Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook 


Chinese New Year 2012: Year of the Dragon

The Year of the Dragon will be marked by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity. This Chinese New Year beginning January 23, 2012 ushers in the Dragon-more specifically, the Water Dragon. Fortunately the element of water exerts a calming influence on the Dragon’s innate fire.

History of the fascinating Chinese New Year is based on agriculture

“To understand more about 15-day Chinese New Year festival, we need to know some Chinese culture background first. Thousands of years ago, China was mainly an agriculture society. Each year, the dynasty government announced annual calendar for farmers. The calendar contained the solar, lunar and weather information for people to know when to seed, plant, harvest on their land and even when to work, rest, pray and celebrate for their activities. Obviously, farmers know they count on sky for their living. The sky is connected to heaven and heaven is related to religion. The major activity of the religion is to pray to gods for good luck, wealth, health, wisdom, career, longevity, peace, happiness at temple or home.”

From Everything about Chinese New Year Festivals

Chinese New Year Food and Colors Symbolism
What gives a certain food symbolic significance? For the Chinese, sometimes it’s based on appearance, while other foods take center stage because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds.

The colors of red and gold are auspicious for the holiday. Gold is a symbol of power, while red symbolizes happiness and drives away bad luck.The color red is everywhere at Chinese New Year celebrations; people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can banish bad luck. The fireworks of the festivities are rooted in a the ancient custom that burning bamboo stalks would frighten evil spirits.

  • Bamboo shoots - wealth
  • Black moss seaweed - wealth
  • Dried Bean Curd - happiness (note: fresh tofu is not served because the color white symbolizes death and misfortune in Chinese culture).
  • Chicken - happiness and marriage (especially when served with "dragon foods," such as lobster. Family reunion (if served whole)
  • Eggs - fertility
  • Egg Rolls - wealth
  • Fish served whole - prosperity
  • Chinese garlic chives - everlasting, a long life
  • Lychee nuts - close family ties
  • Noodles - A long life
  • Oranges - wealth
  • Peanuts - a long life
  • Pomelo - abundance, prosperity, having children
  • Seeds - lotus seeds, watermelon seeds, etc. - having a large number of children
  • Tangerines - luck

Egg Rolls

Szechuan Long Life Noodles with ‘Many Coins’

Ginger Pineapple Tarts




Szechuan Long Life Noodles with ‘Many Coins’

Serves 6

Long noodles (or even long beans) represent a long life and the Chinese believe they should not be cut...makes sense. The vegetable rounds are symbolic of coins which represent wealth. For the Many Coins topping, you will basically stir-fry the vegetables and finally the chicken or beef. Make sure the veggies are stir-fried in the order listed to allow for different cooking times.

  •  1 12-ounce package egg noodles, rice or bean thread noodles, cooked or prepared according to package directions


  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese chili oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Many Coins Topping

  • About 1/4 cup peanut or mild cooking oil
  • 1/2 pound raw chicken breasts or thighs or beef sirloin, cut into strips
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and sliced
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 small parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups small shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, sliced
  • Garnish- cilantro leaves, garlic chives or chopped scallions

Mix the dressing ingredients. Remove a small amount of the dressing and toss with beef  or chicken strips for about 30 minutes to marinate.

Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium high heat. When hot add a portion of the oil and saute the sweet potato, carrots and parsnips (while tossing) for about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and continue to saute until all of the vegetables are tender crisp. Remove to a platter to keep warm. Add a bit more oil, if needed, and saute the chicken or beef strips very quickly.

Add the dressing to the room temperature noodles and toss gently. Top with the sauteed vegetable coin and meat mixture. Garnish with cilantro leaves, garlic chives or chopped scallions. Serve hot or room temperature.

Ginger Pineapple Tarts

Makes 4 (6-inch) tarts

Fruity and refreshing after a spiced up meal, the "tart for two" make sharing the Chinese New Year all part of the family. Four tarts will serve 8 people. You can make your own pastry from the recipe below (which is almost like a cookie dough) or purchase refrigerated pie crust.

For the Pastry

  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda mixed with 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Filling

  • 12 ounces Lemon curd (often found in the preserves department of supermarkets)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
  • 1 large fresh pineapple, peeled and cored
  • Coarse sugar for sprinkling on tarts

For the Pastry:

With an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter and confectioners' sugar at medium-high speed. Add 2 eggs, baking soda mixture and vanilla and beat until incorporated. At lowest speed, add flour and salt until mixed well and dough begins to form ball. Divide the dough into fourths and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Blind bake the tart crust for 10 minutes.

To Assemble the Tarts:

Mix the lemon curd with the fresh ginger. Place a heaping 2 tablespoons of lemon curd in the bottom of each tart partially baked tart.

Cut the pineapple into pieces which can easily overlap and lay on lemon curd in each tart. Sprinkle pineapple lightly with sugar. Finish baking 20-25 minutes in center of oven until golden brown. Let tarts cool to room temperature before serving.

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