Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year 4709, or 2011 in the Western calendar. It’s the year of the Rabbit, the fourth sign in the Chinese zodiac. If you were born in 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, or 2011, this is your year of good luck. People born under this sign are thought to be quietly charismatic, thoughtful, calm, and tactful.
Like all New Year days, this is a day of renewal and celebration– and rest. Tradition dictates that no cleaning, cutting, or chopping be done on this day, so it’s a day off for home cooks. The days leading up to the New Year are busy with house cleaning (sweeping away the bad luck!) and preparing the foods which are associated with good luck and fortune in Chinese culture. These include dumplings (jiao zi), whose shapes resemble the gold ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty; sweet sticky rice cakes (nian gao), which symbolize the persistence needed for prosperity; and long noodles, for longevity. Whole fish and chicken (beak and feet included!) are served to ensure the completeness of the family’s good fortune. Many other traditional foods are served because their names are homophones for words such as luck and wealth in Cantonese and other Chinese dialects. Fish (yu), for example, sounds like the phrase meaning “having enough to spare;” garlic chives (jiu cai) sounds like a word meaning “everlasting;” and a word for oysters (hao), recalls the word for “an auspicious event.”
Besides eating, the Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions and celebrations. Hong bao, or red envelopes, filled with money are given to children, firecrackers are set off to chase away bad luck, and new clothes, preferably in lucky red, are bought to start the year off right.
The Chinese New Year celebrations go on for an entire month, so it’s not too late to prepare for a year of good luck, happiness, and prosperity.
I am proud to showcase the dumplings I made with my daughters last night for our night-before-Chinese New Year’s dinner, which we made both boiled (sui jiao) and as potstickers, their favorite.
Gong xi fa cai!
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dumplings symbolize good luck, packaged inside
Makes 4 dozen.
4 leaves of Chinese (Napa) cabbage, minced
2 scallions, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lb. lean ground pork
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 package prepared round dumpling wrappers
For dipping sauce: soy sauce plus any combination of sesame oil, chili sauce or oil, vinegar, minced scallions, minced cilantro, minced ginger
1. Mix all ingredients except wrappers in a bowl until well combined.
2. To make each dumping, place a wrapper on a clean surface or your palm, and heap about a teaspoon or two of filling into the center. (Wrappers vary in size and shape; don’t overfill or else you won’t get a good seal.)
3. Moisten the inside edges of the filled wrappers using your finger or a chopstick dipped into a little water and fold over, forming crescents. Press them together, making pleats to seal. Make sure they are well-sealed, or the filling will fall out when you cook them.
To make potstickers:
1. Heat a tablespoon of canola oil into the bottom of a frying pan and place dumplings (standing up) into the pan, leaving a little room around each dumpling.
2. Add 1/4 cup of cold water, then turn heat to low and cover pan.
3. Cook on low heat for about 3 minutes, until water is almost evaporated, then add another 1/4 cup of cold water and repeat the process.
4. Dumplings are done when the water has evaporated and the bottoms have a nice golden, sticky crust (potstickers!)
To make boiled dumplings:
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and carefully drop in dumplings. There should be a lot of room for them to move around.
2. When water resumes boiling, add 1 cup of water to cool. When the water resumes boiling again, add another cup of cold water to cool. Repeat this process one more time. When the water boils for the third time, the dumplings will be done. They should be floating.
Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.
© 2011 Linda Shiue