Meatless Monday: Chinese New Year Edition

Although it’s a short month, February is full of holidays. The way the calendar falls this year, many of them seem packed together more closely than usual. I’m already behind on reporting about my celebration efforts to date. However, I’ll begin with yesterday’s Meatless Monday meal in honor of the Lunar New Year, usually called Chinese New Year in the US although there are many other Asian countries that celebrate it as well.

Whatever you call it, I’m ready to move on from the Year of the Rat to the Year of the Ox. An Ox is not the most exciting animal to me, but it’s got to be better than what 2020 served up, right?

We actually started 10 days prior to the official Lunar New Year itself, which is a day known as the Kitchen God Festival. An old myth in China, along with some other Asian countries, is that there is a Kitchen God that observes the household all year and records everything everyone says. Then, 10 days before New Years, the Kitchen God reports the year’s results to the Jade Emperor, the chief deity in Taoism. Depending on how well the household has behaved, their luck in the next year is supposed to be increased or diminished. Each family has a paper image of the Kitchen God in their kitchen, which they burn as part of that Festival day and replace with a new, clean version. They then spend the next week and half cleaning the house, both to start with a fresh environment but also to release any ghosts or bad spirits that have gotten stuck in the physical world when they were supposed to have gone onto the spiritual world.

I really like that whole idea. Our New Year celebration is too wrapped up with the entire holiday season for me. While I enjoy traditions such as a New Year’s Eve burning bowl and a New Year’s Day vision board, I’m usually too wrapped up in things to really assess the past year. By February, life has calmed down and I’m better able to claim the good from the previous year and release the things that don’t serve me.

So, besides some meditation and such, I made a spicy Asian chicken noodle soup for our own little Kitchen God Festival.

The Lunar New Year this year takes place on Friday, February. I plan to make a traditional Chinese New Year’s noodle dish that night. However, I thought I would use Meatless Monday this week to try one of my attempts to make a favorite Chinese dish into a meatless variation with my version of General Tso’s Cauliflower.

I’ve tried making it before, but I didn’t think it was that good. So this week, I gave it another shot. You can see the results below:

First, I cut the cauliflower into bite-size pieces, coated them in a batter of milk and flour, and baked them in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes. At the same time, I cooked some of the blackish/purple “Forbidden Rice” (so-called because only the Emperor or court were supposed to eat it because it is so much healthier than even brown rice) in the Instant Pot. It’s not traditional, but I also cut up and stir-fried some bell peppers and onion chunks. Finally, I kind made up my own recipe for a sauce, based on adapting several different recipes I found on the Internet but customizing it to our family’s taste, which likes it spicier and less sweet. Mix it all together and voila–you can see the results above.

This was much more successful than my previous attempt. The battered cauliflower is the weakest link. Of course, the ones you get in the restaurants are fried, but I just don’t fry anything. So the batter was serviceable, but not that great. Still, the cauliflower was done well, with the batter providing at least some crunch against the soft texture of the vegetable. I liked the ratio of cauliflower to other vegetables, and the rice turned out well (I think that’s the first time I tried cooking Forbidden Rice in the Instant Pot, so YAY).

But best of all was the sauce. It was much better than the one I made in my previous attempt, when I actually followed someone else’s recipe. So score one more win for the Pirate approach to cooking (see here if you aren’t familiar with that).

So even if it wasn’t a total win, it was definitely an improvement. We liked it. And we liked kicking off the actual week of Lunar New Year with a meatless entrée.

Happy Lunar New Year to everyone, and may the Year of the Ox be a good one for you. What are you going to eat to celebrate the occasion?

PS–My son, who was a DJ at his college radio station when he was actually able to go to college, has figured out how to broadcast a radio show from our home. This Friday, from 8-10 PM Eastern Time, he will be sharing a wide variety of Asian music for the holiday. So if you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany your Lunar New Year supper, you can check out his program at the link below from his announcement:

This very Friday, the 12th of February, is the official cumulation of the week-and-a-half of vacuous revelry that strikes the entire Sinosphere this time of year— Indeed, ’tis LUNAR NEW YEAR this Friday, and the Bootleg Blackout is ALL ABOUT IT! Tune in for a chaotic romp of musical festivities ancient and modern from every corner of East Asia I could possibly care to go, including hits from Japan, N. Korea, S. Korea, Taiwan, PRC, Vietnam, Laos, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, and anywhere else I feel like throwing in! If ye crave a diverse and unpredictable mix to celebrate the turning of the Lunar Calendar and the incoming Year of the Ox, listen at this Friday from 8-10 PM EST and enjoy your myriad lunar festivities meanwhile. 

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