This Sunday is the beginning of the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Water Rabbit (except in Vietnam where it will be the Year of the Cat). When I was growing up, Lunar New Year was very important to my Brooklyn Jewish family. Every year we’d bundle up and drive to our favorite dim sum restaurant, early enough to beat the rush for the special holiday dishes like tang yuan, a sweet soup with glutinous rice balls; vegetable-flecked longevity noodles; or those golden fried spring rolls that shattered so exquisitely as you bit them. Dim sum was the only morning meal that could get my groggy family out of the house, and Lunar New Year brunch made us punctual.
You could also celebrate the day by cooking a meal at home. Genevieve Ko has some excellent ideas in her latest piece for The New York Times. Her suggestion? Wontons! As an everyday comfort food, wontons aren’t usually considered a Lunar New Year staple. But to Genevieve, it’s precisely their ubiquity that makes them so special.
“For someone like me,” she writes, “born on the other side of the world but tied to the culture, they’re a tangible connection to family and homeland. And for anyone who loves wontons (that’s everyone, right?), the process of making them from scratch is as much a celebration as eating them.”
Her easy-to-follow recipes for classic homemade wontons (and wonton wrappers), fried wontons and wonton soup (above) are followed by one for black sesame shortbread cookies, a nontraditional dessert that hits all the right notes (buttery, crunchy, filled with nutty sesame seeds).
Need some everyday meals for the week? You could try Ali Slagle’s frijoles borrachos (drunken beans), a classic dish from northern Mexico in which pinto beans are seasoned with bacon and beer. I’d round that out with some sliced green cabbage tossed with lime juice and salt, or a simple cabbage slaw.
Then for dessert, maybe a batch of Nargisse Benkabbou’s fragrant chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with warmth from ras el hanout, or Lidey Heuck’s chewy peanut butter marshmallow bars? Would it be overkill to pair either of those with a cozy mug of Kiera Wright-Ruiz’s Mexican-style atole? Possibly, but in the very best way.
You’ll want to start the year off right with a subscription to read these and the other several thousand recipes we have at New York Times Cooking. We are also on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, where Hetty McKinnon makes her recipe for butternut squash congee spiked with chile oil. For technical help, the smart folks at email@example.com will be there for you. And here’s a tip: You can now find all of the recipes recommended in every New York Times Cooking newsletter on the home page of our iOS app.
Now, Lunar New Year is also the occasion for Chunyun, a 40-day period when multitudes of people all over China, Taiwan and other East Asian countries travel home for the holiday to spend time with their families. Think Thanksgiving travel rush, but with two billion trips expected this year in China alone. For Lunar New Year, Metrograph in New York City is streaming and projecting “Last Train Home” by Lixin Fan, an astonishing documentary about Chunyun and its human scale. (Accompanying it are two movies by Jia Zhangke, whose epic sweep and focus on everyday people illustrate the surreal dislocations of daily life across contemporary China; both are also streaming on the Criterion Channel). Lunar New Year is a time when the ordinary longing for home and family can move people to extraordinary efforts.
Sam Sifton’s back on Friday. I’ll see you next week.