Celebrating with the Chinese New Year-Year of the Snake

Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert

The Year of the Water Snake began last Sunday, however, it lasts for a full year so there’s still time to celebrate one of the most mystic, karmic animals of the zodiac.  The snake is more yin than yang and is deeply wise about the movements of life, death and spirituality.

Every Chinese year has an element associated with it as well as an animal.  If you are turning 60 in the time spanning February 10, 2013 and January 30, 2014 you are a Water Snake.  You are completing a big life cycle by returning to the animal (Snake) and element (Water) of the year you were born.

Chinese wisdom tells us that by age 60 we have been through a fair amount of life’s ups and downs (so true). By this time, we hope to have acquired some wisdom about ourselves.  Sixty allows us the chance to bring this wise awareness to a new beginning in our development.  We may be better able to live in the freedom of knowing who we are and authentically making the most of our remaining time on earth. (more below)

We put together a large potluck celebration with foods of the Asian culture. Fortunately most of these dishes are loaded with veggies, using meat more as a garnish.

Fresh Summer Rolls

Makes 8 whole rolls-can be cut into thirds

 Often the fresh summer rolls are made for a crowd and in fact, I used to make these for catered events so organization is key. Make sure all of the filling ingredients are prepped in advance and laid out for mis en place. Have the pan of water and clean towel laid out as well for dipping the wrappers-one at a time. Then place on the towel to “build” with the fillings and wrap.


Marty Walker and Dianne Flury work on the summer Roll production line!


 For my version, I like to spice up the filling with a drizzle of the mustard mixture. If you have the fiery Chinese mustard available, you don’t need to add hot chile paste.

  •  2 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in cool water until soft
  • 8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter) 
  • 12 large cooked shrimp – peeled, deveined and cut in half lengthwise
  • Dijon mustard w/ soy and hot chile paste (placed in a squeeze bottle) 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil (or regular basil)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 fresh carrots, grated  


  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce 
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce 

 Fill a large saute pan with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat on a clean tea towel. 

 In a row across the center, place 2 or 3 shrimp halves, a handful of cellophane noodles, basil, cilantro and carrots, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Drizzle with a line of mustard mixture. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the carrot. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

 In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, honey, chili sauce and hoisin sauce.

Serve rolled spring rolls with the soy sauce mixture.


Kung Pao Chicken

Serves 4

 Kung Pao Chicken is at the top of the list for foods made to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons light sesame oil or 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons green onions, chopped with tops
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger (can use fresh grated if preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 4 cups cooked rice, hot

 Combine chicken and cornstarch in small bowl. Toss to coat.

 Heat oil in large non-stick skillet or wok on medium heat. Add chicken. Stir fry 5- 7 minutes or until no longer pink in center. Remove from heat.

 Add onions, garlic, red pepper and ginger to skillet. Stir fry 15 seconds. Remove from heat.

 Combine vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in small bowl. Stir well. Add to skillet. Return chicken to skillet. Stir until chicken is well coated. Stir in nuts. Heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally.

Serve over the hot rice. 

Asian Vegetable Pancakes

Serves 8 

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon corn, grape seed, canola or other neutral oil, more as needed 
  • 5 scallions, green parts only, cut into 3-inch lengths and sliced crosswise
  • 1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 small yellow or green squash, trimmed and grated
  • 1 cup diced cauliflower


  • 1 tablespoon rice or white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey

 In a medium bowl, mix flour, eggs and oil with 1 1/2 cups water until a smooth batter is formed. Stir scallion, shiitake, carrots, squash and cauliflower into batter.

 Place an 8- inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then coat bottom with oil. Let get hot! Ladle in about a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle; if first pancake is too thick to spread easily, add a little water to batter for remaining pancakes. Turn heat to medium and cook until bottom is browned, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.

 As pancakes finish, remove them and drain on paper towels. 

 In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce and honey. Serve with dipping sauce.


For the sweet treat, a Serpent cake and lots of creative fortune cookies!


Water Snakes are powerful in their influence, motivation and insight.  They are highly intellectual and are tenaciously determined about being recognized and rewarded.  Affectionate with family and friends they only reveal their true feelings to those closest to them. 

         Some of the world’s most significant events have happened in Snake years:  Pearl Harbor, Tiananmen Square Massacre, September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.  So, it bodes well to operate in a cautious fashion in a Snake year.