SINGAPORE - As people prepare to pass another Covid-19 Chinese New Year, the new restriction of five visitors a day a household means hosts need to rethink their festive menus.
Instead of trying to feed guests with traditional main courses which are challenging to prepare and heat up each day, why not add a dash of chic sophistication to your table with canapes instead?
Straits Times Food Editor Tan Hsueh Yun and I have come up with three sufficiently impressive yet simple small eats.
All the ingredients can be prepared in advance and the final cooking or assembly done just before your guests arrive.
We trawled the library of auspicious foods and our final line-up includes two dishes from myself - Golden Nuggets, or marinated prawns wrapped in spring-roll skin and deep-fried, and a Good Luck Pomelo and Orange salad.
The pronunciation of prawns, or "har" in Cantonese, sounds like laughter and denotes happiness.
This, with the "golden bars" of the spring rolls, traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival, makes this dish doubly auspicious.
Pomelos are symbolic of family reunions and, along with oranges, are believed to bring good luck.
From Hsueh comes Crab Pie Tee served with a crab and mango salsa, which puts a whimsical twist on the traditional kueh pie tee.
This series has taken us on a whirlwind tour through the culinary world of Singapore, via iconic dishes from chilli crab to chicken briyani. We have celebrated Christmas with the Eurasian curry devil and also served up buah keluak ayam, a must-have dish at every Peranakan Lunar New Year reunion dinner.
With these canapes, we end this series on a festive high, looking forward to a year filled with happiness at home, friendship and fortune, an ever upward path and - most importantly - good health.
Violet's Golden Nuggets
To season prawns
½ red chilli
2 Tbs lime juice
2 to 3 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp lemon zest
3 Tbs cornflour
Cut garlic, ginger and chillies roughly and grind in a food processor till fine with the lime juice and fish sauce. Add the lemon zest and cornflour, mix well.
Home-made sour and hot chilli sauce
1 Tbs assam (tamarind)
1/3 cup water
5 cloves of garlic, finely pounded
2 Tbs chilli powder
2 Tbs dark soya sauce (normal watery quality)
1 tsp sugar
20 shallots, diced
2 green chillies, sliced
1. Mix the tamarind with water and knead to extract the juice. Strain to remove the pulp.
2. Mix the tamarind juice with the garlic, chilli powder, soya sauce and sugar.
3. Just before serving, mix in the shallots and green chillies.
4. Keep some green chillies and shallots for garnish on top of the chilli sauce.
Prawns fried in spring-roll skin
20 to 30 large prawns - tiger or red leg
2 Tbs cornflour
3 Tbs water
20 frozen spring-roll skins
4 to 5 cups corn or canola oil
1. Shell the prawns, leaving the tails on.
2. Cut down the back and remove the black intestinal vein, wash and pat dry. Make a slit down the length of each prawn on the opposite of the cut side.
3. Toss prawns in the seasoning mixture and leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Clean the exposed tails with a paper towel.
4. Mix 1 Tbs of cornflour with 3 Tbs of water to form a slurry.
5. Peel off one spring-roll skin, cut into two triangles, brush the cornflour slurry around the three sides and fold around a prawn to enclose it fully.
6. Repeat till all the prawns are folded in the spring-roll skins.
7. Heat the oil and deep-fry the prawns - about six to eight at a time on medium heat - till the rolls are golden brown.
8. Drain on paper towels placed on a wire rack. Serve as a Chinese New Year snack at any time of day or night.
Note: The Golden Nuggets can be wrapped and frozen till ready to be cooked. Deep-fry while still frozen - do not defrost. The ready deep-fried Golden Nuggets can also be frozen and re-fried just before serving, straight out of the freezer. Again, do not defrost.
Serves four to six
Violet's Good Luck Pomelo and Orange Salad
½ pomelo, peeled and with the skin on each segment removed
½ pink pomelo (if in season), peeled and with the skin on each segment removed
3 navel oranges, cut into segments
20 to 30 green seedless grapes, halved
20 to 30 red seedless grapes, halved
10 water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
For the sauce
4 to 5 Tbs lime juice
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs sugar
1 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
½ cup deep-fried sliced shallots (optional)
½ cup deep-fried sliced garlic (optional)
5 sprigs of coriander, cut into lengths of 1cm
4 chillies, cut into strips, soaked in ice water till curly, drain and dry
1. Mix the sauce and toss the cut fruits lightly in the sauce up to one hour before serving. Store in the fridge.
2. Arrange the fruit salad in a salad bowl or individual cocktail glasses.
3. Sprinkle some crushed peanuts, deep-fried shallots and deep-fried garlic on top and garnish with coriander leaves and chilli curls. Cut a slit in an orange segment and insert onto the side of a glass.
Note: This is a savoury fruit salad and can be served with cold steamed prawns and cold cooked fresh scallops. The quantity is sufficient for making several batches of the salad over two or three days for family and guests.
Serves 10 or more
Hsueh's Crab Pie Tee
For the dressing
2 large limes
30ml avocado, grapeseed or other neutral flavoured oil
1/4 tsp sea salt or to taste
Fresh ground white pepper to taste (optional)
For the crab salsa
125g ripe mango
2 large red chillies
2 to 3 sprigs coriander
Kueh pie tee cups
1. Make the dressing: Use the zest and juice of the limes.
2. Place all the ingredients in a glass jar. Cover and shake to emulsify the oil and lime juice. It can be made a day in advance. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
3. Cut the mango into small cubes. Halve the chillies lengthwise, remove the seeds, slice into strips lengthwise and then cut crosswise. You want a fine dice. Cut off the coriander roots and discard. Finely dice the stems and leaves.
4. Place the mango, chilli, coriander and crabmeat in a large mixing bowl, spoon in 2 to 3 Tbs of the dressing to just coat the ingredients.
5. Refrigerate at least one hour for the flavours to meld.
6. To serve, spoon the crab salsa into the kueh pie tee cups.
7. Alternatively, set out a bowl of the crab salsa alongside the kueh pie tee cups and have guests fill them.
Serves four to six