An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes the centre of the Sun. Equinoxes occurs twice a year; 20 March and 23 September this year. At the equinox, the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. Before the Southward equinox, the sun rises and sets more and more to the north, and afterwards, it rises and sets more and more to the south.
In China the Mid-Autumn Festival, known as the Moon Festival, is celebrated around the time of the September equinox. It celebrates the abundance of the summer’s harvest. One of the main foods is a mooncake filled with lotus, sesame seeds and dried fruit. Families would sit in the garden with teacups placed on a stone table, they would pour tea and chat, waiting for the moment when the full moon’s reflection appeared in their tea. Food offerings would be placed on an altar set up in the garden, including apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, melons, oranges, and pomelos.
One of the first decorations purchased for the celebration table is a clay statue of the Jade Rabbit. In Chinese folklore, the Jade Rabbit is an animal that lives on the moon. Offerings of yellow beans and cockscomb flowers are made to the Jade Rabbit.
I’m fresh out of mooncakes, lotus and cockscomb flowers but I do have some rather pokey Schezuan Peppercorns so I made Hong Sao Tofu. A welcoming and warming dish for the cool evening of the Autumn Equinox.
- 1 large tsp Schezuan peppercorns, dry roasted and ground in a pestle and mortar
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4cm fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp soya sauce
- 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 2 small or 1 large dried red chillies
- 1 Lapsang Souchong teabag
- ½ block tofu, chopped into cubes
- 2 tsp roasted sesame seed oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 head broccoli, chopped
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- Put all the ingredients (except the tofu and veg) in a pan with a splash of boiling water and heat gently for at least one hour (take the teabag out after 20 mins or as soon as you can taste the smoky flavour in your sauce or it will overwhelm everything else).
- Continue cooking (adding water as needed) but don’t let it boil… it will reduce over time to a thick, glossy, tasty sauce!
- In the meantime, fry the tofu in sesame seed oil until golden brown and then set aside.
- 15 minutes before you want to eat, stir-fry the vegetables in a dash of sesame seed oil in a hot wok.
- As they are beginning to soften throw in the tofu and your sauce (you obviously have to strain it first!).
- Then cook everything together, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is as soft as you like it.
- Serve with jasmine rice.