Flavourful Chinese New Year Fare

The Year of the Sheep starts on Feb. 19. Here, traditional Chinese New Year cuisine — plus three delicious dinner ideas.

Traditions vary among different regions, but some common foods you’ll see during Lunar New Year celebrations include:

– Noodles: don’t cut them! Long noodles are associated with long life.

– Leafy greens: while some cultures associate greens with money, here they’re cooked and served whole to wish others a long life.

– Spring rolls: they represent wealth as they look like little gold bars (if you use your imagination).

– Tangerines, pomelos and oranges: Oranges are for luck, tangerines are for wealth and the unusually shaped pomelo is associated with status and prosperity. Heaping platefuls of these sweet treats are associated with abundance and are often displayed in the home. However, you can use them in dishes too.

– Pomegranates: not only is their red colour symbolic in Chinese culture, their many seeds represent fertility. Other seeds and nuts enjoyed include melon seeds and lotus seeds. Seeds and seed bearing fruits (like citrus fruits) represent an abundant harvest as well as fertility.

– Prosperity Tray: this tray contains eight varieties of candies which the host offers to guests. The “candies” are usually nuts or dried fruits that are meaningful in their own right. Why eight? The number is associated with luck and prosperity.

Jiao zi (dumplings) are enjoyed at midnight to symbolize financial prosperity in the year ahead. Some say these foods are little packets of good luck, while others say they look like gold ingots — an ancient form of currency.

– Fish: here it’s a play on words that adds meaning. The Chinese word for fish, “Yu”, sounds similar to the words for “wish” and “abundance”. Traditionally, a fish is served with its head and tail still attached for a good beginning and ending to the year.

– Chicken: In some places chicken is enjoyed because it symbolizes prosperity — but should be cooked with its head and feet still attached for “completeness”.

– Eggs: for obvious reasons, they symbolize fertility.

– Steamed cakes. Not only will you have a sweet and rich year, the round shape of these cakes represents family reunion and their layers representing rising abundance.

Jai or Buddhist’s Delight: a popular vegetarian dish enjoyed at New Year’s. The ingredients are symbolic in themselves — like Chinese cabbage and bamboo shoots (for strength and long life).

Of course, foods differ depending on where you’re celebrating. In some places, you may see pork and beef added to the menu too.

What foods should you avoid? With the exception of tofu and bean curd, white foods could symbolize misfortune, mourning or even death — though for some they can symbolize purity. A stick, sweet pudding made from rice is popular in some areas.

Likewise, different days of the celebrations honour different things — and if that day happens to be an animal, it’s bad luck to eat it.

Admittedly, most of us won’t be putting together elaborate, two-week long celebrations or hosting New Year’s parties. If you’re simply looking to bring some of the flavours to the table, here are some easy, Asian-inspired recipe ideas from News Canada.

Spicy Shrimp Stir-Fry

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

PAM Cooking Spray
1/8 tsp (0.6mL) red chili flakes
1 Tbsp (15mL) garlic, sliced
1 tsp (5mL) fresh ginger, minced
1 cup (250mL) red onion, sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) carrot, thinly sliced
1 lbs (454 g) frozen raw shrimp, thawed (shelled and deveined)
2 cups (500 mL) napa cabbage, sliced thinly
1/2 cup (125 mL) VH General Tao stir-fry sauce
1/4 cup (60 mL) green onion, sliced

Spray a large pan with PAM Cooking Spray and heat over medium-high.

Add garlic, ginger, red onion, carrot and chili flakes. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until onions are soft.

Add Napa cabbage and cook an additional 3-5 minutes. Add shrimp and VH General Tao stir-fry sauce; cook 2-4 minutes until shrimps turn pink and sauce coats all the ingredients.

Garnish with green onion and serve over rice. (Editor’s note: or serve over noodles, depending on your preference.)

Bacon Wrapped Pork with Bok Choy

Serves: 4

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

1 lb (500 gr) pork tenderloin
1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
8-10 slices bacon
8 cups (2 L) baby bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise and washed
1 bottle VH Sweet & Sour Sauce

1. Heat oven to 400˚F (200˚F); slice tenderloin into 2 pieces. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown the pork, about 7 minutes.

2. Layer 4-5 bacon slices side by side on a cutting board; allow edges to only slightly overlap. Place one piece of pork across the bottom ends of the bacon strips; roll the bacon around the tenderloin and place the wrapped pork seam side down in a baking dish. Repeat with second piece and remaining bacon.

3. Place baking dish in oven and cook until bacon is browned and pork is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160˚F (70C)˚.

4. Pour out leftover oil from sauté pan, add baby bok choy and 2 tbsp (30 mL) water, cover and cook on medium heat for 8 minutes. Add bottle of sweet & sour sauce and heat through, lowering heat to simmer to keep warm.

5. When pork is ready, slice and serve with bok choy and VH Sweet & Sour Sauce.

Chicken stuffed with Broccoli and Goat Cheese

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
1/2 cup (125 mL) plain goat cheese (cream cheese can also be used)
2 cups (500 mL) frozen broccoli florets
2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
1 bottle VH Sweet & Sour Sauce

1. Place 1 chicken breast between 2 large pieces of plastic wrap, carefully pound chicken breast with the flat side of a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. Flatten breast to a thickness of 1/2 cm (1/4 inch), taking care not to tear the chicken. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

2. Place broccoli in a small glass and add just enough water to cover the florets, microwave for 4 minutes. Drain and chop finely. Stir warm broccoli into goat cheese until well combined.

3. Place 1/4 of the cheese mixture at the base of the first piece of chicken, carefully roll the meat over the cheese, tucking in the sides to enclose the cheese. Use 2-3 toothpicks to secure. Repeat with remaining 3 breasts.

4. In a large sauté pan heat oil over medium-high, brown chicken on all sides, about 7 minutes. Add sweet & sour sauce to the pan along with 1/4 cup (60 mL) water. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes.

5. Slice chicken and serve with sauce poured over top.

Additional recipes ideas are available online at www.vhsauces.com.

Sources: About.com, AllRecipes.com, Chow.com, TLC.com,

For more information and inspiration, see Celebrate Chinese New Year.

More flavourful inspiration:

Thai Carrot and Chicken Balls
Vietnamese Beef and Mushroom Soup
Spicy Beef, Scallion and Red Pepper Stir-Fry
Asian Sesame Salmon
Thai Green Chicken Curry with Coconut Rice