KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 — A must-have during Chinese New Year — at least in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore — is the prosperity salad known as yee sang. “Yee sang” means “raw fish” in Cantonese but it also sounds like “increasing in abundance”, thereby making this an auspicious dish indeed.
Yet there is a little-known syndrome associated with this festive salad, which is eaten throughout the 15 days of Chinese New Year (and often for a good few weeks preceding it).
Because most of the commercial yee sang, whether it’s served in restaurants or bought as pre-packed sets to assemble at home, are much the same, it’s quite easy to get jelak or quite simply sick of it.
Imagine 15-day yee sang marathons and you have some idea of how quickly this salad can get boring.
A way to avoid yee sang lethargy is to make your own at home. Perhaps not entirely from scratch (there’s really no good substitute for the irreplaceable yee sang crackers, not even very addictive deep-fried wonton wrappers) but swap out whatever ingredients you dislike for something new and exciting.
Adding fruits such as strawberries, apples, mandarin oranges and even pineapple can make your yee sang truly pop with fresh flavours.
It’d certainly be more colourful, and this without the use of artificial colourings or preservatives. (Those neon-hued green and red yam sticks in commercial yee sang always make me shudder in disgust.)
Lastly, don’t forget to say the corresponding auspicious wish (jixiang hua) for each ingredient as you add it to your yee sang platter. Some greetings are quite customary; there’s nothing like saying “Shengyi xinglong” (“Business is booming”) while scattering toasted sesame seeds. For others, inspired switches work a charm too.
Instead of saying Qingchun changzhu (“Forever young”) for artificially-coloured green yam, you can now say it for the freshly-plucked coriander leaves. Duoduo youshui (“Lots of oil and water” or “Lots of wealth”) sounds more appetising with extra virgin olive oil rather than MSG-laden commercial oil.
And, of course, Xin nian kuaile! (“Happy New Year!”)
A “FRUITFUL” YEE SANG
To make this coming Year of the Rooster a more fruitful one, why not make your yee sang a fruitier one too? This is easily done by increasing the number of ingredients that feature your favourite fruits.
For example, I’ve used pineapple here because its Hokkien name, ong lai, also sounds like “Fortune’s coming” a sentiment I’m sure most of your guests will welcome!
Instead of store-bought (and heavily processed) plum sauce, I’ve made a strawberry compote from scratch, then thinned it out with apple cider vinegar to create a tangy sauce. That’s two fruits in just one ingredient — strawberries and apples!
What other fruity substitutes can you think of? Silky soursop to replace the raw fish for a vegan yee sang, perhaps? Or for the truly adventurous, try incorporating our King of Fruits — the heavenly (for some of us, anyway) durian — into this prosperity salad.
The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination.
Ingredients for strawberry sauce
1 dozen fresh strawberries, halved
4 tablespoons caster sugar
½ lemon, juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Ingredients for salad (in order of assembly)
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
½ white radish (daikon), peeled and julienned
¼ pineapple, peeled and cut into strips
100g preserved jellyfish
50g Japanese red pickled ginger
1 packet of yee sang crackers (also known as Pok Chui crackers)
2 stalks of coriander, use leaves only
3 tablespoons strawberry sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons peanuts, roasted and crushed
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, halved
Prepare the strawberry sauce ahead of time. First, combine the strawberries, caster sugar and lemon juice in a small pot and place over medium heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly until the strawberries soften and the sugar dissolves. Use a wooden spoon to help the strawberries break down further.
Once the compote has thickened somewhat, remove from the heat. To make the strawberry sauce, dilute the compote with the apple cider vinegar. Combine well, then transfer to a sterilised jar and allow to cool.
For the yee sang, assemble the carrot, white radish, pineapple, preserved jellyfish, Japanese red pickled ginger and yee sang crackers around a plate, spacing them out equally. Place the coriander leaves in the centre.
Pour the strawberry sauce over the salad, then scatter the toasted sesame seeds, crushed roasted peanuts, Chinese 5-spice powder, ground cinnamon and ground white pepper. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the juice of both lime halves over the salad. Loh sang (toss with chopsticks) immediately.
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