Chinese New Year Special

Here’s a feast specially prepared to help every Chinese zodiac sign embrace good health, peace and prosperity

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Here’s a feast specially prepared to help every Chinese zodiac sign embrace good health, peace and prosperity

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This is your year of the fire monkey! A little restraint and level-headedness would be summoned to smooth out any bumps along the way. A dish like this one, jam-packed with all things good for the brain – brown rice, avocado, walnut – will help you breeze through 2016 with nary a cloudy judgement.

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Tip: Chilled rice is easier to mould into shape than warm rice. Once toasted, the warm rice readily absorbs moisture from the avocado topping, and will taste just as moist.

Brown Rice Patties With Avocado And Waxed Meat

Prep 45 mins / Cook 15 mins / Serves 4-6

½ cup walnuts, plus ¼ cup extra 50 g waxed meat, sliced thinly ¼ cup shao hsing wine 2-3 avocadoes Salt to taste (optional) 3 cups cooked brown rice, chilled (see tip) Walnut halves and black sesame seeds (both toasted), to garnish

1. Toast walnuts on a pan over medium heat, till fragrant, about 3 to 5 mins. Allow to cool. Chop ½ cup coarsely, and cut remaining ¼ cup into halves.

2. Place waxed meat in a heat-proof bowl. Add shao hsing wine to just cover the meat. Cover the bowl with foil. Steam for 15 mins. Remove from heat and keep warm.

3. Just before serving, remove flesh from avocadoes, discarding the skins and seeds. Mash avocado with waxed meat and chopped walnuts. Season with salt, if you like. Set aside, cover loosely.

4. To shape the patties, heat a pan, without oil, over low heat. Place an 8-cm metal patty ring on the pan. Scoop ½ cup rice into the ring, flattening and packing it as tightly as possible with a spoon. With one hand, slowly remove the ring by pulling it upwards. Use the other hand to press down the rice with the spoon, smoothing the sides of the patty as well. Turn up the heat to high for 20-30 secs, or until you hear the sound of rice crackling at the bottom. Turn down the heat, and slide a wide flexible spatula under the rice patty; transfer to a serving plate. Proceed to make the next rice patty.

5. To assemble, place the same metal ring around the patty – don’t worry if some rice fall off; just scoop it back onto the top of the patty. Spoon prepared avocado into the ring, on top of the rice patty, and press down gently. Carefully remove the ring the same way as before. Repeat the steps until all rice patties are shaped, toasted and assembled.

6. To serve, garnish with toasted walnut halves and black sesame seeds.

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The Ox may be anxious and stressed this year so fill up on foods packed with B vitamins to shield the body from nervous energy. Ikura (salmon roe) is loaded with B12 vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids to nourish both brain and heart, and lotus seeds help relieve tension.

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Tip: Known locally as “chik-gu” and “ngagu”, fresh arrowhead corms, as well as crispy arrowhead chips, are widely available during Chinese New Year.

Warm Clam And Lotus Seed Salad

Prep 30 mins (plus soaking time for lotus seeds) / Cook 15 mins / Serves 4-6

½ cup lotus seeds (buy “xiang” variety from Chinese medical halls), shelled and soaked for 2 hours ½ cup clam meat (use frozen, if you like) ¹⁄³ cup frozen peas 1 punnet shimeji mushroom, chopped 3 tbsps oil 1 tbsp chopped garlic 1 tbsp chopped ginger Salt and pepper, to taste (optional) 2-3 tbsps shao hsing wine A handful of arrowhead chips (see tip) Ikura (salmon roe) and pea sprouts, to garnish

1. In a pot of fresh water (about 1 litre), simmer lotus seeds for about 30 mins, till tender to bite. Drain and set aside.

2. In new batch of boiling water, blanch clams and peas separately, for about 10 to 15 seconds. Drain and set aside.

3. Just before serving, heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Stir-fry garlic and ginger for 2 to 3 secs, till fragrant. Add lotus seeds, clam meat, peas and shimeji mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, if you like. Mix well. Add shao hsing wine, and mix again. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Crush arrowhead chips over dish.

4. Divide dish between heat-proof bowls or glasses. Finish with a topping of ikura and pea sprouts.


To reap gold and glory, the Horse is predicted to expend bountiful physical and mental strength. A healing tonic, like this soup, is just what’s needed to restore mind and body. American ginseng strengthens “qi” or energy flows. Red dates calm the mind, while chestnuts offer bone-strengthening copper.

