Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

By Sylvia Rieman

Chinese New Year 2012, 'The Year of the Dragon' begins January 23rd. If you were born in the years 1952 or 2012 your symbol would be the Water Dragon. The Dragon is the Chinese Zodiac symbol for the years 1904 - 1916 - 1928 - 1940 - 1952 - 1964 - 1976 - 1988 - 2000 - 2012. The five elements which are attached to the Dragon are metal, wood, fire, water and earth. Each element is said to have an influence which alters the personality of the Dragon.

I love the 'Dragon' symbol in the Chinese Zodiac. To me it seems the most dramatic of the Zodiac Symbols, the most colorful and the most powerful. Just looking at a picture of the Dragon seems to imply activity. I can just see it in my mind's eye spewing out fire and roaring to capacity. And truth be told, the Dragon is the most powerful of the signs. People born in the 'Year of the Dragon' are often driven to accept challenges and to take risks and can often be quite successful. Unfortunately, some Dragons are never satisfied and keep looking for bigger challenges and risk taking.

One thing that is almost never a risk in the Chinese Culture is the food. The Chinese New Year is a reason to celebrate and celebrating is often done with food as it is in so many cultures. There are many foods that are symbolic of the Chinese New Year. There are Tea Eggs, Bean Cakes, Fish Salad, and whole Chicken to name a few.

Tea Eggs symbolize fertility. Cracked Hard-cooked Eggs are soaked in a Tea Leave/Soy Sauce Mixture until they absorb the pigment from both. Eggs for good reason are a symbol of fertility in most cultures around the world.

Yu Sheng, the Chinese Fish Salad is important because the raw ingredients symbolize the renewal of life and what is the New Year all about if not that? Yu Sheng is made with fresh melon, sesame seeds and raw fish which is dressed with Lime Juice, Olive Oil and White Pepper.

The whole Chicken represents the bond of family and is usually prepared by simmering with vegetables.

Bean Cakes are favored for their sweetness which symbolizesa rich, sweet life. while the round shape signifies family reunion.

Puddings are also a favorite for Chinese New Year's. One favorite is Eight Precious Ingredients Pudding whose ingredients represent precious stones. Its ingredients include glutinous rice, candied fruit, dates and bean paste. While this may be a favorite Chinese Pudding, the ingredients that it contains makes it very rich and one can probably eat only a small portion of it at one time. A simpler substitute would be a pudding such as mango or almond custard. Following are the recipes for Mango Pudding and Almond Custard Tarts.


4 oz. fresh Orange Juice

1 Tbsp. fresh Lime Juice

1 Pkg. plain Gelatin

1 (12 oz.) Mango

4 oz. Sour Cream

1/2 cup Whole Milk

1/3 cup Sugar

Mango Slices for Garnish


Combine the Orange and Lime Juices in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the Gelatin over the top.
Let stand 10 minutes or until the Gelatin is softened.
Stir over low heat until Gelatin dissolves; let stand until cooled.
Peel and slice the Mango; cut the slices into chunks.
Combine the Mango, Sour Cream, Milk and Sugar in food processor or blender.
Run until the mixture is smooth.
Pour into a medium mixing bowl and blend in the Gelatin mixture.
Pour into (6) 6-ounce custard cups and chill in the refrigerator for several hours or until firm.
Garnish with the Mango Slices.

Yield: 6 Servings



2 cup All-Purpose Flour

1 cup Powdered Sugar

8 oz. Butter, softened

1 Egg

1/4 tsp.. Tahitian Vanilla


4 Eggs

1/2 oz. Superfine Sugar

2 cups Whole Milk

1 cup Cream

1/4 tsp. tsp. Almond Extract

Strawberries or Mandarin Orange slices for Garnish


Combine the Flour and Powdered Sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl.
Cut the Butter into several pieces and then cut into the Flour mixture with a pastry blender.
Beat the Egg with the Vanilla and mix into the Flour/Butter mixture with a fork or use your hands. You should have a smooth ball of dough.
Divide the Dough into half; cut each half into thirds and then cut each third in half. (12 pieces in all)
Lightly roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten with the palm of your hand. (If necessary, dust with a small amount of flour to keep from sticking)
Press each piece of Dough into a 3" tart pan. Press up the sides and trim at the top. (The pieces of dough may also be rolled out with a stockinette covered rolling pin)
Set the Tart Shells aside while you are making the custard.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees,
In a large mixing bowl, beat the Eggs with a wire whisk; add the Sugar and beat until the Sugar is dissolved.
Stir in the Milk and Cream and Almond Extract.
Place the Tart Shells on a jelly roll pan and pour in the Custard to within about one-fourth inch from the top.
Bake until the custard is cooked and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. (About 30-35 minutes)
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Serve at room temperature; store leftover tarts in the refrigerator, but bring up to room temperature before serving.
Garnish the individual tarts with Strawberry Fans or Mandarin Orange Slices.
Yield: 10 -12 Tarts

Try your hand at making the recipes above or other ones that you have been wanting to try but most of all Have a Happy and Healthy New Year! And enjoy the Dragon!

I have been a children's cooking teacher and educator for over 35 years. I teach monthly classes in Westlake Village, California for children, teens and their parents. I love to share my ideas to help kids be safe, learn and have fun in the kitchen. I hold a MS in Nutrition Education and Food Sciences from California State University.

Please check out my website at

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