Chinese New Year has always been my favorite holiday. (Thanksgiving is a close second). When I was growing up, my parents would throw epic annual parties at our house that usually ended in drunken Chinese opera singing and gifts of money in tiny red envelopes. (How I treasured those envelopes!) Sometimes my mom would make dumplings from scratch, and everyone would rave at how delicious they were. She always kept it simple — just pork and minced chives. Our galas became so infamous that when I was in high school, my friends, begging for an invitation, would crash our house in droves of 5 and 10.
Last year, with the help of my friend Yung Chang, I hosted an unbelievable party where we made thousands of dumplings and did karaoke. Okay, the night was really, really, really epic. But this year, for the year of the water dragon, I almost didn’t throw a party. Yung was away on set for his latest film, and Adam was gone on another assignment. No celebration this year, I thought.
Unexpectedly, at the eleventh hour, I got inspired. I emailed a small but solid gang of friends, and bought a few bags of frozen (sorry, Mom) dumplings, some vegetables, and a gorgeous striped sea bass from Marche Oriental, and began to cook. The dinner was slightly more elaborate than defrosted dumplings and cold beer, but still simple, simple, simple. There was Chinese broccoli coated in black vinegar, dan dan noodles provided by Bartek, crispy fried noodles (all those noodles are excellent for longevity), a beautiful cabbage salad made by Katherine, and that tender sea bass, poached for four minutes in salted water and then coated in a luscious, aromatic sauce.
I’m a fan of the impromptu gathering, of the lower expectations and relaxed vibes. As a Libra, I will always love a big, out of control party, but I secretly prefer the chill zone of a small group and simple offerings. You know when you have a really good feeling about a year? I have a great feeling about 2012.
K, my favorite recipe for dumpling dunking sauce:
3 T smooth peanut butter
4-6 T reduced sodium soy sauce, to taste (add a few more shakes if your peanut butter is on the sweet side)
2-4 T rice vinegar (I also like the more intense black vinegar)
2-3 T finely minced ginger
2-3 T finely minced garlic
2-4 t sriracha or red chili paste (or even more if you’re feeling gutsy)
2 t sesame oil
2 t oyster sauce
big handful cilantro, finely chopped another big handful parsley, finely chopped
few stems scallions, chopped
the juice of a lime or lemon
salt and black pepper, to taste
Add all ingredients and stir until smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Let the flavors get to know one another. Use for dumpling dipping and serve with extra dishes of black vinegar and hot sauce.
Happy New Year!!!!!!