For many Chinese and ethnic families, February marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year. Celebrated over 15 days, it is one of the most eventful times of the year. In the Chinese community, the biggest festivity starts on New Year’s Eve, when loved ones come together for a banquet. We would like to share healthy versions of these lucky dishes.
One of the most important dishes to eat during Lunar New Year is a whole fish. Serving a fish from head to tail is associated with starting and finishing the New Year with good luck. Loved ones bless each other with the saying, “Nian Nian You Yu” or “May each year be plentiful”.
Families enjoy whole fish pan-seared, steamed, or boiled in soup. For a healthy celebration, we recommend going light when cooking with oil and choosing a low-sodium soy sauce when eating the fish. No matter the cooking method, use fresh herbs such as ginger and green onion to bring out the flavor of this dish.
For a year filled with “happy laughter”, families prepare prawn for the New Year feast. Prawn in Cantonese sounds like the laughing sound “ha”, and eating it is believed to bring you plenty of happiness for the New Year.
Prawn is also a suggested source of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that is healthy for the brain and helps prevent heart disease. Eating two servings or 8 ounces of omega-3 rich seafood like salmon, tuna and sardines per week will give you the amount of omega-3 fatty acids you need, but enjoy prawn in a small amount to keep bad cholesterol low.
Another favorable dish is a whole chicken. Like fish, it is important to plate the chicken whole from head to tail because it resembles “completeness” and “togetherness”. Many Chinese families prepare the chicken by steaming or boiling it without herbs or marinades. While dark meat is delicious, consider eating more white meat without the skin for less fat and fewer calories.
Dried Oysters, Mushrooms and Lettuce
For many Chinese business owners, this meatless dish may just be their favorite to eat during the New Year. The star of this dish is dried oysters, or “Ho See”. Often added to soups or vegetables, dried oysters bear significance to having “good business” or “good things to come”. Mushrooms complement the rich seafood flavor of the oysters, and lettuce not only adds a vibrant color, but is also symbolic of “growing more fortune”. For a healthy and tasty celebration, be sure to enjoy oysters in moderation to keep cholesterol levels under control.
Many families will eat “Zhai” or Buddha’s Delight on the first day of Lunar New Year to cleanse oneself, show kindness to animals, and bring in good luck. While the ingredients and recipes differ across families and restaurants, this dish has an abundance of heart-healthy vegetables like wood ear mushrooms, Chinese celery, snow peas, and bean curd.
Tangerine, Mandarin and Pomelo
Tangerines, mandarins, and pomelos signify wealth, good luck, and fortune. Mandarin in Cantonese sounds like “gold” while tangerine sounds like “luck”. Eating a pomelo is believed to bring blessings. Families may also decorate their homes with a tangerine tree, as it symbolizes the blessing, “Dai Gut Dai Ley” or “bringing safety to the family and guests”. Kid-friendly and rich in vitamin C, these citrus fruits are great as New Year snacks.
Many families eat “Nian Gao” to start the year on a positive note. The blessing that comes with the dish translates to, “May you reach higher and higher each year”. For some families, Nian Gao is a savory dish that includes fried rice cakes, Napa cabbage or Chinese mustard greens, minced meat and mushrooms. For other families, “Nian Gao” is a pan-fried dessert that is soft and crispy when coated with a thin layer of egg. Many love the sweet Nian Gao, as it’s only made once a year. To keep a healthy weight, enjoy these sweet rice cakes in small portions and cook the savory rice cakes with less salt and oil.
Sweet Glutinous Rice Dumplings
“Tang Yuan” or sweet glutinous rice dumplings are loved for its tasty fillings, sweet soup and chewy bite. It is popular to eat this dessert during Lunar New Year and Winter Solstice, as the roundness of the dumplings resembles “reunion” and “togetherness”. The dough is traditionally made with rice flour and can be plain or filled with red bean paste, sesame paste, creamy or crunchy peanuts, or sweet mung beans. Served with a sweet gingery soup, this is a warm dessert perfect for the winter. For a healthy new year, enjoy this dessert by lightly sweetening the soup and eating in moderation.
We at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center wish you and your family a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!