Growing up, we moved around a lot, like once-a-year a lot. While never dull, our nomadic lifestyle didn't exactly make it easy to keep up with traditions from home. So when our extended family in Sichuan held elaborate Chinese new year celebrations, gathered around large lazy susans piled high with plates, we created our own traditions from far away.
While simple, our celebrations were warm and they were good. Friends would come over, and my mother would prepare a repertoire of her greatest hits. There would always be hand-made dumplings, braised tofu, a steamed fish, cured and smoked meats we smuggled back in our suitcases from previous visits home. After dinner, everyone would take turns belting out heartfelt ballads on the karaoke machine. It wasn't until much later that I realized their 'rewritten traditions' conveniently left out the red envelopes lined with cash that other kids my age looked forward to, and I had been snubbed of riches.
As we look back on our first year in Los Angeles, the words of poet Chih Hao Wang above ring truer than ever. Chinese New Year is about finding one's way home, and for many of us, this means the strange that's made familiar, the house we made our own, and the family we have chosen. Nothing encapsulates the feeling of home more than bringing a group of people together over a feast (and any excuse to hang up red lanterns is just a bonus!) Hosting a lunar new year dinner party doesn't have to be stressful, so I've tapped some friends and chefs I admire for their favorite recipes and assembled a dinner menu of easy and approachable dishes to help you bring Chinese New Year home.
Sugared Walnuts - Grace Young
Zhong Dumplings - Fly By Jing
Fried Taro Popiah - Diana Zheng
Steamed Fish - Woks of Life
Lion's Head Meatballs - Cynthia Chen McTernan
Roasted Pork Belly - Ken Hom
Asparagus Gingko Nuts - Cecilia Chang
Black Sesame Balls - Elaine China Sichuan Food
1 pound shelled walnut halves
1 cup sugar
6 cups vegetable oil
- Boil 1 quart of water, add walnuts and returned to a boil. Drain walnuts in a colander and immediately place them in a large bowl. Pour sugar over the walnuts and continually stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely dissolved and no granules are visible. The walnuts should be shiny and coated in liquid sugar
- Heat oil in a 14 inch flat bottomed wok or other large pot until the oil reaches 375F. Carefully add the walnuts with a slotted metal spoon, spreading them around in the wok. Cook undisturbed for 2 min, letting the walnuts begin to brown. Then, using the slotted spoon, carefully stir the walnuts in the wok to make sure they brown evenly. Fry an additional 1-3 minutes until golden brown.
- When the nuts are golden, immediately turn off the heat. Carefully remove them with slotted spoon to a baking sheet lined with foil, leaving as much space as possible between them. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds. Serve after they have cooled completely.
1 lb ground pork (shoulder, belly - about 70% lean, 30% fat)
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
1 tbsp cooking wine like Shaoxing
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup of water
1 pack dumpling wrappers
- Mix all ingredients until everything is thoroughly integrated. I like wearing disposable gloves and getting in there with my hands.
- Test out the meat mixture if you like by frying a little bit in a pan with oil. It should taste delicious and umami-rich with no other seasoning.
- Now fold the dumplings. There are many techniques here. I recommend watching this video. It truly doesn’t matter what your dumplings look like though as long as your shapes are fully sealed.
- Bring some salted water to boil on the stove. Once boiling, drop dumplings in, making sure to gently stir right away with a spatula or utensil to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Once the dumplings start to float, wait another 30 seconds and remove them from the water with a slotted spoon.
- Serve with Zhong Dumpling sauce, or Sichuan Chili Crisp vinaigrette and enjoy!
Sichuan Chili Crisp Vinaigrette
2 tbsp Sichuan Chili Crisp
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
Scallion greens and cilantro to taste
Fried Taro Popiah (from Diana Zheng's "Jia! The Food of Swatow and the Teochew Diaspora")
8 oz ground pork
2 tsp + salt
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp + soy sauce
few dashes white pepper
few cracks + black pepper
8 oz shrimp
1 tbsp + 1 tbsp oil
1.5 lb taro
1 tbsp flour
8 oz carrot
1 tbsp water
1 medium onion
1 pack 7.5” spring roll wrappers
3 cloves garlic
enough oil for deep frying
- In a medium bowl, mix the ground pork with fish sauce and a few shakes of ground white pepper. Peel and devein the shrimp if necessary. Set aside.
- If you have a food processor, use the shredding attachment to julienne the taro and carrots (remember to use gloves to handle raw taro!). Otherwise, shred using a box grater. Reserve in a large bowl.
- Mince the onion and garlic, then roughly chop the shrimp, either using the food processor’s standard blade attachment or by hand. Add to the reserved taro and carrot mixture. Mix in salt, soy sauce, and a few cracks of black pepper.
- Heat wok over high heat and add 1 tbsp oil. Add half of the seasoned ground pork and sear for a minute. (Cooking the filling in two batches allows for proper browning.)
- Stir-fry until the pork is browned. Add half the vegetable and shrimp mixture and stir-fry to thoroughly incorporate. Turn heat down to medium-low and let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Taste and add more salt, soy sauce, or pepper as desired. Make the filling a little saltier than you’d prefer on its own, as it needs to taste balanced with the wrapper as well.
- Reserve cooked half of filling in a large bowl. Clean wok. Repeat Step 4 with remaining filling, then combine both portions of cooked filling.
- Mix flour and water in a dish to form a paste. Roll popiah with roughly 2 tbsp of filling, sealing with the flour paste.
