The big story behind the sign of the rabbit | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Centuries ago, the Jade Emperor of China decided to throw a party. He invited all the animals to come, intending to designate the first 12 in the order of their arrival as the official animal for each of the 12 months of the Chinese calendar, which he hoped would help his subjects better remember the Zodiac cycle.

Centuries ago, the Jade Emperor of China decided to throw a party. He invited all the animals to come, intending to designate the first 12 in the order of their arrival as the official animal for each of the 12 months of the Chinese calendar, which he hoped would help his subjects better remember the Zodiac cycle.

In order to get to the emperor’s palace, a river had to be crossed. Cat and Rat were friends at that time, but not good swimmers, so they agreed that their best chance to get there would be to ride on the broad, strong back of Ox.

Ah, but halfway across, Rat just couldn’t resist the temptation to get rid of Cat so he could be first to get to the party. He pushed Cat into the river and when Ox reached the riverbank, Rat leapt off and ran to the emperor. Rat thus became first, followed by Ox.

The third to arrive was Tiger, huffing and puffing from the swim, and then, much to the emperor’s surprise, the Flying Dragon finally appeared. The emperor had expected him to be first because he could fly across the river, but the Dragon explained that he’d stopped to create rain for the people of China who badly needed it, and then, just as he was about to fly in, he spotted a poor little rabbit struggling in the river water. He swooped down and with his mighty dragon breath, gently blew the little creature to the shore. So, Rabbit was number four and Flying Dragon became number five.

Horse came pounding in shortly thereafter and should have been number six, but unbeknownst to Horse, Snake had wrapped himself around a hoof and rode in with Horse. When Snake dropped off the hoof, he so startled Horse that Horse stopped, pawing the ground and snorting, while Snake slithered in to sixth place; Horse took seventh.

They were quickly followed by Rooster, Goat and Monkey who were helping each other push through the heavy reeds of the river on a raft spotted by Rooster, thereby taking the eighth, ninth and 10th spots in the emperor’s plan. Dog came gamboling in next, late because he just had to stop and play in the river awhile. Then, for a time, no other animals showed up and the emperor was about to give up, thinking that of all the animals he’d invited, only

11 had bothered to come. Just then, however, he heard a small “oink,” and there was Pig, who’d been delayed because he got hungry and stopped for a small feast, followed by a short nap.

So, now the emperor had 12 animals, one for each of the months of the Chinese zodiac. But what, you may be wondering, became of the poor Cat? Cat straggled in finally, wet, hissing and very out of sorts. But, even though there was not officially a month left for poor Cat, the emperor felt sorry for him and designated Cat as the 13th sign, which is why you may see Cat listed in the Chinese Zodiac, but without a designated month. It’s no surprise that Rat and Cat were never again friendly.

So, thanks to the beneficent act of the Flying Dragon, tomorrow marks the beginning of The Year of the Rabbit, who arrived on the breath of the Dragon fourth at the emperor’s party. Happy New Year to all of you creative, cultured, sexy, diplomatic, calm, outgoing but shy, compassionate, friendly, sensitive, family loving Rabbits. According to Chinese lore, 2011 should be a very good year for you, unless you happen to be involved with or, worse yet, married to a Rooster or a Rat, which could mean big trouble.

In our neighborhood, however, you’d best keep an eye out at all times for Coyote, who apparently never made it to the emperor’s party but who loves Rabbit.

RECIPES

Yes, I know Super Bowl weekend is also upon us, but I admit that my knowledge of football is even more limited than my understanding of the intricacies of Chinese astrology, except for the food parts.

Can there be a Super Bowl party without chicken wings? I think not. But these would also be very welcome at a Chinese New Year feast.

SILKY CHICKEN WINGS

3 dried Chinese mushrooms

½ cup plus dark soy sauce

¼ cup brown sugar

2 T. Chinese wine, or dry sherry

1 t. sesame oil

¼ t. Chinese five-spice powder

2½ to 3 lbs. chicken drumettes (the meaty part of the wing)

1½ inch piece fresh ginger, grated

Put mushrooms in a small heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 20 min., or until softened. Drain, reserving the liquid. In a small pan, combine the liquid with the soy sauce, sugar, wine, sesame oil and five-spice powder; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Rub the chicken with ginger and 1 t. salt and put in a large pan. Cover with the soy marinade and mushrooms, turning to coat evenly. Cover and cook over low heat, turning regularly, for

20 min., or until the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. Remove the chicken and allow it to cool briefly. Boil the sauce over high heat until thick and syrupy. Discard the mushrooms.

Arrange the chicken on a platter, brush lightly with the syrupy sauce and serve the remaining sauce for dipping.

Makes about two dozen pieces.

Quick, easy and absolutely mouth watering, prawns with coconut.

CHILI COCONUT PRAWNS

1 cup tomato sauce

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 t. ground chili powder (or to taste; I use arbol, which is very hot, so I use less)

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 t. finely grated lemon zest

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. honey

1 T. vegetable oil

4 lbs. raw king prawns, peeled and de-veined

1 cup shredded coconut

In a large bowl, mix together the tomato sauce, garlic, chili, lemon juice and zest, soy sauce and honey. Add the prawns and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hrs. Drain; reserve the marinade.

Heat the oil in a large skillet; add the prawns and cook until the prawns turn pink. Stir in the marinade and cook for 2 min. or until heated through. Stir in the coconut. Serve. Makes about 4 dozen, depending on the size of the prawns you buy.

These wontons would be a perfect Chinese New Year offering, as well as great Super Bowl party finger food.

PORK AND PEANUT WONTONS

1 1/2 cups ground pork

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 T. peanut butter

2 t. oyster sauce

40-50 wonton skins

2 T. flour paste (to “glue” wonton edges together; mix 3-4 T. flour with enough water to make a paste; you could also use cornstarch and water rather than flour, if preferred)

Vegetable oil, for frying

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lettuce leaves and radishes, to garnish

For Plum Sauce: 3/4 – 1 cup dark plum jam

1 T. rice wine vinegar

1 T. soy sauce

1/2 t. chili sauce

Combine ground pork with scallions, peanut butter, oyster sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Combine the plum jam, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and chili sauce to make a plum sauce for dipping. Set aside.

To fill the wontons, place 8 wrappers at a time on a work surface, moisten the edges with flour paste and put 1/2 t. of the filling in each one (don’t overfill or they’ll burst during cooking). Fold wrapper in half corner to corner, then twist once. Continue until all the filling has been used.

Fill a wok or deep frying pan about a third full with vegetable oil and heat it to 385 degrees. Have a wire strainer or frying basket and a cookie sheet or tray lined with paper towels ready. Drop the wontons, 8 or so at a time, into the hot fat (don’t overcrowd) and fry until golden all over, 1-2 min. Lift out onto the lined tray and sprinkle lightly with fine salt. Keep warm in low oven until all are cooked. Serve on a platter lined with lettuce leaves and garnished with radishes, with the plum sauce on the side for dipping.

Can there be a Super Bowl party without chicken wings? I think not, but these would also be very welcome at a Chinese New Year feast.

SILKY CHICKEN WINGS

3 dried Chinese mushrooms

1/2 cup plus dark soy sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 T. Chinese wine, or dry sherry

1 t. sesame oil

1/4 t. Chinese five-spice powder

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. chicken drumettes (the meaty part of the wing)

1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated

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