DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - February 16, 2007

Epicure: Kung Hay Fat Choy (Happy New Year!) "Everyone eats and drinks; yet only few appreciate the taste of food." --Confucius

by Jacqui Love Marshall

The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration dates back to 2600 B.C. and represents one of the major holidays of the Asian culture. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, like the Western calendar. Because the start of the lunar year is based on the cycles of the moon, a new year can begin anywhere between late January and mid-February. Also called Spring Festival, the celebration begins Feb. 18 this year and, as always, lasts 15 days.

2007 is the Year of the Boar. The boar symbolizes integrity and courage. The Chinese believe that the Year of the Boar will bring benevolence and, according to www.paranormality.com, is "one with a lot of 'feel good factor,' one of abundance and a good year for business. Life in this year will be lived to the fullest and, although there will be uncertainty, it will be minimal."

Different activities are designated throughout the 15 days but the eve of New Year's is probably the most exciting part of the Chinese New Year festivities. Families come together to enjoy a delicious reunion dinner and honor senior members. The meal carries such importance that, if a family member can't attend, an empty seat is reserved to symbolize the person's presence.

Dishes representing different wishes (or whose Chinese words phonetically sound like lucky symbols) are served at the sumptuous New Year's reunion meal. According to Panda Express, the nation's largest Chinese restaurant chain, "Popular dishes include whole fish (togetherness and regeneration), chicken (happiness and a long marriage) and dumplings (good wishes toward one's family). Green beans (longevity) or stir-fried blends of mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, sugar peas and bamboo shoots are likely side dishes. Tangerines and oranges, symbolizing prosperity, are traditional dessert choices." Delicacies such as prawns, dried oysters, raw fish salad, or Fai-hai (or angel hair, an edible seaweed) are also served.

It's popular to wear red, which is said to ward off evil spirits, but not black and white, colors associated with mourning. After the feast, family members spend the evening playing cards and board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the festivities. At midnight, the sky is lit bright with fireworks. To all who will celebrate the Year of the Boar: Happy New Year and much good fortune!

Jacqui Love Marshall lives in Danville with her vintage-car-loving husband, two pugs and binders of recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at Epicure@DanvilleWeekly.com.

Did you know?

* Legend says that firecrackers were used to scare away a mythical man-eating beast (and bad spirits) each spring. They are now used to bring in the New Year with a bang.

* "Hong Bao" (red packets of money) are given by married couples to children and unmarried adults as wishes for prosperity and success.

* Among many New Year superstitions, it is considered unlucky to buy a pair of shoes, get a haircut, or sweep the floor during the New Year period.

* "Fu" is the Chinese word for luck. During spring Festival, posters with "Fu" are intentionally displayed upside down.

* Shrimp represents liveliness and happiness and 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. Hence, the dish below using 8 ingredients is ideal for serving at Lunar New Year.

Firecracker Shrimp (serves 4) - Courtesy of Panda Express

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

12 oz. marinated medium shrimp (see below)

1-1/2 cups diced bell pepper (1/2 cup each red, green, yellow)

3/4 cup diced onion

1 Tbsp. bottled garlic and ginger for stir-fry (or equal parts fresh garlic and ginger)

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 tsp. Chinese black bean sauce

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1. Marinate shrimp:

12 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 Tbsp. cooking rice wine

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 Tbsp. water

1 tsp. sugar

Place shrimp in a re-sealable plastic bag. Stir together other ingredients in a small bowl. Pour mixture over shrimp and seal bag. Refrigerate up to 4 hours or until cooking time.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a large wok (or nonstick skillet) until very hot. Add marinated shrimp and quickly cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until shrimp is just cooked through and turns opaque in color, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon to serving dish and keep warm.

3. Add bell peppers, onion, garlic and ginger, red pepper flakes, black bean garlic sauce and 1 Tbsp. water to wok. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp back to wok and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes longer or until sauce has thickened and is bubbling. Stir in sesame oil just before serving. Serve hot with rice or noodles.

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