Chinese New Year is this Sunday, February 10, 2013 and we celebrate it with full force in our house. This upcoming year will be the Year of the Snake. For those of you who follow my blog, you may have read that my children are convinced I am really Asian, but the truth is that my Asian tendencies come from having traveled extensively throughout Asia and teaching primarily Asian students. Chinese New Year celebrations are festive and fun, and you may find that once you embrace the traditions, you will continue to do so years to come. I don’t have pictures for the food that I served last year (I started the blog last February and wasn’t in the habit of photographing my food), but I will outline some of the traditions and provide recipes for the traditional foods that I serve. Although I love homemade dumplings (and it is tradition that the family gather to make the dumplings on New Year’s Eve), I typically buy frozen dumplings – they are great and I can get a variety of types that way. I also usually buy the desert as well.
I will start with some of the traditions that are not food related and try to include the reasoning behind the traditions.
- Clean your house thoroughly before Chinese New Year – this will help to clean out the Old Year.
- Open all doors and windows at midnight on the start of Chinese New Year (New Year’s Eve) – this allows the Old Year to escape and the New Year to come in.
- Pay all bills and debts (when possible) and clear up any grievances you may have with others – if you begin the New Year with outstanding bills, you will have them all year.
- Wear red and/or gold or bright orange on Chinese New Year; avoid wearing white. Red represents happiness and good luck, gold and orange represent prosperity, while white represents death.
- Wear a new outfit or piece of clothing on Chinese New Year to insure that you will not be wearing the same old clothes all year long.
- Avoid the number 4 on Chinese New Year (the pronunciation of the word “Four” in Chinese is similar to the pronunciation of the word “Die” in Chinese.
- The number 8 is lucky because the word “eight” sounds similar to the word “fortune” in Chinese.
- Do NOT wash or cut your hair on Chinese New Year – you will wash or cut away all of your good luck.
- Try not to cry, yell, or curse on Chinese New Year – so as not to be crying, yelling, or cursing throughout the whole New Year.
- Do NOT clean the house or sweep any dirt out of the house on Chinese New Year – you will be sweeping away all of your good luck and fortune.
- Try to avoid using knives and scissors on Chinese New Year – something about severing good luck.
- If you visit the homes of others on Chinese New Year, bring them oranges/tangarines/clementines/mandarin oranges – as these are an offering of good luck and prosperity. If you are not expecting visitors, make sure you have your own supply of oranges in the house.
- Give children red envelopes with a coin, or money – this will insure them good fortune in the new year (the more, the better – kids love that part).
Traditional Chinese New Year Foods (recipes follow):
- A cooked whole fish – cooking the whole fish ensures that your family will have plenty of food and prosperity in the New Year.
- Long Noodles (the longer, the better) – noodles represent longevity (long life); remember when eating noodles not to cut or break them (with either a knife or your teeth) or you will be cutting short your life. This is why many Asians “slurp” their noodles.
- Dumplings- the crescent shape resembles Chinese money, so they represent wealth and prosperity.
- Spring/Summer/Egg Rolls symbolize wealth because they resemble gold or silver bullions (bulk gold or silver).
- Vegetables represent purification.
- Duck (Peking is traditional) represents fidelity.
- Pork represents strength.
- Pumpkin represents prosperity, abundance, illustrious children, and it draws earth’s energy to manifest gold.
- Whole chicken (served with head facing diners) represents wholeness, prosperity and abundance.
- Prawns (shrimp) represent liveliness and happiness.
- Rice represents fertility, wealth, and the link between heaven and earth.
- Eggs (tea eggs are traditional) represent fertility (avoid them if you don’t want more children).
- Layered cakes – the sweetness represents a rich, sweet life and the layers represent rising abundance for the upcoming year.
Fruit Cakes or Sticky Rice Cakes- these are traditionally fed to the Kitchen God so that he will report good things about your family when he returns to heaven before the New Year. Another tradition suggests wiping his mouth with a bit of the sticky cake to “seal his lips” so that he may not report any negative things about your family.
More information about Chinese New Year Symbolic Foods .
