KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — Chinese New Year is about abundance, prosperity and wealth. At least, that’s what one can glean from the customary exclamations during a solid “loh sang” (tossing of yee sang salad) session. Sayings such as “Nian nian you yu” (May each year end with surplus/abundance), “Zhao cai jin bao” (May you attract much wealth and treasure), and “Bu bu gao sheng” (Climb higher with every step) seem to bear this theory out.
(My personal favourite is “Pian di huang jin” which literally means “May the entire ground be covered with gold”! How awesome.)
But with the economy being so uncertain and the tightening of belts looming, one wonders if much of this “abundant” celebration is in fact an excuse for excess. True abundance doesn’t have to be showing off how much wealth we have, especially if that wealth is on borrowed terms or forces us to spend late nights and weekends at the office away from the ones we love.
Shouldn’t the festive season be a reason to remember to celebrate what we cherish the most? Surely that isn’t an imaginary gold-plated floor? (It’s at times like these that I miss the late Yasmin Ahmad and her brilliant, heart-warming and humbling Chinese New Year advertisements.)
Two weeks ago, I shared the idea for a roll-your-own-sushi home party. It’s more fun to create your own temaki with your favourite ingredients. It’s a great way to gather friends around and do something together. It’s also cheaper than dining out, be it grabbing a covered sushi plate off a conveyor belt or observing a master sushi chef patting down the rice and fish in front of you.
Chances are there will be leftover ingredients. What happens most of the time is that we store these leftovers in the fridge, forget about them for days, then toss them out with the garbage once we rediscover them and realise they are past their use-by date. We aren’t wasteful by nature; we simply haven’t embraced the art of giving our leftovers a new lease of life.
Therefore, in the spirit of not wasting food and to ring in the Year of the Sheep with good habits, why not use these leftovers in a new dish, one that is even more colourful than its separate parts? I call this dish the Rainbow Salad because of its multitude of hues, but also because there is pride in celebrating the abundance we already possess instead of always chasing for more, more, more.
This salad is delicious, refreshing, and wonderfully light, a nice balm against the coming week of excess. You don’t have to feel like a Scrooge for using leftovers; instead feel saintly and swell! Have a Happy Chinese New Year!
This salad is all about assembly. If you have leftovers from the Weekend Kitchen (i.e. the roll-your-own-sushi party), you can use most of the same ingredients such as the Japanese cucumbers and crab sticks. Simply make sure the ingredients are roughly the same size by dicing the julienned items.
Also, a couple of the ingredients (the tuna chunks and hard-boiled eggs) are seasoned with ground white pepper, lending a gentle aroma while the assembled salad will be seasoned with the spicier, more robust black pepper. This contrast of subtle flavours adds some interest to the otherwise mild-tasting dish. Such light seasoning ensures the salad will taste refreshing rather than cloying.
· 1 pack of crab sticks (lightly blanched if frozen), diced
· 2 Japanese cucumbers, diced
· 12-15 cherry tomatoes, halved
· 1 can of tuna chunks, drained and mashed with mayonnaise, ground white pepper and salt (to taste)
· 4 eggs, hard boiled and diced, mixed lightly with mayonnaise, ground white pepper and salt (to taste)
· 2-3 cili padi, finely sliced (as garnishing)
· Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
Use a large white dish to plate. Build the base by spreading the diced crab sticks in the centre of the dish. Next add in sequence the cucumber, cherry tomatoes, tuna, and lastly the hard-boiled eggs. Each new layer should be smaller in circumference than the layer beneath. If you have extra ingredients, there’s no need to use it all. Maintain the slightly conical/pyramid-like shape of the structure.
Garnish by scattering finely sliced cili padi all over the salad and season with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Serve and invite guests to toss the salad together using chopsticks (not unlike “loh sang”) or forks.
Yield: Serves 3-4 people as a shared starter.
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com/weekend-kitchen/