Diana Kuan's new book, "The Chinese Takeout Cookbook," is full of recipes for those classic Chinese foods that people love to order in restaurants or take home.
Here are three recipes from the book that can be eaten any time but are also suitable for serving at Chinese New Year.
Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
A perpetual favourite for snacks or meals, dumplings are fun to make at home and easily adaptable to suit your cravings.
A favourite combination for the filling is pork and mushrooms, with the richness of the pork complementing the earthiness of the mushrooms. But feel free to vary the ingredients. Pork and cabbage is a Beijing classic, while lamb with leeks is popular in western China. If you love seafood, try shrimp and crab. For vegetarians, spinach with mushrooms and scallions makes an incredibly tasty combination.
As for dipping sauces, you can use soy sauce or sriracha sauce alone or make a soy and vinegar dipping sauce.
Any dumplings you don't cook right away can be frozen for a quick meal or snack later on. They can also be pan-fried or boiled straight out of the freezer; just add 1 minute to the boiling time or steaming part of the pan-frying.
1 pkg dumpling wrappers (about 50)
Peanut or vegetable oil, for pan-frying (about 15 ml/1 tbsp per dozen)
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
500 g (1 lb) ground pork
2 scallions, finely chopped
15 ml (1 tbsp) soy sauce
15 ml (1 tbsp) Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
15 ml (1 tbsp) sesame oil
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
0.5 ml (1/8 tsp) freshly ground black pepper
Filling: Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Discard stems and finely chop mushroom caps.
In a large bowl, mix together mushrooms, pork, scallions, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Keep wrappers covered with a slightly damp towel until ready to use to prevent them from drying out. Fill a ramekin or small bowl with water and have it next to you; this will be for sealing the dumplings.
Take a wrapper and place a heaping 5 ml (1 tsp) of filling in the middle. Be careful not to put in too much or it will leak out during folding process.
Dip your finger in the water and moisten wrapper edges all around. Take the dumpling in your hand and fold the wrapper in half without sealing it. With your right thumb and index finger, make a pleat in the centre of the top layer of the wrapper, leaving the bottom layer unpleated.
Make 2 more identical pleats in the same direction, until you end up with 3 pleats on the right side. With your left thumb and index finger, make 2 more pleats on the left side. Press all the pleats to seal. The finished wrapped dumpling should resemble a crescent.
Lay finished dumpling on a plate. Keep dumplings covered with a slightly damp towel while you repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.
For pan-frying, make sure to use a large flat-bottomed skillet or a wok with a wide flat surface area and have a lid ready. Heat skillet over medium-high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom.
Working in batches, line dumplings in pan, smooth side down. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the smooth side starts to brown. Reduce heat to medium. Carefully add about 125 ml (1/2 cup) water to the pan, and immediately cover with a lid to contain the spitting oil. Let dumplings steam for 4 to 5 minutes or until all or most of the water has evaporated. Remove lid and loosen dumplings with a spatula. They should be golden brown on the bottom. Turn off the heat.
If you are doing repeated batches, wash and dry pan or wipe it out so that there is no residual water when you pan-fry your next batch. Repeat pan-frying process with remaining dumplings, adding more oil as necessary, or freeze some for a rainy day.
(Alternatively, if you would rather boil your dumplings, just cook them in a pot of boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes.)
Serve hot with soy sauce, chili sauce, or Soy and Vinegar Dipping Sauce (recipe follows).
Makes about 50 dumplings, serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer
Soy and Vinegar Dipping Sauce
45 ml (3 tbsp) soy sauce
30 ml (2 tbsp) Chinese black vinegar
5 ml (1 tsp) sesame oil or chili oil
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, black vinegar and sesame oil.
Transfer sauce to small sauce dishes and serve. It's best to use immediately as the sauce loses its potency if refrigerated.
Buddha's Delight is traditionally served on the first day of Chinese New Year, a practice stemming from an old Buddhist custom of spiritual cleansing. In fact, the recipe's Cantonese name is simply jai, meaning "vegetarian food."
Some ingredients, such as lily buds and bean thread noodles, may require a special trip to a Chinese market. If you are unable to find lily buds, Kuan says they can be omitted.
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
8 dried lily buds
50 ml (1/4 cup) bamboo shoots (fresh or canned)
125 ml (1/2 cup) snow peas
50 ml (1/4 cup) canned water chestnuts
125 g (4 oz) bean thread noodles
250 g (1/2 lb) extra-firm tofu
15 ml (1 tbsp) peanut or vegetable oil
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) minced fresh ginger
250 ml (1 cup) shredded napa cabbage
500 ml (2 cups) vegetable broth
45 ml (3 tbsp) soy sauce
22 ml (1 1/2 tbsp) hoisin sauce
15 ml (1 tbsp) sesame oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) light brown sugar
In a bowl of warm water, soak shiitake mushrooms and lily buds for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water. Discard stems from mushrooms and thinly slice mushroom caps. (For extra mushroom flavour, reserve soaking liquid and add it to the dish.) Slice rough black ends off lily buds and discard; cut lily buds in half and pull apart the strands.
Rinse bamboo shoots and slice thinly. Trim and discard hard ends from snow peas and cut snow peas lengthwise. Drain and finely chop water chestnuts.
