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Too much holiday feasting; 水煮四季豆,小瓜,茄子


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Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 has brought too much rich and spicy food my way, even though I dearly love it. And on top of that, I've been the recipient of a couple decorative boxes of million-calorie moon cake 月饼。Yesterday I attended two banquets, lunch and supper. Thank goodness the second one included a particularly welcome "recovery dish." It hit the spot and I vowed to learn how to make it. Wasn't hard at all: let me show you. It involves a sublimely simple stew of green beans 四季豆, zucchini squash 小瓜,and eggplant 茄子。


First, here's a quick look at some of the high points of yesterday's banquet number one. It was held in a private dining room on the third floor of a local restaurant. You can probably recognize most of these delicious Yunnan and Southwest China dishes. (I'll include a key at the end so as not to spoil your guessing game.) 


(Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) 


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This was washed down with beer 啤酒 and baijiu 白酒 (China's own "white lightning"), cola and orange soda being available in reserve. This busy, no-frills restaurant is popular with locals; I've been there several times. Their food is always spot on and service is snappy. According to their menu, they were founded in 1983. 


Late afternoon I visited the home of some friends for a home-made meal every bit as good. I actually prefer that setting since I can wander into the kitchen and watch how things are done. By about 6:30, we had another delicious but filling meal which included two pressure-cooked and deep fried pigs feet in a fiery sauce. Two kinds of sausage 香肠, red cooked beef 红烧牛肉, a chicken floating in lovely mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers 花椒鸡, on and on. Here's a look at the chock-full festive table, plus a close up of the very basic vegetable dish which was such a revelation.


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The lady of the house explained that the green beans and zucchini both had a slightly sweet taste and needed to be cooked together without the addition of any spices, not even salt. I thought that was strange and was afraid it might be boring, but by golly it did taste refreshing that way. She made it with enough water in the pot to provide a clear soup to have along with steamed white rice as the meal drew to a close. She said she often made it with eggplant as well. The zucchini were just torn into large chunks, "farmer crude." 


This morning I bought the ingredients at the wet market and explained to the bean seller what I had in mind. She cautioned me again to use no salt. "千万不要放盐。什么都调料不妨。" No if's, and's, or but's about it. I had my marching orders. 


1083901656_IMG_20180925_105542-50smalldone.thumb.jpg.22a3bc6d503b5dc6c812451d89a5fb2c.jpgThese 四季豆 beans (left in the photo) are broader and "meatier" than their two-foot-long cousins (长豆)。You may have eaten them in their most popular incarnation: 四川干煸四季豆 (dry-fried Sichuan style.) 














Here's the starting line-up. Use long, skinny Asian eggplants. No need to remove the skin. These 小瓜 are not actually zucchini, but very close. Other members of the squash family will work as well. Wash the beans, trim the ends and cut them in half.


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Cut the zucchini and eggplant into large chunks, thirds or fourths. Put them together with the beans into a pot with enough water to barely cover and start on high, but quickly reduce the heat to a simmer. Remember, no salt. No cooking wine, no pepper, no vinegar; "no nothing." As the lady said, “什么都不妨。" Put on the lid, but leave it ajar. 


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After 12 or 15 or minutes, when the vegetables are beginning to get tender, cut the core out of a fresh tomato and add it to the pot. The idea is just to use the boiling water to soften it; don't let it cook apart.
















Remove the tomato to a bowl and slide off the skin. Coarsely break it apart using a spoon plus a dull knife. Finely cut a couple of spring onions 小葱,some ginger 生姜 and garlic, 大蒜 plus a scant teaspoon of hot sauce 辣椒酱。(Not enough to make it fiery, just enough to wake it up.) Mix these with the crushed tomato. Add light soy sauce 生抽, a pinch of sugar 白砂糖, a pinch of salt 食用盐。This is to be your dipping sauce 蘸水。


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Take out the cooked vegetables, serving them in a bowl with lots of juice. Keep the remainder of the juice to use as a subtle clear soup. Offer it at the end of the meal along with a bowl of rice. Kind of cleans the palate. Provides a gentle and refreshing change of pace from all the highly-seasoned and fried foods that were the stars of the meal. 



















The vegetables are soft, but not mushy. This is a traditional accompaniment to a family feast. You may or may not find it in a restaurant  because it doesn't have much glamour, doesn't do much to boost your 面子 ("face") when ordering it for guests.

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Key to dishes in the restaurant banquet: 



Top row left = 皮蛋凉拌 -- Thousand year eggs; very pungent with a spicy sauce.

Top row right = 麻婆豆腐 -- Sichuan grandmother's hot and numbing tofu.

Second row left = 炒牛肉干巴 -- Air dried beef sliced thin and fried with peppers. 

Second row middle = 鱼香茄子 -- "Fish fragrant" eggplant. 

Second row right = 薄荷油炸排骨 -- Deep fried pork ribs with mint.

Third row left = 辣椒鸡 -- Hot pepper fried chicken.

Third row middle = 宜良烤鸭 -- Roast duck Kunming style (method comes from nearby Yiliang Town.)

Third row right = 扣肉 -- this restaurant serves it with tender steamed buns so you can make a sandwich of a slice of the fat pork belly meat together with some of the pickled vegetables. It's one of their signature items. 





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  • 4 weeks later...

These kinds of soups are pretty common here as well, though I've never seen the vegetables pulled out of the soup before. At the family style tables, there is always a huge bowl of tomato and egg soup or what I think is 鸡肉丝汤. I always marvel at the Chinese ability to wash down food with more food, though! I'm always stuffed by the time the soups and noodles come out (lucky for me, since most utilize a meat broth!).

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