Early in my marriage, my husband and I were trying to make plans for a certain weekend at the end of January. It was Chinese New Year, and I wanted to visit my family several hours to the north of where we lived. My husband, however, had other ideas.
“My parents are having a big party. All the relatives will be there,” he explained.
“But it’s tradition to spend this weekend with my side of the family,” I countered.
“Why? They don’t even watch the Super Bowl!”
Count it as one of the joys of a mixed-race marriage. We bring some really different cultural perspectives into our lives. One spouse’s important cultural tradition is … well, the same day as the other person’s important cultural tradition. Fortunately, Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, meaning it’s a moving target — in mid-January one year, late February other years.
This year, Chinese New Year begins on Feb. 3, meaning the Packers and the Steelers will have to face another contender: the Rabbit. As in, Year of the Rabbit.
I set out to create a dish that would spice up the standard Super Bowl chili with some Asian flavors. Chili, with its ground meat and spicy red sauce, has always reminded me of a couple homegrown Chinese dishes: ma pa tofu (with its ground pork, cubes of bean curd, and hot bean sauce) and lo ba bung. What is lo ba bung? It’s a dish rarely served in restaurants, but commonly made at home — Taiwanese comfort food. Minced or ground pork is simmered with soy sauce, rice wine and five-spice, making a simple, hearty meal. Sort of like chili.
Chinese New Year Chili
- 2 cloves shallots, diced
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- 2 slices fresh ginger
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 teaspoon Five spice powder*
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon bean paste with chili**
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shao Xing Jiu (Chinese rice wine; you can substitute Johnny Walker or a splash of lager)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3-4 inch strip orange peel
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, with green chile is a nice touch
- 2 cans black beans
- Heat a small amount of oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot.
- Saute shallots, garlic and ginger until softened.
- Add ground pork, cook until browned.
- Add five-spice powder, white pepper and bean paste (if using). Sauté these spices until they are fragrant.
- Add soy sauce and wine, then tomatoes and beans.
- Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you have time.
- Serve in bowls, garnished with cilantro or sliced green onions. You can also serve it over rice, like lo ba bung, or simmer it down until it’s thickened and make sloppy joes with sweet white rolls, like Hawaiian bread.
* Five-spice powder is made of fennel, anise, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. You can also substitute 1-2 pieces of star anise, a cinnamon stick and a dash of the other spices.
** Bean paste is found in Chinese specialty markets. It lends a nice, earthy touch to the dish. But if you can’t find it, use some regular Chinese chili sauce (the kind found in glass jars at restaurants) or Sriracha. They won’t add the complexity of the hot bean paste, but they will add heat.