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YEAR OF THE DRAGON: Noodle dishes and dumplings for luck in 2024

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with your own Asian feast at home with my tried and true recipes for noodles, dumplings and more!

 



Words and Photos

By CINDA CHAVICH

 

We’re entering the auspicious Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac — a new year that starts the 20-year cycle and one that promises luck and good fortune.

So this year is a great time for everyone to celebrate, especially those born into this powerful sign (2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952), people said to have courage, tenacity, intelligence, enthusiasm and confidence.


Celebrate the Lunar New Year with a guided walk through Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada

The Year of the Dragon began Feb. 10, one that promises opportunities, change and challenges (which may be said of any year, of course), and the belief that if you start the year with by doing and saying good things, you will cast away bad luck for the rest of the year.

Dishes for Chinese New Year’s banquets have lots of luck-inducing symbolism, from long noodles for long life to a whole fish for abundance or chicken, and dumplings or mandarin oranges for wealth.


Serve long noodles for long life to start the new year right — fresh and hand-pulled are the best.

Wearing lucky red clothing and eating lucky foods is all part of the new year celebrations — red apparently attracts wealth (a power colour symbolized by red carpets and red “power ties”), so I’m thinking about red food like goji berries, an Asian fruit revered for its healthy properties, and sweet rice balls filled with red bean paste. Blood oranges, with their sweet red flesh, are also found at this time of year.



Typically the New Year is welcomed with a 10-course meal so a big table for 10 at a good Chinese restaurant is always in order for a prestigious party menu— chunks of sweet lobster,

whole fish with green onion, longevity noodles, crispy whole chicken and golden fried dumplings, symbolizing golden coins. Don’t miss the whole king crab and the suckling pig, with its crackly, addictive skin.



A whole chicken makes an auspicious entree.

But you can make your own feast or pick something less grand to ring in the New Year.

If you wander down into Chinatown (here in Victoria or among the restaurant riches of Richmond on the mainland), it’s the time to buy glazed bbq duck and pork at the butcher, big bowls of lucky noodles and all manner of dumplings.


Dumplings are lucky because they resemble money


Whether you order the latter in a take-away restaurant or upscale dim sum dining room, dumplings come in all shapes and sizes, prom plump Sui Mai, pleated pockets of pork dotted with salmon roe, to shrimp Har Gow carefully folded into translucent wrappers the round shape said to resemble money, so extra lucky to serve and eat.

Richmond even has a Dumpling Trail map with a dozen spots to explore dumplings, from market food stalls to upscale restaurants.


Xi An – spicy open-ended rolls, filled with pork and fried until crisp – is unique. Boiled Shui Jiao filled with pork ad prawns or crispy fried potstickers seem more familiar.



Jian Dui is a ball of fried rice flour pastry crusted in sesame seeds and filled with sweet red bean paste. Crispy taro dumplings, the surface a tangle of deep-fried shreds, are popular dim sum bites.

In some spots, you can watch a team of experts carefully pleating Xiao Long Bao in their open kitchens, the juicy soup-filled pork dumplings that rival any you’ll find in Shanghai.



Here in Victoria, there’s also the new JiangYun Noodle House, where they sometimes stretch their noodles by hand but always serve the kind of authentic Chinese noodles sure to bring you luck and long life.


Have the long wheat noodles with special sesame sauce at JiangYun Noodle House for long life.

The zodiac predicts 2024 will be luckiest for Monkeys, Roosters, and Pigs, which bodes well for my household.

And just to be sure, I think starting the new year with some homestyle Chinese cooking is in order.

Head to your favourite Asian grocery for bags of fresh noodles (in the produce section) to add to a chicken soup broth, flavoured with soy sauce, minced ginger and garlic, and topped with slivers of roasted pork or chicken, bok choy and green onions. Or pan fry the noodles and add them to a saucy stir fry with lots of veggies.

Whether mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli or celery, there's always a selection of vegetables in my fridge to toss into the wok with a bit of ginger, garlic and oyster sauce — just add noodles or rice for a one-dish dinner.

Gung hay fat choy — wishing all great happiness and prosperity in 2024!


