The Year of the Ox gets under way Wednesday, and what better guide for a Westernized version of a Chinese New Year party than a Californian who teaches Chinese cooking?
Hugh Carpenter is not Chinese, but he can wield a cleaver with the expertise that only years of practice develop. While studying Chinese history and the Mandarin language at Dartmouth, he developed an abiding passion for Chinese food. He frequented Chinese restaurants several nights a week and happily pitched in whenever his language professor (a Chinese) invited students to prepare Chinese food at his home.
After college, Carpenter returned to Santa Barbara and established a service catering Chinese food. Soon he was teaching the preparation of Chinese foods in private homes to amateur cooks. As he became an established instructor, teaching the intricacies of Chinese cuisine in about 40 cookware shops and cooking schools around the country, the catering business went by the wayside.
Recently, Carpenter has also led tours to the Far East. Not surprisingly, the tours reflect his interest in the history of China as well as its food. This fall, he'll be leading his fourth tour to China in as many years.
Carpenter is not a purist when it comes to preparing food for a Chinese New Year celebration.
In his own kitchen, rather than spending all his time on last-minute stir-fry dishes while guests are waiting patiently for the next course, Carpenter prefers to serve a menu that can be prepared almost entirely in advance.
Falling right in with the current trend of adapting classical recipes of other cuisines to fit the American pace and life style, he likes to use Chinese techniques and flavorings in somewhat unconventional variations. His Curried Lamb Won Tons are a good example of this penchant for experimentation.
Most of the Chinese ingredients called for in the recipes that Carpenter has devised for our Chinese New Year party are available in the Oriental-food sections of supermarkets, but for some, a trip to Chinatown may be necessary.
CURRIED LAMB WON TONS
1/2 onion, peeled and minced 2 medium carrots, minced 1/2 pound ground lamb 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger 1 egg 1 tablespoon light soy sauce 1 tablespoon curry powder 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce, chili paste or sambal sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt Oil 40 square won ton skins
Combine onion, carrots, lamb, ginger, egg, soy sauce, curry, sugar, chili sauce and salt and blend well. Line baking sheet with wax paper and lightly dust with cornstarch. With one corner of won ton wrapper pointing toward you, place 1 teaspoon filling in center of each square. Fold bottom half of wrapper over the filling. The overlapping corners should be slightly off center from each other. Roll filled won ton into a cyclinder with the tips still exposed. Turn won ton cyclinder 180 degrees. Lightly moisten each end of the cyclinder with water. Press moistened edges together. Place on dusted wax paper. Can be refrigerated at this point for several hours priorto cooking.
In large skillet heat oil 1/2 inch deep to 365 degrees. (Oil will be at correct temperature when a small strip of wrapper added to it bounces on the surface.) Cook about 10 won tons at a time. Fry until golden on one side and then turn and fry on other side, about 1 1/2 minutes in all. Remove won tons from pan with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve with plum sauce dip. Makes 40 won tons.
Chinese Plum Sauce Dip 1/2 cup prepared Chinese plum sauce 2 tablespoons dry Sherry 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine plum sauce, Sherry and ground cinnamon. Makes about 1/2 cup.
SICHUAN NOODLE SALAD
IN PEANUT SAUCE 4 cups cooked thin fettucine or other noodles 2 tablespoons oil 1 cup julienned carrots 1 cup julienned green onions pound ham, cut julienne 1 cup bean sprouts 1 cup julienned English cucumber 1 cup julienned sweet red pepper Peanut Sauce
While noodles are still warm, toss with oil until well coated. Chill. Place carrots in sieve and pour boiling water over top. Immediately pat dry with paper towels. Chill. Refrigerate green onions, ham, bean sprouts, cucumber and red pepper separately, covered, until serving time. Bring noodles to room temperature before serving.
At serving time, place noodles in center of large round bowl or platter. Arrange vegetables and ham attractively in separate mounds around edges. To serve, toss noodles with vegetables, ham and Peanut Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: The noodles and sauce must be at room temperature when tossed and served. If colder the sauce will be too thick and will lose its creamy consistency.
Peanut Sauce 1 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon minced green onion 6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter 2 tablespoons heavy soy sauce cup red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon Chinese chili paste 1 teaspoon sugar 1 tablespoon sesame oil 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 tablespoon dry Sherry 1 teaspoon Chinese-style hot dry mustard 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup chicken stock