3 Meaningful Vegetables To Add To Your Lunar New Year Spread

Lunar New Year celebrations, which begin with the first new moon of the lunar year and last for 15 days, are full of traditions and symbolism. From the foods that are eaten to the chores done around the home, the period of welcoming the coming year is filled with actions to help start things off right.

Good Housekeeping notes that some of the traditions that help bring in the coming year include cleaning the house, paying off debts, purchasing clothes, and giving money. There are also many traditions regarding the meals served during the holiday, with an emphasis placed on foods thought to bring good luck. Several Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, where it is called Solnal, and China, where it is known as Chunjie (per Britannica). In China, some of the foods eaten during the holiday are selected based on their names, such as fish, whose name sounds the same as the Chinese word for abundance (per History). Other common foods for the Chinese observation of the Lunar New Year are glutinous rice ball soup and moon-shaped rice cakes.

When it comes to vegetables, the Chinese place significance on items that symbolize spring, energy, progress, and wealth. Representing these qualities are three meaningful vegetables often seen at the table for Lunar New Year — lettuce, bok choy, and Chinese broccoli. 

Lettuce for wealth

In China, lettuce is selected as a food suitable for celebrating the new year because the word for the leafy green in both Mandarin and Cantonese sounds similar to "growing wealth," according to The New York Times. However, it's not raw lettuce that is desirable for Lunar New Year meals. 

The New York Times explains that when the green is cooked, it also represents good luck. As such, lettuce that has been stir-fried is the foundation for a side dish that also includes braised mushrooms or is prepared as an entree with fried eggs, garlic chips, and rice. The recipe offered by The New York Times calls for iceberg lettuce. A simple recipe for stir-fried lettuce from Travel With Maggie seasons the lettuce with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. 

Cooked lettuce has a good flavor when stir-fried, with The Woks of Life describing the taste as refreshing. Both iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce are suitable for stir-frying because they contain a high amount of water as well as a crunchy texture.

Bok choy for wealth and long life

Besides being a tasty and healthy vegetable, bok choy is said to symbolize wealth and luck, making it an important part of Lunar New Year celebrations. Purveyor of specialty produce John Vena Inc. explains that in the Chinese culinary tradition, bok choy represents long life with an emphasis placed on longevity for parents and elders. 

Special significance is placed on bok choy served whole, according to Today, which is intended to wish long life for parents. It's also fine to eat the complete bok choy, from the greens to the stalks, because the entire bok choy is edible. Whether incorporating bok choy into a stir-fry or making a meal or side dish out of only bok choy, the vegetable is delicious. A simple stir-fried bok choy recipe calls for garlic cloves, fresh ginger, sesame oil, and oyster sauce with sesame seeds for garnish. 

Looking for a stir-fry with bok choy that is a little more substantial? Try cooking it with chicken, basil, red chiles, fish sauce, and garlic cloves for a flavorful dish. 

Chinese broccoli for harmony

Chinese broccoli is an important part of a Lunar New Year meal if you are looking to improve relationships, as China Highlights explains that Chinese broccoli is thought to represent balance in relationships. 

According to Delighted Cooking, Chinese broccoli is in the same vegetable family as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale, which is why it shares a resemblance with them. It has leaves that resemble kale, while its thick stalks are more similar to broccoli. When you eat Chinese broccoli, you will notice that the stalks are somewhat sweet, while the leaves taste slightly bitter. With florets like Western broccoli, this vegetable is often found in stir-fries, dumplings, and fresh salads.

One of the best ways to prepare stir-fried Chinese broccoli is with garlic, chili, and oyster sauce. Taste Asian Foods notes that stir-fried Chinese broccoli served with oyster sauce is often found at both high-end restaurants and in home kitchens, making it a fairly common Chinese dish for more occasions than just Lunar New Year. A simple stir-fried Chinese broccoli also works well as a side dish, and The Spruce Eats describes how to make it using chicken or vegetable stock, sherry, oyster sauce, and brown sugar.