With the new moon arriving on Jan. 28, Asians all over the world will welcome the Year of the Rooster. Based on the lunar-solar calendar, the Lunar New Year is steeped in ancient traditions designed to bring good fortune for the coming year. Good fortune, according to these traditions, is achieved by good intentions, good actions, and of course, good food.

Citrus fruits, in particular, play an important role in bringing luck and prosperity. Sweet tasting and golden, these fruits represent good luck and the promise of wealth, and are often placed around the home in the days preceding New Year’s Day.

1142928_326973 pomelo.jpgIf you visit any of Portland’s Asian markets at this time of year, you’re almost certain to see a large golden fruit that resembles a grapefruit on steroids. It’s a pomelo, the largest member of the citrus family – a single specimen can weigh over 10 pounds. Native to Southeast Asia, the pomelo is particularly popular in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and other Southeast Asian cuisines. It’s considered a lucky food in China, because its Chinese name rhymes with “have,” so it represents having an abundance of all things good.

Pomelos taste mildly sweet, with a less acidic flavor than grapefruit. Because they have thick skins, they take a bit of effort to peel. The easiest way is to use the tip of a sharp paring knife and make a few deep incisions vertically from top to bottom. Then peel off the rind to reveal the flesh. Section it carefully, avoiding the white pith and the membranes between the segments, which can be extremely bitter.

It’s not surprising that pomelos are very high in Vitamin C. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are believed to improve digestion, boost the immune system, prevent anemia, lower blood pressure and protect the heart.

Cantonese cooks often braise the rind of the pomelo with pork. All over Southeast Asia, the segments are eaten simply dipped in a mixture of chilies, sugar and salt. But if you ask me, this “King of the Citrus Fruits,” as it is known, reaches its pinnacle of perfection in the popular Thai salad known as Yam Som O.

Jim Becker is a former chef/restaurateur, and culinary instructor from the Boston area, where he also conducted walking tours of the food and wine markets in the North End and Chinatown neighborhoods. He now divides his time between Portland and Phippsburg Maine.

YAM SOM O

This recipe came from Pim Smith, a Thai friend and colleague. She gave it to me after taking one of my walking tours of Boston’s Chinatown. You can find dried shrimp, pomelos and fried red shallots in most Asian markets; the last is often labeled “red onions.”

Serves 4

½ cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

½ cup unsalted raw peanuts, optional

1 medium-sized pomelo

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2-3 small Thai bird chilies, or other small, hot green or red chilies, minced

1½ tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar

½ pound shelled, peeled and deveined medium-sized cooked shrimp

½ cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons small dried shrimp

¼ cup fried red shallots

1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

About 20 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Toast the coconut on a baking sheet for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Set it aside.

On the same baking sheet, toast the peanuts for about 10 minutes, or until golden, again taking care not to burn them. Remove from the oven, let cool, roughly chop and set aside.

Peel and section the pomelo, being careful to avoid any of the pith and membranes between segments. With your fingers, shred the flesh into strips, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, minced chilies and sugar. Stir well, and taste for balance, adjusting it as necessary for sweetness or acidity. Add the cooked shrimp and pomelo shreds, and toss lightly. Add the coconut milk and stir to combine.

Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the dried shrimp, reserved toasted coconut, fried shallots, reserved toasted peanuts, if using, cilantro and mint.

Make a wish for the Year of the Rooster, and serve.