelo, peeled and broken down into sacs
- 130 g (2 small) carrots, julienned
- 130 g (1 medium) cucumber, julienned
- 130 g (1/2 medium) daikon, julienned and soaked in water for 20 minutes to reduce harshness
- 65 g (1/2 large) red bell pepper, julienned
- 1-2 tbsp ground activated peanuts or almonds
- 1-2 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp Pickled Ginger (recipe above)
- 2 handfuls Chinese Five Spice Flax Crackers (recipe above)
- 2 tbsp Chinese Plum Sauce (recipe above)
- 2 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder (recipe above)
- 1-2 sheets nori, cut into strips
- 1/2 tbsp cold-pressed sesame oil (optional)
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until creamy and smooth. Taste to check the flavour and consistency; it should have a balance of sweet, sour, salty and piquant, and have a honey-like viscosity. Adjust the seasonings and Eucheuma paste if necessary. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- If starting from whole spices, place the spices separately in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Sift to remove debris. In a small bowl, combine the ground spices. Transfer the mixture to an air-tight container and store in the pantry away from heat and light.
- Soak the flax seeds and ground flax in water for 1-2 hours until gelled and mucilaginous. Add in the Chinese Five Spice powder. Spread the mixture as thinly as possible across one paraflexx sheets. Dehydrate at 46˚C for 2-3 hours, flip and peel away the sheet, then dehydrate another 6-8 hours until dry. Once dry, break crackers by hand. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
- Massage the julienned ginger with sea salt for 1 minute then set aside for 30 minutes for the ginger to soften. Squeeze the ginger to extract excess juice; you can do this by placing in a nut milk bag and squeezing, or pressing against a strainer.
- Rinse the ginger under running water, pat dry, and place into a mason jar. Mix the vinegar, sweetener and beet juice and pour over the ginger. Top with filtered water, just enough to cover the ginger, if necessary. Allow to pickle for at least 6 hours before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
- Arrange the Tomato Salmon in a fan shape a small plate. Arrange the pomelo, carrot, cucumber, daikon and red bell pepper in separate mounds on a large round serving platter. Alternatively, you can choose to arrange in any intricate pattern, such as a rooster for the year 2017.
- Put the peanuts (or almonds), sesame seeds, flax crackers, nori, Chinese Five Spice powder, plum sauce and oil (if using) in small bowls.
- As you (or the server) bring out the ingredients, recite the auspicious sayings as in the table below. All the diners are encouraged to toss the yu sheng salad with chopsticks as high as possible, to bring good luck for the year ahead.
Order Ingredient Auspicious Saying (pin yin) Meaning 1. Diners gather 恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái)
万事如意 (wàn shì rú yī)
Congratulations for your wealth
May all your wishes be fulfilled
2. Tomato Salmon 年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú) Every year earn surplus 3. Pomelo 大吉大利 (dà jí dà lì) Good luck and great prosperity 4. Five Spice Powder 招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo) Attract wealth and treasures 5. Sesame Oil 一本万利 (yī běn wàn lì)
财源广进 (cái yuán guǎng jìn)
Have many sources of revenue
6. Carrot 鸿运当头 (hóng yùn dāng tóu) Good luck is coming 7. Green Radish or Cucumber 青春常驻 (qīng chūn cháng zhù) Eternal youth 8. Daikon 风生水起 (fēng shēng shuǐ qǐ)
步步高升 (bù bù gāo shēng)
Progress at a face pace
Gradually rise with each step
9. Crushed Peanuts (or Almonds) 金银满屋 (jīn yín mǎn wū) House filled with gold and silver 10. Sesame Seeds 生意兴隆 (shēng yi xīng lóng) Flourishing business 11. Flax Crackers 满地黄金 (mǎn dì huáng jīn) Floor full of gold 12. Plum Sauce 甜甜蜜蜜 (tián tián mì mì) Sweet and happy 13. Diners toss 捞起 (lāo qǐ) Lo hei or toss to good fortune