It’s Chinese New Year again and it is promising to be a whirlwind of visiting and activities. It just happened that hub’s birthday fell a couple of days before CNY and so we’ve been hosting a bunch of dinners. And since it’s CNY season what better appetizer to serve than Yu Sheng?
I used to grudgingly toss this salad but not eat it because it was usually slathered with sugary plum sauce and topped with rice flour crackers. But I’ve noticed over time that people have started to take liberties with the traditions Yu Sheng and started to add non-traditional elements as well.
I posted my Yu Sheng recipe last year; to me it was a really big deal because I could serve and eat this CNY staple. But I was even happier this year because I think I nailed the homemade plum sauce. This is the anchor of the dish – after all it is the ingredient that is linked with the only Chinese 4-word saying that I can remember – ”甜甜蜜蜜”! This year I made a largish batch of plum sauce and gifted half of it to a friend whose husband is diabetic and loves Yu Sheng. Hopefully this tides him through the season.
In case there are people unfamiliar with Yu Sheng, it is actually a recent tradition – apparently it was in the 60s that that some local chefs came up with this salad that is tossed, chanting phrases that are linked homonymously with different ingredients and all this to bring prosperity (a strange food ritual!). Remarkably, Yu Sheng has captured the imagination of countless superstitious Chinese and tossing Yu Sheng has become a big thing in HK and China as well. Here in Singapore it is really ubiquitous and most supermarkets will sell round trays of ready cut vegetables and ingredients. I think it’s not difficult to make this at home (and much cheaper). I do substitute healthier ingredients eg avocado oil for vegetable oil, toasted almond flakes instead of flour crackers and sugar-free plum sauce from the sugar laden commercial plum sauce. So here’s the assembly of ingredients as well as the phrases we usually chant when throwing it over the salad:
1. Raw fish 年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú)
– I usually get sashimi grade fish for this. The homonym 余 means ”surplus/extra” and sounds like “鱼” which is the fish that is tossed in. I often add fish skin crackers for added crunch here (there was a season when no one put raw fish in this salad because of a couple of fatal food poisoning cases).
2. Pomelo 大吉大利 (dà jí dà lì)
– ok this isn’t that low carb but I do love this and will include this in the dish. A good low carb alternative is to just squeeze limes in. Actually the original intention was to have mandarin oranges in this because 橘子 (juzi) sounds like 吉 (ji) which means good fortune. Ok it’s a bit of a stretch I know.
3. Five Spice Powder and Pepper 招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo)
– the spices are usually put in cute mini red and green packets and symbolize wealth. Obviously Chinese in general only care about money and prosperity. It’s an obsession.
4. Carrots 鸿运当头 (hóng yùn dāng tóu)
– carrots shredded as finely as possible. This phrase literally means good luck is at will come your way.
5. Cucumber 青春常驻 (qīng chūn cháng zhù)
– the green of the cucumber is a reference to the “green spring” 青春 of the phrase. The ladies like this one – youth will spring eternal and you won’t need Botox and anti-aging serums.
6. Daikon radish 步步高升 (bù bù gāo shēng)
– I have no idea why radish is linked to 步步高升 which denotes getting a promotion and rising up the ranks. Unless it’s the fact that there is usually a giant heap of shredded radish to climb up.
7. Chopped peanuts 金银满屋 (jīn yín mǎn wū)
– with a stretch of imagination the peanuts can be seen as loose change that is cluttering the whole house. I usually toast the peanuts for more fragrance.
8. Sesame seeds 生意兴隆 (shēng yì xīng lóng)
– again the link of the phrase with sesame seeds is obscure/ but the phrase is a wish for good business in the year ahead. In this economic climate, you would need to put a heap of sesame in the dish.
9. Toasted almond flakes 遍地黄金 (biàn dì huáng jīn)
– I usually substitute almond flakes for the flour crackers that most people will toss in. It does give a nice crunch and tastes better than the crackers. These are supposed to look like gold ingots littering the floor.
10. Plum sauce 甜甜蜜蜜 (tián tián mì mì)
– I was doing a Yu Sheng toss last night with hub’s friends and the restaurant used honey instead of plum sauce. Regardless this is the one thing I would definitely use a low carb substitute for.
11. Avocado oil 财源广进 (Cái yuán guǎng jìn)
– any oil will do but since I’m paranoid about trans fats I figured avocado oil is a flavour neutral and healthy oil for this salad. The trick about this one is to drizzle the oil in circular motion…apparently the riches 财源 will flow in in all directions!
Finally you are supposed to toss it all together, as high as possible and it’s absolutely ok to have the salad flying off the plate onto the table, floor or ceiling. Apparently it’s really good luck. But not for the person cleaning up.
So here is my homemade plum sauce. The one in my previous Yu Sheng post tasted ok but it had a weird purple hue because I didn’t peel the plums! And it tasted more like a savory sauce. This year’s plum sauce is definitely better.
Simmer gently over the stove.
The recipe made 2 mason jars of plum sauce.
Homemade Plum Sauce
- 1 kg of plums
- 1 cup sugar substitute
- 1/8 cup Apple cider vinegar
- 2 cm small knob of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Cut the plums in half and remove the pits. Put the cut plums in the freezer. When frozen, take out and peel the plums and discard the skins.
- Using a non-stick pot, mix the plums, sugar substitute, vinegar, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil together and simmer over medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to help break down the plum flesh while stirring.
- Cook the plum sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring well.
- Strain the sauce into mason jars to keep in the fridge. Bring it up to room temperature before serving.
The Yu Sheng ingredients are neatly place in heaps. This year being the year of the Rat, the vegetables were heaped to look like rats! Some non-traditional ingredients I used were Japanese pickled ginger (it’s a lovely red colour and looks great as a decorative touch) and Japanese Wakame shreds which are a pretty bright green that brings out the color of the dish. And not forgetting the blueberries for the rat eyes…extra blueberries went to the dog who was really interested in the whole process!