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Chicken Soup With Ginseng, Chestnuts And Red Dates

Prep 20 mins (plus soaking time for chestnuts) / Cook 1½ hours / Serves 4-6

½ cup dried chestnuts, soaked overnight until softened 12.5 g American ginseng 5-6 large red dates (or a handful of small red dates) 500-800 g chicken, cut into quarters 2.5 L water

1. Scald chestnuts and red dates briefly, about 15-20 secs, in a pot of boiling water. Remove and rinse under running water. Transfer to a large heavy-based pot.

2. In the same pot of boiling water, scald chicken for 1 min, to remove blood and impurities. Remove chicken and rinse briefly under running water. Place chicken in the pot, together with chestnuts and red dates.

3. A dd water; it should be enough to cover the ingredients. Bring to boil, then lower heat. Simmer, with the lid slightly open, for 1½ hours. Serve hot.

Rat $ Dragon

Both Rat and Dragon are the bon vivants of the Chinese zodiac world. A steamed fish is always a good test of skills and, when perfectly cooked, scores indelibly with gourmands. The yellow croaker (or “huang hua yu”) is favoured for its briny-sweet flesh. Japanese pickled plum and sake add flavour without overwhelming the dish.

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Tip: Myoga has light, zesty flavour that is much milder than local young ginger. It is commonly added to miso soups and salads just before serving. It’s not interchangeable with our local ginger flower bud (commonly known as rojak flower or bunga kantan), that looks similar but tastes very different. You can buy myoga from Japanese supermarkets.

Steamed Yellow Croaker With Umeboshi And Sake

Prep 25 mins / Cook 7 - 10 mins / Serves 4-6

600-800 g yellow croaker, scaled and gutted (the fishmonger can do this) 2 umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum; available at Japanese supermarkets) Myoga (Japanese ginger flower buds, see tip), sliced thinly (optional)

SAUCE (mix well) 1 tsp minced ginger 2 tsps miso paste 2 tbsps light soy sauce (or Japanese shoyu) 2 tbsps sake 2 tbsps mirin 1 tbsp sesame oil

1. Lay fish on a heat-proof plate. Mash umeboshi with your fingers and spread the paste over the fish. Pour sauce over the fish, including the stomach cavity.

2. Steam over boiling water for 7 to 9 mins, or till a chopstick pokes through the fleshiest part of the fish easily.

3. R emove from heat and scatter myoga over fish, if using. Serve immediately.

Tiger & Dog

Usher in the New Year with this auspiciously-hued dish that the meat-loving Tiger and Dog would love to sink their teeth into. Fermented red beancurd (nam yee) seasons as well as colours the pork ribs, before they are slowbaked to juicy tenderness.

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Red Namyee Ribs With Pickled Lotus Root

Prep 30 mins (plus marinating time for ribs) / Cook 1 hour 15 mins / Serves 4-6 6 prime ribs (about 700 g) Cooking oil, to baste

MARINADE (mix well)

6 cubes fermented red beancurd (nam yee) 6 tbsps honey 6 tbsps rice vinegar 4 tbsps shao hsing wine 4 tbsps sesame oil 2 tsps minced garlic 2 tsps salt A pinch of five-spice powder and white pepper


400 g lotus root, skinned and sliced thinly 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced (optional) 4 tbsps salt 8 tbsps sugar 8 tbsps vinegar 8 tbsps cool boiled water

1. Rub half of the marinade into ribs. Leave overnight in the fridge.

2. To pickle lotus root, blanch slices in boiling water for 1 min. Drain and spread across a large plate to cool. In a mixing bowl, combine salt, sugar, vinegar and water. When lotus root slices are cool to touch, pack them in a glass container, together with red chilli, leaving as little space in between slices as possible. Pour the pickling solution into the glass container. Add more boiled cooled water to cover the lotus root and chilli slices by 0.5 cm. Seal the container, and set aside in the fridge for 3 hours.

3. Preheat oven at 180 C. Transfer ribs to a baking tray, lined with foil. Cover the ribs with foil and bake for 1 hour, until tender. Uncover ribs, and spoon away the oil that has accumulated around the tray.

