January 25 marks the first day of the 2020 Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year. It’s the year of the rat, the first sign in the Chinese zodiac (of twelve).
If you were born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, this could be your year of good luck! People born under this sign are thought to be clever, quick thinkers; successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life..
Like new year observances in many cultures, this is a day of renewal and celebration — and rest. Tradition dictates that no cleaning, cutting, or chopping be done on this day, so it’s a day off for home cooks.
The days leading up to the New Year, however, are busy with house cleaning (sweeping away the bad luck!) and preparing the foods that are associated with good luck and fortune in Chinese culture.
These include dumplings (jiao zi), whose shapes resemble the gold ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty; sweet sticky rice cakes (nian gao), which symbolize the persistence needed for prosperity; and long noodles, for longevity. Whole fish and chicken (beak and feet included) are served to ensure the completeness of the family’s good fortune.
Many other traditional foods are served because their names are homophones for words such as luck and wealth in Cantonese and other Chinese dialects. Fish (yu), for example, sounds like the phrase meaning “having enough to spare”; garlic chives (jiu cai) sounds like a word meaning “everlasting”; and a word for oysters (hao), recalls the word for “an auspicious event.”
Besides eating, the Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions and celebrations. Hong bao, or red envelopes, filled with money are given to children, firecrackers are set off to chase away bad luck, and new clothes, preferably in lucky red, are bought to start the year off right.
The Chinese New Year celebrations go on for an entire month, so it’s not too late to prepare for a year of good luck, happiness, and prosperity. I’m sharing a healthy version of the Chinese dumpling or potsticker, which I have presented before in some of my classes. I am all about kale, and so I came up with a kale filling for those of you who are looking for more ways to incorporate this superfood into your diets. Boil them to eat as dumplings, or pan-fry to make potstickers; both techniques are included in this recipe.
If you want to add some excitement for kids, include a goji berry, pomegranate seed, or something else that’s small, brightly colored, and edible in a handful of dumplings as you wrap them. Whoever bites into a dumpling with one in it gets a red envelope with a small amount of money or another fun prize.
Gong xi fa cai (Happy New Year)!
Editor’s note: Dr. Shiue teaches a monthly cooking class at Kaiser Permanente Mission Bay Medical Center in San Francisco. To find out more about it, including how to register, visit the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Health Education website or email SFHealthEd@kp.org.
Prep time: 45 to 60 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
For dipping sauce
For boiled dumplings:
For dipping sauce:
Per teaspoon of dipping sauce: