Among traditional dishes served for Chinese New Year are two Shanghai favorites: the so-called “aromatic 10-veggie medley（十香菜)—which brings back fond memories of my grandma's kitchen—and wine-sauce fish fillets; both of which are my recommendations for a tasty and healthy celebration.
Fish, the best source of protein found by modern science, has long been a must-have on Chinese New Year's Eve all over China because the Chinese word for fish, yu (鱼), sounds the same as the Chinese word for surplus, yu (餘). Eating fish on Chinese New Year's Eve symbolizes having a surplus every year.
For many non-Chinese or American-born Chinese who may not like the traditional Chinese way of serving a whole fish—head and tail included—there are options of fish fillets. To avoid the unhealthy deep-fried version, opt instead for wine-sauce fish fillets (糟溜魚片), available at local Shanghai-style restaurants such as Shanghai Garden and Shanghai Restaurant in Cupertino.
If you feel like cooking the yummy fish dish yourself, it's fairly easy, but you need fragrant wine sauce (香糟滷), available at Marina Food or Ranch 99, and cooking wine.
To start, marinate sliced fish fillets in cooking wine mixed with a teaspoon of salt and raw egg white of two eggs for about 15 minutes. Then stir fry the fish fillets with the wine sauce and cooking oil, but you can skip the oil and cut calories by using a non-stick pan. A Chinese cook may add wood ear (the black stuff you've had in mushu dishes). That's optional, however.
When the fish fillets begin sizzling, throw in a half-cup of minced green onion or small peas, which will work like green garnish.
A superb side dish for the fish is aromatic 10-veggie medley, typically not found at restaurants. It's a regional specialty usually homemade in areas around Shanghai, where the mild climate helps produce thrive. My maternal grandmother came from there, so I had the colorful and flavorful medley for almost every Chinese New Year until she became too frail to make it nearly a decade ago.
The ingredients of the medley may vary, but there must be 10 of them to represent a perfect 10 for the coming year. Most of the vegetables have to be diced, minced or shredded. That made it a lot of work for Grandma. But now I do it in a much easier way by buying pre-cut veggies.
Here's a list of ingredients for my medley:
- Black mushrooms(香菇): Buy a pack of pre-sliced, dried ones from a Chinese market; take a handful of them out of the pack to soak in hot water until they soften and drain before use.
- Bamboo shoots (筍): Look for those already shredded near where tofu is at a Chinese market.
- Carrots: Safeway has them shredded and packed.
- Celeries: Get celery stalks instead of a whole celery to make your dicing job easier.
- Dried day lily bulbs (金針): Pick a pack of dried ones from a Chinese market; take a handful of them out to soak and drain with black mushrooms.
- Dried bean curd (豆腐干): Find a pack of eight brown pieces near boxes of tofu at a Chinese market; take four of them out of the pack to slice as thin as possible.
- Edamame/young soy beans (毛豆): Go for a pack of pre-shelled ones in the freezing section.
- Mung bean sprouts (豆芽): Available in the produce sections of Chinese markets and some Safeway stores.
- Salted green mustard (雪菜): Already minced ones are near where tofu is at Ranch 99.
- Wood ears (木耳): Search for pre-shredded, dried ones and treat them like black mushrooms.
Once you get the ingredients ready, grab a handful or two of each (depending on the size of your pan), and simply stir fry them all together with canola oil. If you want to try the authentic Shanghai flavor, use a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar as my grandma did. It's Shanghai style to often mix a little sweetness into savory dishes. But if you are health conscious, do what I do, sprinkle white pepper (which contains no sodium, no calories) all over it instead.
Since two of the ingredients, the shredded bamboo shoots and green mustard, come in salted form, salt is not really necessary for the medley. Pepper is enough to bring out the flavor of each veggie.
You will see why the medley has “aromatic” in its name when it starts sizzling. Drizzle a little sesame oil over it right before serving to make it smell even more enticing. Bon appetit and happy Chinese New Year!