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Stepping Out

Welcome the Year of the Rat

East meets West in a colorful feast


Gung Hay Fat Choy! If you still have some New Year’s revelry in you, keep the vibe going a bit longer with a festive Chinese New Year soiree. Get out your broom and sweep away the past: the Year of the Rat begins January 25.
    If you were born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 or 2020 you were born under the sign of the rat. According to Chinese lore, “Rats” are clever, quick thinkers; successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life. Optimistic and energetic, people born in the Rat year are likable by all.
    Chinese New Year is all about spectacle, from the fireworks and dancing dragons to the cuisine. That’s why it’s a holiday anyone can enjoy – and an ideal time to spice up winter with a colorful boisterous bash.
    From the décor and color scheme to the food, Chinese New Year is rich in symbols. If you’ve got a round table, this is the time to use it, because it is a sign of wholeness. Decorate it with red and gold accents to represent good luck and prosperity.
    There are all sorts of symbolic foods, each associated with specific blessings or good luck. Noodles —  in dishes such as wonton soup and tasty Longevity Noodles —stand for longevity. Pork symbolizes wealth; whole chicken stands for completeness and prosperity.

    Supplement the meal with other symbolic foods. The could include spring rolls (said to bring prosperity because they resemble gold ingots) or dumplings (according to ancient legends, the amount of money you’ll make in the upcoming year depends on how many dumplings you eat —the more the better); a bowl of tangerines or oranges (which represent wealth, luck and happiness); fortune cookies to go with dessert (you can even do your own customized fortunes for the year ahead).

Longevity Noodles
    10 ounces Chinese noodles
    1 clove fresh garlic, chopped
    1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or shredded
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    2 tablespoons peanut oil
    4 ounces fresh Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
    3 cups fresh Napa cabbage, sliced thinly
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    1/2 cup fresh green onion, chopped

    First, prepare the Chinese noodles according to the package instructions. This should take no more than about 3-4 minutes, as they cook quickly. Once they’re done, rinse with cold water and return to pot. Then, drizzle with sesame oil and toss to coat to prevent the noodles from sticking. (Tip: You can add a few drops of oil to the water the noodles are cooked in the help them not stick together).
    Then, in a frying pan or wok over high heat, add together chopped garlic, shredded ginger, red pepper flakes, and peanut oil. Heat for approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute, until sizzling a bit, and you can smell the scents wafting through the air.
    Add into the frying pan the sliced mushrooms and cabbage. (Tip: After rinsing, the mushrooms should be soaked in warm water for approximately 5 minutes. Then remove from the water, remove the stems, and slice caps thinly to prepare for cooking.) Stir all of the ingredients together in the frying pan until the veggies are slightly tender.
    Remove the veggies from the pan, and pour into the pot of cooked Chinese noodles. Mix together slowly and well, making sure not to break the noodles. Return the mixture to the frying pan.
    Now over medium heat, add in 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and the green onions. Turning frequently, ensure that the dish is completely coated in the soy sauce mixture. Remove from frying pan, and serve promptly.

Buddha’s Delight Stir Fry
    4 Shiitake mushrooms (dried, or dried Chinese black mushrooms)
    1/2 cup lily buds (dried)
    4 bean curd sticks (dried)
    8 ounces bamboo shoots
    6 fresh water chestnuts
    2 large carrots
    1 cup Napa cabbage, shredded
    4 ounces snow peas
    1/4 cup gingko nuts (canned)
    1-inch ginger, crushed
    For the sauce:
    4 tablespoons reserved mushroom soaking liquid (or vegetable stock)
    1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
    1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
    Salt to taste
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil, for frying

    In separate bowls, soak the mushrooms, dried lily buds, and dried bean curd sticks in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Squeeze out any excess liquid. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, straining it if necessary to remove any grit. Remove the stems and cut the mushroom tops in half if desired.
    Slice the bamboo shoots. Peel and finely chop the water chestnuts. Peel the carrots, cut in half, and cut lengthwise into thin strips. Shred the Napa cabbage. String the snow peas and cut in half. Drain the gingko nuts. Crush the ginger.
    Combine the reserved mushroom soaking liquid or vegetarian stock with the Chinese rice wine or sherry, dark soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside.
    Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the heated wok.
    When the oil is hot, add the carrots. Stir-fry for 1 minute, and add the dried mushrooms and lily buds. Stir-fry for 1 minute, and add the water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, snow peas, and ginger. Stir in the shredded cabbage and gingko nuts. Add the bean curd sticks.
    Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat and let the vegetables simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt or other seasonings as desired. Serve hot.