In a large bowl, soak bean thread noodles in enough warm water to cover for 10 minutes to soften. Drain, shake off excess water and set aside.
Drain and rinse tofu, then pat dry with paper towels. Slice into 2.5-cm (1-inch) cubes.
Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together vegetable broth, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil and brown sugar. Set aside.
Heat a wok, Dutch oven or deep 36-cm (14-inch) skillet over medium heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact.
Add peanut oil and swirl to coat bottom. Add ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, lily buds, bamboo shoots, snow peas, water chestnuts, cabbage and tofu. Add sauce and mushroom soaking liquid (if using) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove lid, add drained bean thread noodles, cover wok again and simmer for about another 5 minutes or until noodles are cooked. (Don't worry if the dish looks a little soupy; the noodles will absorb remaining broth.)
Ladle everything into a deep serving dish and serve hot.
Makes 4 servings as part of a multicourse meal.
Almond cookies have a nutty fragrance and lightly sweet crunch. This recipe is an easy way to whip up dozens of these cookie classics.
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
250 g (1/2 lb or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
2 large eggs, beaten
10 ml (2 tsp) almond extract
40 whole almonds
1 large egg, beaten, for glaze
Heat oven to 160 C (325 F).
In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat in softened butter a few pieces at a time at low speed, until texture resembles that of cornmeal. Beat in eggs and almond extract until a smooth dough is formed.
Roll dough between your palms into 3-cm (1 1/4-inch) balls and place them 5 cm (2 inches) apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Using the palm of your hand, gently flatten each ball and place an almond in the middle of each. Brush the top of each cookie with egg glaze.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until cookies are golden on top, rotating the top and bottom baking sheets halfway through.
Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. The cookies will keep for up to 3 to 4 days in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Source: "The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home" by Diana Kuan (Ballantine Books, 2012).
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Brighten Up Your Wardrobe
First things first: if you want to start the year off right, don’t wear black during the 15-day celebration. Black represents death, and you certainly don’t want to welcome death into the new year. Red is the best colour to sport, since it’s thought to ward off evil spirits and misfortune.
Create A Money Tree
According to the <a href="http://www.dia.org/exhibitions/tao/resource_art/pdf/china_money_tree.pdf" target="_hplink">Detroit Institute of Arts Museum</a>, Money Trees are traditionally comprised of a bushy pine or cypress branch that sits in a porcelain pot atop of rice, pine nuts and melon seeds, and can help invite good fortune and prosperity into your life. The trees can be decorated with paper coins and symbols of long life, like paper cranes, with the genie of wealth perched on top.
Visit a Chinese New Year Exhibition
Edmonton’s <a href="http://www.edmonton.ca/attractions_recreation/attractions/muttart_conservatory/feature-pyramid-schedule.aspx" target="_hplink">Muttart Conservatory</a> has devoted one of its lush botanical garden pyramids to the Year of the Snake, with orchids, chrysanthemums and azaleas on display. Visitors can even plant jade trees and make their own Money Trees to take home. You could find bonsai trees (also known for good fortune) and home and garden stores in your city. <i>The Venetian in Las Vegas shows a Chinese New Year art installation welcoming the year of the snake.</i>
Take In A Traditional Dance Performance
Lion and Dragon dances are frequently featured in Chinese New Year celebrations, including the annual <a href="http://www.budmanpr.com/c/" target="_hplink">New Year’s Eve Lion Dance Parade at Scarborough Town Centre</a> and the elaborate <a href="http://legendofchina.net/" target="_hplink">Chinese New Year Carnival in Toronto</a>. Meant to bring good luck — in the case of the Dragon Dance, the longer the animal, the better the luck — each of these traditional dances showcase beautiful props and ornate, colourful costumes. <i>Lion dancers and musicians perform beneath decorative red lanterns at the Temple of the Earth (Ditan Park) on the eve of the Lunar New Year in Beijing on February 2, 2011.</i>
Get Involved With Fireworks
Setting off firecrackers is considered especially lucky for business owners hoping for a prosperous year ahead. Look for Chinese New Year fireworks displays near you, or set off your own firecrackers to scare off evil spirits. (Only if firecrackers are legal wherever you are, of course.)
Long, uncut noodles symbolize long life in Chinese culture, and are one of the main dishes enjoyed during the new year celebrations, <a href="http://english.visitbeijing.com.cn/jb/n214799275_7.shtml" target="_hplink">, according to Visit Beijing</a>. This is particularly the case on the seventh day of celebrations, considered the birthday of human beings. <i>Packets of noodles are on sale in the Chinatown area of Westminster on February 1, 2011 in London, England.</i>
Check Out A Lantern Festival
Corresponding with the 15th day of the Chinese New Year celebrations (and therefore, the first full moon of the year), the lantern festivals usually consist of children carrying lanterns in a parade, and attempting to do riddles on them. <a href="http://lunarfest.org/2013/about.html" target="_hplink">LunarFest</a>, which has events in both Toronto and Vancouver, gives the opportunity to explore the Lantern Jungle and attend a special “Secrets in the Lantern” workshop at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, or participants can take in the Lunar Medley and another unique Lantern Jungle at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Both of the LunarFest Lantern Jungles include colourful snake lanterns made by kids. <i>A woman stands at a shopping mall decorated with Chinese traditional lanterns ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year in Klang, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013.</i>