Lunar New Year: Cook with mushrooms for wealth – and health

February 9, 2013 | by

A champagne toast may be the typical way to celebrate the Western New Year, but Asian cultures tend to put a premium on foods for Lunar New Year (often called Chinese New Year in the U.S.). This year, that holiday falls on Sunday.

“The Lunar New Year meal honors longstanding traditions and celebrates a cycle’s renewal, so it is important for families to prepare dishes that symbolize luck and longevity – they ensure good fortune and health for the coming year,” said Asian food expert and cookbook author Katie Chin.

City of Hope culinary ambassador Katie Chin with her mother Leann and Whole Steamed Fish, a festive, delicious and healthy dish for Lunar New Year

City of Hope culinary ambassador Katie Chin with her mother Leann and whole steamed fish, a festive, delicious and healthy dish for Lunar New Year

And research conducted at City of Hope might have unearthed some truth behind these life-extending claims. Mushrooms, incorporated into many Lunar New Year dishes because their caps resemble coins – thus signifying wealth – have been shown to contain compounds that can fight various cancers. The compounds are particularly promising against breast and prostate cancers because they block the hormones that fuel their growth.

Studies led by Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Cancer Biology, found that eating even a modest amount of mushrooms (3.5 ounces) a day could be enough to ward off some cancers.

To help you bring wealth (symbolically) and health (literally) through mushrooms, Katie Chin offers this recipe for Whole Steamed Fish with Garlic, Black Beans and Mushrooms, adapted from her book 300 Best Rice Cooker Recipes.

“This recipe follows a very basic preparation to produce not-so-basic results,” Chin said. “The mild flavor of the fish is accented by the garlicky black beans, making it easy to savor every flaky forkful.”

Equipment/Ingredients for 4-6 servings:

Medium to large rice cooker with a steamer basket; either simple on/off or programmable "fuzzy logic" rice cooker is fine
2 tbsp. fermented black beans*
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced ginger root
2 tsp. salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 to 3 lb. whole sea bass or red snapper
2 green onions (white and green parts), cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces and finely shredded
1 cup shiitake mushrooms

1. Soak beans in warm water for 15 minutes. Rinse beans with cold water to remove skins. Drain and transfer to a small bowl. Mash beans.*

2. Add garlic, ginger, salt, vegetable oil, soy sauce and sesame oil to beans and stir to combine.

3. Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Place fish on a heatproof plate that will fit in your steamer basket and make three crosswise slashes on each side. Rub the cavity and outside of the fish with bean mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 40 minutes. Place plate in the steamer basket, curling fish slightly to fit, if necessary.

4. Place 4 cups water in the rice cooker bowl and set the rice cooker for the regular or steam cycle. When the water comes to a boil, place the steamer basket in the rice cooker. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

5. While the fish is cooking in the rice cooker, grill or sauté the shiitake mushrooms.

6. When the timer sounds, check to make sure fish is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork. If necessary, continue cooking, checking for doneness every three minutes. Serve immediately with mushrooms and garnish with green onions.

* The black beans may be replaced with 2 tbsp. (30 mL) black bean sauce, available at Asian markets and many grocery stores; skip step 1 if using black bean sauce.