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The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes for Chinese New Year

February 15, 2011

There are some holidays that are so good (read: tasty) that cultural affiliation or not, we want to celebrate. Chinese New Year is one of those holidays. And whether your grandparents came from Europe or Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro, on February 3rd you may feel inclined to throw a Chinese New Year bash and revel in all the delicious dishes this holiday has to offer.

Katie and Leeann Chin's Crispy Fish with Ginger-Scallion Sauce

The history of Chinese New Year, sometimes called Lunar New Year, is rich, and the foods that are served are varied and so good that anyone would be more than delighted to sit down to an authentic Chinese New Year meal. Knowing the symbolism behind the ingredients and dishes adds to the pleasure. Often homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings) have been used in the selection of the traditional foods.

Lunar New Year is most often associated with Chinese New Year, but it is in fact a Pan-Asian holiday, celebrated by many Asian cultures, though not all on the same date. Though the foods eaten from place to place may differ, as does the way the New Year is celebrated, a few themes are always center stage during the Lunar New Year: luck, prosperity, reflection, longevity, and, most of all, family. And those are things all of us are happy to celebrate, especially when there are dumplings involved.

1. Wai Hon Chu and Connie Lovatt’s Panfried Dumplings Stuffed with Chicken and Mushroom. Throughout Asia dumplings are eaten as part of New Year’s celebrations. Different dumplings symbolize different things, but the common denominator is “luck” and “wealth,” especially when the dumplings are filled with meat, as with these Chinese pot stickers. The dark chicken and the meaty black mushrooms, said to “fulfill wishes from east to west,” make for a very satisfying filling.

2. Deborah Madison’s Spring Rolls with Chinese Cabbage, Mushrooms, and Tofu. At Chinese New Year, spring rolls represent bars of gold, though it’s not like we need any kind of prosperity symbolism to want to dig into a platter of these crispy appetizers. These are vegetarian, so everyone can share the wealth.

3. Martin Yan’s Red and Gold Fried Rice. Colors play a big role in the foods of Chinese New Year. Red and gold are the primary colors of Chinese culture, representing prosperity, luck, and vitality. In addition, the color red is said to scare off Nien, the mythical beast that was believed to terrorize villages looking for food and vengeance on the first day of the New Year celebration. Two Cantonese dishes–tomato beef and fried rice–combine in this easy and delicious stir-fry.

4. Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Lisu Spice-Rubbed Roast Pork. The Lisu live in the mountains of southwestern Yunnan province of China, and they share in the celebration of the Lunar New Year. They are known for raising pigs, and they make the most of their livelihood during the New Year’s celebration. This pork, rubbed with a flavorful mixture of spices, is roasted in the oven to create a beautiful centerpiece for a big dinner. You can cook it over coals for an even more authentic dish, if weather allows.

5. Sam Choy’s Spicy Braised Chicken with Ginger. Chicken is often served whole on Chinese New Year, representing family and unity. Star anise is a very common spice in Chinese and other Asian cooking (it’s the key ingredient in five-spice powder), and it gives this chicken a licorice-y flavor. Sesame oil, Szechuan peppercorns, ginger, and soy also contribute to the rich flavor of this braised chicken. Before you cut up the chicken for serving, present it to the table whole for the symbolism.

6. Katie and Leeann Chin’s Crispy Fish with Ginger-Scallion Sauce. The pronunciation of fish in Chinese–yú–is a homophone for “surpluses,” and so fish is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year to encourage abundance in the coming year. But the fish must be whole–the head and the tail represent happy beginnings and endings–to attract completeness and good fortune. Make sure not to eat the entire fish, though; Chinese families will often leave some of the fish on the plate as insurance for the “surpluses” they hope to receive.

7. Raghavan Iyer’s Hakka Noodles. The Hakka, an ethnically diverse group, migrated south from the northern provinces of China to escape natural disasters, and now Calcutta, India has a large population of Hakka. The Hakka, like many Chinese, celebrate the Lunar New Year with long noodles, which represent a long life. Hakka noodles are an Indo-Chinese creation, featuring Chinese egg noodles blended with Indian spices such as chilies, Indian cheese, cauliflower, ginger, and cilantro. Longevity never tasted this good.

8. Fuschia Dunlop’s Mr. Lai’s Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Stuffing. The name “glutinous rice balls” may not make your mouth water, but the actual dumplings certainly will. Called tang yuan, these are a traditional Chinese snack, and a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations. The name sounds like tuan yuan, which means “reunion” in Chinese. This Szechuan delicacy isn’t simple to make, but sometimes authenticity takes some effort.

9. Nancie McDermott’s Spicy Beef in Lettuce Cups. Another common dish found on the Chinese New Year table is lettuce cups, and these lend themselves well to being served as a self-contained hors d’oeuvres. In Cantonese, the word for lettuce sounds like the words “rising fortune,” and many different fillings are eaten wrapped in lettuce to bring improved fortune in the New Year. These lettuce cups are filled with a deliciously spiced beef flavored with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes for heat.

10. Pichet Ong’s Oranges with Orange Blossom Sabayon. Oranges are another Chinese New Year symbol derived from a homophone: the words for “orange” and “gold” sound nearly identical, and so oranges are eaten to promote wealth in the New Year. This dessert offers a double serving of oranges, not to mention a delicate flavor and a dramatic presentation.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. pinterest followers permalink
    March 6, 2013 5:38 am

    This article is alluringIs this ok to email this article to our email lis


  1. The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes for Chinese New Year « The Cookstr Blog | Asian and Thai Cooking

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