Celebrate the Year of the Monkey

All over the world, celebrations will begin Monday, February 8 for the Chinese Year of the Monkey. The 16-day holiday features symbols of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity, ending at the Lantern Festival – the first full moon of the New Year, also known as Spring Festival.

New Year’s Eve Dinner, or Reunion Dinner, is the most important meal of the year, a time when Chinese families come together to celebrate. The menu includes whole fish and chicken, greens, spring rolls, dumplings, long noodles, sweet rice cakes, tangerines and oranges, each bringing a symbolic meaning to the table.

Gary: In the not-too-distant past, pairing Chinese cuisine with a beverage meant tea, beer or Gewürztraminer. While these choices can be quite pleasant, there are a number of wines that truly complement Chinese dishes. Some of the food ingredient challenges to wine are heat, salt, sweetness and vinegar. Take these into consideration and choose a wine that will stand up to these components, or soften their impact.

Baked Spring Rolls with Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce

Traditionally enjoyed during the Spring Festival, hence the name, spring rolls resemble bars of gold, symbolizing wealth in the New Year. Add mushrooms, bean sprouts and minced ginger to the filling if you’d like. Stir-fry with the cabbage mixture.

1/2 lb ground pork
2 TBS canola oil, divided
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 carrot, shredded
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 TBS chicken stock
1 TBS oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 TBS cornstarch
1 TBS water
12 spring roll wrappers
4 tsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a skillet or wok, cook pork in 1 TBS oil over medium heat until browned. Remove from heat and drain. In a small bowl, combine chicken stock, oyster sauce and sugar. Set aside.

Wipe out skillet and add remaining oil. Stir-fry cabbage, carrot and scallions until softened. Push vegetables to the sides of the skillet; add reserved sauce to the middle of skillet and bring to a boil. Add the pork and mix through. Drizzle with sesame oil.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and water.

To wrap, lay spring roll wrapper in a diamond shape. Place 1 TBS of the pork mixture in the center of each wrapper. Coat all edges with the cornstarch mixture. Roll up wrapper and tuck in edges. Seal edges with the cornstarch mixture. Arrange spring rolls in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been covered with parchment paper. Brush spring rolls with vegetable oil. Bake 25 minutes, or until hot and golden, turning once after 15 minutes. Makes 10 – 12.

Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS oyster sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce, or to taste
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp minced cilantro
1/2 tsp sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, garlic, sugar, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil. Add ginger, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve with Baked Spring Rolls.

Gary: With salt and the rich flavors of soy, vinegar, heat and sweetness, this entrée with its dipping sauce has all the classic wine challenges. What is needed is a wine with acidity to stand up to the vinegar and the salt in the soy, echo the sweetness of the sauce and mellow the heat in the Sriracha sauce. Cool-climate Riesling is a perfect candidate as it has a light sweetness, firm acidity and moderated alcohol. Look for a German Riesling from the Mosel, Saar or Ruwer valleys or a pleasant Rhinehessen in a Kabinett or Spätlese level of sweetness. A light German Gewürztraminer would also be a lovely pairing with its floral notes and raised acidity from the cool climate. Alsatian examples of both grapes will work but will be higher in alcohol and magnify the heat. A softly sweet Moscato without too much sweetness would also be a pretty match with its 4-5 percent alcohol and light sweetness.

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