Sticky Rice with Chicken, Mushrooms and Chinese Sausage, made from a family recipe from Jennifer McCormick, is one of the dishes that’s perfect for a Lunar New Year’s celebration. STYLING BY JENNIFER MCCORMICK / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

A Lunar New Year’s feast: Celebrate important Asian holiday with these 6 dishes

Chances are good you have a list of traditional foods required to usher in the new year on Jan. 1. Hoppin’ John or black-eyed peas for luck? Greens and cornbread to bring in the money?

If your family traces its roots back to Asia, you’re getting ready to celebrate the start of a different new year, the Chinese or Lunar New Year, which begins Jan. 25.

The holiday is a time for feasting with family and friends with everything prepared in enough quantity to promise plenty of leftovers, an assurance of continuing prosperity.

Sho You, co-owner of Buckhead’s Urban Wu restaurant, has been in the States since his family immigrated here from Liaoning in northeast China 18 years ago. They landed in Atlanta, where You graduated from Cross Keys High School. He’s always worked in the restaurant business, including several years spent working with Peter Chang of Tasty China. Now he and executive chef Xue Guo Wu have opened their own place.

You’s family Lunar New Year’s celebration will be a large party, with lots of food served family-style. “We will have many dishes and especially seafood, including crab and lobster. There will be fish and also frog.” All food is prepared by his parents. The number of dishes is important. Three is OK, but six, eight or nine dishes are best.

Sho You (left) and executive chef Xue Guo Wu, co-owners of Urban Wu, are shown in front of inspirational words written on the wall of their Buckhead restaurant. They offer recipes for celebrating the Lunar New Year. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

For our story, You and co-owner and Urban Wu executive chef Xue Guo Wu shared three recipes that are all on the menu at Urban Wu and easy enough to execute at home. The restaurant will offer special Lunar New Year’s dishes as well.

Home cook Jennifer McCormick is a first-generation American, born to parents who came to the States from Taiwan. The family arrived in Lyons, Georgia, sponsored by McCormick’s aunt and her American-born husband. “Our family is from Taipei, a very metropolitan area. My mother tells me that when they flew to this country, they started out in Seattle. She thought that was a promising place to be. Then they drove down the West Coast. All fine. And then flew to Atlanta. Also good. But when they got in a car for three hours and arrived at her sister’s farm in Lyons, she cried out, ‘Where have you taken me?’ and she didn’t want to get out.”

The family settled in and ultimately opened New China restaurant in Swainsboro, where they have been serving Chinese food to their customers for almost 30 years.

McCormick remembers gathering for the Lunar New Year as a child as pure fun. “We didn’t have to help with the cooking because my mom always kicked us out of the kitchen, and we’d get little lucky red envelopes with cash called hongbao. Now I help cook, and I give red envelopes to my cousins and nephews who are younger than me and to my parents. The older generation raised us and provided everything. Now we turn around and do the same.”

For our story, McCormick worked with her mother to adapt family recipes for fish, dumplings and sticky rice. “These are her recipes, modified for a smaller crowd, convenience and ingredient availability.”

Jennifer McCormick, whose parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan, shares some recipes for celebrating the Lunar New Year: Fish Fillet with Soy-Ginger Sauce (front), Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiaozi) (left rear) and Sticky Rice with Chicken, Mushrooms and Chinese Sausage (large bowl on right and two smaller bowls left). STYLING BY JENNIFER MCCORMICK / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

The Lunar New Year is the biggest annual holiday in Asia with celebrations generally lasting two weeks. “In New York and San Francisco, you will find big parades and fireworks. But here it is more low-key, a chance to be around family. My mom prepares a giant meal. She does not know how to cook in moderation,” said McCormick, laughing. “If there are 10 people coming, she will cook for 30. It’s insane how much she can cook in one sitting and in just a few hours.”

The meal will always include a whole fish since that symbolizes prosperity for the new year, as well as beef, duck and much more, all served family-style. “I love to cook, but in my mom’s eyes, I am still 5 years old. She just lets me chop.”

RECIPES

There are many great places to enjoy a Lunar New Year’s meal in metro Atlanta’s Chinese restaurant community, but why not try a few of these dishes at home? Home cook Jennifer McCormick says she gets everything she needs in one place by going to H Mart or the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiaozi), made from a family recipe from Jennifer McCormick, probably won’t last long at your Lunar New Year’s gathering, but if you fear you’re making too many, you can freeze some of the uncooked ones for later. STYLING BY JENNIFER MCCORMICK / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiaozi)

McCormick says these dumplings can also be made with ground chicken thigh or ground beef that’s at least 80/20. You will usually find the dumpling wrappers sold frozen.

You can boil your dumplings, but if you’re at all worried about how well you’ve sealed your dumplings, steaming or pan frying is the way to go. We’ve provided directions for pan frying.

