Happy Chinese New Year! Are you ready for yet another celebration? These festivities go on for almost a month and red is the magic colour.
This is the ‘Year of the Pig’ which symbolises wealth. In China, every year has a zodiac animal, the cycle repeats every 12 years, making it easy to figure out whether it’s your year or not. Just check your age in multiples of 12.
For the Chinese, the Spring Festival is the most important celebration of the entire year, similar to Christmas for us westerners. It marks the coming of Spring and all the excitement and joy of new beginnings. Unlike Christmas in this part of the world, Chinese New Year is a movable feast, predicated by the Lunar rather than the Gregorian calendar. Technically it’s the longest Chinese holiday, celebrated by over 20% of the world’s population – how amazing is that!
The most significant element of the holiday is the family reunion which triggers the largest human migration in the entire world. Millions of diligent hard working people, young and old, who now live in cities, travel home to rural areas to get together with their elderly parents.
Apparently, desperate singles often resort to hiring a fake boy or girlfriend to take home to allay their parents’ concerns – continuing the family name is one of the most important elements of Chinese culture, a reason why the Chinese have such a huge population…
Lively music and dance plus copious quantities of delicious food are important elements of the festivities. There are spectacular parades in Chinatowns all over the world – traditional lion and unicorn dances, dragon parades, bell ringing and lots of fun and fireworks. Children receive gifts of red envelopes stuffed with lucky money.
The feasting and excitement will continue until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year – the first new moon of the Lunar year so you’ll see lots of red lanterns in all shapes and sizes, widely available in Asian shops, if you want to have fun and enter into the spirit….
A myriad of superstitions are attached to the New Year…People ‘spring clean’ the house on the day before Chinese New Year to sweep away bad luck and make way for good vibes.
Showering is taboo on New Year’s Day, as is throwing out rubbish. Hair cutting too is out, so hair salons are closed…
There will be celebrations in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast so check it out. Cork which has been twinned with Shanghai since 2005, hosted its first Chinese New Year Festival on February 4th. Many iconic buildings around the world, including the Mansion House in Dublin and City Hall in Cork will be illuminated in red to mark the beginning of Chinese New Year.
Lots of foods are associated with Chinese New Year, particularly dumplings. Spring rolls are universally loved, easy to make and when fried resemble gold bars. Each food is symbolic in some way, long noodles symbolise longevity…Citrus are also considered to be lucky.
Several festive desserts are also much loved, Tangyuan a type of rice ball, sounds like reunion in Chinese so they are favourites. As is Nian Gao, a type of rice cake which symbolises success. Fa gao – is a hybrid of a muffin and a sponge cake, the name means ‘get rich’ so everyone wants some of those too. Some of these desserts can be an acquired taste for non-Chinese but if you get an opportunity, do taste them.
I’ve been to China several times, so I’m even more excited about Chinese New Year and am planning a little Chinese feast to celebrate.
Those who are born in the Year of the Pig, may want to check out the Chinese zodiac. Your lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 8, Lucky colours are yellow, grey, brown and gold and lucky directions are southeast and northeast…how about that….
Seek out your local Chinese restaurant, better still invite a few friends around to enjoy a home cooked Chinese meal, and don’t forget to wish our Chinese friends ‘In Nian Kuai le’ – ‘Happy New Year’.
Enjoy and Happy New Year of the – Pig the symbol of wealth.
Deh-ta Hsiung, one of my heroes, was the first Chinese chef to teach at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. This is one of his many dumpling recipes, they can be served poached in broth or transformed into pot stickers.
Makes 80-90 dumplings
For the dough:
450g (1lb) plain white flour
About 425ml (3/4 pint) water
Flour for dusting
For the filling:
675g (1 1/2 lbs) Chinese leaf
450g (1lb) minced heritage pork
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sieve the flour into a bowl, slowly pour in the water and mix to a firm dough. Knead until soft and smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and let stand for 25-30 minutes.
Separate the Chinese leaves and blanch in a pan of boiling salted water for 2 – 3 minutes or until soft. Drain well, finely chop, cool and mix with the rest of the ingredients to make the filling.
