Arrow-right Camera
A&E >  Food

Yummy New Year

Celebrate the season with Chinese dishes that represent wealth and long life

Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday celebration in China. Each year is symbolized by an animal, based on the Chinese Zodiac. This is the Year of the Tiger.

What’s unique this year is that the tiger met cupid because the 15-day celebration began Sunday, Valentine’s Day.

Elizabeth Chiu King, cookbook author and president of the Chinese American Educational and Cultural Center of Michigan, says she was “thrilled” that the holiday started Feb. 14.

“It’s a love day, and red is a beautiful color,” King says. “For Chinese New Year there is always red because it is a happy and bright color.”

Chinese New Year traditionally calls for food, such as golden dumplings, extra-long noodles, egg rolls and whole fish, that evokes prosperity, wealth and long life. It is a festive time that centers around gatherings of families, friends and food.

“There’s no particular food, except that it’s just the best you can afford,” says King. “But certain foods do have symbolic nature.”

King, 74, explains that eggs represent rebirth and regeneration. The Chinese word for fish, “Yu” sounds like the word for plenty, and brings good luck and blessings. And dumplings are shaped like Chinese gold ingots, which once were used as currency.

“It meant you have plenty of money,” says King, who was born in Shanghai.

Serving noodles is also appropriate. “Noodles represent long life,” says King.

Since Chinese New Year is also a celebration of the spring to come, serving spring rolls is popular. Spring rolls are light and delicate versions of egg rolls. They are typically filled with fresh vegetables and meant to evoke spring.

King will be preparing pork back short ribs for Chinese New Year because, she says, her grandchildren love them. In Chinese cuisine, pork is more popular than beef.

“To the Chinese when they talk about meat, they mean pork,” says King. “Pork is very crucial and it can be done any way. With this recipe of mine, it’s so good I call it finger-licking good.”

Making dumplings (called Jiao Zi) from scratch is a tradition for many families. King says the art of making dumplings is extremely important in the Northern provinces of China.

“In Beijing they are very versatile in kneading the dough and they are very good,” says King. “In the south we opt for the easy way and use wonton skins to wrap and make them because they do take a lot of effort.”

Shanghai Ribs

From Elizabeth Chiu King, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. King says by cooking these ribs slowly on low heat, the meat becomes very tender. The ribs can be cooked ahead and reheated for serving later. When refrigerated, the fat will gel. Skim off the congealed fat with a spoon before reheating.

For the marinade:

1/2 cup dark soy sauce

1/4 cup whiskey or gin or dry white wine

For the gravy:

1/4 cup honey

1 cup chicken broth

2 1/2 cups cold water

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the ribs:

1 slab of pork back ribs, 3 1/2 pounds

3 tablespoons olive, corn or vegetable oil

1 large or several small onions, thinly sliced

1 knob of ginger, smacked with a cleaver

1/2 blub of fresh garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup cold water

In a small bowl, mix together the marinade ingredients and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix gravy ingredients and set aside.

Cut the slab of ribs into five or six segments, about two to three ribs each piece.

Brush ribs with marinade. Brush ribs again with the same marinade and set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok on high for 30 seconds. Add the oil to coat skillet for 30 seconds longer. Working in batches, place the rib pieces carefully in the skillet, one at a time. Pan-fry the ribs for 3 minutes. Turn ribs over and fry the other side for another 3 minutes until brown. Transfer ribs with a slotted spoon or tongs to a six-quart saucepot.

Add the onion, ginger and garlic to the skillet and stir-fry a few minutes over high heat. Add the water. Cover and cook for two minutes.

Add ribs to saucepot, together with remaining marinade. Add the gravy ingredients. Cover and bring to full boil, in about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn heat to medium low and cook the ribs for about 45 minutes, basting the ribs with the gravy frequently to keep the meat moist. Turn the ribs and baste again with gravy. Continue cooking for another 45 minutes or until the ribs are tender. Do not overcook. When meat begins to flake off from the bones, turn off the heat and serve with gravy.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 498 calories, 32 grams fat (12 grams saturated, 58 percent fat calories), 30 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrate, 129 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 1,211 milligrams sodium.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Bean Sprouts

From “The 15-minute Chinese Gourmet” by Elizabeth Chiu King (out of print). This noodle dish is ideal for lunch, brunch or a snack and can be served hot or cold.

For the seasoning:

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon Hunan chili paste (or any brand of Chinese chili paste)

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced

2 large cloves garlic, peeled, finely minced

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

For the noodles:

1/2 pound very thin noodles (such as angel hair pasta), fresh or dried

1/2 pound bean sprouts or 1 can (14 ounces) bean sprouts, well drained

In a large bowl, combine all the seasoning ingredients. In a medium bowl, mix together the marinade ingredients. Set both aside.

Cook the noodles according to package directions until just tender. Rinse in cold water and drain well. Add the noodles to the seasoning in the bowl and toss to coat well. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add 3 cups boiling water to a 2-quart saucepan. Add the bean sprouts and parboil for no more than 15 minutes. Drain the sprouts under cold water. Add the sprouts to the marinade in the bowl and toss to coat well. Add the marinated bean sprouts to the seasoned noodles and mix together well. Spoon onto a platter and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 113 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 40 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrate, 12 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 407 milligrams sodium.

Asparagus Salad

From “The 15-Minute Chinese Gourmet” by Elizabeth Chiu King (out of print)

For the dressing:

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce

For the salad:

2 quarts boiling water

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus or 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen asparagus spears, thawed

In a large bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients. Have the boiling water ready.

Wash the asparagus stalks and snap off the tough ends. The stalks should break at the woody part of the stem. Discard ends.

Slice the stalks diagonally into 2-inch lengths, or leave them whole.

Parboil the asparagus in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes or steam for 5 minutes in a vegetable steamer.

Drain the asparagus under cold running water to stop the cooking and retain color. Add asparagus to the dressing in the bowl. Toss well to coat. Arrange on individual salad plates and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 69 calories, 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 52 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 4 grams dietary fiber, 290 milligrams sodium.

Flower Dumplings

Adapted from “Dim Sum” by Vicki Liley (Periplus Editions Ltd., $17.95). Chinese dumplings (called jiao zi) are traditionally served for Chinese New Year celebrations. Sometimes families make the dumplings and fillings together. Look for wonton wrappers in the produce area of most grocery stores. They are usually sold in packages of about 50; freeze what you don’t use.

For the filling:

1 pound ground chicken

1/3 cup canned water chestnuts, drained, finely chopped

1 small carrot, peeled, finely chopped

2 green onions, washed, ends removed, finely chopped

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the dumplings:

24 round wonton wrappers

Dipping sauce (recipes follow)

Combine all filling ingredients and mix well. Place the wonton wrappers on a clean work surface and cover with a damp towel. Working with one wrapper at a time, place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center. Gather the edges around the filling, forming a basket. Gently squeeze the center of the dumpling to expose the filling at the top. Tap the bottom of the dumpling on the work surface to flatten it. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Repeat with remaining wrappers.

Bring water to a boil in the bottom of a steamer basket. Working in batches, place the dumplings in the steamer basket (do not crowd) and steam for 12 minutes or until cooked through. Repeat with remaining dumplings. Serve with choice of dipping sauces.

For the dipping sauces:

Chili-Soy: In a small bowl combine 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) hot chili paste or sweet chili sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 finely sliced green onion.

Ginger-Soy: In a small bowl mix together 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce.

Yield: 24 dumplings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 49 calories, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 33 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 7 milligrams cholesterol, no dietary fiber, 62 milligrams sodium.

Pork and Shrimp Dumplings

Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine February/March issue.

For the dough:

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold water

For the filling:

2 cups finely chopped napa cabbage

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 pound ground pork

8 ounces peeled, deveined shrimp, coarsely chopped

3 green onions, washed, thinly sliced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 to 3 teaspoons toasted Asian sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

For cooking and serving: Vegetable oil, as needed (for pan-fried dumplings)

Dipping sauces

To make the dough: Electric stand mixer method: Place the flour in the large bowl. Fit the mixer with a dough hook. Add the water and mix on low to medium speed until the dough starts forming into ball. Mix on medium about 5 minutes.

Alternatively, place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the center, add the water. Begin to stir using a wooden spoon and then by hand until the dough just comes together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes.

The dough should be smooth and not sticky. Divide the dough in half; roll into two 6-inch logs. Sprinkle each log with a little flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature before rolling and filling.

To make the filling: In a medium bowl, toss the cabbage with 2 teaspoons of the salt and set aside for 30 minutes to shed moisture. Wring the cabbage out in a clean kitchen towel to extract as much liquid as possible.

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the remaining filling ingredients, stirring until well mixed. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

To roll the dough: Cut each log in half crosswise. Cut each half crosswise into thirds, and then slice each of those pieces into three even coins. You should have 36 pieces of equal size. Toss the pieces in flour to coat evenly and then cover with a clean towel so they don’t dry out.

Roll one piece of dough into a thin 3-inch circle; roll from the edges toward the center as you rotate the dough. This rolling technique helps create a round with thin edges and a thicker center. Roll several at a time and keep them covered with a damp towel so they don’t dry out.

Spoon 2 teaspoons of the filling onto a dough circle, fold it in half and, if you’re going to boil the dumplings, seal it by pinching along the curved edge. If you’re planning to pan-fry the dumplings for pot stickers, make your first pinch at the center of the curved edge and then pleat toward the center on both sides to create a rounded belly. This wider shape allows the dumplings to sit upright in the pan and form a flat surface for browning.

Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. As you work, arrange the filled dumplings in a single layer without touching on large plates so they don’t stick together.

To boil: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, quickly add the dumplings one at a time, making sure they don’t stick to each other. Lower the heat to medium and continue to boil, gently stirring occasionally, until the dumplings float and are cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce.

To pan-fry: Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy-duty 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working quickly and in batches if necessary (adding more oil for the second batch if needed), arrange the dumplings belly side down. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in about 1/2 cup water or enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of the dumplings, bring to a boil, cover, and cook until all of the water has been absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium, and continue cooking just until the dumplings are dry and crisp on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Loosen the dumplings from the pan with a spatula. Invert the pan over a plate to flip the dumplings, browned side up, onto the plate (or transfer with a spatula). Serve with choice of dipping sauce.

Yield: 36 dumplings

Approximate nutrition per pan-fried dumpling: 60 calories (50 percent from fat), 3 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 5 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 85 mg sodium, 15 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.