Food prep at our house is a full-contact sport.
Big, noisy dinners are something of a specialty of the Hot Dish Kitchen, but pulling them off successfully takes a team. And it’s a team where everyone, regardless of age, gender or ability – has a role to play.
Chinese New Year was no different.
This year, Spring Festival fell at the end of January – that long, desolate stretch between Christmas and any reason to celebrate. We were all ready for a party. Added to that, Matt and I have been binge-watching old Anthony Bourdain shows on Netflix and had a serious craving for some authentic Asian cuisine.
So, we invited a couple dozen of our closest friends and family and started making plans.
Some people find big dinners intimidating, but they don’t have to be. Plan ahead, ask for help, keep the wine flowing and stay flexible. At worst, you’ll order in pizza and end up with a great story of dinner gone wrong.
Two days out, we had a rough menu and a shopping list sketched out. I bought what I could close to home, and headed to an Asian supermarket in the city for the rest – an adventure in itself for small-town folk like us.
Meats were marinated, there was steam bun and dumpling dough to make, bok choy to brine, vegetables to slice and shred. As meal time drew closer, our nieces volunteered to decorate and set the tables, my sister learned to make spring rolls, Matt tackled a coconut curry soup (you can find the recipe in our post, New Year off to a Fishy Start) and black bean squid, and my brother-in-law stuffed crab into tiny peppers. Guests showed up with salads and desserts, then rolled up their sleeves to help with dishes and cleanup.
Together we welcomed the year of the Rooster with a menu that ranged from crab rangoons, pork spring rolls and lobster wontons to steam buns with candied pork belly, Korean barbecue short ribs and char siu pork, to Thai coconut and cilantro rice, mango shrimp salad rolls and custard tarts.
One of our favourite dishes of the day was one we forgot to serve: Deconstructed Asian Cabbage Rolls. (Seriously – I put this together at 6 a.m., then set it in the cold cellar to cool. Completely forgot it was there.) It’s a relatively easy dish, and one that makes a perfect mid-week meal.
Deconstructed Asian Cabbage Rolls
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. ground pork or honey garlic sausage meat (the Asian pear sausage, from our Sausage Party recipe works great in this)
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Asian pear or apple, peeled, cored and finely minced
- 1 tbsp. Chinese 5-spice seasoning
- ½ head of Saville cabbage, cored and washed, with hard veins removed
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup rice wine
- 3 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 cup mango chutney (recipe can be found in our Mango Tango post.)
In a medium, oven-safe Dutch oven, heat oil. Add pork, carrots, garlic, Asian pear and cook until dark brown and crumbly.
Remove meat mixture from, and use vinegar, rice wine and soy to deglaze pan. Scrap bottom and sides of pans while continuing to stir over medium heat until mixture reduces to a slightly syrupy consistency.
Pour liquid into a small, heat-safe bowl and reserve.
Cover bottom of pan with a thin layer of reserved liquid. Add in layers:
- Layer of cabbage leaves
- Layer of ground pork or sausage
- Layer of mango chutney
Repeat at least three times (or until you run out of layers)
Pour remaining liquid over top. Place lid on Dutch oven and cook at 350F for 30 minutes.
Serve with rice and enjoy.