Chinese New Year 2021 begins on Friday, February 12th! 2021 is the year of the Ox! The Chinese New Year is a time for families to get together to celebrate the festival with each other. On New Year’s Eve, families have “reunion dinners” which are believed to be the most important meals of the year as generations of relatives come together to celebrate. New Year’s festivals include fireworks, music, dragon dances, and other festive performances. Houses and streets are decorated with gold for power and red for prosperity and luck. Gifts of red envelopes filled with money are given to children and retired seniors. Of course, food is a big part of the Chinese New Year festival and foods with symbolic meanings are always on the menu.
Let’s celebrate Chinese New Year with lots of delicious, healthy and compassionate dishes – vegan-style! For the ultimate menu of menus, check out our updated Chinese New Year Vegan Food Guide!
1. Start with Soup
Start your meal with a hot bowl of Chinese soup like my Hot and Sour Soup. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 inch fresh grated ginger, 3 minced cloves of garlic and 3 chopped scallions and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add 3 chopped carrots and 3 chopped stalks of celery and cook for 3 minutes. Add 1 lb. sliced cremini mushrooms and cook until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Break up 3 vegetable bouillon cubes and mix with the vegetables (unless you are using vegetable broth). Add 1 tsp. 5-Spice powder and 6 cups water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add ½ cup tamari, 1/3 cup brown rice vinegar and 2 tsp. hot sauce. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes. In a mug, mix 2 Tbs. arrowroot with ¼ cup water and add this mixture to the soup. Continue to cook the soup until it thickens a bit. Season with salt and pepper before serving. Add tofu if desired. For another choice, try my Garlic and Ginger Soup.
2. Fruit for Good Fortune
During the Chinese New Year period, certain fruits are considered good luck and are displayed as decoration and eaten. Oranges, tangerines and pomelos are symbolic of good luck and prosperity because of their colors, round shape and the similarities of their Chinese names with the words for “good luck” and “to have.” Start the year and the meal off right with a salad featuring these good luck fruits. Try this Orange Fennel Salad, Raw Massaged Kale Salad with Fresh Figs and Oranges, or this Pomelo Salad with Roasted Coconut. Pomegranates are filled with colorful seeds for fertility and are a bright vibrant red, which represents happiness and repels evil spirits. Enjoy them in this Pomegranate Sweet and Sour Tempeh dish.
For a lucky entrée, make my Orange Tofu. Press and drain a block of extra-firm tofu and cut it into cubes. In a large bowl or container, prepare a marinade of 1 Tbs. olive or sesame oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 3 sliced scallions, 1-inch fresh grated ginger, ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup orange juice, 3 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, 1/3 cup brown sugar and a pinch of red pepper flakes. In a separate mug or bowl, mix 1 Tbs. arrowroot and 2 tsp. water together until smooth. This is a slurry. Add the slurry to the marinade and mix well to incorporate. Add the tofu cubes to the marinade and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the cubes from the marinade and pat them dry. Arrange the cubes in the skillet in a single layer and cook until browned and crisp on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Serve the orange tofu over brown rice or zucchini noodles with your favorite veggies. For another orange dish, try this Orange Cauliflower.
3. Long Noodles
Noodles are a staple of Chinese cuisine and especially so during Chinese New Year. Long noodles represent a long life so when you serve noodles during this holiday, keep them as long as possible. When it comes to noodles, there are more options than ever. Noodles can be made from flour, gluten-free flour, beans or vegetables. See Gluten-Free Pasta Options, How to Make Bean Pastas, How to Use Spiralized Veggies as Noodles, and How to Make Pasta from Vegetables without a Spiralizer for ideas and recipes. Then get your noodle on with amazing recipes like Pan-Fried Tofu with Zucchini, Carrot and Black Bean Noodles, Dim Sum Soy Sauce Chow Mein Noodles, Vegan Eggplant Noodles, Vegetable Lo Mein, Peanut Butter Spicy Noodles, and Raw Rainbow Noodles with Spicy Jungle Peanut Sauce.
Another traditional Chinese New Year food is Chinese dumplings. It is customary for the family to get together and make them on New Year’s Eve. Dumplings are thought to bring prosperity because their shape is similar to silver ingots. Some families hide a coin or good-luck foods like peanuts into one of the dumplings. Whoever finds it will have a lucky year. Dumplings are easy to make. They can be boiled, steamed or pan-fried. They can be filled with whatever foods you love and those fillings can be cooked first or put into the wrapper raw and cooked with the dumpling.
Here is how to make my Steamed Chinese Vegetable Dumplings: To make the wrappers: mix 4 cups flour, 1 ¾ cups water and ½ tsp. salt in a large bowl until the dough is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes. Transfer the dough to a clean surface. Cut the dough into 20 equal pieces. Press each piece into a disc and using a rolling pin, roll each piece into a circle about 3 inches in diameter. Make them as thin as you can. If you are not going to use them immediately, coat them with flour and store in the fridge or freezer.
