For the Chinese, the fifth of February was the beginning of a new lunar year — the Year of the Pig or boar.
The Chinese calendar begins on the second new moon after the northern hemisphere winter begins. It is divided into 12-year cycles with each year represented by different animals. The rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and lastly, the pig or boar. Each animal imposes its personality on its allocated year.
Pork is a popular meat in China and other Asian countries. It is great in stir-fries, curries, casseroles and as a barbecue mainstay. Surprisingly, pork is not only one of the tastiest but one of the leaner meats with a high level of essential nutrients. Most of the fat is under the skin around the outside of the meat and can be trimmed.
Nutritional analysis for pork leg steaks show that the fat content is only five per cent. If all visible fat is removed, the fat content drops to just one per cent.
Food plays an important role in new year celebrations. So I have developed some Asian-inspired dishes to celebrate the Year of the Pig.
CHIANG MAI LAAB
Make your own delicious mouthfuls by spooning the pork into lettuce leaves and topping with chopped chilli and peanuts.
2 tablespoons canola oil
500g lean minced pork
2 shallots, diced
1 tablespoon each: lemon grass paste, finely diced kaffir lime leaves
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 cup each: mint leaves, coriander leaves
2 tablespoons each: lime juice, roasted rice powder
Salad: 16-20 buttercrunch lettuce leaves
1-2 tablespoons chopped red chilli
3/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Stir-fry the pork in batches for about 7 minutes, until cooked and well coloured. Remove from the heat and fold in the remaining ingredients.
Serve in a bowl in the centre of a platter surrounded by the lettuce leaves peanuts and chilli. Serves 4-6.
VIETNAMESE FIVE-SPICE PORK FILLET
Excellent served sliced with a salad prepared from fresh mint, basil, coriander, Vietnamese mint, cucumber and mung bean sprouts with a dressing of sweet chilli sauce and crushed garlic thinned with lime or lemon juice.
1 teaspoon peppercorns
4 cloves garlic
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon each: lemon grass paste, light soy sauce, brown sugar
1 teaspoon each: five-spice powder, sesame oil
600g pork fillet
Finely grind the peppercorns, garlic and shallot together with the lemon grass paste. Combine with the soy sauce, brown sugar, five-spice powder and sesame oil. Rub over the pork and marinate overnight in the refrigerator in a covered container.
Return the meat to room temperature. Grill or barbecue the fillet on medium heat for about 15 minutes, turning often. Serves 6 as a starter or 4 as a main.
PORK WITH CAPERS & COCONUT CREAM
Great served with lime or lemon wedges for squeezing over the pork.
200g egg noodles
1 tablespoon canola oil
400g pork schnitzel, thinly sliced
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 cup coconut milk
2-3 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
herbs to garnish
Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Stir-fry the pork with the spring onions in batches for about 2 minutes. Place aside.
Add the coconut milk to the pan. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the capers. Return the pork to the pan with the drained noodles then season. Great garnished with fresh herbs such as mint, basil and coriander. Serves 4.