Double the fun: Celebrate Valentine's Day with some Chinese New Year 'fireworks'
I love it when two unrelated holidays just happen to fall close to each other. It more than doubles the fun -- and the possibilities for cooking enjoyable food to celebrate.
And that's what's happening right now. This year, the Chinese New Year -- a holiday that, based on a lunar calendar, can fall any time between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 -- comes right after Valentine's Day, with its official first day on Feb. 16 and celebrations beginning the evening before.
So why not bring some Chinese flavor to your Valentine's dinner, too, with the help of my quick-to-prepare recipe for seared scallops? It's a longtime favorite from the menu of my Chinois restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., that will spice up the romance at any special dinner for two.
This recipe is a great example of a dish ideally suited to elegant yet easy entertaining. Virtually all of the preparation can and should be done ahead of time, and it's simple.
It starts with finely dicing a few vegetables and combining them with a little peanut-oil, vinegar, citrus juice, and soy sauce to make a pretty, flavorful Asian-inflected salsa. Then cutting and chilling some vegetable threads for a garnish. With those tasks done and the sauce chilling in the refrigerator, the only cooking left consists of briefly sauteing a few aromatics, seasoning the scallops, and then searing them in a hot pan for barely more than a minute at most. (It's important not to cook them any longer than that, or the delicate seafood will quickly turn from moist and tender to rubbery and dry.) Finally, assembling the plates for serving takes no more time than it took to cook the scallops.
I've always found that light, bright, spicy Asian flavors like the ones this preparation features are ideal for a romantic meal. The scallops delight the senses and satisfy you without weighing you down. As a result, I find that they inspire the kind of lively, happy conversation that could easily turn romantic, especially when you accompany the dish with a dry but fruity sparkling wine or white wine whose characteristics beautifully complement a preparation like this.
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What to serve for the rest of your Valentine's Day meets Chinese New Year meal? A medley of vegetables quickly stir-fried with ginger, garlic and soy sauce -- prepared moments before you sear the scallops and served over steamed jasmine rice -- would make an excellent accompaniment.
I wish you a deliciously romantic Valentine's Day -- and a happy Chinese New Year!
CHINOIS SEARED SCALLOPS WITH JALAPENO-TOMATO SALSA