Fruits of good fortune: Give a citrusy kick to the Lunar New Year

01/29/2014 5:53 AM

01/29/2014 5:54 AM

Welcome the Year of the Horse with a citrusy kick that will not only deliver good flavor right now but also will promise good fortune in the months ahead.

Citrus fruits like oranges, kumquats and pomelos are traditional for the Lunar New Year, which begins Jan. 31 this year. They are used for decoration, given as gifts or snacked on. But cookbook author Grace Young says citrus fruit also has its place in cooking, particularly now when everyone is focused on new beginnings.

“We’re watching our weight,” says the New York City-based author of “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” and two other cookbooks. “We want to eat healthily, and it’s good to have that hit of vitamin C. I think, for a stir-fry, oranges are beautiful.”

Oranges and other citrus are Lunar New Year must-haves because they are rich in symbolism in terms of color, shape and the puns that can be made off their Chinese names, said Terese Tse Bartholomew, curator emeritus of Himalayan art and Chinese decorative art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and author of the book “Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art.”

“It’s the color,” says Bartholomew, speaking of oranges. “It’s the color of gold. People want the new year to bring them money. Have you heard the Cantonese new year greeting? ‘May you explode in wealth.’ People must have these wealth-giving things.”

During the new year, adults will place two oranges, preferably with leaves still attached as a sign of green life, along with red envelopes of money next to the pillows of sleeping children, she said.

Puns are very much the thing. An orange is called “gut” in Cantonese, which ties in with “dai gut,” or good fortune, Bartholomew explained. Pomelo is called “you,” which sounds like the Cantonese word for “to have.” So, households will have one, preferably two, pomelos on hand to symbolize the desire “to have all your wishes come true,” she said. The Cantonese name for kumquat sounds like “gumgut” and is a pun on gold – “gum” – and good fortune – “dai gut.” That’s why candied kumquats are a traditional new year’s treat.

You should have luck finding citrus now because this is peak season.

“Sweet treats are a huge thing for Viet Tet gatherings. You set out an assortment for guests to nibble at tea,” writes Andrea Nguyen, author of “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.” (Tet is the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year.) “I take a nontraditional route by making candied orange peels for Tet.”

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