When it comes to Chinese astrological signs, I suck. While I know my own – I straddle the curious monkey and preening rooster who cooks well, I don’t take it all that seriously. Some people are dialing it in for the upcoming Year of the Black (or Water) Snake, which starts on February 10. By some accounts, it will be one of instability and extremities but will generate overall peace and prosperity. I feel like that is my life in the main.
Through web searches, I found out that snakes are sexy, lucky, and wise, albeit inclined to a certain measure of laziness. Famous snakes include Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassi, and Brooke Shields. Snakes gets along well with roosters, oxes, horses, sheep, and dogs. If you’re a rat, tiger, rabbit, or dragon, you’ll be an okay friend of a snake. Monkeys and snakes tend to create too much drama. I’m kinda covered during 2013, I suppose.
This stuff is lots of yin-yang, good and bad, lighthearted fun. I read Chinese astrological signs like I read my daily horoscopes. Their ambiguity offers constant life lessons. If they were spot on, I’d head to Vegas during my “four-star” days.
That said, it’s always good to start a new year with a positive outlook. I make my plans for Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) around the 3 C’s: cleaning, cooking, and celebrating. Since I am usually not with my family, I invite close friends over for a feast. More often than not, there are dumplings on the menu. I occasionally make an entire menu of dumplings and invite friends over to help out.
If you want to throw a “Lucky Dumpling Party,” here are some pointers:
When to have the party? Any time starting the weekend of February 10! You have the entire month to celebrate!
Which Asian dumplings to serve? What you enjoy making and eating. If you want to focus on lucky ones, check out these dumplings.
Have kids at the party? Get them working with making wontons. Or, let them color Year of the Snake pages for decor. I like this simple one as well as this crazier version with Chinese characters; the links take you to a downloable .pdf from a UK site.
How many dumplings on your menu? It depends on the number of people you have and your kitchen capacity. Make 2, 3 or 5 – skip the number 4 because it’s a bad luck number. Consider these factors in making up your menu:
- Vary your cooking methods. Boil, pan-fry, bake, steam and/or deep-fry to offer a diverse menu and use your stove efficiently. Read recipes carefully to see what you can make in advance and reheat.
- Make a dumpling but cook it 2 ways. Depending on the number of guests you have, make a single or double batch of the pork and napa cabbage dumplings (Asian Dumplings, page 31). They are the classic Chinese New Year dumpling. Poach/boil half of them, pan-fry the other half into pot-stickers. It's great to compare and contrast the textural differences that you get from the two cooking methods. There are vegetarian dumpling recipes in the book that’ll work that way too. Or, try the roasted kabocha and vegetable dumpling recipe I recently wrote about. Don’t forget gluten-free dumplings, if your guests are sensitive.
- Know your steamer tray limits. Don’t overcrowd your steamer trays by making too much and cooking them up all at once. To save time and minimize stress, make 1 or 2 steamed dumplings, not 3. You’ve smartly selected dumplings that can be steamed off in advance and then gently resteamed to refresh.
- If you’re deep-frying, use a thermometer. Deep-fried Asian dumplings are spectacularly good, showy morsels. The Cantonese classics are the spring roll and taro puff. The former is easier than the latter. If you’re starting out, make spring rolls. Work up to the puff and do practice run first. Use a thermometer so you stay on your game. When you’re deft in deep-frying dumplings, make both.
- Don’t forget dipping sauces! Make them in advance and set them out at the table.
Lucky dumpling pot luck: If your friends are game, have them make dumplings and bring them to your house! Or, have each person or couple be in charge of prepping a dumpling (dough, filling, and dipping sauce). They come to your place and everyone makes dumplings, cooks and eat. More tips for an Asian dumpling potluck are here.
Lunar New Year decor: I love the tacky, gold stuff that marks this holiday. Head to Cost Plus or a Chinese or Vietnamese market. You’ll see red envelopes, lanterns, all kinds of crazy paper decorations. A party store may be a good source too. I recycle my decor, putting them out around now.
Finally, have fun. Things can go awry but everyone will have a good time. Guests will be deeply grateful for your generous hospitality. They’ll feel super lucky.
If you have the Asian Dumplings cookbook, mine it for recipes and ideas. Also do a search and/or check the recipe indices for Viet World Kitchen, Asian Dumpling Tips and Asian Tofu, depending on your interest. A short list:
- Lucky Asian Dumplings for New Year – pick your dumplings!
- How to throw a dumpling party (and not work hard)
- Giant fried jiaozi meat dumpling recipe
- Roasted Kabocha and Vegetable Dumpling recipe
- Crunchy shrimp balls (aka Chef’s Special Balls)
- Chinese Daikon Radish Cakes (Luo Bo Gao)
- Sugar Egg Puffs (Bai Tang Sha Weng)
- Watermelon Radish and Cucumber Salad
- Chilled Cucumber with Garlic
- Silver Pin Noodles with Chicken, Bean Sprouts, and Scallion
- Pork belly buns Japanese style or Chairman Mao style
Feel free to share Asian dumpling ideas and tips for entertaining.