This past week seems to have been a holiday extravaganza. People all around have been celebrating the Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras, and preparing for Valentine’s Day. Throw in the Superbowl (a holiday to some, I suppose) and it’s really been quite a festive week.
I’d mentioned the other day that our family had a fun hot pot dinner last weekend to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The meal tradition was introduced to us by some close friends several years ago. It was a great way to bring families together, learn about another culture and their traditions, and have some fun (and some delicious food). It also works to our advantage that the hot pot meal is very easily adapted for gluten free eating, since it consists primarily of broth, vegetables, proteins, and rice.
According the Wikipedia the hot pot meal has been around in some form for over 1000 years. For those unfamiliar, hot pot is like an East Asian version of fondue; dishes of raw meats, seafood, noodles, and vegetables await cooking in a communal pot. When enjoying hot pot, the foods are cooked in a boiling broth and fondue forks are replaced with small metal baskets like these. The cooked food is often enjoyed with a bowl of rice and any of a number of dipping sauces. The added beauty of hot pot is that the broth can be a mild or spicy soup base whose flavor is further enhanced by the ingredients as they cook in the broth. At the end of the meal when our bellies are all stuffed full, we add many of the remaining ingredients to the pot to make a rich and hearty soup to enjoy as leftovers in the days ahead.
In past years, we have had hot pot as a large feast with one or two other families, each bringing a portion of the meal components. Since moving, this was my first year doing the dinner on my own. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed taking it all on alone. As a result, I chose to focus my efforts on the broth, raw ingredients, and dessert. I opted to purchase prepared sauces and appetizers. I got lucky. Our local grocery store must have been celebrating the Lunar New Year as well because they had the whole range of San-J gluten-free, non-GMO Asian cooking sauces on sale as well as gluten free dumplings and egg rolls by Feel Good Foods that were also dairy-free, non-gmo, and contained no msg. Experience has taught us that the meal is far more enjoyable if the children have some prepared foods to eat while they wait for their other foods to start cooking in the hot pot, so these egg rolls and dumplings were perfect.
Before we could think of doing any cooking though, I had to purchase a pot. I mention this here because it was a bit of a task to find a pot that I felt comfortable using. Many electric skillets or hot pots (also referred to as Shabu Shabu pots) have a non-stick coating on the inside. For a multitude of health reasons, I do not use non-stick cookware. I am also dubious about ceramic-coated cookware as well after hearing discouraging information about its safety across manufacturers.
I wanted to buy a stainless steel pot that was going to be large and deep enough to work for a hot pot application and be affordable. After spending the better part of a day researching my options, I purchased this pot. It came with a non-stick grill insert, but I won’t be using that, and the pot part is all stainless steel. I worried that it would be too small to use for a group larger than our family, but I reasoned that if it worked well and we wanted to invite others to join us in future years, I could purchase a second pot if need be.
I spent the days leading up to our meal gathering ingredients from local grocery stores, and then Rich made a quick stop at a large Asian specialty grocer to get the remaining ingredients. We had a range of vegetables including scallions, spinach, bok choi, broccoli, carrots, and various mushrooms. I also purchased organic firm tofu, mung bean “glass” noodles, sticky rice cakes, thinly sliced pork belly, small crabs, calamari, and added some thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts and beef sirloin. In addition, we had bowls of minced cilantro, garlic, and ginger to toss into the pot or to spice up our rice bowls as desired.
The kids were so excited for the meal to begin. We got the pot going and I added the broth that I had made from simmering homemade chicken bone broth with fresh ginger, garlic, bay leaf, and some star anise. Each child was given a bowl of brown rice and a small dish for dipping sauces. They also were given two cooking baskets a piece.
We had a lot of fun cooking our foods, trying out the different flavors from the sauces and fishing escaped bits of food out of the pot.
The chicken dumplings and vegetable egg rolls that we tried received raves, and the Asian barbecue sauce from San-J earned the highest overall votes as the favorite condiment. All things considered, I still wish that I had time to make some steamed Asian meatballs and some sauces of my own, but there will be other years to do that.
During our meal we talked about the symbolism of the various foods that we were enjoying. We discussed the tradition of the Chinese New Year Celebration and how it has evolved over time. We talked about the Year of the Monkey and the concept of a Zodiac year versus a Zodiac month. The topics prompted a lot of family conversation and cultural appreciation.
We ended the meal by scooping portions of the remaining ingredients into the pot to make soup for the next day.
Finally, we wrapped up the evening with delicious, sticky slices of a gluten and dairy-free version of a red bean mochi butter cake. I will share that recipe in a post to follow soon. Alina has already requested it as her birthday cake this year.
Although we very much missed sharing the celebration with friends as we had done in year’s past, I was glad to broaden the kids’ horizons and create some fun family memories around a happy kitchen table. The leftover soup warmed our bellies throughout the week, and as I write this a week later, I do it with a smile on my face.by