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Wok this way for new year luck; KUNG hei fat choy! - that's Happy New Year in Chinese. February 18 heralds the start of the Year of the Pig and tradition dictates that at its heart there's a banquet - a reunion dinner - where young and old gather to symbolise family unity. ANN EVANS discovers how you too can join in the celebrations. Food.

Byline: ANN EVANS

WHETHER you're dining out or eating in, its worth remembering that some dishes have superstitious qualities and are symbolic of something positive and hopeful.

For example chicken represents happiness and prosperity, especially when served whole.

Duck symbolises fidelity and whole fish with its head and tail intact represents togetherness.

Dishes made with orange - China's most plentiful fruit - represent wealth and good fortune and noodles represent longevity, therefore should never be cut.

Ginkgo nuts represent gold ingots, black moss seaweed indicates prosperity, while eggs and lotus seed are seen as fertility symbols.

And if you are planning on celebrating Chinese New Year with a meal out at a Chinese restaurant such as the Wing Wah on February 21, as well as seeing authentic Chinese food cooked before you, you'll also experience the colourful lion dance with drums banging and cymbals clashing.

However, if you are planning some Chinese home cooking, the experts say that the secret of successful Chinese cooking lies in the wok.

So make sure you prepare the ingredients before cooking. Cut ingredients into same-size pieces and cut meat and poultry across the grain. Use little oil in the wok over a high heat, constantly turning food.

There's no need to spend ages slaving over a hot stove - especially if you enlist the help of Vicki Liley, author of The Complete Book of Wok Cooking.

She says that good ingredients cooked in this easy-to-use implement guarantee great results. "The beauty of stir-fried food is not just that the dishes are quick to prepare, the aromas are tantalising, and that it's an extremely energy-efficient way to cook.

"Actually it's that this method beats all others simply because it seals in the flavours and nutrients of the foods. It makes meals tasty and they're also satisfying and healthy."

She's put together a host of dishes to suit celebrations - or easy everyday meals with an oriental flavour - including classics like Peking duck pancakes, stir-fried seafood with noodles, and desserts such as creamy coconut black rice.

Try her suggested menu for stirfried ginger chicken followed by sweet date wontons.

The Complete Book of Wok Cooking, by Vicki Liley (Apple Press, pounds 14.99).

How to make it authentic

PERFUMED tea is the traditional drink at a Chinese feast and a delicate green tea with the abundant aroma of jasmine would be a good choice.

Green and white tea specialist QI Herbal Health has a China Green Tea with Jasmine which should be drunk before and after the meal to aid the digestion and cleanse the palate.

It is sourced and farmed in China and made from jasmine flowers which are harvested and then layered over the tea leaves for the scenting process.

The tea costs pounds 1.55 for a box of 25 bags, and is available from health food stores, Budgens or direct from QI Herbal Health: 01580 713 613/www.qi-teas.com

AN authentic Chinese lager has just arrived in Britain in time for Chinese New Year celebrations.

Harbin, first brewed in 1900, is made from Chinese hops which give it a distinctive and complex taste. It's known as China's Treasured Lager, and last year was chosen as China's top brand by government officials.

It comes in larger bottles than normal as the custom in China is to share beer.

Be generous and treat guests to this brew, which is pounds 3.40 for 330ml or pounds 5 for 600ml. For stockists call 020 8332 2302.

Weekly Recipe

Stir-fried Ginger Chicken (serves six)

Ingredients:

6 whole boneless chicken breasts

2tbsp fish sauce

2tbsp soy sauce

1tsp sugar

2tbsp vegetable oil

1 red onion, sliced

6 garlic cloves, chopped

2in (5cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 red or green serrano chillies, stemmed and cut lengthways into fine strips

1/4 tsp red chilli flakes

1/2oz/15g coarsely chopped mint or basil leaves

Whole mint or basil leaves, for garnish

Steamed rice, for serving

Method:

CUT the chicken into 11/2 x 1 x 1/2 inch (3.5 x 2.5 x 1cm) pieces. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Set aside.

In a wok, warm oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry until white and opaque. Add the ginger, chillies, chilli flakes and fish sauce mixture and cook until chicken is just cooked through, about four minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.

Garnish with mint or basil leaves and serve immediately with rice.

FAMOUS PEOPLE BORN IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG

LUCILLE BALL, Humphrey Bogart, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, Mahalia Jackson, David Letterman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CAPTION(S):

MR130207WING_7; MR130207WING_2 TASTY... Jun Guan Lau, head chef at Coventry's Wing Wah, cooks up celebratory dishes for Chinese New Year.; MR130207WING_1
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 17, 2007
Words:811
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