Sunday, January 29, 2012

Welcoming the Year of the Dragon

I really love the Chinese Lunar New Year. It always seemed to make much more sense to me to measure the passing of time by the actual moon's cycles than just deciding that it starts on 1 January as in the Gregorian or Christian calendar. I guess my Pagan sensibilities have a bit of a problem with the calendar being manipulated back in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, in an attempt to quash the existing Pagan festivals. Although the western world still sticks to the Gregorian calendar, lots of us still mark the passage of time in the old ways - which also means that it is measured according the cycles of nature and the moon. For that reason, the Chinese New Year (like the Pagan one) does not fall on a fixed date each year.

In 2012, the Chinese New Year commences on 23 January and celebrations wind up around the 9 February. I have great memories of my Chinese neighbours setting off highly illegal (but very loud and festive) fireworks in my street in Marrickville when I lived there a couple of years ago. The celebratory vibe on the street was palpable and the Asian food markets were bustling with people buying food for New Year feasts. This year is the Year of the Water Dragon - a year believed to be ripe with power, flow and transformation. It is believed that it is very much a sink or swim year, where those who embrace the dragon's power and come from a solid spiritual place will thrive - and those who's beliefs and ways of living lack substance and who cannot ride the wave of dragon energy can get swamped by it. So let's get to it and ride that wave folks!

On Friday night we entertained a house full of friends to celebrate the Chinese New Year and whip up some positive, Dragon energy fuelled camraderie. I decided on a menu that was a combination of finger foods to start with, followed by a buffet of dishes served with hot steamed rice. We started off with delicious pork and sesame balls, served with plum sauce, then moved on to handmade prawn and scallop dumplings and then lovely crunchy chicken, vermicelli and black fungus rolls. The finger food went down a treat and kept everyone happy until the buffet meal.

Pork & Sesame Balls
with Plum Sauce

Prawn & Scallop Dumplings
with Soy and Sesame Oil

Chicken, Vermicelli and Black Fungus Rolls
with Chilli Lime Dipping Sauce

The buffet comprised of a fresh watercress, BBQ duck and pomelo salad (for those of you who aren't familiar with pomelo, it is a huge grapefruit like fruit, often used in South East Asia) The salad is packed with flavour, but also light and tangy - perfect for Summer.

Watercress, BBQ Duck and Pomelo Salad

Next came twice cooked pork belly, which I started 2 days before, cooking it in a highly aromatic master stock, with star anise, ginger, rice wine, cinnamon, garlic, sweet onions, peppercorns, soy, Five spice, garlic and chilli. After poaching the pork, it is left to dry out a little. The skin is then scored all over, and the meat is then cooked over the coals, then rested before serving with gai lan (Chinese greens) The resulting pork is super succulent and full of the exotic aromatics.

Twice Cooked Pork Belly
with Gai Lan

I added a simple seafood dish - prawns, fish and scallops that were coated in spiced rice flour and fried, then served with chilli and coriander. It is a very simple dish that allows the very fresh seafood to shine through.

Fried Spiced Seafood

There was a stir fried chicken and dried shitake mushroom dish, served with crisp snake beans and fresh bean sprouts. There were lots of comments on how meaty and delicious the mushrooms were - the flavour is just beautiful, and a lot stronger than using fresh ones. The dried mushrooms are soaked in water overnight before cutting off the stalks and using them.

Chicken & Shitake Mushrooms
with Bean Shoots

I hadn't planned to serve dessert, but Andrew suggested we head to the Chinese pastry shop and buy some sweet custard tarts to offer at the end of the meal. I thought it was a great idea, but when we got to the shop, there were only 5 or 6 left. We needed 25! Our friendly Chinese baker sweetly suggested that he would bake a batch just for us that we could pick up in an hour. Perfect. The tarts were divine and a big hit with our guests. Alas, no pictures - we were too busy devouring them all to photograph them!

Our Chinese New Year celebration was a lot of fun, and we certainly kicked off The Year of the Dragon with good vibes and much feasting. Happy Year of the Dragon everyone - ride that Water Dragon Wave! Gung Hay Fat Choy!!!



  1. Ohh that all looks so good! Did you make the five fold dumplings yourself? They look extra spectacular on a tasting spoon!

  2. Yes Rhi, did the dumplings myself. I like serving them on spoons so they are easy for guests to eat - lets you drizzle them with sauce too, all in a handy container!The spoons are really cheap to buy from Asian grocers near me. I have about 40 of them!