Chinese New Year Menu and Recipes:
- Assorted Steamed Dumplings (Dim Sum)
- Egg Drop Soup
- Asian Style Steamed Clams or Mussells
- Spring Rolls
- Steamed Whole Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves
- Beef with Broccoli
- Pork Fried Rice
- Shrimp Lo Mein
- Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy with Shitake Mushrooms
1 lb. Ground Pork
4 Large Napa Cabbage Leaves – minced
3 Stalks Green Onions – minced
7 Shitake Mushrooms – minced (if dried – rehydrated and rinsed carefully)
1/2 Cup Bamboo Shoots – minced
1/4 Cup Ginger Root – minced
3 TBS. Soy Sauce
2 TBS. Sesame Oil
2 TBS. Corn starch
1/2 lb. Raw Shrimp – peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. Ground Pork
3 Stalks Green Onions – minced
1/4 Cup Ginger Root – minced
1 Cup Water Chestnuts -minced
1 tsp. Salt
3 TBS. Sesame Oil
2 TBS. Corn starch
Use gyoza wrappers (circular) or wonton wrappers cut into circles for the wrappers.
Combine all filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly (I mix by hand). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Make dumplings.
To Boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings to pot. Boil the dumplings until they float.
To Steam: Place dumplings on a single layer of Napa cabbage leaves in a bamboo steamer basket and steam for about 6 minutes. You can also use a vegetable steamer pot lined with cabbage leaves, or grease the pot well.
To Pan Fry (potstickers)*: Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve. If using frozen dumplings, allow to thaw before frying.
To Freeze: Assemble dumplings on a baking sheet so they are not touching. Freeze for 20-30 minutes until dumplings are no longer soft. Place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to a couple of months. Prepare per the above instructions, but allow extra time to ensure the filling is thoroughly cooked.
2 Parts Soy sauce
1 Part Vinegar (red wine or black)
A Few Drops of Sesame Oil
Chili Garlic Paste (optional)
Minced Ginger (optional)
Minced Garlic (optional)
Minced Green Onion (optional)
Egg Drop Soup
- 4 cups chicken broth or stock
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 -2 green onions, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Salt to taste
- A few drops of sesame oil (optional)
In a wok or saucepan, bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Add the white pepper and salt, and the sesame oil if using. Cook for about another minute.
Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form.
Garnish with green onion and serve.
*Egg Drop Soup is frequently thickened with cornstarch in restaurants. To add a cornstarch thickener, mix 2 – 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup water. Just before adding the beaten egg, stir in the cornstarch/water mixture, remove the soup from the heat, and then add the beaten egg.
Tips for making Egg Drop Soup:
- Lightly beat the egg so that no bubbles form
- Turn off the heat the minute you begin pouring in the egg (this produces silkier threads)
- Pour the egg in a very slow stream (pouring it through the tines of a fork from several inches above the pot is a good way to keep the stream slow and steady)
- Begin stirring as soon as you start pouring in the egg
- To make shreds or threads, stir rapidly for at least 1 minute
- Stir the beaten egg in one direction only
Asian Style Steamed Mussels or Clams
- 3/4 cup Dry White Wine (or Rice Wine)
- 1 TBS. Fish Sauce
- 2 tsp. Lime Zest
- 2-3 lbs. Mussels or Clams
- 1 TBS. Peanut Oil
- 1 TBS. Fresh Ginger -grated
- 2 Cloves Garlic – crushe
- 3 Fresh Red Thai Chilis- seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 Cups Cilantro- loosely packed
- 2 Stalks Lemon Grass – bruised with a mallet (optional)
Heat wine in a small saucepan until hot. Add sauce and rind, remove from heat and stand, covered, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile scrub mussels and pull away the beards- and check to make sure clams or mussels are alive (discard any with broken shells or any opened – for mussels tap opened ones to make sure they move or try to close). Heat oil in large saucepan, add ginger, garlic, chilli and lemon grass. Cook, stirring until fragrant. Add wine mixture, 1 cup of cilantro, and mussels and simmer, covered for about 5 minutes or until mussels open (discard any that do not open). Add remaining cilantro. Spoon mussels and broth into large serving bowls or onto a large serving platter.
Whole Fish Steamed in Banana Leaf
- 4 Medium Whole Fish – fully cleaned and prepped (allow about 1/3 fish per person) Suggested fish: red snapper, black sea bass or pomfret (they are smaller, so you’ll need about 1/2 fish per person)
- 2 banana leaves (OR 2 sheets tin foil if steaming the fish) – for more on banana leaf, see below
- 1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
- 1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice
- SAUCE FOR FISH:
- 2 Green (spring) Onions- sliced (including the green stem)
- 1/2 to 1 Fresh Red Chili-seeds and membrane removed – finely chopped
- 3 Kaffir Lime Leaves (cut out the hard central stem and only include the soft leaf)- can substitute Lemon Grass – be sure to bruise it with a mallet to release flavor.
