Chinese New Year is the sort of new year celebration I love.
Because unlike the Western tradition of big blowout parties, Chinese New Year is a time to get together with family, to give thanks for what you have, to retire your grudges, and to look forward to a year of peace and happiness. In that way, I think of it much as I do Thanksgiving.
It's in the spirit of Chinese New Year (which this year starts Feb. 10) that I've reconfigured one of my favourite dim sum dishes — shrimp toasts. Not familiar with dim sum is? Think of it as Chinese tapas, or small plates of food. Traditionally, shrimp toasts are made of chopped or ground shrimp seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions and rice wine. This mixture then is mounded onto little toasts and deep-fried. The result is creamy on top, crispy on the bottom, and richly flavourful through and through.
Like everyone else on the planet, if it's fried, I love it. In this case, though, I was hoping to get the crunch of frying without the fat.
I did a bunch of research and discovered that while the toast in this dish usually is made of plain old white bread, sometimes it's swapped out for a slice of baguette. Eureka! Since baguettes become wonderfully crunchy when baked, I figured that that was how — without frying — I could conjure the crunchiness necessary for this recipe.
But then I worried that the shrimp mixture would dry out during baking. It needed protection, or some sort of coating. That's when I reached for one of my favourite stealth ingredients — mayonnaise. It makes a terrific glaze. I spiked low-fat mayo with some sesame oil and sprinkled it with sesame seeds and, sure enough, it did the trick. The shrimp topping stayed creamy.
BAKED SESAME SHRIMP TOASTS
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active)
Makes 32 toasts
32 diagonally sliced 1/2-inch-thick baguette slices
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large egg white
2 1/2 teaspoons sake, Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Heat the oven to 400 F.
On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer. Spritz the bread slices on both sides with cooking spray. Bake them on the oven's middle shelf for 4 minutes. Remove them from the oven, turn over each slice, then set aside. Reduce the oven to 350 F.
In a food processor, combine the shrimp, egg white, sake, ginger, garlic, hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the sesame oil, the salt and the sugar. Puree until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the water chestnuts and scallions.
In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Mound a rounded tablespoon of the shrimp mixture on top of each toast and spread evenly over the toast. Brush the top of each mound with some of the mayonnaise mixture, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake on the oven's middle shelf for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the shrimp mixture is just cooked through. Serve hot.
Nutrition information per toast: 120 calories; 20 calories from fat (17 per cent of total calories); 2 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 5 g protein; 260 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."