Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lo Hei

There’s a Chinese New Year custom called Lo Hei which is very popular in Singapore. I’m not sure if Hong Kong or Singapore actually invented this custom as it is as old as the Tung Lok Restaurant group. Which is like less than 30 years old. Wait, it’s younger than me??!! Oh woe is me!

A bunch of enterprising restauranteurs decided to capitalise on the Chinese love of superstitions and auspicious traditions by introducing an extremely messy salad. Essentially “lo hei” means to toss. And no, it is not a sly put-down but a symbolic tossing of a salad to fish for prosperity and all that good stuff for the new year.

The salad is made of raw fish, juliennes of vegetables, pieces of fritters, peanuts and a soy and vinegar vinaigrette. There are a number of variations but the basic premise is that you get a bunch of hand-eye-coordination impaired people together to simultaneously toss a salad with chopsticks.

It’s a horrible carnage and I frankly detest the Lo Hei practice. There will always be some idiot who thinks he is the life of the party and will stand on his chair to pick up (badly) bits of vegetables and raw fish and drop it from that height on top of you. When you move to pummel the miscreant with your chopsticks, he will burst into loud Chinese New Year greetings at the top of his lungs in self defense. Whereupon you will pick up your chair to bash the tosser over the head.

The only consolation is that the salad is actually quite tasty but you hesitate to eat it having seen how it was tossed. So no, I am not a fan of Lo Hei as I think it inspires people to act like complete buffoons with the manners of one of Jerry Springer’s guests.

I decided to quietly recreate my own version of lo hei by splurging on a sashimi grade salmon with all the trimmings. However, the moment I stepped out to the shops and saw how crowded the streets were, with everyone jostling and shoving each other in their haste to get home in time to prepare for Reunion Dinner, I decided to make a tactical retreat. No Lo Hei is worth a prison sentence when I usher in the Chinese New Year by beating the crap out of someone for pushing me to the floor.

Consulting my seemingly never-ending fridge of leftovers, I wondered how I could make my own lo hei. Suddenly it struck me. Why not a lo mein instead? I get to toss that around when I make it. And it starts with “lo” too! Corny, but hey, anything is better than braving that crowd out there!

I already had on hand a fabulous, fool-proof lo mein recipe which I discovered on the now defunct Digital Chef years ago. I’ve made this many times and it is an easy and wonderfully delicious dish – even if it is not very authentic. I am slightly abashed to admit that it is a rather Western take of a Chinese classic but I like it so much that I really do not care.

Unfortunately, I did not have any chicken. Well, I had a small piece of flank steak which I could adapt for this dish. Rummaging noisily through my vegetable bin, I dragged out a bedraggled stalk of spring onion, and some cabbage which looked like it was going to turn to a lump of coal soon.

I also did not have enough dried shiitake mushrooms left as I was reserving them for dinner tomorrow. I had to resign myself to the two left. Fortunately, they were plump and fairly large specimens. Bugger, I just realised I did not have any linguine or tagliatelle left. Luckily I had some spaghetti.

Otherwise it was all systems go. I was ready to embark on my Westernised Lo Mein Lo Hei.

Again, everything is guesstimation and I used what I had on hand. You can add more beef or noodles if you desire.

Beef Lo Mein Steph’s Way
125g or thereabouts of flank steak
2 ½ tsp granulated sugar
1 2/3 tbsp Chinese brown vinegar
- I used the vinegar marinade that I saved from the Lian Lian You Yu experiment but you can use normal rice vinegar too
¼ cup soy sauce
1 cup chicken broth
- I cheated and just crumbled ¾ of a chicken stock cube into the water
1 ½ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp black pepper powder
- I like it spicy so if you don’t just lessen the quantity
1 tbsp cornstarch
A fistful of spaghetti
- normally I prefer linguine or tagliatelle but this was all I had on hand
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 ½ tsp minced garlic
2 big fat dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and a little salt to soften & sliced
¼ of a fairly large cabbage, shredded
1 stalk of spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
- usually I would use a big bunch of about 3-4 stalks but this was all I had on hand
1 small bunch of cilantro, coarsely torn by hand
- I do not like to slice or chop my cilantro as I like to preserve their flavour by shredding them by hand … OK, I just like the way my hands smell after that, OK?