It seems as if the recipe makes a lot, but 70 dumplings will disappear before you know it.

You can also prepare the dumplings and freeze what you don’t need right away. To freeze, arrange the formed dumplings on a baking sheet and wrap well, then freeze. Once frozen, remove them to a freezer container or bag and keep them up to two months before cooking. No need to thaw before steaming.

McCormick often uses low-sodium soy sauce, but when she has it on hand, she uses the soy sauce her father makes for his Swainsboro restaurant.

Recipe: Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiaozi)
  • 3 cups thinly shredded or chopped green cabbage (about 1 pound)
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/3 cup water plus 2 tablespoons water, divided, plus more for cooking dumplings
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1 (1-pound) package Hong Kong-style dumpling wrappers, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil for browning dumplings
  • Dumpling Sauce (see recipe)
  • Chile oil, sliced green onions, sesame seeds, for garnish
  • Make filling: In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, wine, 1/3 cup water, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt and white pepper. Stir together until well combined. Add ground pork and stir together until well mixed. You may find your hands are the best tool for this. Set aside.
  • When ready to make dumplings, in a small bowl, stir together remaining 2 tablespoons water and flour. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Working with 1 dumpling wrapper at a time, dampen the edges of each circle with flour mixture. Put a little less than a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper. Fold the circle in half and pinch the wrapper together at the top. Then make 2 folds on each side, until the dumpling looks like a fan. Make sure it’s completely sealed. Arrange finished dumplings standing up on their bottoms on prepared baking sheet, making sure dumplings do not touch each other. Repeat until all filling has been used.
  • To cook the dumplings, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to lightly film bottom of skillet and swirl to coat bottom of skillet. Add dumplings, bottom side down. Do not crowd skillet. Dumplings should not touch. Add 1/4 cup water and cover skillet. Cook dumplings 3 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until all water evaporates and bottoms of dumplings are browned and crispy. Remove to a serving dish. Continue with remaining dumplings, adding more oil if needed and 1/4 cup water with each batch. Serve with Dumpling Sauce and garnish with chile oil, sliced green onion and/or sesame seeds if desired. Makes 70 dumplings.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per dumpling: 38 calories (percent of calories from fat, 47), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 2 milligrams cholesterol, 108 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Jennifer McCormick.

Recipe: Dumpling Sauce
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • While dumplings are cooking, make sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, water, vinegar, garlic and toasted sesame oil. Taste for seasoning. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 6 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 386 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Jennifer McCormick.

Sticky Rice with Chicken, Mushrooms and Chinese Sausage, made from a family recipe from Jennifer McCormick, takes some planning but will come together quickly. STYLING BY JENNIFER MCCORMICK / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

Sticky Rice with Chicken, Mushrooms and Chinese Sausage

This dish requires a little preplanning as the rice must soak for a few hours, the dried mushrooms need to hydrate and the chicken needs to marinate. But once that’s done, it goes together quickly and then cooks unattended while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Short-grain sticky rice is often labeled “sweet” rice and indeed the finished dish is so sticky you could probably eat it with your fingers. Those of us who are chopstick-challenged will find this dish matches our skills.

Chinese sausages are generally made from pork that is salted, marinated and smoked. They are shelf-stable and should be refrigerated after opening. Whole steamed chestnuts can be found with Asian canned vegetables.

Recipe: Sticky Rice with Chicken, Mushrooms and Chinese Sausage
  • 3 cups short-grain sticky rice
  • 1 1/2 cups Chinese dried black mushrooms or dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine, divided
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces Chinese sausage, sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup peeled cooked whole chestnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup sliced fresh shiitakes
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • Thinly sliced green onions, dried shrimp and fried shallots, for garnish
  • Place rice in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover rice by 1 inch. Soak for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
  • Place mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with warm water. Let rest 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from water and squeeze their liquid back into the bowl. Cut mushrooms in half lengthwise and set aside. Save 1/2 cup mushroom soaking water.
  • In a medium bowl, combine chicken with 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons wine and garlic. Toss to coat chicken, then cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • When ready to cook, drain rice and rinse well under cold running water.
  • Heat wok over high heat until just smoking. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and swirl in wok to coat surface. Add ginger and shallots and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add sausage and stir-fry 1 minute. Add reserved mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute. Add chestnuts and stir-fry 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1/3 cup wine, remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and white pepper. Remove wok from heat. Add drained rice and stir to coat rice with mixture. Stir in shiitakes. Transfer mixture to a large Dutch oven. Add broth and 1/2 cup reserved mushroom water. The liquid will not completely cover rice. Bring mixture to a simmer, then cover and cook 25 minutes.
  • While rice is cooking, in cleaned wok, heat remaining tablespoon peanut oil until it shimmers. Drain chicken, discard marinade, and stir-fry until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  • When rice has cooked 25 minutes, remove Dutch oven from heat, uncover and add cooked chicken, discarding any liquid that may have accumulated while the chicken was sitting. Stir rice from bottom to evenly distribute ingredients. Cover pot and allow to rest 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with green onions, dried shrimp and fried shallots, if desired. Serves 10.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 477 calories (percent of calories from fat, 23), 15 grams protein, 79 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 13 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 22 milligrams cholesterol, 996 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Jennifer McCormick.

