As she adorns her circular dining table with vibrant purple, red, and hot pink dahlias from Long Island's North Fork Flower Farm, one thing is clear: Danielle Chang was born to host. When she's not producing Lucky Chow, her around-the-world series on Asian food and culture that recently aired its fourth season on PBS (or throwing food festivals around the country with chefs like David Chang, Anita Lo, and Masaharu Morimoto through her company LuckyRice), this is where she's most at home: in a stunning penthouse apartment in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, getting ready to entertain. In this case, she's preparing to carefully celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year with a small group of close friends and family. "I've been throwing Lunar New Year parties for about three decades now," she says. "In China, people literally take two weeks off from work for the holidays. Everything's shut down, and people just feast together."
While this year's gathering is necessarily smaller than in the past, Chang is still welcoming good things to come in 2021. Her Lunar New Year dishes emphasize good health by incorporating restorative ingredients from Chinese herbology: Goji berries add a brilliant vermilion hue to her eight-treasure rice; chrysanthemum flowers suspended in ice cubes float in a stunning, ginseng-infused Japanese shochu punch; black sesame seeds are tucked inside sweet sticky rice balls. Chang's love of traditional Chinese herbs extends far beyond this Lunar New Year menu; earlier this month, she and Lucky Chow's new cohost, William Li, launched a plant-based supplement line called The Hao Life, which bottles many of those same medicinal ingredients.
Chang's home channels the same uplifting energy as her cooking and also reflects her love of interior design, a nod to the time she spent as a professor of contemporary art history. An Ochre crystal chandelier illuminates the feast below with a gentle glimmer; a pair of kidney-shaped living room sofas create a comfortable framework for conversations; on the upper terrace, a canopied daybed from Janus et Cie lies beneath a string of globe lights. In the kitchen, exposed on glass shelves, sits a strikingly expansive collection that doubles as decoration: a set of jars, the contents of which are partly culinary, partly medicinal. "I collect lots of spices while filming," she explains, "like fox nuts, which are incredibly healing for women after they give birth, or star anise, which gives red braised pork that lovely licorice flavor."
While the penthouse exudes an unmistakably airy, organic minimalism, the view from the terrace is a bustling dramatic foil. "When I first moved to New York, [my apartment] was considered to be in Chinatown. Now, it's considered SoHo," she says. "I love the energy of Chinatown. I lived in Taiwan until I was 5 and grew up with very traditional Chinese parents—I don't think I tried anything non-Chinese like a hamburger or a hot dog until I was at least 12. Soy sauce courses through my veins, and my mom and I will still take little packages of soy sauce to sneak into restaurants."
See the full Lunar New Year collection at westelm.com
Chang stays true to her roots when assembling this Lunar New Year menu. In Chinese culture, citrus symbolizes luck and fertility, so oranges, lemons, and kumquats are the stars of her large-format shochu punch; dumplings signal longevity and wealth by virtue of their shape, which resembles yuanbao, gold and silver ingots that were once used as currency in China. For dessert, there's a gorgeous dish of eight-treasure rice, called ba bao fan, which includes an assortment of eight candied fruits because the Chinese word for the number eight, ba, is pronounced similarly to the word fa, meaning prosperity.
But the most significant dish is served at the start of the meal, when guests typically reach for their chopsticks and mix the ingredients in Chang's prosperity salad. A sweet, salty, and tart medley of red onion, taro root, daikon, vermicelli noodles, and Ruby Red grapefruit commingles beneath a sharp plum dressing in the hopes of inviting togetherness into the new year. According to superstition, the higher they toss the salad, the better their luck will be. This year—just to be safe—everyone tosses the salad extra high.
Greet guests with a stunning shochu punch to sip between bites of dumplings. Present the first-course salad, ready to toss, once guests are seated. While most of the hot dishes (served family-style as a main course) can be prepared ahead, Chang shapes the dumplings on Lunar New Year's Eve, as is customary.
This make-ahead punch features four distinct tastes—sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter— coming from the fruits, flowers, honey, and aromatics that fill the punch bowl. Citrus fruits are a must at Lunar New Year celebrations, as they symbolize luck and fertility. For the garnish, try a mix of clementines, lemons, and kumquats.
Around the Lunar New Year, green vegetables are a necessity because green is the color of money. This versatile recipe works with most tender leafy greens—including baby bok choy and choy sum (flowering cabbage)—so pick whatever looks best at the market. Once it is swirled into the garlic-scented oil, the fermented soybean paste adds a layer of savory pungency.
This sweet dessert soup is typically served during reunions because the round rice balls symbolize harmony and togetherness. To keep the dough moistened throughout the assembly process, cover it with a damp towel.
The longer the better to symbolize longevity, noodles are a must when celebrating Lunar New Year. Cutting the noodles is strictly forbidden because cutting is a metaphor for shortening a life, so twirl the long strands to serve and eat. A mix of torn and sliced mushrooms (also a symbol of health and longevity) adds a variety of textures and a bite of umami to this quick-cooking dish.
Tossed with a sweet-tart and salty dress- ing made from umeboshi, or pickled Japanese plums, each ingredient in Chang's version of this colorful composed salad has an auspicious meaning. She serves it as an appetizer to raise good luck.
Any variety of dried and candied fruits can decorate this lightly sweet sticky rice dessert, but using a lucky assortment of eight is traditional. The Chinese word for the number eight, ba, sounds similar to fa, which means prosperity and confers fortuitous meaning on the dessert. Chang likes to decorate hers with an opulent assortment that includes candied orange peel, goji berries, amarena cherries, kumquats, lemon peel, edible flowers, mandarins, lychees, red dates (jujube), maraschino cherries, gooseberries, kiwi berries, pomegranate, dragon fruit, and sliced figs. Do not substitute sushi or other short-grain rice here; sweet glutinous rice contains a starch that helps the grains stick together without getting mushy.
Plump and tender dumplings symbolize longevity and wealth. Chang fills hers with a fragrant and flavorful blend of garlic, ginger, scallions, and Chinese chives bound with tender ground pork. Store-bought wonton wrappers may be substituted for freshly made dough.
The Chinese word for fish (yu) sounds similar to the Chinese word most closely translated to "abundance," so serving fish symbolizes a wish for prosperity and abundance in the new year. Light soy sauce is lighter in color but higher in salt than dark soy sauce, so it is ideal for steaming sea- food and imparting more flavor.
Danielle Chang's most treasured cookbooks line her dining room.
"Martin Yan, who really set the path for me to be able to be a Chinese-American TV host, is someone I admire for translating Chinese food to his newfound American citizens early on."
Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking: 200 Traditional Recipes From 11 Chinatowns Around The World, $21 at amazon.com
"I'm a huge fan of Cathy Erway. I was born in Taiwan, and I still have family there, so I go back a lot. A lot of those memories bring up nostalgia for me." $21 at amazon.com
"This is the cookbook that really taughtme how to properly use a wok." $29 at amazon.com