Our cookbook of the week is A Common Table by Cynthia Chen McTernan. To try a recipe from the book, check out: lion’s head meatballs, potstickers, and green beans and minced pork.
“It’s such a special holiday,” says author Cynthia Chen McTernan of Lunar New Year, which begins on Feb. 5 marking the arrival of the Year of the Pig. Growing up in a Chinese household in Greenville, S.C., the holiday was a private one. “We knew most of the families that were going to be celebrating because the network was so small,” she adds.
The self-taught cook and photographer behind the award-winning blog Two Red Bowls is a lawyer by day, and it wasn’t until she left home for college and then law school that the festival began to take on new meaning. First through shared experiences with other students and now as part of the food media community.
“It was very eye opening to see that other people shared these special Lunar New Year memories,” says McTernan. “The connectivity that the holiday has is something that’s been really incredible to see over the years. It’s a nice juxtaposition to the original connotation that it had for me, which is your connection to family, and your chance to celebrate loved ones and gather around the table together.”
In her debut cookbook, A Common Table (Rodale Books, 2018), she showcases recipes that reflect her Chinese heritage, Southern U.S. upbringing and Korean mother-in-law’s cooking. Beloved family favourites, like her great-grandmother’s lion’s head meatballs and her husband’s grandmother’s bindaetteok (mung bean-kimchi pancakes), form its foundation.
“(Lion’s head meatballs) are particularly representative of the new year, which I love because that’s a special recipe that my great-grandmother used to make when my dad was growing up,” says McTernan. “It was always something that I really loved eating because I felt so connected to him and to the generations before us.”
Atop the more traditional building blocks in the book, she layered recipes that represent the way she, her Hawaii-born Korean-Irish husband and their child eat every day; foods at the intersection of their shared cultures, travels and memories. Spam-and-egg baked buns inspired by the portable breakfasts at one of her favourite Hong Kong bakeries, and kimchi grilled cheese sandwiches that mystified her mother-in-law at first blush.
“I hope that we’re all moving in a direction where we don’t feel like things need to be siloed,” says McTernan. “Where we feel like different cultures are made to interact with one another and can be celebrated for being different but also for having more in common than first meets the eye.”