Homestyle noodles in broth with tender pork belly and soy-braised mushrooms

RECIPES:


PAN FRIED NOODLES WITH BEEF AND SNOW PEAS

Noodles are lucky and the longer the better for longevity! This is the time to pull out those convenient fresh Chinese “steamed” noodles that you find in plastic bags in the produce department. You can blanch quickly in boiling water or simply panfry in oil, for a crispy noodle cake, to add back to the stir fry when the vegetables are nearly done. Then add a splash of extra water with the sauce ingredients to coat and soften the noodles. No snow peas? Substitute halved baby bok choy or gai lan (Chinese broccoli).


 

1/2 pound round or sirloin steak, cut across the grain in thin slices

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

 

1/2 pound steamed Chinese egg noodles (fresh)

Drizzle of sesame oil

canola oil for stir-frying

1 small onion, slivered

1 carrot, cut into thin slices on the diagonal

2 cups fresh snow peas or other greens (think bok choy or Chinese broccoli)

 

Sauce:

3 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste

½-1 cup chicken stock or water

1-2 teaspoons cornstarch

 

In a small bowl, combine the meat with ginger, garlic, 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch.

In another bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and stir to combine and dissolve the cornstarch.  Set aside.

In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil over medium high heat. Add half of the noodles to the wok, pressing into a flat mass. When browned on one side, use a wide spatula to lift and flip the noodles and brown the second side lightly, adding more oil if necessary. Set in a serving bowl and brown the remaining the noodles.

Add a little more oil to the wok and stir-fry the beef on high for 1-2 minutes, until just starting to brown but still rare. Remove and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onion, stirring it around until its beginning to brown, then stir in the carrot and snow peas (or other green veg). Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, then return the browned noodles to the wok and stir to mix with the vegetables. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover the wok with a lid and steam for 1 minute.

Remove the lid and add the sauce mixture. Stir-fry until the sauce boils and thickens, coating the noodles and vegetables. Add a splash of water if the noodles are sticking. Return the beef to the pan and stir to combine and heat through. Serves 2.

 

TIP: Fresh ginger is a staple you should always have in the refrigerator. To peel the thin skin from the root, use the edge of a teaspoon. Cut the ginger into 1/2-inch chunks, then smash it under the flat blade of your chef’s knife (like garlic) to make mincing quicker. You can also use a microplane grater to grate ginger or squeeze it through a garlic press. You can also freeze fresh ginger in chunks, and pull it out to grate when you need it.

 


PAN FRIED PORK DUMPLINGS

You will find frozen dumpling wrappers in the freezer section of Asian supermarkets, and with a pound of spiced ground pork or chicken, making dumplings is easy!



2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage and/or baby bok choy

1 tsp salt

1 pound ground pork (or ground chicken)

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 green onions, minced

1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon grated ginger (use a microplane grater)

½ teaspoon white pepper (or Chinese 5 Spice)

60 round dumpling wrappers

 

To remove excess moisture from the greens, combine with ½ teaspoon of the salt and set aside for 30 minutes until wilted, then squeeze. Alternatively, quickly bland the cabbage or boy choy before chopping, drain and squeeze out excess moisture, then chop fine.

In a bowl, combine the chopped greens with the ground pork (or chicken), egg, green onion, cooking wine, oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, cornstarch, ginger, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and white pepper (or Chinese 5 spice) and mix with your hands for form a smooth filling.



To make the dumplings, place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of a dumpling wrapper, wet the edges with water, and fold to form a half moon, pressing out any air around the filling the sealing the edges.

Classically, the edges are folded or crimped to form a frilly edge before sealing, a skill you may need to learn from an expert! If you want to try the technique, start by sealing the folded wrapper in the centre first, then making two folds on each side, like a paper fan, before pressing again to seal the dumpling shut. Just make sure the dumplings are sealed and well-filled, with any air pockets removed. Set them on a tray lined with parchment and dusted with cornstarch, seam side up, as you work.

Dumplings can be covered on the tray at this point to freeze (in a single layer), then packaged to boil later, or cooked immediately.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the dumplings in batches, for about 5 minutes, or until they float to the top of the water and are cooked through.

Drain well and serve hot, with and mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and chili sauce for dipping.