- 3-4 Cloves Garlic -minced
- 1 TBS. Lemon or Lime Juice
- 2 TBS. Fish Sauce
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Basil Leaves (Thai basil if available)-loosely-packed
- 4 TBS. Coconut Oil – OR walnut, almond, olive, or other healthy, good-tasting oil
- optional: 1 tsp. Butter (this makes the sauce richer-tasting)
- 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
- TO GARNISH:
- Lemon/Lime Slices
- Sprinkling of Fresh Basil (other toppings: spring onions cut thinly lengthwise, and fresh-cut chili)
For more on how to buy and cook with banana leaf, see: Cooking with Banana Leaf – Tips and Practical Advice.
Combine all ingredients for the sauce in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Rinse the fish under cold water and inspect for any remaining scales or entails – remove any you find. Place fish in a shallow baking dish and cover with sauce (including on the inside of the fish) – place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for 20-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove fish from refrigerator and pour remaining sauce into a bowl. Lay one banana leaf on a clean work surface – top with a fish and spoon some sauce marinade over the surface. Fold one long side of the banana leaf over the fish and then fold the two sides over (trim the sides if too long). Holding the folded sides in place “roll” the fish onto the remaining long side of banana leaf – this should sufficiently cover the fish. If you like, you can use kitchen twine to tie up the “packet,” but I don’t usually find that necessary. Place the banana leaf “packet” seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat process until all fish have been wrapped. Add a little extra sauce and some water to the bottom of the baking dish (about 1/2 inch). Place in the oven and cook for 20-35 minutes depending on size and thickness of fish. Remove from oven and check for doneness – the flesh of the fish should be opaque and flaky and should easily pull away from the bones, but still be very moist. Transfer fish to a serving platter and garnish.
Spicy Orange Beef with Broccoli
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 1 Clove Garlic -minced
- 1/2 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 lb. Boneless Sirloin Steak -cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 1/2 tsp. Grated Orange Rind
- 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
- 1 TBS. Cornstarch
- 2 TBS. Low-sodium Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp. Sesame Oil
- 3/4 Cup Green Onions – 1 inch slices
Combine garlic, pepper, and beef, tossing well. Combine rind, juice, cornstarch, and soy sauce, stirring with a whisk. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef mixture and onions; sauté 2 minutes. Add juice mixture; cook 2 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring frequently. Add broccoli and continue cooking until broccoli is just tender. Serve beef mixture over rice.
Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy and Shitake Mushrooms
See the recipe for Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy with Sesame Sprouts and eliminate sesame sprouts and add shitake mushrooms (cut in half) for last 3-4 minutes of stir frying.
Pork Fried Rice
The following looks to be a good recipe for pork fried rice – I have made fried rice so many times that I just kind of “wing it” and have never bothered to write down the recipe, but this one looks similar to how I would make it. The trick is to use leftover cold/dry rice. If you are going to be making rice especially for this dish, spread your cooked rice in a single layer on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator. This will allow your rice to dry out and chill which is what makes for good frying – rice with too much moisture will be sticky and clumpy when fried. http://www.dinneralovestory.com/quick-and-easy-pork-fried-rice/
Shrimp Lo Mein
Similar to fried rice, lo mein is just something I usually throw together. I might add a dash of oyster sauce or some garlic chili sauce if I want a touch of spice. You can use a variety of vegetables, including red pepper, peapods, broccoli, and baby bok choy. My staples are shredded cabbage (not very much – use the extra from your steamed dumplings), carrots, peapods, and green onions. As noted in the blogged recipe below – try to find lo mein noodles. They will be in the refrigerated section of your Asian market. If you can’t find fresh lo mein noodles, use a thinner pasta like Angel Hair or Thin Spaghetti. Many recipes call for linguine – I think that is just too thick for lo mein. http://smells-like-home.com/2012/06/take-out-fake-out-shrimp-lo-mein/
I hope you enjoy Chinese New Year and that it brings you good luck, prosperity, longevity, and good fortune all around. Gong She Fa Chai!
More of my Asian Recipes: