Julie Giuffrida is Test Kitchen coordinator for the Los Angeles Times.
Lunar New Year is a time to feast on foods that symbolize good health, abundance and longevity.
Lunar New Year begins on Feb. 1 with the first new moon of the year. It is a time for family gatherings and foods that reflect the themes of the season: increasing health, wealth and prosperity in the coming year and protecting against bad fortune. There are several food specials and festivals celebrating Lunar New Year going on around town where you will be able to sample such foods. And if you want to do some cooking, we’ve got some recipes.
In some parts of Asia, dumplings are one of the most important components of a traditional Lunar New Year feast. Shaped like the gold ingots that were used as ancient Chinese currency, dumplings represent wealth and good fortune. As with tamales, filling them is frequently a family activity. Pork, a symbol of strength, wealth and abundance is a common dumpling filling. These Pork Dumplings are a classic preparation that includes nappa cabbage and mushrooms along with garlic, ginger, scallions and other flavorants.
The sweet potatoes, carrots and peas in Golden Bag Chicken Dumplings with Thai Sweet Chile Sauce add sweetness to the chicken filling. For a vegan option, try Vegan Shiitake Jiaozi with Black Vinegar Dipping Sauce. Turmeric in the wrapper gives them a golden hue, and the well-seasoned shiitake mushroom and kale stuffing is as flavorful as any meat filling.
Pork belly is also a popular Chinese New Year food because the fat is also a symbol of prosperity. Hong Shao Rou (Red-Cooked Pork Belly) is a classic Shanghai braise. Soy sauce and five-spice infuse chunks of pork belly with flavor and while they are cooking they turn a burnished, deep red.
Rau Muong with Mam Tom (Charred Water Spinach with Shrimp Paste, Pork Belly and Garlic) is a quicker way to put pork belly on the table. A smoking-hot wok chars the meat in about 45 seconds after which the rendered fat mellows the funk of the shrimp paste.
Cantonese Poached Fish with Ginger and Green Onions is another classic Chinese New Year recipe. The whole fish symbolizes togetherness and abundance; the green onions are a sign of brilliance. (Any white fish can be substituted for the trout.)
Whole chicken, like whole fish, signifies family togetherness, though often a variety of chicken dishes are prepared for the New Year’s feast. Try one of these recipes for kung pao chicken. Chengdu-Style Kung Pao Chicken — a quick stir fry of cubed chicken breast, dried chiles, peanuts and tingly Sichuan peppercorns is the version most Americans know and love. This Shandong version calls for marinating the chicken in Shaoxing wine and cooking it in oil over very low heat before stir-frying it with a fermented soybean paste, scallions and walnuts. The savory-sweet sauce bears not even a hint of heat. Guizhou-Style Kung Pao Chicken starts with a chile paste fragrant with garlic and ginger that’s combined with a savory, sweet and sour sauce that gives the dish an even balance of flavors. Be sure to serve plenty of warm steamed rice.
As the name implies, Longevity Noodles represent hope for long life. The longer the noodles, the better. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at these silky, chewy homemade noodles and use them to make Spicy Chili Crisp Noodles, Dan Dan Noodles, or Celery, Mushroom and Leek Dan Dan Noodles, a vegan take on the Sichuan classic.
Pork bound with Napa cabbage, flecked with mushrooms and seasoned with garlic and ginger is a classic dumpling filling.
YieldsMakes 80 dumplings
Golden Bag Chicken Dumplings With Thai Sweet Chile Sauce
Golden Bag Chicken Dumplings With Thai Sweet Chile Sauce adapts a traditional Thai filling by adding vegetables.
Vegan Shiitake Jiaozi With Black Vinegar Dipping Sauce
The well-seasoned stuffing of sauteed shiitake mushrooms and kale is as flavorful as any meaty filling.
YieldsMakes about 50
Hong Shao Rou (Red-Cooked Pork Belly)
In this classic Shanghai braise, chunks of pork belly soak up sweetened soy sauce fragrant with five-spice and burnish to a deep red, a lucky color for new year’s celebrations.
Time3 hours 30 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12
Rau Muong With Mam Tom (Charred Water Spinach With Shrimp Paste, Pork Belly and Garlic)
The pork belly fat mellows the powerfully funky umami of the mam tom (Vietnamese shrimp paste) while garlic, chile and lemon juice brighten the greens.
YieldsServes 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
Cantonese Poached Fish With Ginger and Green Onions
Whole fish symbolizes togetherness and abundance and is a very important Chinese New Year's food; the green onions that top the fish are a sign of brilliance.
YieldsServes 3 to 4
Guizhou-Style Kung Pao Chicken
More piquant than spicy, scallion greens added at the end brighten this chile-paste kung pao chicken.
Chengdu-Style Kung Pao Chicken
Cubes of chicken breast, dried chiles, scallions, garlic, ginger and peanuts are coated in a silky sauce, with whole Sichuan peppercorns adding their signature tingling heat.
Shandong-Style Stir-Fried Chicken With Yellow Bean Paste
A salty-sweet fermented yellow bean paste sauce coats chicken and walnuts.
Flour, salt and water roll easily into slippery, silky fresh noodles.
Cheung sau jai mien (Longevity noodles)
Eating noodles during Chinese New Year represents a hope for a long life, and the longer the noodles are, the luckier.
Dan dan noodles
A pork mixture is spooned over noodles and the dish is then topped with a sesame sauce and peanuts. It is a humble dish, simple, soulful and comforting.
Spicy Chili Crisp Noodles
Savory, spicy and tangy, these Sichuan-style cold noodles are packed with flavor.
Celery, Mushroom and Leek Dan Dan Noodles
This vegan iteration of dan dan noodles offers umami through a trio of caramelized vegetables.