"We all got into it, cracking walnut shells with our shoes, pulling the sweet white meat from inside while a crowd of our Chinese hosts eyed us with bemused perplexity. 'Americans,' I imagined them saying, afterward. 'The poor sons of bitches have everything in the world, but they've never tasted fresh walnuts.'"I've never been to China, nor have I ever cracked open a walnut and eaten its meat standing up on the side of the street. Sounds pretty amazing. I wonder if Jennifer Egan has eaten walnuts in China, or if this scene came strictly out of her imagination.
—"Why China?," Jennifer Egan
Chinese New Year was last week, which awakened a craving — not for walnuts, but for New Year's cake, nian gao (年糕). It usually comes in a gigantic round wheel in shrink wrap, which can be sliced into fat chunks and then either dipped in egg and pan fried, or just reheated in the microwave. I wanted some, but not quite badly enough to make the trek to Chinatown — so I endeavored to make some in the comfort of my own kitchen.
Some avid Googling of nian gao led me to several recipes that seemed overly complicated, and most of them required 3 eggs (and, sadly, I only had one egg in the fridge tonight). Then it occurred to me that the texture and taste of a freshly steamed nian gao is very similar to freshly made mochi (sweet and incredibly sticky). Ding ding! I adapted my 5-minute microwave mochi recipe by adding some red bean paste — and I have to say, it satiated my craving for nian gao just fine. Not bad for just two ingredients + water + a microwave + 4 minutes.
4-Minute Red Bean New Year's Cake (年糕)
1/2 cup mochiko (sweet rice) flour
1/2 cup + 1 tsp water
1/3 cup sweetened red bean paste (coarse or fine)
Mix all ingredients well in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!