Jennifer McCormick adapted this recipe for Fish Fillet with Soy-Ginger Sauce for the Lunar New Year from one of her mother’s recipes. Traditionally the dish is made with a whole fish, which symbolizes prosperity for the new year, but McCormick created a more accessible version. STYLING BY JENNIFER MCCORMICK / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

Fish Fillet with Soy-Ginger Sauce

While whole fish is traditionally served for the new year, McCormick adapted her mother’s recipe to work with fish fillets.

Recipe: Fish Fillet with Soy-Ginger Sauce
  • 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 fillets white meaty fish like Chilean sea bass
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil for sauteing
  • 3 green onions, cut into slivers
  • Make marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, water, sugar, ginger, garlic and sesame oil.
  • Arrange fillets in a single layer in a glass baking dish and pour marinade over fillets. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
  • When ready to cook, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove fillets from marinade and save marinade. Arrange fillets in hot oil in a single layer. If necessary, cook in batches. Saute fish until golden, shaking pan gently to help keep fillets from sticking, about 3 minutes. Turn carefully and saute second side until golden, about 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons reserved marinade to skillet and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid thickens and makes a syruplike coating for the fish. Carefully remove fillets to serving platter. Repeat if necessary. Discard any remaining marinade. Garnish fish with green onions. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 276 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 25 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 16 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 618 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by Jennifer McCormick.

Peanut Salad with Black Vinegar, from a recipe by executive chef Xue Guo Wu, is an appetizer at Urban Wu in Buckhead but can be part of your Lunar New Year’s feast. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

Peanut Salad with Black Vinegar

At Urban Wu, this dish is offered as an appetizer. The combination of sweet and tart with onion and jalapeno will keep you and your guests reaching for just a few more.

Recipe: Peanut Salad with Black Vinegar
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1/2 pound skin-on raw peanuts
  • 4 tablespoons black vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno
  • In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat. Add peanuts and fry, tossing while they cook until the skin darkens and the flesh turns light brown. This can take as little as 4 minutes and up to 10 minutes. Keep tossing and do not leave unattended as the peanuts go from just right to burned very quickly. Remove peanuts from oil and drain on paper towels. Remove most of the oil from wok, leaving just enough to cover the bottom. Return peanuts to wok, add vinegar, sugar, oyster sauce, garlic, onion and jalapeno and toss to combine. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Makes 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/4 cup: 239 calories (percent of calories from fat, 74), 8 grams protein, 8 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 21 grams fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by executive chef Xue Guo Wu of Urban Wu.

Sichuan Style Stir-Fried String Beans

Sichuan Ya Cai, a condiment of lightly fermented mustard greens, is a specialty ingredient from Sichuan. It’s salty and spicy and essential if you want to re-create the traditional flavor of this dish. That said, these beans are delicious without it.

This dish makes a great vegan entree.

Recipe: Sichuan Style Stir-Fried String Beans
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan Ya Cai
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • Salt
  • In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over high heat. Add beans and keep tossing until they are withered, from 3 to 5 minutes. Drain beans and put into a large bowl. Remove most of oil from wok, leaving just a tablespoon. Add soy sauce, garlic, Sichuan Ya Cai and ginger and stir-fry 1 minute. Return green beans to wok and toss together. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed. Makes 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/4 cup: 83 calories (percent of calories from fat, 76), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by executive chef Xue Guo Wu of Urban Wu.

Candied Sweet Potato (Ba Si Di Gua), from a recipe by executive chef Xue Guo Wu of Buckhead restaurant Urban Wu, can serve as a dessert for a Lunar New Year’s celebration. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: Chris Hunt Photography

Candied Sweet Potato (Ba Si Di Gua)

Properly made, the sweet coating on the sweet potatoes in this dessert will release thin strings of caramel as the chunks are lifted from the plate.

Recipe: Candied Sweet Potato (Ba Si Di Gua)
  • 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon oil
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish
  • Put sweet potatoes in a steamer and cook until tender, about 10 minutes, depending on size of dice. Remove from steamer.
  • In a wok, heat sugar, water and oil over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and begins to turn light brown. Add sweet potatoes and toss with syrup until all surfaces are covered. Move sweet potatoes and any remaining syrup to a serving plate. Serve before syrup completely cools. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/2 cup: 245 calories (percent of calories from fat, 6), 1 gram protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium.

— Adapted from a recipe provided by executive chef Xue Guo Wu of Urban Wu.

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