The Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is celebrated, much like our own traditional celebrations, in unique regional ways. One tradition, common to all regions, is to eat no meat on the first day of the year. Many regions observe that ritual with this hearty bowl of vegetarian soup, brimming with foods that are thought to bring fertility, prosperity, and luck, throughout the year.
As you've seen by following the links above, they can have quite an extensive list of ingredients, of which many of are exotic and difficult to find in our small-town supermarket. If you have the luxury of living close to an Asian market, you will find most of those ingredients on the shelves, albeit a bit difficult to spot if your Chinese is rusty.
We've given a nod to the tradition, keeping all of the vegetarian health benefits, but trimming the ingredient list to include a few of the more common ingredients, and less of those more difficult to find. We haven't sacrificed the fresh flavors one little bit.
From top left, clockwise, we've included chinese celery, rice noodles, star anise, green peppercorns, snow peas, watercress, carrot, scallions, and dried mushrooms (these are black mushrooms, or more commonly, here, shitakes).
Begin with a hearty stock. While chicken, seafood, or even pho stock would all work beautifully, we used a vegetable stock in keeping with vegetarian/vegan principles. We simmered the stock with the star anise, green peppercorns, (you could substitute black peppercorns, but be sure to remove them prior to ladling over ingredients) and a pinch of grated ginger (not shown). Prepare no less than one cup per serving.
Meanwhile, we minced 2-3 stalks of chinese celery, leaves and all. (You could substitute one large stalk of traditional celery, including the leaves). We sliced a handful of snow peas lengthwise, trimmed about a handful of watercress, leaving most of the stems behind, shaved curls from one medium carrot, sliced mostly the white part of 2 scallions on the diagonal, and reconstituted a handful of dried mushrooms for 30 minutes, drained, and squeezed the moisture from them, and trimmed a few of the larger ones into bite-sized pieces. Toss the rice noodles in a bowl of warm water, according to package directions.
Ingredient Notes: Feel free to add or subtract from the vegetables above, to your own liking, or for that which is more commonly available. Refer to the links above for more ideas. Don't be intimidated by all those odd sounding ingredients and sauces. Follow the links to find what they look like, where you can find them, or what you might substitute for similar results. Don't be shy about picking up a few new things to try, most of the sauces stay fresh in the fridge for ages, and the veggies are great alone, in a salad, as a snack, or in a soup all by themselves. Live a little! Eat outside the box!
After stock has simmered for 30 minutes, remove the star anise, and the peppercorns if using black, or if the green ones may be too peppery for your taste (I leave them in!), and bring to a rolling boil. Place all of the vegetables in a colander or strainer and set atop the boiling pot of stock, to steam for no more than 5 minutes. I like about 3 minutes, to keep the veggies crisp.
In individual bowls, divide rice noodles and vegetables, and ladle hot stock over all. Serve with condiments such as soy or tamari sauce, sriracha sauce, or as shown, a sauce of hot chili oil and Ponzu, for those with a hankering for all things spicy.
I got those fancy chopsticks for Christmas, cause Santa knows what I like, and I love eating with them! I eat all of my noodles and veggies with them, then drink the broth straight out of the bowl. And then I feel healthy, and lucky, and prosperous, and ready for the New Year! And you will, too!
And for more about the celebrations across the world, this neat little treat from the New York Times. Click on the link below:
Across China and around the world, people are celebrating the Lunar New Year and the advent of the Year of the Dragon. Five filmmakers captured the spirit and sparkle of the celebrations in Beijing.