My great grandfather on my paternal side of the family was full Chinese and my great grandmother on my maternal side was Chinese as well. Being a quarter Chinese, you would think Chinese New Year is something I get excited about. Unfortunately, the Chinese culture was lost through the generations and I was raised culturally as a Filipino-American. I grew up seeing Chinese New Year as something pretty foreign–sort of how a Chinese-American would view Cinco de Mayo. Interestingly, being raised in San Diego with my classmates being predominantly Mexican-American, I feel stronger ties to the Mexican culture than I do the Chinese culture. In retrospect, I think that’s kind of sad. As an adult, I want to learn more about my heritage and introduce and practice more Chinese cultural traditions with my family. I think my Chinese ancestors would be proud.
I was fortunate to have attended an event recently at Melissa’s Produce, where I received a quick lesson on Chinese New Year traditions. I was also able to taste and get inspired by some of Martin Yan‘s Chinese cuisine. Martin Yan, a Chinese-born Hong Kong-American chef and food writer, has hosted his award-winning PBS-TV cooking show “Yan Can Cook” since 1982. He is the longest-standing chef on PBS and will be airing a new show on PBS called “Taste of Vietnam” and Melissa’s Produce is sponsoring the show. That means all of the produce on the show is from Melissa’s Produce.
Back on the subject of Chinese New Year– traditionally, Chinese New Year is a time for families to gather for an annual reunion dinner. It’s also a time to cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and make way for good luck. Homes are adorned with red decor, symbolizing good fortune and joy. The new year represents a new start, with best wishes and hopes for continued good fortune, happiness, wealth, and longeivity. There isn’t a specific date that Chinese New Year is celebrated every year; it all depends on the lunar calendar. However, it always happens after Valentine’s Day and around Super Bowl Sunday. This Chinese New Year is the year of the Sheep and starts today, February 19 and ends March 5.
It is believed that those born on the years 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1992, 2004, and 2015 are and will be “artistic, sensitive and king, people born in the Year of the Sheep (often called the year of the Goat or Ram) tend to be generous and just. While often very shy, once Sheep people open up they make devoted companions.” Coincidentally, I was born on the year of the Sheep. However, I am proud to say I am an Earth Sheep–the strongest, most determined, practical, grounded, and stable of all sheep types. I point that out because some very superstitious Chinese don’t want to have a child during the “dreaded Year of the Sheep” as they usually are shy, not ambitious, and are too idealistic. I must say that I defied all those characteristics, but then again I am an Earth Sheep. That said, my husband and I were planning on having a baby this year. After reading more about the sheep, I may want to hold off for 3 more months so my child can be born in the Year of the Monkey. Just kidding. If it happens, it happens! I am not superstitious anyway.
Back to the subject of food. Chinese New Year is China’s most colorful and important holiday. Foods take on symbolic meanings. Round fruits are a symbol of fortune since the round shape mimics the shape of a coin, money. Here a short list of symbolic food.
Symbolic vegetables, fruit, and other foods:
Bananas: success in education and work
Bean Sprouts: positivity
Bok Choy: Prosperity
Seaweed: luck and extreme wealth
Snowpeas: unity (2 peas in a pod)
Kumquats: gold, good fortune
Oranges: wealth, good fortune, gold
Melons: family unity
Dried Apricots: wealth, gold
Noodles: long life
Egg rolls: money, wealth, gold
The list goes on..
This year, we have so many different types of citrus, bananas, dried apricots, actually everything listed above in my household, and tonight I’m making my potstickers and bok choy to celebrate the new year. Thanks to my friends at Melissa’s Produce, I received some ingredients to make my recipe. If you don’t already know, Melissa’s Produce is the largest distributor of Specialty Produce in the US. You can find their produce at major supermarkets, from Ralphs, to Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
Have you noticed that almost every culture has some sort of small, succulent parcel encased in dough that everyone goes gaga for? Living in Los Angeles, which is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the country, it is possible to drive down a street and easily pick up a samosa from an Indian spice shop, wontons or potstickers from the many Chinese restaurants, a gyoza from the Japanese ramen shop, and rolled tacos from one of the thousands of taco shops.
I grew up in a Filipino-American household where my mother served her 8-member household a mix of Filipino and “American” dishes. On special occasions, my mom would make lumpia, a Filipino egg roll, from scratch. I’ve loved them since I was a child and now the children (my 15 nieces and nephews) in my family love them too! I don’t know what it is about these little packages of goodness that we can’t get enough of. We just love them! Unfortunately, as I live a gluten-free, vegan lifestyle I don’t have as many options to choose from when it comes to enjoying the little packaged treats. That is, if I don’t make them myself.
