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Happy Chinese New Year! Check Out These Healthy, Festive Dinner Tips from Renowned Chef Jet Tila

Chinese New Year, Hong Kong PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Happy Chinese New Year!

Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse and the country's Spring Festival, in which families all over the world come together to celebrate with dancing, fireworks and sharing meals, among other things, according to Time.

Wearing red clothes is another part of the New Year tradition, with celebrators also giving their children, friends and family "lucky money" in red envelopes called hóngbāos.

So, what exactly does the Year of the Horse stand for?

The horse is part of a 12-year-cycle of animals that make up the Chinese zodiac, and according to Reuters, means 2014 will be a year in which people "stick more to their principles and stay firm."

If you're looking for ways to stick to your New Year's resolution of eating better this year and you want to kick off the Chinese New Year with a bang, check out these tips and tricks from renowned chef Jet Tila on how to throw a healthy Chinese New Year dinner party!

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Chinese New Year, Chef Jet Tila Biz Urban

"In order to throw a really great Chinese New Year's party, it's really about symbolic food," Tila told us. "That should be the overarching theme, and everything is going to come back to success, wealth or prosperity."

Tila was appointed as the inaugural Culinary Ambassador of Thai Cuisine by the Royal Thai Consul-General, Los Angeles, and is the first-ever chef to represent his country's culture and cuisine in the United States. The chef has remained deeply rooted to his Thai-Chinese culture, which shines through in his cooking.

1.Citrus Fruits: Decorate your table with oranges and citrus fruits, either palmettos, tangelos and oranges. "It's important to leave a little bit of the stem and leaf on those fruits because that represents wholesomeness, entirety or prosperity," he said.

"Fruits are a big deal in general, and we use little dry Goji berries, or red dates or gingko nuts," Tila continued. "They look like jewels and represent precious gems on the table."

2. Steamed Fish: "What people don't realize is that Chinese New Year can be a really healthy meal," the renowned chef said, recommending that people dine on a whole steamed fish for the main entrée of the dinner. "Fish rhymes with prosperity in Chinese," he said.

If you don't like the sight of a whole fish with the head still on, choose a nice, clean halibut filet or a white meat flaky fish (sole, Mahi Mahi, striped bass) instead, and steam it with a little drizzle of seasoned soy, ginger and scallion.

3. Life Long Noodles:  "Another one you kind of have to eat is long life noodles," Tila said. "The cheat is it doesn't really matter what kind of noodle, as long as you're playing by two rules—you can't break up the noodle with your fork, or with chopsticks or in your mouth and you have to twirl the fork until you get all the noodle." A nice, healthy way to feast on noodles is to dine on soba noodles, and calorie-nutrient noodles that are made from bean threads.

"These noodles are low calorie, low carb options and you can make a noodle salad, instead of a greasy chow mien," Tila said.

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Chinese New Year, Chef Jet Tila Biz Urban

3. Spring Rolls: "It's also nice to have spring rolls or egg rolls at your Chinese New Year's dinner," Tila said. Instead of doing a fried spring roll, you could do a fresh spring roll, "and stack them up in little pyramids like gold bars."

4. Red Envelopes: These envelopes are another huge tradition. Tila recommends going to any Chinatown in a city and buying the red envelopes.  "You definitely want to give money in denominations of eight" in the envelopes, he said, which can be given to guests at dinner. Eight rhymes with fortune in Chinese.

If you're strapped for cash though, you can still have fun with this by buying eight chocolate gold coins for each party guest and placing the coins in the envelope instead of money. This will give guests a little sweet treat to take with them after diner that won't up their calorie intakes too much.

5. Seaweed: Seaweed is also a lucky food for Chinese New Year, Tila said, and it represents cash. It's a super food, so pick up a few packs of seasoned nori for a pre-dinner snack for guests.

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Chinese New Year, Chef Jet Tila Biz Urban

To change your Chinese food diet in general, "it's all about oil control," Tila said. "Chinese food is very healthy but Chinese American restaurants, use so much oil in the wok to expedite cooking." To reduce that, Tila coats his wok with oil and then dumps the rest out before he starts cooking.

And make sure to balance your meals.

"Chinese people believe in balance—yin and yang—and that applies to the kitchen," he said. "We don't eat a lot of starch, so most of your diet should be vegetables, then protein, and then rice. Eating in balance is a nice way to enjoy Chinese food without killing yourself with sodium, calories or fat."

Check out Chef Tila's recipe for steamed rockfish below!

Active Work Time: 15 minutes; Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs.           Rock Fish, whole with scales, gills, and intestines removed.

1 ½ tsp.           Salt

½ tsp.              White Pepper

½ tsp.              Sugar

4                      Chinese Black Mushrooms soaked in warm water for 20 min.

1 ½ tsp.           Garlic, minced

3 tbsp.             Ginger, finely minced

1 tbsp.             Shao Shing Rice Cooking Wine

2 tbsp.             Thin Soy sauce          

1 tbsp.             Sesame Oil

1 tbsp.             Cooking Oil

2                      Green Onion, Fine Shred

                        Cilantro, for garnish

 

Preparation:

Put wok on high heat and add oil coating the pan completely. Add garlic and cook until light brown. Add noodles to pan and cook until tender, about 2 minutes until tender. Add ginger, Bok Choy, and mushrooms and let cook for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken with marinade and cook for about two minutes or until chicken medium well. Continuously stir, add sauce mixture, let it come to a boil for a bout one to two minutes.

** It should thicken up to a thick sauce, add more cornstarch slurry if necessary; Garnish with green onions and enjoy!

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