For the recent Lunar New Year I decided to have just a small celebration. I invited a friend over for dinner and it also happened to be her first visit to my new home.
I wanted to cook something special to make up for years of never feeling quite comfortable enough to invite anyone over to my previous place (mostly due to the unfortunate proximity of the toilet to the dining room).
The meal started with some boiled soy beans seasoned with sea-salt. I already had these in the freezer.
These photos are of left-overs from the next day. I swear the presentation was better. I was practising restraint by not being all paparazzi throughout dinner.
Next on the menu was a recipe I got from the February edition of Delicious Magazine: Eggplant with Minced Pork in Szechuan Sauce. The recipe is one from the chefs at the Melbourne restaurant, Flower Drum. And you know this is the closest I'm ever going to get to eating their food.
These are two dishes of left overs. On the bottom is Steamed Silken Tofu with Soy Sauce. This is also from Delicious, but Lau's Family Kitchen contributed the recipe. The beans are an adaptation of a Kylie Kwong recipe. I wasn't that creative, I only swapped asparagus for green beans.
I've only included a picture of the rice because my friend complimented me on it. She thought I'd used a rice steamer, but I've never bought one because living by myself, I'll rarely eat enough rice to warrant purchasing one. I used one cup of rice and two cups of water.
When I was planning this dinner, I made the decision to put the most effort into making a dessert. Mostly this was because I've never really made an Asian dessert before and I wanted to try making one. It only occurred to me afterwards that it might all go horribly wrong and I might have had to rush out for some ice-cream and topping (How very suburban Chinese Restaurant of me).
For some reason I rarely contemplate failure when I'm cooking. I really do wish I could translate that to other areas of my life where I seem to constantly contemplate failure.
That said, this dessert wasn't difficult at all. I found this recipe for Red Bean Wontons with Coconut Sauce and Sesame Wafers in a book I already had, Food With Friends by Allan Campion and Michele Curtis. I halved the recipe.
Coconut Sauce: 2 x 400ml coconut milk, 75g grated palm sugar, 3 pandan leaves (optional, but as you can see I found some pandan leaf extract).
Red Bean Wontons: 180g packet wonton wrappers, 300g sweetened red bean paste (after buying sweetened black bean paste as a substitute, I stumbled across some whole sweetened red beans that I bought and pureed in the food processer), 70g fresh bread crumbs.
Sesame Wafers: 90g caster sugar, 60ml water, 2 tsp sesame seeds.
Coconut Sauce: Put coconut milk, palm sugar and a dash of pandan extract into a saucepan. Bring to the boil--it boils like lava, so watch out for stray and unexpected eruptions--and simmer for 10-15 mins.
Red Bean Wontons: Mix the red bean paste and the fresh bread crumbs together. Place teaspoons into the centre of the wonton wrappers and seal from corner to corner as in picture above. Use some water around the edge to make the wrappers stick.
Sesame Wafers: Put the sugar and water into the saucepan on a low heat and stir gently until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear. Bring the resulting syrup to the boil for about 12-15 minutes, until the syrup 'is a lovely mix of gold and carmel, not dark brown'. Pour onto a greaseproof paper-lined tray and sprinkle with sesame seeds (although next time I make this, I think I'll just add the sesame seeds to the syrup). Allow to cool and harden before breaking into shards.
Assemble the dish as per this picture. You got lucky with this last photo; the dessert looks better the morning after because I forgot to serve it with the sesame wafers on the night itself.
Oh, well. I think it got tastier overnight too, because when I was eating left-overs, I wasn't so concerned that my friend might not like the dessert since it's hardly the taste in desserts either of us are used to. She did like it though. The sauce was delicious. The pandan extract made a difference to the flavour adding a subtle and delicious taste. I've always been a fan of sweet red bean things on the few occasions I've had them. I reckon you could even give these wontons a quick deep fry if you wanted a different texture. And you could smash up the sesame toffee, sprinkle it over the top, so there wasn't too much jaw-breaking crunchiness.
Happy Lunar New Year.