Happy Year of the Rooster! This weekend, billions of people of Chinese descent around the world celebrated Lunar New Year through family reunions, sharing meals together, giving each other Red Envelopes of “lucky money”. For the first time, hubby and I celebrated the occasion together officially as a family in Los Angeles.
[I must digress here, that I’ve been a lazy blogger for the past 2 months. Besides having back to back busy months working in the hospital, there have been some life adjustments as well. Now let me fill you in on the update- “drum roll”- Y officially moved from Dallas to LA in November and is now working from home, finally ending our long distance relationship and marriage of the past four and a half years! So now in 2017, Day7Kitchen is officially back and stronger than ever. Sneak peek content: some of Y’s recipes will be featured in the near future.]
Back to the topic of how to celebrate Lunar New Years in Los Angeles. Besides all the festivities I just mentioned, the most central element of the celebration is food. There are a few symbolic dishes that everyone eats during Lunar New Years that is relatively simple to recreate in your own kitchen, with a few trips to the local Chinese grocery.
The most well known dish is dumplings. Dumplings are traditionally made on New Years Eve and eaten on the first day of Lunar New Years as a symbol of wealth and prosperity in the coming year because they are shaped like gold ingots from the old days. You can buy dumpling wrappers from the local Asian grocery, but you have to make your own filling, and that’s where the fun begins. Few of the well-tested combinations are: Chinese leek +ground pork, onions+ ground pork, minced shrimp+ scrambled eggs, cabbage+ ground pork. To season the filling, I typically add minced ginger, cooking sherry, sliced green onions and salt. Once the filling is mixed, the rest is manpower. Assemble a team of friends and wrap the filling into each wrapper, and now you have dumplings that taste much superior to their store bought cousins.
Also present on the Lunar New Year dinner table is fish. Fish in Chinese is pronounced similarly to the word “extra”, and fish symbolizes that in this coming year there will be extras to go around for everyone. The fish that should be prepared here is not your swai or tilapia fillet from the frozen section. This is typically a whole fish purchased from the grocery complete with head and bones (live is better than frozen) and can be prepared steamed or pan fried and simmered in soy sauce. Key ingredients for cooking whole fish both ways: ginger, scallion slices, cooking sherry and minced garlic.
Another authentic Chinese New Year dish is stir fried rice cakes, or “nian gao”, translated to New Year Cake. There are actually multiple versions of nian gao out there, but I’m mainly talking about the sliced oval shaped rice cake that you can buy in packages at the grocery, not the sweet, tooth-sticky dessert. Rice cakes can be stir fried with sliced cabbage, octopus legs, green onions, minced pork, or really anything you want. Before you drop them in a wok, be sure to soak them in a warm pot of water for one hour so that they are soften. Beware, these chewy little devils are essentially carb bombs, so eat sparingly.
Last but not the least, Chinese people like to eat noodles during Lunar New Year, since long noodle strands symbolize longevity and health. Noodles can be prepared in a soup broth or stir fried, it can be light and refreshing or pungently spicy. The recipe I prepared here is for chicken yakisoba. Though it’s Japanese, the same ingredients and concept can be replicated for any chow mein or stir fried noodle dish.
- 2 packages of fresh lo mein noodles
- 1 large piece of chicken thigh, diced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1/2 cabbage, sliced
- 1 small carrot, sliced
- 4 button mushrooms, sliced
- 2-3 stalks of green onion, sliced
- 2 tablespoon Worcester sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp mirin
- black pepper, to taste
Loosen the fresh noodles in a bowl of hot water.
Mix the sauce together in a bowl and set aside: Worcester, oyster, ketchup, soy sauce, mirin.
In a pan, heat up 2 Tbsp of canola oil over medium heat. Add chicken pieces and stir fry until cooked through for 5-6 minutes. Set the chicken aside in a bowl.
In the same pan, heat up canola oil again over medium heat and add onion, saute for 3 minutes until translucent. Add carrot, mushroom and cabbage, stir fry for another 3-4 minutes until mostly soft.
Add back chicken and noodles to the pan. Pour in the prepared sauce. Stir fry until noodles and vegetables are well mixed, and sauce is evenly coated, for 2-3 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Enjoy!