I created a delicious potsticker that is appropriate for the holiday, and they are vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. I like potstickers because I feel closer to my Chinese roots when I make them, and I don’t feel as guilty eating them. They are not deep-fried and only a tablespoon of oil is used to brown them. My potstickers can be made even lower in fat. To do so, simply add them to a pot of boiling vegetable stock or water for a few minutes and voila!
To avoid soy (tofu), I use mushrooms and walnuts. This way, I get my protein along with vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, copper, iron, potassium, and a nice, long list of other minerals and health benefits. Other ingredients include ginger, garlic, scallions and cayenne pepper, dijon mustard, and ketchup. If you’re against using ketchup, you can substitute the ketchup with finely chopped unsweetened dried cranberries. Believe you me when I say that all the listed ingredients make a difference in that they add richness and more depth of flavor.
This recipe can take about 1.5 hours from start to finish and maybe even longer depending on how quick you are in the kitchen. If you have a friend to help you out with the rolling while you wrap, that’ll save a lot of time! These would be perfect to make on a weekend when you have a lot of time.
I’m thankful that these potstickers sort of bring me closer to my Chinese heritage. Chinese New Year is a lucky time of year, one thing we can do is create our own luck by incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diets. Cheers to a happy new year, plant-based eating, and to longevity!
Prep time: 1 1/2 – 2 hours
Diet: V, GF, DF, SF
1 cup walnuts
1 heaping cup shiitakes (3.5 oz., approximately 13 shiitake mushrooms)
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 Tbsp red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp flax meal
3 Tbsp vegetable stock
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tsp coconut sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp tapioca flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1 cup brown rice flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tbsp sunflower oil or grapeseed oil
3/4 cups filtered water
2 Tbsp coconut aminos (or tamari)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or coconut vinegar)
1 Tsp minced ginger
sriracha, to taste
1. Place all the filling ingredients into a food processor and pulse 10 times. Do not over process. You want a chunky texture, not a fine mush.
2. Taste and adjust the heat. If you want more heat, add more cayenne pepper.
3. Place the filling in a bowl and mix well.
1. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix all of the dry ingredients until completely combined. Add the filtered water slowly while it is mixing, until it forms a ball. You don’t want this to be sticky. If it is too sticky, add a little more tapioca and brown rice flour. If it’s too dry, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough forms a ball.
2. Divide the dough in half. Roll one half of the dough into a rod on a clean surface until it is about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Cut 10 pieces equally and set aside in a bowl that’s lined with a damp paper towel (not dripping). Each piece should be approximately 1 tablespoon. To avoid the dough from drying out, cover the pieces with a damp paper towel. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
3. If you have a tortilla press, this will make your job so much easier. Use it to make thin, circular wrappers. Alternatively, if you don’t have a tortilla press, between 2 pieces of parchment paper (not wax paper), place one round piece of dough towards the center and press down with a small saucepan or with the palm of your hand. Flatten further with a rolling pin, making sure to keep it circular by rotating the dough as it’s being rolled.
4. Assemble the potsticker right after rolling out the wrapper.
1. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling mixture onto the center of the wrapper. Fold over, press to seal the edges, and shape as desired. I like to slightly fan the edges. Set on a half sheet pan, lined with parchment and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat this procedure until all of the filling is gone.
Makes about 20 potstickers.
1. Heat a 10-inch saute pan over medium heat. Brush with 1 tbsp of sunflower or grapeseed oil once hot.
2. Add about 7-8 potstickers at a time to the pan. Brown all 3 sides. May take 1.5-2 minutes to brown on each side.
3. Once all sides are browned, with the cover of the pan in hand to cover immediately, gently and quickly add 1/3 cup water or vegetable stock to the pan and cover. Step back and be careful as there will be a lot of steam (and steam can give you a nasty burn). I hold down the cover so it doesn’t explode off of the pan in the beginning. Turn the heat down to low, and cook for another 2 minutes or until the water has cooked off. (You can also use veggie stock for more flavor)
4. Repeat until all the potstickers are cooked. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped green onion and with dipping sauce on the side.
**Alternatively, you can boil the potstickers in a pot of vegetable stock or filtered water, as you would pasta. Bring the water or stock to a boil and cook them until ready.
Mix all ingredients together and serve on the side.
If you wish to freeze your potstickers to enjoy on another day, place the sheet tray of potstickers in the freezer first. Allow them to freeze for at least 30 minutes, then place them in your freezer storage container of choice (ie. Ziplock or glass tupperware). Placing them in the freezer first will avoid them from sticking to each other.
When you’re ready to enjoy them, follow the cooking directions above. You can cook them frozen. Just don’t move the potsticker once you place them in the pan. Let them sit in the oil for at least 1.5 minutes or until browned. Once they are browned, they will release from the pan with ease. If you move them too quickly, the wrapper can tear.
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