Two weeks ago, more than a billion Chinese people celebrated the Year of the Ox. There are traditional foods that are served during Chinese New Year, many of which are symbolic but also (and more importantly) tasty. My family is very lax about holidays, and as a result, I never knew about these traditional foods until a few years ago, when I spent Chinese New Year in Taiwan for the first time since I was 6 years old. And up until this year, I had never celebrated Chinese New Year in the States. So, this year, I decided to have some friends over for some traditional Chinese New Year treats.
As a starter, I made vegetarian hot and sour soup with tofu, wood ear mushrooms, and carrots. It didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but it was still pretty good.
Long noodles, served mainly at birthdays and also on holidays, represent long life. These fried noodles featured napa cabbage, shittake mushrooms, and carrots.
Nien gao, or literally “sticky cake,” is a very auspicious thing to eat because the words have double meaning. “Nien” (sticky) also sounds like “year” while “gao” (cake) sounds like “higher.” So, a derivation of nien gao means “every year higher and higher.” Meaning, more and more success every year. I bought a daikon cake, sliced it, and fried it.
For the main course, I made two kinds of dumplings — veggie and pork and chive. Dumplings are traditionally served during Chinese New Year because their shape resembles ancient Chinese money (silver ingots). Also, one of the dumplings can contain a “lucky surprise” of a gold coin, which is considered lucky (and also could be a lesson in chewing before eating).
I cheated by buying gyoza skins instead of rolling my own dough. I modified Allton Brown’s veggie dumpling recipe from the Food Network, where I substituted shittake mushrooms for the napa cabbage and red peppers. I also left out the cilantro because some of my guests have a distinct hatred of the herb. For the pork and chive potstickers, I followed the recipe on Epicurious.com, omitting the cabbage and the dried shrimp. Both turned out really delicious!