Chinese New Year is fast approaching. While January 1st is easy to remember, the specific date of Chinese New Year changes each year, as it falls on the first day of the lunar calendar. Often called the Lunar New Year, it celebrates the beginning of a new year with big family gatherings, gift giving, foods and display of festive decorations. It starts with the new moon on the first day and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with children carrying lanterns in a parade.
This year, the first day of the Chinese New Year which marks the Year of the Tiger, coincidently falls on February 14th, the same date with Valentine’s Day.
I noticed that many hotels and restaurants try to cover both celebrations on their Menu – I even saw one hotel offered Chinese New Year Brunch for Family and Romantic Dinner for Two.
As some people say that ‘Cooking is an expression of Love’ , let’s celebrate Chinese New Year with Love and celebrate Love with Chinese cooking.
I found that Chinese cooking is excellent way to spend time with my family while maintaining a healthy diet.
One of the famous Chinese New Year dishes is Kung Pao Chicken. Named after a court official or “Kung Pao,” Kung Pao Chicken is a spicy Szechuan dish made with diced chicken, peanuts or cashew-nuts and chili peppers.
I like the light version where the chicken is stir-fried instead of deep-fried.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 100-150 gram each
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 8 small dried red chili peppers
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 spring onions (scallions)
- 4 tablespoons oil for stir-frying, or as needed
- 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn (optional)
- 1/2 cup peanuts or cashews
- a few drops sesame oil (optional)
Cut the chicken into 1-2 cm cubes. Combine with the marinade ingredients, adding the cornstarch last. Marinate the chicken for 25 minutes.
While the chicken is marinating, prepare the sauce and vegetables. In a small bowl, combine the dark soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. Set aside.
Cut the chilies in half so that they are approximately the same size as the chicken cubes. Remove the seeds. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut the green onion on the diagonal into thirds.
Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir-fry until it turns white and is 80 percent cooked. Remove from the wok.
Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Add the chili peppers and the Szechuan peppercorn if using. Stir-fry briefly until they turn dark red.
Add the sauce to the wok. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken back into the pan. Stir in the cashew-nuts and the spring onion. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil.
Serve hot with
For dessert, we can try Nian Gao also known as Sticky Cake. This New Year dish is traditionally fed to the Chinese Kitchen God, so that he will give a favorable report on the family’s behavior throughout the previous year when he returns to heaven.
This is the recipe from Rhonda Parkins:
- 3 1/4 cups (1 400 gram bag) glutinous rice flour
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 7 ounces boiling water
- 1/2 cup Chinese dates, softened in water, cut in half, pits removed, or 1/2 cup other dried fruit
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Water, as needed
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
- Prepare the wok for steaming.
- In a bowl, mix the boiling water and the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Cool.
- Soak the Chinese dates in hot water for at least 30 minutes to soften. (You can also soften them quickly by placing them in a bowl with water and microwaving on high heat for 30 seconds).
- Cut the dates in half and remove the pits.
- Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and stir in the sugar and water mixture.
- Add the milk and begin shaping the dough.
- Add 1 tablespoon of water to the dough at a time, until you have a smooth dough with a satiny texture. Incorporate 1/2 – 3/4 of the Chinese dates, nuts or other dried fruit as you are adding water and working with the dough.
- Grease a 7-inch square cake pan with vegetable oil or a non-stick cooking spray.
- Place the dough in the cake pan and spread it out to the edges.
- Decorate with the remaining dates, lightly pushing them into the dough.
- Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
- Steam the cake over medium-high to high heat for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the cake pull away from the pan. Remove the cake from the heat and cool.
- Use a knife to loosen the edges, then remove the cake. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
Cut the cake into quarters, and then into thin slices 2 – 3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide.
You can serve the cake as is, or reheat it in the microwave (the amount of time will depend on the size and power of your microwave – start with 10 seconds and then microwave an extra 5 seconds if needed) or re-steam it for 4 – 5 minutes.
You can also pan-fry the cake, dipping the cake slices in an egg wash before frying. Use a small amount of oil so that the cake will not taste oily. Heat the oil on medium-high to high heat, then turn the heat down to medium and brown the cake slices briefly on both sides.