1. Slice your flank steak across the grain into strips

2. Combine 1 tsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of vinegar and 3 tbsp of soy sauce in a bowl

3. Add the beef strips to marinate. Set aside.

4. Combine the rest of the sugar, vinegar, soy sauce with the chicken stock, sesame oil and pepper. Whisk well to blend. Taste to see if it needs adjusting – mine did and so I added a little more vinegar and pepper.

5. Mix the cornstarch with a little of this sauce to dissolve it. Add it back to the sauce and mix well. Set aside.

6. Cook your spaghetti in boiling salted water for about 8-10 minutes or however long your pasta requires. Drain and set aside.

7. Heat 1 tsp of oil in your wok or pan on high heat till it’s smoking!

8. Add the beef and stir fry till it just begins to brown. Remove from wok with its pan juices and set aside.

9. Add the remaining oil and let it become smoking hot before adding the ginger, garlic, mushrooms and spring onions. Stir fry for about 30 seconds on high heat.

10. Pour the sauce into the wok and stir to mix before adding the beef and cabbage

11. Simmer till the sauce thickens, which should be about 2 minutes

12. Add the spaghetti and toss well – Lo Hei!

13. Garnish with the cilantro and serve hot. Actually the cilantro is pretty crucial and not just a pretty adornment – it gives your dish a fresh, peppery kick.

And there you have it. My version of the Chinese New Year Lo Hei – Beef Lo Mein. Some Chinese may be offended at my bastardisation of the Lo Hei tradition but whatever - I sure had fun tossing my noodles. *Cue drums*

I give my Beef Lo Mein a 8.75/10 for taste. It would have scored better if I had more mushrooms and spring onions as well as cilantro but I only had that much and was reluctant to venture out into the madding crowd on the eve of Chinese New Year. Inaction being the better part of valour, you know.

It is a fairly healthy dish as there is no cream or excessive oil used. I also used so much cabbage (which was never in the original recipe) that it became an alarmingly wholesome dish. The only drawback would be for those people on a low carbo diet. So I give this dish a 9/10 for being so healthy.

So, I was fairly pleased with my meal especially as I followed this up with some nice kumquats and loveletters for dessert. Lo hei and behold, my landlord brought a bunch of Chinese New Year cookies too! I have a feeling that I am going to be pigging out again. Cool.

Categories - Call Me Others, Meat Me For Dinner


Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

I'm really enjoying reading about these Chinese New Year's traditions. The lo-mein sounds good too.

10:47 pm  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Thanks Kalyn. I managed to finish only half of the lo mein even though it's quite yummy. More leftovers. Sigh.

I might be able to make it for WHB with a dish that I am thinking of but we'll see ...

1:15 am  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hey Stephanie,

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Awesome blog!

I noticed I have the same bowls as you - those white ceramic round ones that you've got the beef marinading in. I use them all the time for making sauces/beating eggs etc.

I suppose they must be Malaysian/Singaporean, as my family is from Malaysia.

xox Sarah

8:51 am  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Hey Sara! Xin Nian Kuai Le! Thanks so much for your compliment. I love your recipes in yours!

Actually those bowls are these very uninspiring cream, green and ochre bowls that look vaguely Japanese. They came with the apartment and would never be something I would buy. But they are a nice size so it's all good.

Thanks for commenting & I hope you are having a grand CNY!

10:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! That many people out there shopping, huh?

Looks like you achieved your Lo hei meal very well and you didn't stan on top of someone to toss the meal! Good job!


12:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi MM, this noodle looks really delicious! Do you know Japanese has noodles on new year's eve too?

6:48 am  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Paz - Yeah, it was really delicious and I had it for lunch, dinner for two days! It's bad when you eat for one and cook for 4-100.

Keiko - wow, thanks for visiting! I'm so honoured! I did not know the Japanese have noodles on New Year's Eve too. Actually, to my great shame, I really do not know much about Japanese food which I am hoping to change this year. I love it, am very intimidated but I am going to try to cook some in 2006. Thanks so much for your comment!

8:01 am  

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