4. Turn up oven to 190 C. Baste ribs with remaining marinade, followed by oil, using a brush. Return ribs into oven to brown (takes about 2 mins), uncovered. Turn ribs over and baste with marinade and oil again. Usher in the New Year with this auspiciously-hued dish that the meat-loving Tiger and Dog would love to sink their teeth into. Fermented red beancurd (nam yee) seasons as well as colours the pork ribs, before they are slowbaked to juicy tenderness. Repeat until all the marinade is used up, and the ribs are nicely glazed. (If you notice there is too much spluttering as the ribs brown, turn off the oven and allow the spluttering to subside, before opening the oven door to proceed with another round of basting. Turn the oven back on to resume browning).

5. Serve ribs warm, alongside pickled lotus root.

Goat and Rabbit

This is a favourable year for both zodiac animals, under the auspice of the Fire Monkey. Get engulfed in all things cultured and beautiful to bring artistic temperament to the fore. A platter of tinted flour wrappers and its tasty accompaniments – reminiscent of an artist’s palette – would stir the creative juices of the artsy Goat and Rabbit.

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Coloured Wraps With Duck And Persimmon Chutney

Prep 15 mins / Cook 30 mins / Serves 4-6

400-500 g roasted duck breast, shredded (buy from supermarkets) Toasted pine nuts


1 large persimmon (300 g) (pick a very ripe and soft fruit) 1 tbsp whole grain mustard

BATTER (makes abt 20 pcs):

1 cup flour 1 cup water, plus ½ cup extra A pinch of salt 1 tbsp oil Natural food colouring (beetroot powder, green tea powder, paprika, etc; available from gourmet supermarkets)

1. To prepare the batter: Whisk the flour, 1 cup of water and salt in a mixing bowl. The batter should be very thin. Add more water (1 tsp), if it’s too thick. Stir in oil, and pour batter equally, through a fine strainer, into three bowls. Add different food colouring to each bowl of batter. Mix well. Add 1 tsp of water if batter thickens slightly.

2. To make the wrapper: Heat a small 9-cm frying pan over low heat for 1 min. Grease pan with oil. Pour 3 tbsps of batter into pan and swirl pan so that the batter covers the base. Pour out any excess batter back into bowl of the batter of same colour. Turn up the heat to cook the batter into a thin wrapper (takes about 10 to 15 secs). Turn down the heat and carefully slide a small palette spatula around and under the wrapper, gently lifting it away from the pan to a plate. Repeat until all wrappers are made, greasing the pan with 1 tsp oil whenever necessary.

3. To prepare the chutney: Cut persimmon into half and scoop out the soft flesh, discarding the skin. Chop the flesh till pulpy and transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in mustard.

4. To serve, place wrappers and roasted duck shreds in separate piles, alongside persimmon chutney and toasted pine nuts. Let guests help themselves to the ingredients and fold their own duck rolls.


The Rooster may be so busy with career this year that health takes a back seat and may suffer. Stay away from oily food and opt for lighter dishes like this noodle dish. Conpoy lends luxe and umami to the otherwise sedate noodles.

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La Mian Tossed With Lily Bulb And Conpoy-Tofu Sauce

Prep 15 mins (plus soaking time for conpoy) / Cook 15 mins / Serves 4-6

8 pcs conpoy (about 30 g; buy from Chinese medical halls) ½-1 cup shao hsing wine, to soak 2 fresh lily bulbs (preferably Japanese, rice bran-packed) 120 g snow peas, trimmed and cut into three 1 red capsicum, core and seeds removed, sliced into strips 400 g la mian ¼ cup oil 2 tbsps chopped garlic 1 tbsp chopped ginger 1 tbsp chopped spring onion 2 packets tofu (300 g) Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak conpoy in shao hsing wine, covered, for 30 mins. Add more wine to just about cover the conpoy, then steam, covered, for another 15 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. R inse lily bulbs; pull the thick, petal-like sections apart. Pare away any blemishes and wash. Blanch lily bulbs, snow peas and capsicum in a pot of boiling water for 30 secs. Drain and set aside.

3. In the same pot, cook la mian according to instructions. Drain and set aside.

4. Heat oil in a wok. Stir-fry garlic, ginger and spring onion till fragrant, about 30 secs. Add prepared conpoy and its residual wine, shred conpoy as you scatter it over the wok. Stir-fry over medium heat until conpoy shreds are fragrant and fairly dry. Turn heat to low.

5. Holding a sieve over the wok, press tofu, a block at a time, through the sieve and into wok. Turn up the heat to medium and bring the tofu mixture to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Turn down heat, add cooked la mian. Toss well so that the noodles are wellcoated in mashed tofu. Then turn the heat to high and add the vegetables, tossing until well mixed. Serve at once.


