By Ann (Lai Cheng)/Category: Event, pictures, and recipes
The first day of Chinese New Year on Monday, February 8, 2016 – the Year of the Monkey
Chinese New Year is an important Chinese festival celebrated according to the traditional Chinese calendar. Traditional celebrations run from the Chinese New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the first calendar month.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar New Year celebrations.
The Chinese customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary broadly. Usually, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion feast.
Some dishes are eaten during the Chinese New Year for their significant meaning. Traditional foods (such as Chinese New Year Cake and the vegetarian dish, etc) are served during the 16-day festival time of the first calendar month, particularly New Year’s Eve, which is believed to get good luck for the coming year. The auspicious symbols of these foods is based on their pronunciations or shape/looks.
Homemade: The Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)
“Nian gao” means year cake, but gao means the same as the word Good Luck Life).
- 2 cups water, plus more for steaming
- 1 (1-pound) package Chinese brown sugar
- 1 pound sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour) (about 3 cups)
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, plus more for coating the pan
- 1 dried seedless Chinese red dates, also known as jujubes, for garnish (optional)
- Place the measured water and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved, about 10 minutes. (Do not let it boil.) Remove from heat and let cool until warm to the touch.
- Meanwhile, fill a 14-inch wok with about 1 1/2 inches of water and place a 12-inch steamer inside. (The water should not touch the bottom of the steamer.) Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with vegetable oil; set aside.
- Place the rice flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the sugar-water mixture, beating until smooth, about 2 minutes. If needed, stop to scrape down the sides of the mixer with a rubber spatula.
- Add the measured oil and continue beating on low speed until the batter is smooth and the oil is incorporated, about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
- Carefully place the pan in the bamboo steamer or on top of the foil coils. Cover the bamboo steamer with its lid or cover the wok or frying pan with a tight-fitting lid or a sheet of aluminum foil. (Do not cover the cake pan directly with a lid or foil.) Steam until the cake is very firm to the touch, about 35 minutes. While the cake is still warm, garnish with the dates (if using). Let cool on a rack to room temperature. Run a knife around the outside of the cake, then slip a thin spatula under the cake to lift it out.
Homemade: The Vegetarian dish (Jai)
It’s cooked with traditional (good-luck) foods, writes Gong, breaking it down by ingredient: sea moss for prosperity; lotus seeds for children/birth of sons; noodles for longevity; lily buds to “send 100 years of harmonious union”; Chinese black mushrooms to “fulfill wishes from east to west”; etc.
- 2 ounces dried black shiitake mushrooms (about 15 medium)
- 6 ounces dried bean curd sticks
- 3 1/2 ounces dried lily buds (about 2 cups)
- 1 ounce dried black moss
- 1/2 ounce dried black fungus, also known as cloud ear or wood ear (about 2/3 cup or 4 ounces fresh)
- 8 ounces deep-fried tofu squares
- 5 ounces fried gluten balls (about 18)
- 3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 (15-ounce) cans straw mushrooms, drained, liquid reserved
- Granulated sugar
- 1 (15-ounce) can baby corn, drained
- 7 ounces shelled fresh or canned and drained ginkgo nuts (about 1 cup)
- 1 (20-ounce) can bamboo shoot halves in water, drained and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 7 ounces fresh boiled bamboo shoots, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1 medium napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1 pound baby bok choy or baby bok choy hearts, washed and dried
- 3 (1/4-inch-thick by 1/2-inch-long) slices peeled fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a chef’s knife to flatten slightly
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 8 ounces snow peas
- Soy sauce
For soaking the dried ingredients:
- Put the dried shiitake mushrooms in a medium bowl, cover with 3 cups of warm water, and soak until softened, at least 5 hours or overnight.
- Put the dried bean curd sticks and dried lily buds in separate large bowls, cover each with warm water, and let sit for 1 hour to soften, making sure they are submerged in the water and breaking up any lily buds that are sticking together.
- Put the dried black moss and the dried black fungus in separate medium bowls. Cover each with warm water and let sit for 1 hour to soften, making sure they are submerged in the water.
- Add 8 cups of water to a boil in a large 12-quart stockpot with a tightfitting lid. Remove from heat, add the deep-fried tofu and gluten balls, and submerge them by placing a small plate on top. Let sit 15 minutes to remove some of the oil from the tofu and gluten balls.
For preparing the soaked ingredients:
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shiitake mushrooms to a cutting board, being careful not to disturb the gritty sediment on the bottom of the bowl. Trim off the tough stems and cut each mushroom in half; set aside. Slowly pour 2 cups of the soaking liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the sediment behind; set aside. Discard the remaining liquid and sediment.
- Drain the bean curd sticks and cut crosswise into 1-1/2-inch pieces; set aside.
- Drain the lily buds and tie a knot in the middle of each; set aside.
- Drain the moss, place in a medium bowl, add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil and a large pinch of salt, and toss to combine; set aside.
- Drain the black fungus; set aside.
- Drain the tofu and gluten balls from the stockpot; clean the stockpot and set it aside. When the tofu and gluten balls are cool enough to handle, gently squeeze out some of the excess liquid; set aside.
For cooking the Vegetarian dish (jai):
- Set the stockpot on the stove-top.
- Heat a 14-inch wok over high heat until hot. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter of the wok and add the shiitake and straw mushrooms in an even layer. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and, using a metal spatula, stir-fry until the mushrooms are fragrant and begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- One ingredient at a time, using 1 tablespoon of oil for each and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the bean curd sticks, moss, baby corn, and ginkgo nuts until softened slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer each batch to the stockpot.
- Using 1 tablespoon of the oil and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the tofu and gluten balls together until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Using 1 tablespoon of the oil and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the canned and fresh bamboo shoots together until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Stir the ingredients in the stockpot together until thoroughly combined. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, canned mushroom liquid, and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cut the napa cabbage in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, discarding the core; set aside. Trim the ends off the bok choy and cut into 2-inch pieces (no need to cut if you’re using baby bok choy hearts); set aside.
- Heat the wok over high heat until hot. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter and add the reserved cabbage and ginger. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and stir-fry until the cabbage just starts to wilt, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter of the wok and add the bok choy. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and stir-fry until the bok choy just starts to wilt, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- One at a time, using 1 tablespoon of oil for each and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the carrots, black fungus, and lily buds until coated in oil, about 1 minute. Transfer each batch to the stockpot.
- Stir the jai together to thoroughly combine. Add enough water to just cover the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the ingredients are cooked through and tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the snow peas. Taste and season with salt and soy sauce if needed.