Natural Times, January/February/March 2014
By Sandy Beck
On New Year’s Day, people in many cultures prepare special, symbolic foods for good luck, happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Southern states welcome the New Year with greens (money), black-eyed peas (coins), cornbread (gold) and pork (because pigs root forward). For Portuguese and Spanish people, twelve grapes or raisins will bring good luck for the next 12 months. Many Eastern European cultures serve pork (prosperity) with cabbage (money). On Rosh Hashanah, Jews eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year.
The Chinese year 4712 is scheduled to begin January 31, 2014. According to Chinese legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on New Year’s Day and named a year after each of the twelve animals that came. 2014 is the year of the Horse.
When I asked Dr. Min Tian, a physician from the South of China who practices acupuncture in Tallahassee, if Chinese people serve special foods for their New Year celebrations, she explained, “We have a big territory, so particular dishes vary from region to region. In Chinese culture, food is also medicine; it is used for healing.”
As in other countries and cultures, Chinese families also incorporate symbolic foods in their New Year celebrations. In fact, this 15-day holiday, which lasts from the new moon to the full moon, is China’s oldest and longest celebration. On New Year’s eve, families gather for an annual reunion dinner. In preparation, homes are thoroughly cleaned—to whisk away bad fortune and make way for a rich and happy New Year.
People wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire and, according to legend, will drive away evil spirits. Evil-dispelling fireworks also light up the night sky.
Dishes are often chosen based on homonyms—words that sound the same as other words. Fish is served because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for plenty. Shrimp in Chinese is pronounced “haa” which, of course, sounds like laughter, so shrimp are eaten to ensure happiness. Lettuce is a favorite New Year’s dish because the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like “plentiful wealth.” Cabbage also symbolizes prosperity. Long, uncut noodles may foretell a long life. In some areas of China, a popular dish is dumplings, or “pot stickers,” which resemble gold ingots. The cook may place real coins in the center of a few, and whoever bites into one of these dumplings will have an exceptionally prosperous year—if his dental bill isn’t too high.
We can all welcome the Year of the Horse with these symbolic Chinese dishes to ensure a happy and prosperous New Year.
Fresh Pear & Shrimp Stir-fry
- Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the pear wedges and carrots for 30 seconds, and then drain immediately. Pat the shrimp very dry. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, chicken broth and cornstarch. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add in the cooking oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is shimmering, add the shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the grated ginger and continue stir-frying for 30 seconds. Add the peas, carrots and pears and toss well. Stir-fry for 1 minute. The shrimp should be just barely cooked through.
- Pour in the chicken broth mixture, stir and let cook for an additional minute, until shrimp are cooked through. Serve immediately.
Good Fortune Stir-Fried Garlic Lettuce
- Core the iceberg and separate into leaves. Wash the lettuce in cold water, breaking the leaves in half. Drain thoroughly in a colander until dry to the touch.
- In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, sugar and pepper.
- Heat a wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes quickly. Add the peanut oil and garlic, and stir-fry 10 seconds or until just fragrant. Add the lettuce and stir-fry one minute. Add the salt and stir-fry another minute. Swirl in the sauce and stir-fry one more minute or until the lettuce is just tender and still bright green.
Steamed Pak Choi & Ginger-wrapped Salmon w/ Soba Noodles
- Place the leaves in a colander and pour boiling water over the leaves until they just begin to soften. Place the ginger slices and scallions on top of each of the salmon fillets and wrap the leaves around them, folding under at the bottom.
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil; place a steamer on top. Put the salmon into the steamer, cover and steam for 10 to 15 minutes, until the fish is pale pink and cooked through.
- Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a pan with 1 tablespoon of water and boil. When the fish is cooked, transfer to 2 plates and pour the sauce over the fish.
- Serve with soba noodles (thin, uncut buckwheat noodles) and the leftover wilted leaves.
Longevity Noodles w/ Chicken, Ginger & Mushrooms
- Cook noodles in boiling water until just done, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until cool, then shake well to remove water. Return noodles to pot, add sesame oil, and toss.
- Put chicken in a shallow bowl and add ginger, 1 teaspoon rice wine, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix gently to combine. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.
- Heat a wok over high heat until a bead of water evaporates almost on contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon peanut oil, add red pepper flakes and stir-fry 10 seconds using a metal spatula. Push pepper flakes aside and add chicken, spreading in a single layer to maximize contact with the wok. Let cook undisturbed 1 minute, until chicken begins to sear.
- Stir-fry chicken and pepper flakes together, tossing in the wok, for 1-2 minutes until just done. Remove to a bowl. Add cabbage and mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute until just wilted but not cooked. Empty into the bowl with chicken.
- Reheat wok, swirl in remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and add noodles. Stir-fry 30 seconds, moving constantly to heat through. Swirl soy sauce-rice wine mixture and add to wok along with chicken-vegetable mixture and scallions. Sprinkle on 3/4 teaspoon salt and stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are heated through.
Chinese Walnut Cookies
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
- Add vanilla extract to the oil and then add to the flour mixture, a little at a time until dough is formed. Reserve 2 tablespoons of oil to use if needed.
- Form dough into small balls.
- Brush with egg yolk and top with a walnut piece.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown. The larger the cookies, the longer the baking time.