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Celebrating the Year of the Dragon!


CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Pamela Chester
Specialty: Kid-Friendly Food, Crockpot/Slow Cooker
Education: New York University, French Culinary Institute
Lives: Philadelphia, PA

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Today marks the first day of the Chinese New Year, fifteen days of celebration in honor of the lunar New Year. In China, the Chinese New Year holiday is the most festive celebration of the year.

The holiday falls on a different date each year, depending on the cycle of the moon, and ushers in the upcoming spring season with celebrations including lots of food and fireworks, and maybe even a dancing lion. This year, 4710, honors the passing from the year of the rabbit to the year of the dragon. In Chinese culture, the dragon is one of the most legendary creatures and represents a particularly auspicious year with a highly coveted zodiac sign.

This joyful holiday is a fun one to celebrate with kids and help them learn about global cultural traditions. In my family we’ll be celebrating with a small Chinese feast. Chinese cuisine is one of our family’s favorites so we’ll be sure to include lots of the kids favorite treats such as egg rolls, dim sum, fried rice, lo mein noodles, and of course fortune cookies.

Cantonese dim sum consists of appetizer style dishes such as all manner of steamed and fried dumplings, spare ribs, shrimp toast, and sizzling rice cakes. In Chinese restaurants, these foods are pushed around on carts and diners select based upon what dishes appeal to them as the carts pass by. The term dim sum means “touch your heart,” but in my family it also seems to mean “fill the stomach.”

I don’t know what it is but my picky almost two year old will eat almost anything in dumpling form. If he could talk in sentences, I am sure he would say they are his favorite food! Steaming some frozen dumplings purchased from the Asian or specialty market is one of our favorite quick meals. But this time we are going to make them from scratch and pan fry them as potstickers, for a delicious crispy exterior.

Pork Dumplings are traditionally served on the first morning of the New Year and are said to bring good fortune. You can ring in the New Year, Chinese style, with dim sum such as pork dumplings that you and your kids make together. With two or more people helping to fill and fold the dumplings, it becomes a party and the work goes quickly. With both boys battling colds, wonton soup is also in order at our house this week. We’ll use the rest of the dumpling wrappers to make homemade chicken wonton soup.

Round out the Chinese feast with some delicious pan-fried noodles. If you cannot find Chinese noodles, you can also substitute linguine pasta. Kids generally enjoy noodles of all shapes and sizes and lo mein noodles resembles another kid favorite, spaghetti, Noodles are also a traditional New Years food; their length symbolizes longevity and good health.

To end the Chinese New Year’s celebration, there is no shortage of sweet dishes. One of the most traditional Chinese New Years treats are Jau Gok, a golden fried puff of sweet dough encasing a filling of ground peanut, sesame, and coconut. Another traditional dessert is Nian Gao, a steamed rice flour and red date cake. Or end your feast simply with tangerine or mandarin orange sections. They are said to resemble gold coins to help attract wealth in the New Year. Happy Year of the Dragon!


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