- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Want to live a long life? Eat a long noodle. Need to improve your marriage? Dine on chicken (even better if served whole). Riches? Luck? Decorate your table with tangerines and oranges. Want abundance in the coming year? Leave leftovers.

Chinese New Year begins Sunday, the Year of the Dog. If you were born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982 or 1996, you’re a dog, along with the improbable pairing of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, David Bowie, Donald Trump and Steven Spielberg are other notable dogs.) Dog characteristics are loyalty, faithfulness, finding fault and worrying. Supposedly they are born old and get younger as they age. Lucky, well, dogs.

There is much symbolism over the usually 15-day New Year celebration. Putting up red decorations, giving red envelopes of money and wearing red are considered good luck.

According to ancient legend, the monster Nian, who would swallow up those who were in his way and terrorize those he had no appetite for, was afraid of red. Similarly, firecrackers are part of the celebration because Nian was afraid of loud noises. So red and loud noises chase away evil.

The house should be cleaned on New Year’s Eve to sweep away any misfortune that has accumulated during the year. Once the new year has dawned, though, there is no sweeping that day to prevent sweeping away any good luck that may arrive during the incoming year. But the foods one eats embody more specific fates than just luck, good or bad.

Slaughtering animals on New Year’s Day is considered bad luck; therefore, vegetarian dishes are favored. That’s why on New Year’s Eve, Chinese families often indulge in a feast that includes meats and often a whole fish, which is a sign of abundance, especially if some is leftover.

Noodles themselves are so wound in tradition that they are literally edible ties to Chinese history. The array of Chinese wheat noodles (mein), popular in northern China where the grain thrives, is somewhat less than that of Italian pasta.

None is shaped like shells, tubes, ears or wagon wheels, but they can be purchased fresh or dried, thin threads dried into tangled nests, narrow or wide strips, thick or thin, round or flat. Because they are similar to Italian pasta, one can substitute spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine to match the size or shape called for in a Chinese recipe. Japanese soba can also serve as a stand-in.

In southern China (and throughout Southeast Asia), rice noodles (sha he fun) are a staple. Sha he fun are sold in similar shapes, fresh or dried, as mein. Both noodle types can be prepared in similar ways, such as stir-frying (chow) with sauces, or used in soup, where they turn into slippery glasslike strands. When deep-fried, rice noodles puff up to make a sensational, light and crispy garnish for any savory dish.

When preparing or eating any of the New Year’s Eve noodle dishes that follow, take care not to break the noodles. They must remain long to assure longevity. But to assure not only a long life, why not eat noodles cooked with ingredients that signify as many good fortunes as one can hope for during the Year of the Dog?

Garnish the noodle salad that follows with long leaves of Romaine lettuce, since lettuce symbolizes prosperity. If you don’t chop the bok choy in chicken and rice noodle soup, it may increase chances for longevity while the chicken could improve a marriage. Peanuts in sesame peanut noodles could bring a precious son or longevity, maybe both.

This subject can’t come to a close without noting the longevity of noodles themselves. Last year — in 2005 — a 4,000-year-old bowl of 20-inch-long noodles made of millet was uncovered in northwestern China. Now those are some lucky leftovers.

Noodle salad

1 pound dried Chinese egg noodles or soba

1/4 cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon chili oil

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 cup sliced scallions, divided

2 carrots, julienned

Romaine leaves

Cook noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside to drain well.

In small bowl, mix soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar and chili oil. In large bowl, toss noodles with sauce to coat well. Marinate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours in refrigerator, tossing occasionally.

Stir in red bell pepper, 2/3 cup scallion and half of carrots.

Let stand at room temperature up to 2 hours, tossing occasionally. To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on serving plate. Mound noodles on top and scatter remaining scallion and carrot over noodles. Makes about 8 servings.

Beef and rice noodle stir-fry

3 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon cornstarch

pound thinly sliced sirloin steak

8 ounces dry wide rice noodles

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons black bean sauce

2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce

red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch cubes

green bell pepper, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 shredded scallion

In bowl, blend wine or sherry with cornstarch until smooth. Add beef slices and toss to coat beef thoroughly. Reconstitute rice noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

Pour oil into wok or large skillet set over high heat. Add ginger root, garlic and beef, and stir-fry for 30 seconds to sear beef. Add black bean sauce, soy sauce to taste and chili sauce and stir-fry for 30 more seconds.

Add red and green bell pepper and stir-fry 1 minute. Add rice noodles and stir-fry gently, taking care not to break up noodles. Add scallion and stir-fry 1 minute longer. Makes about 4 servings.

Chicken and rice noodle soup with bok choy

3 pounds chicken pieces

8 thin slices fresh ginger root

2 garlic cloves

1 bunch scallions, cut into thirds

3/4 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

10 cups water

4 ounces dried rice-stick noodles

pound bok choy, coarsely chopped, about 4 packed cups

cup chopped chives, sliced about -inch long

Soy sauce

With a cleaver or heavy chef’s knife, cut chicken through the bone into 2-inch pieces. In large pot of boiling water, blanch chicken 1 minute. Drain chicken and rinse with cold water.

Meanwhile, with flat side of cleaver or large chef’s knife, smash ginger root, garlic and scallion.

Place in large soup pot and add chicken pieces, wine or sherry, and 10 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 hours, skimming froth occasionally.

Carefully pour broth through strainer. Reserve chicken but discard vegetables. (Broth can be cooled and refrigerated up to 3 days ahead.) Return broth to pot and bring to a boil. Add noodles and boil, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.

Stir in bok choy and reserved chicken (or omit chicken and save for another use). Simmer, stirring several times, until bok choy is deep green and stems are tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in chives and season to taste with soy sauce. Cook 1 minute longer. Makes 8 servings as an appetizer, 4 as an entree.

Note: If chicken has been cooked ahead and chilled, add to broth along with noodles.

Sesame-peanut noodles

8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles or soba

3 tablespoons sesame oil, divided

cup smooth peanut butter

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

4 teaspoons rice vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon chili oil or more

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 scallions, minced

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain. In large bowl, toss noodles with 1 tablespoon sesame oil.

Meanwhile, in blender, combine peanut butter, broth, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger root, sugar, chili oil to taste, and pepper. Process 1 minute. Add sauce and scallion to noodles. Toss to coat. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Ten precious noodles

Make this dish with leftovers and leave some left over.

5 dried Chinese black mushrooms

3 tablespoons peanut oil

2 scallions, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

cup cooked pork strips

cup cooked shrimp

cup ham strips

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups chopped bok choy

cup sliced celery

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups cold cooked Chinese egg noodles

Soak mushrooms in warm water 15 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry. Remove and discard stems. Thinly slice mushrooms. Set aside.

Place wok over high heat. Add peanut oil. Add scallion, garlic and ginger root, and stir-fry just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in pork, shrimp and ham then add eggs. Stir-fry until eggs are nearly set, about 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms, bok choy, celery, soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. Stir-fry 2 minutes longer. Stir in salt. Add cold noodles and toss to combine. Stir-fry 2 minutes longer, gently stirring without breaking noodles.

Makes 4 servings.

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