Words & pix: Stephanie Yuen
My Chinese New Year celebration usually starts with questions such as “What to eat to celebrate Chinese New Year? What are you cooking for the family’s New Year feast?”
Thanks to my media friends, my last few TV appearances, radio and newspaper interviews were all about Lunar New year folklores, customs and culinary traditions. We all know the food we eat during this celebrative season all carries auspicious meaning. Must haves include deep-fried pastries, candies and desserts, pig trotters, pork tongues, whole steamed fish, whole chicken with head and tail, hairy moss, lotus roots…the list is long.
To welcome the arrival of the New Year, moms and grandmothers (Chinese men of the house don’t usually cook at home) will be grocery-shopping weeks ahead. Like Christmas cookies, we do have classic holiday snacks and pastries to make, on top of preparing for several big feasts. In the old days, the New Year celebration could spread up to 15 days. Candies, pastries, seeds, nuts, fresh, sugared and dried fruits, a majority of which will be laid out beautiful round Chinese lacquer platters for the duration of the celebration for visiting friends and families to munch on. Deep-fried golden dumplings (Pieces of gold); Large size sesame balls (Lots of wholesome goodness and fortune rolling in); Sugared lotus seeds and roots (Wealth and harmony), Prawns (Happiness and laughter); candies in colourful wraps (lucky charms) and crunchy arrow-root chips (gold coins) frequent the platter. While deep-frying in oil symbolizes smoothness and thought to lubricate any frictions and mishaps, gold, silver and red colours indicate positive energy, wealth and good fortune.
Lunar New Year is the most important festival of the whole year; Chinese around the world celebrate it religiously. Family members, no matter where they are, are expected to return home for the reunion New Year’s Eve dinner when everyone sits around the large round table to eat, drink and be merry.
We eat pan-fried or steamed golden cakes the morning of the New Year day. Savory ones are made with daikon and taro-root, sweet ones are made with brown sugar or coconut milk so the New Year will be filled with sweetness, opportunities and progress.
Here is the menu of my family New Year dinner.
- A pot of soup made with dried oysters and hairy moss – Blooming business and great profit.
- A plate of pan-fried prawns – A year filled with happiness and laughter.
- A caserole of braised pig trotters and tongues on Asian green – Big profits and rewards.
- Deep-fried Tofu pockets stuffed with seasoned ground pork and fish, pan-fried and braised – A platter of gold nuggets.
- Mushroom trio on Gailan – A house full of silver and treasure.
- A duo of fish, head and tail intact, one steamed, one pan-fried – A year of bounty.
- Braised Taro Roots & Vegetable Stew – A pot of wholesome goodness.
- Steamed lotus wrapped fried rice – Pots of gold and silver pieces
- Golden Kabocha Sweet Soup – Soothes our hearts and souls and brings harmony and sweetness in the New Year.
- A plate of sweets and fresh fruits – Happy together to celebrate a fruitful year
Stephanie’s Chinese New Year recipes
- A Fish of Bounty
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 with steamed rice
2 pc. T&T dried shitake mushrooms, rinsed and soaked in ½ cup hot water for 30 to 45 minutes in advance, or until mushrooms are softened completely
1 1½ to 2 lb live Tilapia, head & tail intact, scaled, gutted and cleaned. Cut 2 X 1” slits on each side below the gill where the thickest of the fish is.
1 Tbsp. julienned ginger
¼ cup julienned green onion
¼ cup julienned cilantro
¼ cup cooking oil
1 Tbsp T&T dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp T&T light soy sauce
1 Tbsp water
½ tsp. sugar
- Remove mushroom cap and julienne thinly, discard water.
- Bring 3 cups of water in a large steamer (or wok) to a full boil. (Make sure the fish dish fits the steamer or wok. You can also use a microwave steamer to steam the fish and should take less time to cook)
- Pat dry fish and place on dish. Spread ginger and mushroom evenly on fish. Place dish in steamer, cover and steam for 12 to 15 minutes. To test for doneness, poke the thick of the fish with a sharp knife. Fish is ready when knife comes out clean.
- In a small saucepan, mix dark and light soy sauce, water and sugar on medium high, bring to a gently boil. Remove from heat.
- Remove fish dish from steamer, add green onion and cilantro. .
- In a small saucepan, bring oil to a boil. Sizzle onto green onion and cilantro. Pour sweet soy mixture on top.
- B) Lettuce Wraps of Prosperity
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves 6 to 8 (as an appetizer)
1 lettuce, rinse and drip dry, cut 1” off head and into 2-halves vertically for easy peeling
1 Tbsp cooking oil
6 pc. button or brown mushroom, small-diced
1 small can water-chestnut, drained and diced
A pinch of sea salt
2 cups barbecued duck or barbecued pork, diced
2 cups cooked shrimp, diced
½ cup crushed T&T unsalted cashew nuts (or peanuts)
½ cup Hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp T&T Teriyaki sauce
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp brown sugar
- Peel off leaves which should be palm-shaped and stack them on a plate. Reserve small leaves for other use.
- Heat oil in pan on high. Add mushroom, stir well. Add water-chestnut. Stir and cook for 90 seconds, add salt, mix well and place in a bowl.
- Return wok to stove, add duck, stir and reheat on medium high for 20 – 30 seconds, place in a bowl.
- Reheat shrimp in wok for 20 – 30 seconds, place in a bowl.
- Place crushed nuts in a bowl.
- To make a wrap sauce, mix Hoisin, Teriyaki sauce, water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and empty into a sauce bowl.
- Place lettuce and all the bowls of ready-to-eat ingredients on the table for individuals to fill their own lettuce wraps. Enjoy with wrap sauce.
- C) A pot of blooming gold (Stir-fried Cauliflower with curry) **Vegetarian dish
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 – 15 minutes
1½ tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups cauliflower, sliced
½ cup milk
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp curry paste
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- Melt butter in a pan on medium high heat, add garlic. Stir and cook for 15 seconds.
- Add cauliflower. Stir well.
- In a bowl, mix milk, cornstarch and curry paste. Stir into the pan. Mix and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add cheese and cook until melted.