This year, Chinese New Year is celebrated on 8 February 2016 to mark the Year of the Monkey. The equivalent Vietnamese celebration is called Tet, one of the most important events in my family’s calendar.
As a child, my mother went to great lengths each year to prepare a feast which could feed our entire neighbourhood. The menu always featured a sticky rice cake filled with mung beans and pork, a turnip cake, endless platters of spring rolls (egg rolls), roast pork with gorgeously seasoned crackling – all served with fresh vermicelli noodles, picked carrots and daikon, and an abundance of fresh salad and herbs. There was always a soup on the menu, too; often a light chicken broth with bamboo shoots. Each dish had a significance and the ingredients were always carefully chosen to welcome luck and prosperity into the family.
Now that I have a little family of my own, I am excited about introducing new traditions to them so that they may honour their heritage, even if my version of Chinese New Year or Tet might be a bit unconventional.
I make a Vietnamese chicken soup throughout the year, so to do something a bit different for Chinese New Year this year, I’m making a Chinese-style hot and sour chicken soup, which includes bamboo shoots to symbolise wealth. You might recognise this soup from many Chinese restaurants – there is something addictive about the tangle of hot, sour and spicy notes in this soup, and I find it to be a nourishing and comforting soup no matter the time of the year.
You could add whatever vegetables you like to the broth, although I like to keep it simple by using a mixture of mushrooms – the type and how many depends on what I can find at the markets. You could even make a vegetarian version of this soup by using vegetable stock and adding cubes of silken tofu towards the end of cooking.
If you are serving this soup to children, I would suggest leaving the chillies out and to, instead, serve some freshly chopped chillies on the side for the adults.
I would suggest using the recipe below merely as a blueprint as you will find that it can accommodate a lot of variation here and there.
What are your plans for Chinese New Year this year?
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 small chicken breast fillets (about 200-300g (7-10oz) total weight)
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 2-3 red chillies (or to taste), finely chopped
- 100g (3.5oz) fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 100g (3.5oz) oyster mushrooms, sliced
- 1.5Lt (6 cups) chicken stock
- 4 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4-6 tablespoons rice vinegar (or to taste)
- 200g (7oz) tinned & sliced bamboo shoots
- 3-4 tablespoons cornflour
- spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
- coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- In a large saucepan which will take all of the ingredients later, heat the oil and cook the chicken breast fillets until cooked and lightly golden on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and leave to rest on a plate.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the ginger, garlic and chillies. Stir-fry for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for a few minutes until they have softened.
- Add the chicken stock, Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil and then let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, shred the chicken breast fillets and add them to the soup, along with the sliced bamboo shoots.
- Mix the cornflour with some cold water to make a slurry. Slowly add this to the soup while stirring the soup at the same time to avoid lumps in the soup. The soup should have a slightly thickened consistency. Keep adding more cornflour mixture to the soup until you have the desired thickness; if your soup is too thick, simply thin it with some boiling water from a kettle.
- Taste the soup for seasoning. You may wish to add some more soy sauce and/or rice vinegar.
- Serve with a generous sprinkle of spring onions and coriander.
As mentioned above, you can add whatever vegetables you like to this soup. Some suggestions include finely shredded Chinese cabbage, sliced green beans, or diced capsicums (peppers).
For a vegetarian version, simply replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock.
For a more substantial soup, beat 1 egg in a small bowl. While the soup is simmering, slowly pour in the beaten egg, but make sure you stir the soup quickly so that the egg forms thin ribbons in the soup.
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If you have used this recipe, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using #eatlittlebird