Chinese (or Lunar) New Year is the most important festival in China that’s also celebrated throughout many Asian countries. It’s a time for family reunion, which also means indulging in a lot of scrumptious food. It’s customary to visit the family’s elders during this time. The children (and single folks) would greet their elders with traditional, lucky phrases and would receive red pockets, or lucky money in return.
I vividly remember dressing up in my spanking new clothes to visit my grandparents as a kid. Although collecting red pockets was fun, I was more excited by the bounty of food that my grandmother prepared. Sweets and deep-fried snack foods were the most popular items and I stuffed my little face with them all.
My family still celebrates Chinese New Year but not as formally as we used to. We no longer get lucky money and simply exchange hugs and wishes to good health. One tradition that still lives on is my parents would still stock up on the delicious snack foods that I loved growing up.
You may have seen these goodies at Asian markets around mid-January. If you’ve never tried them, do so in the year of the rabbit! To make it easier, I’ve even demystified some common Cantonese ones for you.
For the braver souls, I’ve included a recipe for the quintessential “laughing sesame ball cookies” below. Fried cookie is a glorious thing, people. Happy New Year, everyone!!
Candied lotus seeds 蓮子 – the Chinese pronunciation “lian zhi” is homonymous to the phrase “connected with children”, symbolizing having a long line of off-springs.
Little horns 角仔 – deep-fried, crunchy pleated pastry filled with sweetened ground peanuts and toasted sesame seeds
Cow ear cookies 牛耳酥 – hard, crunchy cookies with a savory swirl of fermented red bean paste. These are ridiculously addictive.
Taro fritters 酥炸芋蝦 (upper right) – taro root shoestrings are dusted and deep-fried into crunchy fritters, then seasoned with salt and a touch of five spice
Laughing sesame ball cookies 笑口棗 – deep-fried cookie balls rolled in sesame seeds. The cracked cookie looks like a laughing head (or Pacman), symbolizing laughter in the new year.
Laughing sesame ball cookies 笑口棗
- Flour – 500 g
- Granulated Sugar – 180 g
- Vegetable shortening or lard – 50 g
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- Cold Water
- White sesame seeds, untoasted
- Oil for frying
- Cream shortening and the sugar with a whisk. Add the egg and whisk until smooth.
- Sift the dry ingredients together onto a board. Create a well by making a hole in the center. Pour in the egg mixture and add the water slowly. Incorporate the dry and wet ingredients slowly until the dough forms. Add more water as necessary.
- Wrap the dough up and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Cut the dough into sections and roll into long tubes. Cut each tube into pieces and roll into balls around the size of a large marble. Immediately roll the dough into the sesame seeds to coat completely. Meanwhile, bring oil (at least 5 inches deep) up to 350°F in a pot.
- Deep fry the cookie balls in batches, making sure not to crowd them. Roll them around in the oil to ensure even frying. Right before they reach golden brown, remove them and drain on a rack or a paper-lined baking sheet. They will continue to colour as they cool.
- Serve with tea and other Chinese New Year goodies when thoroughly cooled (so that they crisp up).
Yields: 75-100 cookies