TIP: If you’d prefer to pan fry your dumplings, heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick pan over medium high heat, add the dumplings and fry for 2 minutes, until beginning to brown, then add ¼ cup of water to the pan, cover and steam on medium low until the water evaporates. Remove the lid, and saute a few minutes more to crisp up the bottom of the dumplings before serving.

 

SZECHUAN PORK NOODLE SOUP

At a hotel I visited in Kunming, China, the breakfast of choice was noodles in steamy chicken soup with spicy ground pork– aka Over the Bridge Noodles. Made to order and garnished with everything from salty Yunnan ham and spicy pork in chili oil, to fresh bean sprouts, chopped green onions and slivers of cooked chicken, it’s a build-your-own kind of dish. Black vinegar mixed with soy is a popular condiment in southern China. You’ll find everything you need at an Asian market.Set all of the toppings out so that diners can garnish their soup as they like. For a vegetarian soup, try making the sauce with ground soy protein instead of pork. A satisfying meal any time of the day. 


6-8 cups (1.5-2L) hot chicken stock

3/4 pound (375 g) thin rice vermicelli or fresh Chinese egg noodles (if rice noodles are dry, soak in hot water for 15 minutes and drain)


Toppings:

Fresh bean sprouts

Chopped green onions

shredded cooked chicken

Slivered Yunnan ham or prosciutto

Fresh pea shoots

Black vinegar and soy sauce


Spicy Pork in Chili Sauce:

1/2 pound lean ground pork

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 cup minced shallots

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons minced ginger

3-4 tablespoons Asian chili paste (or 4 minced red fresh chilies)

1 tablespoon crunchy natural peanut butter or sesame paste

2 teaspoons dark Chinese vinegar or lemon juice


In a wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat  and cook the ground pork, shallots and garlic until the meat has turned colour and is starting to brown. Add the sugar, soy sauce, ginger, chili paste and cook together for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the peanut butter and vinegar and remove from heat.

Taste. If not hot enough, drizzle with some chili oil (alternatively, cook the ground pork with a commercial Sichuan soup paste, found in jars in Asian markets).

Set out all of the toppings in small bowls on the table. Bring the chicken stock to a boil and keep it hot.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and add the noodles. After about 1 minute, test the noodles to make sure they’re tender, then drain and divide them among four large soup bowls.

Fill each bowl 3/4 full with chicken stock. Let your guests choose their own toppings — a spoonful of spicy pork goes on last, to give the soup its unique fiery flavour.  Pass the black vinegar and soy sauce. Serves 4

 




SZECHUAN-STYLE PORK AND EGGPLANT


This is a lovely, rich and spicy pork dish to serve over a bowl of brown rice on a Tuesday, or as part of a Chinese banquet on the weekend. Serve it alongside thin strips of cucumber, that have been lightly marinated with rice wine, sugar and crushed red chilies, for an authentic Chinese meal. You can also try making this dish in the pressure cooker – after browning the eggplant and pork, combine all ingredients and cook at high pressure for 12-15 minutes.

 

1/3 cup canola or peanut oil, divided

1 large eggplant (about 1.5 pounds) washed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 pound boneless pork (pork loin chops, etc.) trimmed of visible fat and sliced into 1/4-inch strips

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Asian chili paste  (add more to adjust  taste before serving)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup wine vinegar

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and slivered

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

 

In a wok, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Cook the cubed eggplant in batches until browned. Remove eggplant from the pan as it’s browned, add more oil, and cook the remaining eggplant .

Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in the wok over medium high heat,  until starting to smoke, then add some of the pork, cooking it in batches until all of the pork is nicely browned. Remove pork from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until starting to brown, then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

Combine the chili paste, tomato paste, chicken broth, wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and curry powder and stir to combine. Add to the wok and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes, then return the cooked eggplant   and pork to the pan. Stir in the bell pepper and return to a boil.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the eggplant is very tender and the sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning with more chili paste if desired. Stir in the cilantro and serve immediately over brown basmati rice. Serves 4-6.


Find these recipes and other Asian-inspired dishes in my cookbooks, The Girl Can't Cook, The Guy Can't Cook and 225 Best Pressure Cooker Recipes.

 

©Cinda Chavich 2024

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