I love celebrating Chinese New Year – if you live in a big city check to see if there are any events near you coming up: Southampton always has a lion dance and dragon dance going on somewhere in the city, and you can find out more here. I’ve said before that sharing other people’s food, traditions and holidays is the purest way of showing appreciation and love, so with that in mind, I’d like to share some great recipes for celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Dog on Friday 16 February!
I love the fact that the Chinese celebration dishes are all heavy with symbolism. One of the best dishes to cook is a whole fish, because the word for fish sounds like the word for ‘surplus’ – a pretty good thing to have at the end of a year, right? (As long as it’s not a surplus of odd socks, which is where I’m at right now…)
You should serve a whole fish, and it should be eaten last thing in the meal with leftovers kept to preserve the spirit of the surplus it will bestow upon you! My favourite way is a simple and clean-tasting steamed fish with black beans and ginger. Find the recipe here.
You can also serve dumplings, which are my personal favourite! Chinese dumplings are called jiaozi, and the delicious treat travelled to Japanese kitchens to become gyoza! The difference between jiaozi and gyoza is very minimal, so if you want to serve gyoza I won’t tell anyone. Gyoza tend to have a thinner skin, and my favourite way of serving them, fried on one side, is definitely a Japanese tradition, as generally jiaozi are steamed or boiled… but pan fried is also good too!
For Chinese New Year, dumplings represent wealth as they look like Chinese silver ingots, and are very popular to eat in North China! One of my Chinese friends from work showed me how to make jiaozi at home and it was so much fun – and in the cold climate it’s not uncommon for families to make hundreds and leave them outside overnight to preserve them! The more pleats you add to your dumplings the better, by the way! And, serve them in a straight line, rather than in circles.
The filling is also an important part of the symbolism. If you’d like to have a fair complexion and a gentle mood, try cabbage and radish inside. My favourite dumplings are made with cabbage, spring onions and pork. Here’s my recipe!
- 100g white cabbage
- 100g Chinese leaf
- 3 spring onions
- 300g minced pork
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 packets gyoza/dumpling skins
- Vegetable oil
- Soy sauce and Chinese rice wine vinegar, to serve
Chop the cabbage, Chinese leaf and spring onions – I use a food processor to cut everything down. Then you have to squeeze hard to remove the excess liquid – this is a really important step. Once you’ve done that, stick the veggies in a large bowl. Then chop up the garlic and put that on top, together with the minced pork, mirin, sesame seed oil, soy sauce and grated ginger. Mix well – use your hands!
To make my dumplings I use a gyoza press I bought from the Japan Centre in London. I used to make dumplings by hand and doing it that way takes forever. It still takes a while to use the press, but all in all it’s much easier. You just place the skin on the open press, add a small teaspoon of filling, then wet the edges and bring the handles together. To make gyozas by hand, you hold the dumpling skin in the palm of your hand, place a teaspoon of filling in the centre, wet the edges, fold the skin in half and press the edges firmly. Then press and pleat the edges to seal.
If you thought that was fiddly, try cooking them! Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a pan, and place your gyozas inside. Fry for two minutes on a high heat, then add around three tablespoons of water. Cover straight away with a snug lid, and allow to bubble for two minutes on medium low (or five minutes if cooking from frozen) or until the water has evaporated, then take the dumplings off the heat and allow them to sit in their own steam for around a minute. Now you can take the lid off and start all over again!
Eat with a dip made of equal quantities of Chinese rice wine vinegar and light soy sauce. Add in chilli oil, sesame oil, garlic oil, crushed garlic, minced ginger, slice spring onions or red chilli as optional extras!
If that’s too much trouble, any good Chinese supermarket will have a plethora of dumplings already made and frozen! Just boil or steam and serve with a dip!
Another symbolic treat to serve is spring rolls, because they look like gold bars! Serve them to encourage prosperity, and also because they’re really, really nice. You *have* to try my recipe here for the best Chinese spring rolls I’ve ever had… I promise you won’t regret trying them!
Then there are noodles – so many delicious noodle dishes to serve, but the main point of serving them is that they symbolise a wish for longevity. With that in mind, longevity noodles which are very long are prepared, and must not be cut during cooking! They can be fried or served in a soup. Don’t bite them into pieces, or your wish for a long life might be cut short!
Finally, fruits that are round and golden like tangerines, oranges and pomeloes also are great to have around – they symbolise fullness and wealth! Plus, they are very refreshing after a feast!
If you want to have some ideas for what to serve for your feast, try some gorgeous rosé from Provence. You have to make some traditions of your own, after all! For those succulent juicy dumplings I’d go for the 2016 Les Quatre Tours Classique, currently available at Friarwood for £10. With a delicate and refreshing taste, it’s usually paired with salads, grilled vegetables and cold meat or cooked ham, and it tastes fabulous with the recipe above! Or, if you have a spicier menu (and I’m a HUGE fan of proper Sichuan cuisine so try some recipes from that region like my mapo dofu, here), try the 2016 Châteaux Elie Sumeire Cabaret, currently on sale at £9 at Oddbins here. This dry, fruity wine has a great mineral finish that stands up to spicy food, and won a silver at Decanter 2014! Plus, it’s a family business for over 700 years, so if anyone is going to make good wine, it’s the Sumeire family! (And, if you’re cooking that fish I recommended, try the Les Petits Diables from Sainte Lucie, on sale at £11 from Lea and Sandeman.) Find out more by visiting the Provence Wine website here.
These wines were provided for the purposes of review by Provence Wines. Photography, recipes and opinions are my own.