Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhogs, Hedgehogs and Rabbits!

Here in Toronto, we're getting dumped on yet again and if this winter is starting to feel never-ending, there's a few reasons to be a little more cheerful today despite the snow. Today is Feb 2 which means it's Groundhog Day if you live in the wintery parts of North America, Candlemas if you're Catholic and/or British, and if you celebrate pagan holidays it's Imbolc. Not uncommonly, all three celebrations seem to have borrowed a little from the other. Imbolc is an ancient Celtic celebration of the midway point of winter and like Groundhog Day, involves weather prediction. Candlemas is the last feast day of the Epiphany and is celebrated 40 days after Christmas to coincide with the day Jesus was presented at the temple. The candles lit at Imbolc seem to have been appropriated into the religious version at some point, as well as weather prognostication as noted in this ancient Scottish rhyme:

If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter to come and mair

If Candlemass day be wet and foul.
The half o' winter gane at Yule.

Where the groundhog come is a little less clear- there is some mention of a hedgehog performing a similar rite in British lore and even a badger is mention in some German tales. Whichever version you chose, there is real reason to celebrate today; Feb 2 marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, which means we are halfway to spring!

And if that isn't enough to celebrate, tonight is the new moon and for those that follow the lunar calendar tonight is New Year's Eve. Tomorrow ushers in the year of the rabbit which is supposed to herald a year of calm and tranquility. Sounds wonderful to me!

New Years Eve in Chinese culture is a time to get together with friends and family and enjoy a large meal featuring traditional lucky dishes. One such dish is Jiao Zi or steam dumplings. They are consider lucky because the shape of the dumpling resembles ancient Chinese money.

Jiao Zi


You can buy dumpling wrappers pre-made at any Asian grocery store- make sure to get round ones not wonton squares, or if you prefer, you can make them at home

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage or bok choy)
4 tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots or grated carrots
1/2 finely chopped mushrooms (black mushroom are traditional but any fresh mushroom is fine)
2 slices fresh ginger, finely minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 cup ground pork or chicken (cooked shrimp works too or omit meat all together and add more vegetables)

1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 tsp chili paste or to taste
2 tbsp sesame oil

1 egg, beaten

Stir the salt into the flour. Slowly stir in the cold water, adding as much as is necessary to form a smooth dough. Don't add more water than is ncessary. Knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling ingredients. Use a food processor to combine all ingredients but don't over mix: a quick pulse as you add each vegetable and put meat in last. Add soy sauce, wine, chili paste, and sesame oil and pulse until mixture binds together. If you are omitting meat add 1/2 of beaten egg to aid mixture to bind the veggies

To make the dumpling dough: knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 60 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Dough should be very thin!

Place a small portion (about 1 level tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with egg mixture. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings.

You can cook these a number of different ways- boil, steam or pan fry. I prefer to fry them briefly until both side are lightly browned and edges are sealed, then add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock or water with a dash of soy sauce and allow them to steam until fully cooked.

Serve with dipping sauces of your choice.

Happy Groundhog day/Candlemas/Imbolc/ New Year!

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