Feast For The Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year dinner is considered the most important meal of the year, with a menu full of dishes that symbolize good fortune. In researching her last cookbook, author Grace Young traveled across China to unlock the secrets of cooking with a wok, and in the process she discovered many delicious recipes.

As The Saturday Early Show's Chef on a Shoestring, Young shared some of those recipes as she prepared a traditional New Year's meal for four people on a budget of $40.

Young is a Chinese-American who grew up in San Francisco. Although she was raised to respect and appreciate wok hay, "the prized, elusive, seared taste that comes only from stir-frying in a wok," Young realized she had no idea how to use the tool properly.

Her most recent book, "The Breath of Wok" was published in 2004 and won two awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). The book basically chronicles her journey to China in a quest to learn all she could about wok cooking and discovering fabulous recipes along the way.

Young also wrote the award-winning "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen." For 17 years, she was the test kitchen director and director for food photography for more than 40 cookbooks published by Time-Life books.

Here is Saturday's menu:
Pork & Cabbage Potstickers with a Tangy Ginger Sauce
Sizzling Pepper and Salt Shrimp
Stir-Fried Garlic Lettuce
Five Spice Chocolate Mouse

The New Year is the biggest celebration held in China, and eating is a big part of that event. Everything Young prepared on The Saturday Early Show has a symbolic reason that it's served at the New Year.

Potstickers are eaten in northern China for good luck because they resemble ancient Chinese coins; also, the meal needs to include some pork since this is the year of the pig.

The word for "shrimp" Cantonese is "ha." It sounds like laughter, so it's said to bring joy and happiness.

The word for "lettuce" is "saang choi"; sounds like growing fortune.

Rice provides a sense of well-being.

Mousse? OK. It isn't actually a traditional Chinese dish! But the New Years meal is considered the most luxurious of the year, so people eat not only foods with symbolic meaning, but favorite treats and luxury foods as well.

MORE FOOD FACTS

Potstickers:
These are dumplings that have been lightly fried.

Napa Cabbage: Also called Chinese cabbage, this has crispy wafer-thin leaves (unlike other cabbages with very thick leaves) and a delicate, mild flavor. It's available year-round.

Shao Hsing Rice Wine: Made by fermenting glutinous rice, it is available at most Chinese grocery stores or in Chinese liquor stores and is inexpensive.

Five-Spice Powder: This is a ground spice and is a combination of Chinese cinnamon, cloves, fennel, Sichuan peppercorns and star anise.

If you are in the market for a wok, Young suggests www.wokshop.com. The Wok Shop is located at 718 Grant Avenue in San Francisco, and Young says that the owner, Tane Chan, takes great care to give customers personal attention whether they're in the store or not. She offers different styles of wok and carries the one Young recommends for western stoves: 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok.

RECIPES

AMY TAN'S FAMILY'S JIAO-ZI

Makes 30 dumplings

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
8 ounces Napa cabbage (8 to 10 leaves)
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces ground pork (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon oyster sauce (optional)
Jin Do's Tangy Ginger Sauce (optional)

Method:
  1. Put the 2 cups flour in a medium bowl and make a well. Pour 3/4 cup cold water into the well and stir until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour, and knead with lightly floured hands 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth. Cover with a slightly damp cloth and allow to rest 30 minutes.

  2. Trim 1/4 inch from the stem end of the cabbage leaves. Stack a few leaves at a time and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide shreds, then finely chop. In a medium bowl combine the cabbage, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the sugar. In another medium bowl combine the pork, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, and oyster sauce. Add the cabbage and stir until well combines. Cover and refrigerate.

  3. After the dough has rested, knead it on a lightly floured surface until elastic and smooth, 2 minutes. Roll the dough into an even rope about 15 inches long. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces to make 30 pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch ball. Pat the balls into plump 2-inch discs, lightly dusting them with flour. Cover all unused dough with a slightly damp cloth. Using a floured rolling pin, roll back and forth over the edges of each disc, making the center slightly thicker and the edges thinner. The rounds will be about 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

  4. Put 1 level tablespoon of the filling in the center of each round. Fold the round in half to form a half moon. Pinch one end of the half moon together. Starting at this end, use your thumb and index finger to make a pleat in the top piece of the dough, and press it firmly into the bottom piece of the dough. Continue making 3 or 4 more pleats until the dumpling is completely closed. Stand each dumpling with the rounded edge upright and put on a tray lightly dusted with flour.

  5. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon oil, and carefully add 8 dumplings, rounded-side up, about 1/2 inch apart. Pan-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown, gently using a metal spatula to make sure the dumplings are not sticking to the wok. Add 1/3 cup cold water, immediately cover the wok, and cook 3 minutes. Uncover the wok, and fry 2 more minutes on medium heat, or until almost all the water has evaporated. The dumplings should be served immediately. Continue frying the remaining dumplings 8 at a time, using 1 tablespoon of oil for each batch. Serve with Jin Do's Tangy Ginger Sauce.
JIN DO'S TANGY GINGER SAUCE
Makes about 3/4 cup

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons finely minced ginger
1/3 cup Chinklang or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar

Method:
In a small bowl combine the ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. Keeps covered in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

LEE WAN CHING'S SIZZLING PEPPER AND SALT SHRIMP
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound large shrimp
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
3 table vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon thinly sliced mild fresh chilies
2 scallions, chopped

METHOD:
  1. Remove the shrimp legs, leaving the shells and tails on. Rinse the shrimp under cold water and set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry. In a small bowl combine the salt, sugar, and chili powder.

  2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the garlic and sliced chilies, and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and 1 tablespoon of the oil and stir-fry 1 minute or until the shrimp just begin to turn pink. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, add the salt mixture, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes until the shrimp are just cooked. Stir in the scallions.
CLASSIC RICE
Makes about 4 cups; serves 4

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

Method
Put rice in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan. Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Drain. Level the rice and add enough cold water to cover by 3/4 inch (or add 2 cups water). Bring the water to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-high, and boil the rice until most of the water has evaporated and little craters appear on the surface, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let stand 5 minutes before serving.


STIR-FRIED GARLIC LETTUCE
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 medium garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound hearts of Romaine, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Method:
  1. In a small bowl, combine the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, and salt.

  2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil, add the garlic, and stir-fry 5 seconds. Add the lettuce and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the lettuce is just limp. Stir the sauce, swirl it into the wok, and stir-fry 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the lettuce is just tender and still bright green. Remove from the heat and drizzle on the sesame oil.
FIVE SPICE DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
Makes about 1 quart

Ingredients:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons five spice powder
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream

Method:
  1. In a small saucepan whisk together milk and five spice powder. Heat over medium heat until hot but do not allow milk to simmer. Strain and set aside.

  2. Meanwhile in a small saucepan melt chocolate and butter over low heat until chocolate is just melted. Set aside.

  3. In a double boiler, whisk together eggs, sugar, and cornstarch. Whisk in warm strained milk. Cook over simmering water, whisking constantly until just thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

  4. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 1 1/2 hours.

  5. In a large bowl whip cream to stiff peaks. Stir in about half of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Chill until ready to serve.

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