Last weekend I celebrated the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, with friends originally from Taiwan and Hong Kong. I love being invited into their warm home, coaxed by smells wafting from their side screen door off the kitchen, along with strings of staccato Cantonese being spoken. It’s as if for a few hours I’ve wandered much farther east from San Antonio. I volunteered to make something to contribute to the feast, and this year chose to make Chinese Tea Eggs. A tradition for the new year, Tea Eggs symbolize fertility. Their subtle flavor–a combination of salty, sweet, earthy and aromatic–along with a marbled appearance (due to the dark cooking liquid seeping through cracks in the shell), make these eggs both lovely looking and tasty. Its cooking liquid is simply based on soy sauce, black tea and some spices. I’ve posted my recipe at the bottom, which I concocted to be just slightly sweet, but highly fragrant.

My hosts served three main dishes: pork with eggplant and mushrooms, scallops stir-fried with brocolli and goji berries, and Korean rice cakes (think ultra-thick noodles) in sauce with napa cabbage and pork. The meal ended with sweet, sticky rice cakes (one plain, one with red beans) brought from Taiwan, then diving into the Taiwanese candies.

Pork with Eggplant and Mushrooms

Recipe from Elaine Wong. Makes 2-3 servings.

Ingredients

1/2 lb ground pork

1 eggplant (narrow Japanese variety)

5-8 fresh shitake mushrooms

10-12 pieces dried cloud ear (also known as black) fungus (A flat, very mild tasting mushroom with a jelly-like texture, found in Asian stores.)

1 celery stalk

2 cloves garlic

1 scallion or spring onion

Seasoning

4-5 tbsp. oyster sauce (I like the Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Sauce)

Marinade for ground pork

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. Chinese cooking wine

2 tbsp. sesame oil

Pinch of sugar

Pinch of white pepper

Prep: black fungus

  1. Soak in water until fully expanded (about 15 minutes).
  2. Rinse thoroughly, remove hard tip.
  3. Cook in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, turn off heat, cover with lid for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove and rinse again. Drain.

Prep: ground pork (to remove fat and seal in flavor)

  1. Combine the ingredients listed under marinade, crumble ground pork, and add to marinade.
  2. Heat frying pan. Put in pork without cooking oil.
  3. Fry and break up any chunks until just fully cooked. Adjust to medium heat if too hot. Fat will come out in the meantime.
  4. Remove cooked pork. Discard liquid in pan.

Prep: other ingredients

  1. Wash shitake mushroom, remove stem. (Tip: It’s easier to remove the stem by cutting with kitchen shears.)
  2. Wash celery, cut into ¼-inch slices at an angle.
  3. Wash eggplant, cut into wedges.
  4. Wash and chop onion.
  5. Peel and smash garlic cloves.

Vegetarian version: no pork and substitute oyster sauce with vegetarian stir-fry sauce (soy-based). All steps are the same.

Cooking steps

  1. Heat a bit of cooking oil over medium-high heat such as vegetable oil, and sauté smashed garlic.
  2. Add shitake mushrooms and stir. Add 2 tbsp. oyster sauce and a little water. Keep stirring for 30 seconds.
  3. Add cloud ear fungus. Add 2 more tbs oyster sauce and a little water. Stir mixture. Turn to medium heat and cover with lid for 5 minutes. (The mushrooms and fungus will absorb the flavors. Add just enough water to prevent burning.)
  4. Add eggplant and more water. (About 1/3 of the mixture covered in liquid after adding eggplant.) Mix, cover with lid for 12 minutes.
  5. Take off lid, mix and taste. Add a little more oyster sauce if necessary.
  6. Add celery, mix, cover with lid for 3 minutes or until eggplant is soft.
  7. Turn to high heat, add pork, stir. Turn to medium heat and cover lid for 3 to 5 minutes.
  8. Stir in onion. Turn off heat. Ready to serve.

Tea Eggs

I used organic soy sauce because of its darker color, but more importantly, because I always go organic when buying soy products. Also, I used the skin of a grapefruit from a friend’s grapefruit grove in the Rio Grande Valley, making it extra special and lending a subtle citrus flavor to the eggs; I’ve seen orange peel used in other tea egg recipes. 

For 8 eggs

8 eggs from happy hens

2 cups water

1/2 cup organic soy sauce

1 tbsp. Pu’er Chinese tea (or other Chinese black tea)

2 star anise

5 cloves

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds

1/4 tsp. black peppercorns

1 inch peel of a Texas grapefruit

Soft boil the eggs in a pot of water (about 2 or 3 minutes.) In another pot, bring all ingredients to a boil. Drain eggs and gently tap the eggs all over with the back of a spoon to crack them. Make sure the cracks are deep enough so that liquid can penetrate through, but not so much that the shell starts to fall off. Gently lower each egg into the mixture with a large spoon. Once all the eggs are in, reduce heat and cook another 10 minutes until eggs are fully cooked. Turn off the heat and let the eggs continue to sit in the liquid until they’ve cooled down. Transfer liquid and eggs to a storage container and let sit overnight in the fridge. (The eggs need to be kept in the liquid for at least a few hours before eating to really absorb the flavors.) Peel and eat.

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