How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Perhaps you’d like a second chance to restart the year and reinvigorate some of those goals? If that’s the case, here’s your chance! January 31 was the start of the Chinese New Year; the year of the Horse. A lunar calendar determines when the Chinese New Year will fall, much like Easter in the West.
After all the hubbub of the Western holiday season has faded, it’s nice to have one more chance to enjoy wonderful food and company, and to celebrate the start of a bright new year.
Growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, food was rationed. At New Year’s time, we received extra food and my parents would invite friends over for their annual party. My mother would spend days planning the party. As we had no refrigerator, she had to put all the food outside on the windowsill during the day and then bring it in at night to prevent it from freezing. My brother and I would huddle around our small coal stove, inhaling the delicious smell. Those days were the happiest memories in my childhood.
Today I feel very fortunate and blessed to host a New Year’s party and cook in a kitchen with all modern appliances. The refrigerator that keeps my food fresh for days, a gas stove, a steam oven and a warming drawer all make cooking and hosting an easy task.
Below are a few simple tips that will help to make your Chinese New Year’s party a success:
- Pick a few of your favorite main dishes (recipe ideas below!)
- To save time, use pre-cut and pre-washed ingredients
- Have all the ingredients ready before cooking
- Make a few main dishes and let your guests bring the side dishes and dessert
- Enlist the help of your guests, such as having them pitch in to help make dumplings. It’s a fun way for the guests to interact with each other.
As you may have guessed, foods play a significant role in Chinese culture. Each dish served for the New Year’s feast has symbolic meaning: dumplings represent togetherness and heavenly blessings; ribs are symbols of wealth and strength; shrimp stands for prosperity and joy; noodles stand for a long and happy life; a whole fish is a symbol of surplus and prosperity. Additionally, it’s a Chinese tradition to exchange treats and fruit with friends and neighbors. Candies and sweet rice cake are for a sweet New Year. Melon seeds and candied melon represent growth and prosperity; Oranges and tangerines stand for instant wealth and health.
Kung-his fa-ts’ai! Happy New Year!
Here are some Chinese New Year recipes. Recipes are excerpted from COOKING WITH AN ASIAN ACCENT, © 2014 by Ying Compestine. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Recipe photo credit: © Lucy Schaeffer
crispy spring rolls with spicy tofu, vegetables, and toasted nuts
Makes 12 spring rolls
I love visiting Buddhist temples in Asia, not for religious reasons but because I enjoy the food served in their restaurants. This recipe was inspired by the fried vegetarian spring rolls I ate at the Shaolin Temple.
While I enjoy crispy fried spring rolls, I dislike their high calorie count and the mess from deep-frying them. I found that by brushing a little olive oil on these rolls and broiling them in the oven, they came out just as crispy and delicious.
2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
One 8-ounce package Thai- or teriyaki-flavored tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup (about 3 ounces) finely chopped fresh oyster mushrooms
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1/2 cup finely diced water chestnuts
2 tablespoons tamari sauce
3/4 cup toasted peanuts or walnuts, coarsely chopped, ¼ cup reserved for garnish
2 green onions, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Twelve 8-inch round dried rice paper wrappers
1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves washed and separated
Lime-Soy-Ginger Sauce, for serving
1. Heat a wok or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu and mushrooms and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the carrot and water chestnuts and stir-fry until heated through, about 30 seconds.
2. Add the tamari sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts, green onions, and sesame oil and toss to combine. Remove from the heat.
3. Fill a medium bowl with warm water. Dip one of the wrappers in the water for 15 seconds, or until softened. Carefully transfer to a dry work surface.
4. Arrange 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling in an even horizontal mound just below the center of the wrapper. Roll up the rice paper to form a tight cylinder, folding in the sides about halfway. Assemble the remaining spring rolls in the same manner. Cover the finished rolls with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out.
5. Preheat the broiler. Lightly coat a large nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the spring rolls in a single layer on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between them. Lightly coat the rolls with cooking spray.
6. Broil the rolls until lightly browned and crisp, 10 to 13 minutes. Using tongs or a spatula, turn the rolls over and continue to broil for another 8 to 10 minutes.
7. Serve each roll wrapped in a lettuce leaf garnished with nuts, and accompanied by the Lime-Soy-Ginger Sauce.
Makes about 1/2 cup sauce
This simple sauce goes well with spring rolls as a dipping sauce. Also, it makes a good marinade for seafood. I once served grilled trout marinated in this sauce to a friend who disliked fish—it completely changed his mind!
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon thinly shredded fresh ginger
1 green onion, green part only, minced
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds, toasted (see Note)
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer to allow the flavors to meld.
2. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass container for up to 5 days.
Note: Sesame seeds can be purchased already toasted, but to toast your own, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Spread the sesame seeds out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the sesame seeds are crisp and fragrant. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.
Lamb, Potato, and Carrot Stew
Makes 8 servings
According to TCM doctors, lamb is warming in nature. This hearty stew, flavored with chile and turmeric, will enhance blood circulation. The goji berries add an exotic, Asian twist. Beef or chicken are delicious alternatives to lamb.
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds lamb meat, cut into 1½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 whole red chile peppers, fresh or dried
6 cups water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons dried goji berries
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 large red onion, cut into 2-inch wedges
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 2-inch-long pieces
1/2 pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Freshly ground black pepper
Dill sprigs, for garnish
1. Combine 1 teaspoon of the flour and ½ teaspoon of the salt in a bowl. Add half the lamb cubes and toss to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining flour, salt, and lamb.
2. In the same pot, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sauté the garlic and chiles until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the stock, cooked lamb and juices, goji berries, turmeric, and thyme. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
3. Add the onion and carrots. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for 1 hour. Add the potatoes and cook for 30 minutes more, uncovered, or until the meat is tender and the liquid has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with dill sprigs. Serve warm with bread.
spicy sesame ribs
Makes 4 servings
Marinated ribs become tender and juicy, and a Spicy Sesame Sauce gives them a delightful Asian accent. When grilled, the intoxicating aroma of the sauce will arouse every diner’s anticipation. This is my evolved version of traditional American barbecued ribs.
2 pounds baby back ribs
2 cups Spicy Sesame Sauce, or store-bought Asian sauce
Olive oil, as needed for brushing the grill
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
1. Rinse the ribs, pat dry with paper towels, and slice them into individual pieces.
2. Combine the ribs and sauce in a large container. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours.
3. Brush the grill rack generously with oil and preheat the grill to medium-low.
Remove the ribs from the marinade. Reserve the marinade.
4. Place the ribs on the rack and grill, basting frequently with the remaining marinade.
Stop basting 5 minutes before the ribs are done. Discard any unused marinade. Grill the ribs until they are golden brown, tender, and no longer pink inside, 12 to 15 minutes per side. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve hot.
spicy sesame sauce
Makes about 3/4 cup sauce
Toasted sesame has a boisterous flavor that balances well with green onions, soy sauce, and lemon juice. Aside from making a wonderful dipping sauce, this also makes an unusual and delicious salad dressing. I often double the recipe for this versatile sauce and store the extra in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. It always speeds up my cooking on a busy night.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green onion, green and white parts, finely sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon thinly shredded fresh red chile pepper
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine. Cover and store in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer to allow the flavors to meld.
2. Use immediately, or store in a tightly sealed glass container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
To purchase Cooking with an Asian Accent:
A recent interview with Ying on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/01/31/268926416/for-a-twist-on-the-lunar-new-year-dumpling-add-green-tea