- At this point, you can freeze some of the wrapped spring rolls for later use. Place in a single layer on a tray lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Freeze for at least 30 minutes, then place in sealable freezer bag for longer-term storage. (First freezing individually prevents the popiah from sticking to each other.) When you’re ready to serve the frozen popiah, proceed directly with deep frying — no need to defrost.
- Heat frying oil to 375° F in a wok. Fry popiah in batches, without crowding the pan, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
1 tbsp goji berries
3.5 ounce shelled fresh gingko nuts
2 tbsp peanut oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 pound asparagus, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1/8 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
- Put goji berries in a small bowl and cover with cold water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a 1 quart saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add gingko nuts and remove from heat. Let stand 3 minutes. Drain gingko nuts in a colander, shaking well to remove excess water. Set aside.
- Heat a 14 inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the peanut oil, add 1/4 tsp of the salt and asparagus, and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until the asparagus is bright green. Add gingko nuts and stir-fry 15 seconds. Add drained goji berries and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the sugar and stir-fry 10 seconds or until the asparagus is just tender. Remove from heat and drizzle on sesame oil.
1 whole striped or sea bass, cleaned
3 tbsp fresh ginger, finely julienned
2 scallions, finely julienned with green and white parts separated
8 sprigs fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
fresh ground white pepper to taste
- Prepare the fish, removing any scales, cutting off fins, giving it a final rinse and transfer to a heat-proof plate for steaming.
- Set up your steaming apparatus. You'll need a wok and a steam basket or rack high enough to set your fish on a plate above the water in the wok.
- Steam for 9 minutes and turn off the heat. The meat should be opaque down to the bone but the bone should be slightly translucent and not fully cooked.
- Carefully pour off all the liquid accumulated on the plate from steaming and spread half of the ginger, the green scallions and cilantro over the fish.
- Heat the oil and half of the ginger in a saucepan until the ginger begins to sizzle. Next, add the water, salt, sugar, soy sauce, and fresh ground white pepper and heat the mixture until simmering. Then add the rest of the oil and scallion whites and stir until the liquid simmers and sizzles once again.
- Spoon the entire mixture evenly over the steamed whole fish and serve hot.
1 1/2 pounds bok choy
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely sliced scallions (about 3–4 scallions)
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine or sake
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable or other neutral oil, or as much as needed to fry
- Prep the bok choy: Thoroughly wash and clean the bok choy, leaving the heads more or less intact, Place the bok choy in a large 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot. It should more or less fill the pot all the way to the top, which looks like a lot, but will be just right once the bok choy steams and wilts. It will amaze you how much they shrink. Drizzle the bok choy with soy sauce and sesame oil, and sprinkle with salt. Set the pot aside.
- Prep the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, cooking wine, sesame oil, and salt and stir with chopsticks or a wooden spoon until well-blended. Next, add the eggs and mix vigorously until well-combined. The mixture will seem extremely liquid—this is okay. Add the cornstarch and mix again until the mixture forms a thick, porridge-like consistency, like a thick muffin batter.
- Pour the oil into a large wok or nonstick skillet, or enough to coat the bottom with about a half-inch of oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and when the oil reaches about 375 to 400 degrees, use a 1/4-cup measuring cup or a large ice cream scoop to drop balls of the pork mixture into the wok in a single layer. I usually fit about 4 or 5, and end up frying in two or three batches. Let sizzle in the pan until nicely browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and brown the other side, another 3 minutes or so. It does not need to cook through, since we’ll be steaming the meatballs to finish. Once the meatball is browned on both sides, remove with a slotted spoon and place on top of the prepared bok choy. Repeat with the remaining pork mixture.
- Once all the meatballs are browned and nestled on top of the bok choy, cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the bok choy and meatballs steam for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bok choy leaves have wilted and the stems are tender.
3 lbs boneless pork belly, with skin
4 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorn
2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
2 tbsp five-spice powder (substitute Mala Spice Mix if you'd like)
1 tbsp caster sugar
- Piece the skin of the pork with a sharp fork or knife until the skin is covered with fine holes.
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil and with a ladle, pour the hot water over the skin side of the pork a few times. Set the pork belly aside.
- Heat a wok until it is hot, then add the salt, both peppers, five spice powder and sugar and stir-fry the mixture for three minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.
- When the mixture is cool enough to handle, rub it in the flesh side of the pork. Hang the meat to dry for eight hours or overnight in a cool place or in front of a fan. Alternatively, place the meat on a wire rack set above a roasting tin.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Place the pork on a wire rack, skin side up, over a deep roasting pan filled about one third with water and roast for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 180C/350F and continue to roast for two hours. Turn the oven back up to 230C/450F and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven and allow the pork to cool.
- Chop into bite size chunks and serve.
1 cup toasted black sesame
1 cup sugar or as needed
1/4 tsp. salt
160 ml lard or butter
4 cups glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup hot water
1.5 cup cold water
Toast black sesame in a pan or oven (detailed guide can be find here) and then ground them into powder.
In a bowl, mix black sesame powder with salt and sugar. Pour lard and mix well. Place in fridge for 1 hour until slightly hardened.
Place the sticky rice flour into a large bowl, add hot boiling water in the center and wait for 10 minutes. Then pour in the cold water. Form a dough and knead for couple minutes until smooth; shape the dough into a long log.
Break off a small piece of dough and mold it to the shape of a bowl in your palm. Then scoop around 1/2 tbsp black sesame filling into the center. Seal the rice dumpling completely and roll it in your hands to form a ball.
Bring water to a boiling in a pot. Cook balls for 1-2 minutes after they float on surface.
Serve and serve in the cooking liquid with a bit of honey or sweet osmanthus syrup.