To make the filling: heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage to the skillet and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add 2 shredded carrots and cook another 3 minutes. Add 2 cups chopped broccoli florets and 3 chopped scallions and cook for 3 more minutes. To the veggies, add 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger and 3 minced garlic cloves. Mix in 2 Tbs. tamari, 1 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1 Tbs. sesame oil and 2 tsp. Sriracha. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse a few times to just break down the veggies. Let the veggies cool before putting them into the wrappers.
To make the dumplings: place a small spoonful of the veggie filling in the center of each wrapper. Use your finger to wet the edges of the wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper over the filling and pinch the edges together, forming a half-circle. Transfer the wrapped dumpling to a plate lined with parchment paper. Continue until you fill all the dumpling wrappers. To steam the dumplings: bring a pot of water to a boil and place four dumplings at a time into a steamer basket over the boiling water. Steam for 10 minutes or until the dumplings are tender. You can also pan-fry them, if desired. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
5. Buddha’s Delight
Buddha’s Delight, also called Jai, Vegetarian’s Delight, or Buddhist’s Delight, is a traditional all-vegetable dish served on New Year’s Day. It is a Buddhist tradition that no animal or fish be killed on the first day of the lunar year. Vegetables are believed to cleanse the body. The dish is filled with different veggies including cabbage, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and other symbolic foods. Enjoy this Roasted Buddha Bowl or try this Broccoli Manchurian Stir-Fry, Chinatown Sweet and Sour Bok Choy, Spicy Mushroom Stir-Fry with Garlic, Black Pepper and Chives, Moo Shu Vegetables, Sweet and Sour Cauliflower, Quinoa Veggie Fried “Rice” and Steamed Vegetables with Garlic Sauce. Get tips for the perfect veggie dish in Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style.
6. Chicken and Fish
It’s tradition for Chinese New Year to serve whole fish and chicken for good luck, prosperity and to represent family, togetherness, and rebirth. We can put a compassionate spin on this tradition by swapping out the fish and chicken for plant-based choices. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, jackfruit, and store-bought meat substitutes can be used in any traditional Chinese dish. You can also use my gluten-free V-Meat and V-Chicken. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Meats and Meat Substitutes and then try dishes like General Tso’s Tofu, Sesame Tofu, Kung Pao Tofu, Sweet and Spicy Vegan Pork, Pan-Fried Tofu with Ginger, Spinach and Mushrooms, Moo Shu Jackfruit, Stir-Fried Tofu with Veggies and Shitake, Vegetable Fried Rice with Tofu, Asian Chili Tofu, Asian Baked Tofu, Stir-Fried Tomatoes with Tofu and Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce.
A delicious and easy dish is my Sweet and Sour “Chicken” that can be made with tofu, tempeh or whatever you choose to take the place of the chicken. Begin my marinating the “chicken” in a combination of 1 Tbs. arrowroot powder and 2 Tbs. tamari for 30 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, saute one small chopped onion in oil for 2 minutes until softened. Add 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger and 2 minced garlic cloves, stirring for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup fresh pineapple juice, ¼ cup brown rice vinegar, 1/3 cup ketchup, 1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce, 2 Tbs. tamari and ¼ cup brown sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. In a small bowl, combine 2 tsp. arrowroot powder and ¼ cup water and mix until smooth. Add it to the sauce and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and turn off the heat. Set the sauce aside. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a skillet and add the “chicken” to the pan and cook, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 6 minutes. Add more oil if you need it and cook 2 minced garlic cloves and 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger for 2 minutes until softened and fragrant. Stir often and toss to coat the “chicken”. Add 2 chopped bell peppers and 1 cup of pineapple chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the pineapple is a bit crisp and the peppers are tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the sweet and sour sauce mixture into the skillet and toss to coat all the “chicken” and the vegetables. Bring it to a boil and cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 or 2 minutes. Serve with brown rice. For more tips, see How to Make Your Own Chinese Food at Home. One last thing: it is considered bad luck to eat white food on Chinese New Year so make sure your tofu and tempeh are cooked to a nice golden color and opt for healthier brown rice.
Every New Year’s celebration has to have sweets to symbolize a sweet year ahead. These Steamed Chinese Bao with Peanut Butter are a delicious way to end a meal or to have as a snack. While it’s not Chinese food, celebrate the lucky color of red with red desserts like this Mini Red Velvet Cake with Fluffy Coconut Cream Frosting or Fudgy Beetroot Chocolate Cake. For a lighter dessert, cleanse your palate with this beautiful and delicious Mango Sorbet with Banana and Pineapple.
8. The Tray of Togetherness
The tray of togetherness has 8 types of snacks that are given as a gift or put out for relatives to snack on. Eight is considered a symbolic lucky number (that’s why this article has 8 sections). The tray contains candies that also have symbolic meanings: candied melons for good health, coconut for togetherness, kumquats for prosperity, lychee nuts for family, longans for fertility, lotus seeds for a large family, peanuts for longevity and red melon seeds for happiness and truth. Make your own tray of togetherness with these items or make your own candy with ingredients that are symbolic to you and your family.
Chinese New Year is a time for festivity and celebration. With these recipes, it will also be delicious. Wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year filled with prosperity, luck, happiness and compassion.
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