When we think of celebrating the New Year it is a food and beverage countdown to midnight on the last day of December, but the Lunar New Year celebrated in many Asian countries begins Sunday and continues for 15 days.
Fruits and gifts of food abound as the Chinese New Year honors family and friends. Culinary traditions are symbolic of Chinese concepts of luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness and wealth. The colors of red and gold are used prominently in decorations and extend to the food. Tangerines and oranges are popular good gifts to share during the time leading up to the new year. The best luck comes from tangerines with a leaf still attached as leaves symbolize longevity.
Long noodles are important to serve, keeping them as long as possible for a long life. If you've ever wondered why a number of Chinese fish dishes are prepared with the head and tail intact, it is to ensure a good start to finish and to avoid bad luck throughout the year. It's a good thing some of us have those black-eyed peas to take care of our luck for the year.
A stir-fry is a simple way to incorporate several good-luck foods into a meal to mark the Chinese New Year. If you don't have a wok, this may be the year for you to add one to your kitchen. You can find the authentic kind at Asian markets for less than $20. I find that I use mine often for cooking a variety of vegetables. Some stoves even have a rack for the wok to rest securely over the burner. Some woks have a burner platform to steady them during the cooking process.
You will also need some oil to stir fry in. It is best to use an oil with a high flash point to take advantage of the wok's quick hot-cooking technique. Peanut oil, safflower oil and others can “fry” at a hotter temperature without smoking or imparting a bitter burned flavor into the food. Be sure no one is allergic to peanuts before using peanut oil for your stir-fry.
The beauty of this whole wok process is in the design of the wok itself. The wok has a very small cooking surface in the center. The oil fits in this area for cooking at the highest heat. As meats and vegetables are browned or cooked here they can be moved up the sides of the wok to cook more slowly and stay warm while other parts of the stir-fry are added to the center.
Ginger Beef Stir-Fry
2 tablespoons oil (peanut, safflower or other high flash point oil for wok)
16 ounces sirloin, club or flank steak, pork tenderloin or chicken sliced ¼-inch thick across the grain
2 tablespoons cornstarch or rice flour
2 to 3 carrots sliced into coins or shredded into long strips with vegetable peeler or julienne tool (which cook faster)
¼ of a large onion cut into strips up to ¼-inch wide
1½ to 2 cups broccoli florets
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes depending on how spicy you want stir-fry to be
2 to 3 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger (vary according to your taste)
¼ cup mirin or white wine (Can use seasoned rice wine vinegar.) zest and juice of 2 oranges
2 teaspoons soy sauce, or low-sodium soy sauce
• Rinse and cook rice according to package directions to serve 4 or place noodles to soak and soften.
• Assemble ingredients. Slice meat and dust with cornstarch or rice flour. Prepare vegetables. Zest and juice oranges. Peel fresh ginger root with the back of a spoon and grate 2 to 3 tablespoons according to how spicy you desire stir-fry. Mince or press garlic. Measure out ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. (A teaspoon of chili garlic paste can be used in lieu of garlic and pepper flakes.)
• Place oil in wok and heat until oil shimmers. Start with prepared meat cooking for about a minute on each side. Do not crowd the meat as it will not brown. Once each side is brown move the meat up the side of the wok or to a separate dish and hold until all the vegetables are cooked through.
• Place carrots in wok stirring frequently until they soften about 3 minutes if sliced and much less if julienned or peeled into long strips. Add onions and broccoli stirring often. As broccoli brightens and onions soften return meat to wok and stir to evenly distribute. Stir in pepper flakes and ginger keeping heat high.
• Deglaze wok with mirin or wine and add zest and juice of oranges. Continue stirring until liquid begins to thicken slightly. Season with soy sauce to taste.
• Serve over rice or rice noodles.
Cooking notes: Keep wok sizzling hot but not smoking. Additional stock or broth may be added if desired to make more liquid. Snow peas can be substituted for broccoli or in addition to the florets. Other vegetables such as whole green beans, bean sprouts or asparagus can be used if desired. Water chestnuts, slivered almonds or walnuts add a crunchy texture to this stir-fry.