Happy Lunar New Year y’all!!! May you prosper, enjoy good grades, languish in good health, live a long life and just generally have a good time in the year ahead. If you’re not familiar with it already, Chinese New Year happens in the first 15 days of the lunar calendar cycle, and I see it as an excuse for Chinese (and Vietnamese and Thai) all over the world to see their family and friends, and party and feast hedonistically and guilt-free for slightly over two weeks.
Which is why I would like to share the recipe for this pomelo salad – pomelo is meant to signify abundance so it’s lucky to eat. And besides, it’s darn tasty.
Each day of Chinese New Year has a meaning, and the 7th day is also known as 人日 (renri) – and hence, everyone’s birthday – because humans were believed to have been created on the 7th day, after chicken and cows and other animals. To celebrate Singaporeans and Malaysians eat a raw fish salad called 鱼生 (yusheng) , which comprise of pickled and raw vegetables with slices of raw fish, coated in a plum sauce. If you’re in a restaurant in Singapore and order this dish, the waitstaff will add some of the ingredients at the table – all of which have an auspicious meaning – and family and friends will participate in lohei, in which everyone mixes the salad at the table, lifting it high with their chopsticks and saying auspicious wishes for the new year. Very theatrical.
I remember being taught in school about why we were meant to eat raw food on the 7th day, but for the life of me can’t remember the details of the story. Something about someone being stranded with no fire, and so started the tradition. And google was no help either – what I found was that raw salads are eaten on the 7th day to commemorate the end of creation of all animals, but if that was the case, then why are we allowed to eat fish? Another explanation was about the fishermen in China displaying their wares of the 7th day, starting this tradition, but if that was the explanation, then it doesn’t explain why people outside of Singapore and Malaysia have no idea what I’m talking about when I ask for Yusheng.
Which brings me to this recipe for pomelo salad. I was intending to share a cheat’s recipe for yusheng. In Singapore, you can simply buy a box which has all of the pre-packaged and pickled ingredients that you need – all you need to add is grated carrots and fish and you’ve got a salad ready for any family gathering. Unfortunately, when I walked into Asian grocers to look for these magical boxes of deliciousness, no one seemed to have a clue what I was on about. Some of them even looked at me like I’ve got a second head.
So change of plans. I still wanted a refreshing and tasty salad that you could make easily come Friday, with ingredients that are relatively easy to find. I found the pomelo at my local Woolworths, so the main ingredient (and most ‘exotic’) is already taken care of!
There are more traditional Thai and Vietnamese versions of this salad, but I’ve changed it slightly to satisfy my craving for Yusheng.
Pomelo Salad (serves 6 as part of a banquet):
[For the salad]
2 medium pomelo (about the size of a football)
1/2 bunch of coriander
1/2 telegraph cucumber (or 1 small english cucumber)
1 handful of roasted salted peanuts
1 handful of fried crispy shallots (available at Asian grocers)
1 handful of roasted coconut chips (I used a packet of these ones)
200g peeled, cooked shrimp
30g raw eschallots
[For the sauce]
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 small birds eye chillies (or 1 large red chilli if you don’t like it hot)
3 tbsp of fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
2-3 tbsp of brown sugar (or palm sugar if you have it)
2 tbsp water
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce and let it sit for a bit to infuse. Have a taste too, you might need to adjust the balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy to your liking.
Peel the pomelo and remove all the flesh. Unlike an orange or lemon, the segment skin is too tough and bitter to eat, so you’re going to have to remove that too. I found this website particularly helpful. You can do this step the day before, and I always make it a point to buy more pomelo than I need, and snack on some while I’m peeling the fruit.
Cook, cool and peel your shrimp if you haven’t already.
Cut the carrot and cored cucumber into thin, long strips – I use a vegetable peeler to peel off flat strips off, then use my knife to cut it long ways. Thinly slice the eschallots. When you’re just about ready to serve, Add the vegetables to the pomelo pieces, breaking up the pieces a bit will also give you some lovely juice that will help dress the salad. Add the shrimp, and give it a quick toss. Arrange it on a plate, then add the fried eschallots, peanuts and coconut chips over the top.
Add the dressing at the table – you might not need all of it – and mix and serve.
There you have it, a salad – and my substitute for yusheng – for the your ‘birthday’ on Thursday.
And I just gave you another reason to eat cake!!! Happy birthday in advance!!