Lightly dust a work surface with dry flour. Knead the dough, roll into a long sausage about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. Cut into 80 -90 small pieces. Flatten each piece with the palm of your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll each piece into a thin circle about 6cm(2 ½ in) in diameter.
Put about 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling in the centre of each circle. Fold into a semi-circle, and pinch the edges firmly so that the dumpling is tightly sealed. Place the dumplings on a floured tray and cover with a damp cloth until ready for cooking. (Any uncooked dumplings should be frozen immediately rather than refrigerated).
Bring 1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water to a fast rolling boil. Drop about 20 dumplings, one by one into the water. Stir gently with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to prevent them sticking together. Cover and bring back to the boil. Uncover and add about 50ml (2 floz) cold water, then bring back to the boil once more (uncovered). Repeat this process twice more. Remove and drain the dumplings, and serve hot with a dipping sauce. Any leftovers should be re-heated, not by poaching, but by shallow frying them, then they become pot stickers..
Chinese Chive Omelette
Super tasty and easy to make, scatter with garlic chive flowers which are just coming into season.
5 organic eggs
40-50g Chinese or garlic chives or wild garlic
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
½ – 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Generous tablespoon peanut oil
Soy sauce, optional
Slice the chives into 5mm pieces. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the other ingredients. Add the chopped chives and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Heat a wok or a 25cm frying pan over a high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Drop in a teaspoon full of the mixture to test the seasoning. Taste and tweak if necessary.
Pour the egg mixture into the hot wok or pan, swirl to coat the base evenly.
Cook for a couple of minutes to brown the base lightly. Flip over to cook the other side. When almost set, – 2-3 minutes slide out onto a hot serving plate. Divide into quarters sprinkle with garlic chive flowers and serve with soy sauce.
Alternatively make 2 smaller omelettes.
Chinese Noodle Salad
8 ozs (225g) Chinese egg noodles
6 ozs (170g) sugar peas (mangetout)
4 spring onions
3 ozs (85g) roasted peanuts, skinned and coarsely chopped
1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh coriander
8-12 ozs (225-340g) cooked peeled shrimps
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Generous teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 green chillies, seeded and finely diced
2 teaspoons sugar
4 fl ozs (100ml) soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
12 tablespoons sesame seed oil
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.
Meanwhile make the dressing, put all the ingredients into a bowl, mix well.
Add salt to the fast boiling water, pop in the noodles. Stir to separate and cook until al dente – 4-6 minutes approx.
Drain, rinse with hot water and drain well again.
Transfer the noodles to a large bowl, add the dressing and toss well. Leave aside to marinade for an hour or more.
Meanwhile prepare the other ingredients. String the sugar peas and cook in boiling salted water until al dente, 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water, spread out on a baking tray in a single layer. Cut each mangetout into 2 or 3 pieces.
Add the sugar peas, shrimps, spring onions, half the coriander and most of the peanuts to the marinated noodles, toss well. Taste and correct seasoning.
Turn into a shallow serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and freshly chopped coriander and serve.
Sticky Chinese Chicken Thighs
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, grated
bunch spring onions, chopped
50g (2oz) cashew nuts, toasted
plain boiled rice (to serve)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
Arrange the chicken thighs in a large roasting tin and slash the skin 2-3 times on each thigh.
Mix together the hoisin sauce, sesame oil, honey, five-spice powder, ginger, garlic and some salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken and toss to coat – allow to marinate for 2 hours, or overnight if you have time.
Roast in the preheated oven, skin-side up for 35 minutes, basting as least once during cooking. Sprinkle with toasted cashew nuts and spring onions. Serve with rice.
Chinese Pork sausages
2 lb (900g) streaky pork, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon 5 spice powder
12 tabespoon soy sauce
5 fl ozs (150ml) red wine or brandy
10 ft sausage strings (if using)
Marinate the minced pork with the salt, sugar, spice, soy sauce and wine for at least eight hours or overnight. Mix well, fry off a little knob to taste, correct seasoning if necessary.
Feed into sausage skins or roll into skinless sausages. Fry immediately until golden on all sides or hang up the sausages to dry for three to four days. When dry – store the sausages in a fridge, they will keep for several weeks, or in a freezer for four months.