Happy Chinese New Year! Or Kung Hei Fat Choy to my Chinese friends! This year, 2012, is the year of the dragon. Those born under the Chinese zodiac sign of the dragon are firey, ambitious and make great cooks (OK, so I made the last bit up!).

Chinese food often includes the holy trinity of spices – garlic, ginger and chilli. All 3 add instant flavour and heat to a dish and give that authentic taste. Other favoured ingredients are soy sauce (try using a reduced salt version from Amoy or Kikkamon). The Chinese often use rice wine in their cooking which although can be substituted effectively for dry sherry at home, it can be found fairly easily in the world food section of larger supermarkets or in an Asian grocery store. Oyster sauce is used to add a savoury flavour without fat to dishes but beware the salt content. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t taste fishy as it actually contains very little oyster! (Trading standards alert!). Pungency and spiciness can be added to a dish by the inclusion of Sichuan peppercorns.

Rice and noodles are Chinese staples. These can easily be substituted for brown rice and wholemeal noodles (Blue Dragon make nice ones) at home.

Food in China is as much about texture as flavour. Bamboo shoots, beansprouts and water chestnuts all add crunch to a dish. They are readily available in tins in the UK and are often added to dishes for their texture more than their flavour. Fresh beansprouts can be found with the ready prepared stir fry vegetable selections in supermarkets. It’s not advisable to eat them raw due to the risk of E Coli bacteria. Pak choi, bok choi and choi sum are types of mustard greens used in stir fries. They have a mild mustardy flavour but also add a brilliant flash of green to a dish. The stems of pak choi are sliced and fried and then the leaves addeds last minute so they are just wilted. Oyster mushrooms are so called due to their appearance and can add a meaty flavour to dishes.

Much like in Britain, each region in China has it’s own local ingredients which give dishes a special identity. The mostly commonly known regional cusine in the UK is Cantonese and Hong Kong. This is the basis often forms the basis os the British take-away staple, which is loaded with monosodium glutomate (MSG), fat, salt & sugar and is a far cry from the real thing. It’s eating by numbers! So before you reach for the phone and order your number combination, how about whipping up the SixFix version of one of these take-away classics quicker than it takes for you to order in?

  •  Yeung Chow Fried Rice
  • Chilli Chicken Chow Mein – stir fry vegetables & sliced chicken in 1 tsp of sesame oil. Cook 2 nests of wholewheat noodles and add to the wok. Stir in sweet chilli sauce.
  • Chinese Spring Rolls
  • Crispy Lemon Chicken – marinade strips of chicken in rice wine or dry sherry. Coat the chicken with cornflour and fry in a little oil in a non-stick wok until golden and crispy. Serve with stir fried vegetable in Blue Dragon Peking Lemon Sauce and egg fried rice.
  • Egg Fried Rice – boil 100g of rice, drain and cool completely. Stir-fry in a non-stick wok with sliced spring onions and peas. Make a well in the centre and pour in 2 beaten eggs. Leave to cook for a minute or so, stirring occasionally. Once lightly scrambled, stir through the rice.