Most of us don’t have days to spend in the kitchen exploring the nuances of Chinese cuisine let alone tackling the complex, traditional New Year’s dishes, some of which take days to soak, cure or braise. Even the most devout purchase their lo bak gao and nian gao at the Asian grocers and almost all would draw the most fearful blank when asked what ingredients were in them. Don’t worry, not many people actually know.
What a shame to let any of these hurdles refrain us from the only real reason to gather, to celebrate of course. So, for us with busy lives but would love to pull off a Lunar New Year’s bash without a bead of sweat on the brow, might I suggest some tips to make it easy.
The first mistake of entertaining is believing that you need to do it all yourself — and that you need to create an extravagant, seven-course meal. Get your friends involved in the fun and make it a dumpling-making party instead.
Host a Dumpling-Making Party in Four Steps
1. The Main Event
– Supply enough aprons and hand towels
– Prepare or buy the dough/wrappers beforehand
– Prepare the filling in advance (see recipes here)
– Have a few stations set up, each with a bowl of filling and utensils so your guests can gather and participate.
– Have sheet trays ready to hold the dumplings until you’re ready to cook
– Once all the dumplings are ready, boil a pot of water, clean off the table and enjoy the fruits of your collective labour
2. Side Dishes
Instead of spending hours preparing a multitude of sides, visit your local Asian grocer to purchase prepared dishes. Pick a few crowd-pleasers and supplement with Asian pickles and sautéed Chinese broccoli in garlic and soy.
Nian gao is one of the most traditional New Year’s sweets and can be purchased at any Asian grocer. The traditional method of serving is to dip in egg and pan-fry. To add a bit of texture and crunch, top with some candied walnuts. Serve this with segments of mandarin and a dark Puer tea.
Keep the décor fun and festive with lots of reds and golds. Little housewares stores in Chinatown will usually have a variety of nostalgic decals. Traditional snacks like oranges, kumquats, lucky candy and watermelon seeds can be placed in large bowls for everyone to pick at.
Jackie Kai Ellis is the owner and baker of Beaucoup Bakery, CEO/co-founder of The Paris Tours, JKE, Bespoken, Recette and The Invisible Thread. To Learn more about her, follow her on Twitter @JackieKaiEllis.