What better way to celebrate the year than with this easyto- fix dessert drenched in the colour and symbolisms of wealth! The Snake can turn to such “luck-filled” indulgences to further rev up her burgeoning fortunes in 2016.

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Golden Pumpkin Paste With Sweet Yolk

Prep 20 mins / Cook 20 mins / Serves 4-6

600 g pumpkin flesh (without skin and seeds) 4 salted egg yolks (separate from uncooked salted eggs) ¼ cup oil 1 cup sugar (preferably unrefined, brown) A pinch of salt (optional) Coconut cream, to serve (use canned)  Zest of 2 limes, to garnish

1. Steam pumpkin flesh till tender, about 30 mins. Mash and set aside. (This can be prepared ahead, and kept covered in the fridge for 2 days.)

2. Steam salted egg yolks for 2 mins. Mash and set aside.

3. Heat oil in a pan. Add mashed egg yolks and fry over low heat until frothy and fragrant, about 2 mins. Add sugar and mix well. Keep stirring over low heat till dry, loose and crumbly. This may take about 5 mins. Adjust to taste with a pinch of salt, if you like. Remove from heat.

4. To serve, spoon warm pumpkin paste into individual bowls. Top with salted egg sugar and drizzle with coconut cream. Sprinkle lime zest over pumpkin paste for a citrusy lift.


The Pig has much to rejoice in 2016. Good fortune assures a prosperous year abuzzed with growth and success. To celebrate success and achievement, put together a prosperity dish like this poon choy for friends and family.

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Eight Treasures Poon Choy

Prep 45 mins (plus soaking time for mushrooms and kombu) / Cook 1 hour / Serves 4-6

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms 3 pcs kombu or Japanese seaweed (each roughly 10 x 3 cm) 6-8 chicken wings 1.2 L water 300 g arrowroot, or any root vegetable of your choice 1 pig trotter (about 450 g), chop into 5-cm chunks 500 g stewing pork (leave the skin on) 200 g Chinese cabbage, leaves halved and separated 6 spring onions, bruised 6 cm knob of ginger, sliced and bruised


(mix well) ¼ cup light soy sauce 2 tbsps fish sauce 1 tbsp rock sugar A pinch of salt, to taste (optional) 3 -4 tbsps shao hsing wine White pepper powder


500 g roast pork 6 pcs canned baby abalone 6 large prawns 10 -12 scallops Lettuce leaves, to garnish

1. Soak mushrooms together with kombu in water. Keep covered in the fridge overnight.

2. Place chicken in a pot filled with water. Bring to boil, then lower heat. Simmer for 1 hour, with the lid slightly open, to render chicken stock. Remove chicken and set stock aside. (Both wings and stock can be kept, separately, in the fridge, till ready to use.)

3. In the meantime, skin the arrowroot (or any preferred root vegetable such as yam, radish, arrowhead and cassava). Cut arrowroot into slices, no more than 1-cm thick, removing the “eyes” as you go (if using other root vegetables, cut them as you normally would for braising). Parboil arrowroot slices in a pot of water, partially covered, for 1 hour (skip this step if using other root vegetables).

4. Scald trotter and stewing pork in a pot of boiling water, for 1 to 2 mins, to clear impurities. Remove meats and rinse briefly. Set the meats aside.

5. In a large pot, arrange half of the cabbage leaves to cover the base. Place parboiled arrowroot slices in one layer over cabbage leaves. Arrange scalded trotter and stewing pork on top. Scatter half of the spring onion and ginger pieces over the meats, and place prepared kombu and mushrooms on top. Pour the mushroom-and-kombu soaking liquid into the pot. Add enough chicken stock to just about cover the ingredients. Scatter the remaining spring onion and ginger pieces over. Add seasoning mixture. Cover the lot with remaining cabbage leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. Simmer, with lid slightly open, for 45 mins.

6. Season to taste. Cook for another 10 mins, and turn off the heat. Let pot stand for half a day.

7. When it’s time to serve, arrange the rest of the ingredients, layer by layer, over the braise. Cover the pot and simmer, with lid slightly open, for 10 mins, spooning the gravy over the ingredients occasionally. When the prawns and scallops are cooked, the poon choy is ready. Garnish with lettuce leaves – these symbolise “growth” and “advancement” – so everyone basks in prosperity as they tuck in. W