McMURRAY – Shuping Liu’s hands deftly flattened the dough into a perfect circle in the palm of her small hand before she placed a small dollop of ground pork and cabbage in the center. She then crimped the edges to make a perfect crescent-shaped dumpling that was cooked in a pot of boiling water.
The art Liu demonstrated during a Peters Township Public Library Cooking Club meeting Thursday night is an ancient Chinese tradition used to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
For Liu, the tradition was handed down by her late grandmother, and is one she will share with her family when the Chinese celebration begins Sunday.
Liu was one of several who cooked Chinese dishes for the monthly club meeting in the library. This year, members of the Cooking Club are enjoying Taste the World, featuring a different country each month, with Ireland to be the subject in March.
Library director Pier Lee, a native of China, prepared a dish of snow peas, sliced mushrooms and strips of chicken breast, all cooked in vegetable oil. The only seasoning was a dash of salt.
In some countries, food is prepared using sauces or gravy, or is heavy on meat. In China, the emphasis is on fresh products with meat acting as a complement to the vegetables, Lee said. Moisture from heavy sauces and gravies is replaced by the natural juices from the vegetables and some meat.
Dorothy Tecklenburg and her husband, John, of Washington, spent five years in China with their two children. Thursday, she prepared a dish of fresh green beans seasoned with pork.
While in China, the Tecklenburgs were able to obtain some Western cooking ingredients, but also relied heavily on local recipes. Once, she was able to obtain four chicken breasts to feed her family of four. However, the housekeeper froze three of the breasts and used only one to prepare the family’s meal.
Liu told the gathering that the Chinese use a great deal of pork and fish.
“Beef goes more with carrots,” Liu told the group, adding that no meat is taboo.
In China, chickens and other animals that will become dinner are often sold alive, with the merchant offering to kill the animal. Many people take the live animal home for slaughter, again symbolizing the Chinese desire for the freshest ingredients.
John Tecklenburg said that in a restaurant, the guest is often handed a net to “catch” the desired fish.
He said when living in China, he had a policy of never eating any food outside the family’s home unless he had watched it being cooked. Freshness is vital; however, sanitation and safety are not always top priorities.
For the upcoming Chinese New Year, families will gather to make the dumplings Liu made, often served with a special dumpling sauce. Two bites are all that is needed to eat one of the dumplings, a tradition in China similar to having turkey for Thanksgiving in the United States.
Dorothy Tecklenburg, who offered a display of colorful costumes, told of how during the New Year celebration, the color red plays a big role, along with firecrackers and fireworks. The myth goes there was a dragon that would eat the villagers, but soon the villagers discovered the dragon was afraid of red and loud noises. By wearing red and lighting fireworks, the dragon fled so far that he wouldn’t return for an entire year.