That’s a wrap: Snake-inspired ideas for Chinese New Year
Beef and glass noodle lettuce wraps, a dish inspired by the Chinese Lunar New Year. | Photo by Melissa Elsmo
Year of the Snake-Inspired Pork
and Glass Noodle Lettuce Wraps
Feel free to swap ground turkey, chicken or beef for the pork in this dish.
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime
4 ounces medium rice stick noodles (Vietnamese Banh Pho or Chinese Lai Fen)*
1 pound of ground pork
¾ cup of red pepper, diced (about 1 small pepper)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, plus extra for drizzling
2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 teaspoons sesame oil
1 small head Boston or butter lettuce, leaves separated
¼ cup of chopped cashews
Sliced serrano chilies and scallions for garnish
Combine the sliced red onion with the lime juice in a small non-reactive bowl and set aside.
Cover the rice stick noodles with boiling water and allow to sit until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes). Rinse with cold water and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot and add the ground pork and the red pepper. Season with salt and cook, stirring frequently until meat is well browned and nearly cooked through. Add the minced serrano, ginger and garlic to the pan and mix well. Continue cooking until meat is cooked through and very fragrant. Add the 2 tablespoons of hoisin, soy sauce and brown sugar to the pan and mix well to combine. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil.
Place a large lettuce leaf or two in each of four bowls. Divide the rice stick noodles and place on top of the lettuce leaves. Top noodles with a generous portion of the meat mixture and drizzle with a little extra hoisin sauce. Garnish with chopped cashews, a few lime-soaked red onions, serrano slices and sliced scallions. Wrap the lettuce around the filling and eat with your hands.
*Look for medium rice stick noodles at Chinatown markets or at finer grocery stores. More readily available mai fun noodles may be substituted in this recipe.
Updated: February 3, 2013 12:35PM
According to ancient Chinese folklore, a mountain monster called Nian would descend into calm communities to destroy homes, consume livestock, and kill terrified villagers.
Despite efforts to thwart the evil Nian, the weak villagers could not stop the vicious beast’s ongoing attacks. The Jade Emperor took sympathy on the frightened people and banished Nian to the mountains; he was only allowed to return on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar New Year. Any village that did not properly prepare and hide away from Nian on these days would incur the wrath of the banished beast.
The resourceful villagers would paint their houses red, shoot off loud fireworks, burn raging fires and clang cymbals to frighten the hungry monster and keep him at bay. Their annual defensive efforts were successful and eventually the Nian never returned to the victorious villages again. As a result of this fable, Chinese New Year is a 15-day, family-centric celebration filled with riotous parades, symbolism, food traditions and celebratory gift giving.
The lunar New Year is fast approaching — the year of the dragon comes to an end Feb. 10 and the year of the water snake begins. Age-old Chinese wisdom dictates that finding a snake in the house brings good fortune and prosperity to a family, but the thought of a scaly squatter lurking in the living room would leave most folks shaking in their boots. Thankfully, more timid Chinese New Year revelers can leave pine branches out in their home to symbolize snakes and welcome similar good luck into their homes.
If you happen to be disinclined to leave snakes or sticks throughout your house, why not try to serve an array of symbolic foods to entice prosperity and longevity to visit? The year of the snake promises to bring steady progress at a predictable pace, but that doesn’t mean we can’t welcome a little excitement on our dinner plates.
Usher in the New Year by wearing dark snake-like colors and wrapping up some slithering rice noodles and savory pork in delicate lettuce cups. Uncut noodles represent longevity, pork suggests strength and cashews symbolize gold bars. A trifecta of flavor and meaning make this festive and symbolic dish perfect for welcoming the year of the snake at your family table.