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  1. Last week I had something real good in a local restaurant and today I tried to reproduce it at home. That is always a risky proposition, but what I wound up with was a pretty good adaptation even though it required more labor than initially expected. As you know, Kunming is famous for its cross-bridge rice noodles 过桥米线, as is most of southern Yunnan. One local eatery which I frequently visit is known for its variations on the old, time tested theme. They offer a variety of vegetables and meats to put in the boiling hot broth: sometimes they offer seafood, sometimes pigeon or quail, other times it's wild mushrooms that takes center stage. Last week they were trying out beef combinations with mint. One dish was called 滇味牛肉过桥米线 which had thin-sliced cooked beef 白切牛肉, green peppers 青椒, and mint 薄荷。It was available at an introductory price of 15 Yuan, down from 17 list. The other new menu item was those ingredients plus sliced beef stomach tripe 牛肚, called 金牌牛肉过桥米线 at the special price of 23 Yuan instead of the usual 25. If you aren't familiar with Yunnan cross-bridge rice noodles, please take a look at this previous discussion. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52493-yunnan-cross-bridge-rice-noodles-过桥米线/?tab=comments#comment-404109. Here's what it looks like in the restaurant, complete with raw quail eggs and chrysanthemum flower petals. (Click the photos to enlarge them.) Small plates 碟子 of cool or room temperature items are brought to your table along with a bowl of uncooked rice noodles. The waiter next delivers a bowl of extremely hot broth 高汤, and you put it together yourself, adding ingredients one at a time so they cook quickly on the spot. The noodles go in last of all, so as not to prematurely cool off the broth. My home adaptation of this dish saw me making it on the stove. If I had owned a free-standing hot plate or induction burner, could have done it right on the dining table instead. The flavors of beef and mint seem like they were meant for each other and the combo is a staple of Yunnan cuisine, much as lamb and mint are wedded in some western traditions. This dish showcases the marriage of beef and mint. Here's how I did it; here's how you can make it yourself at home. First, let's look at the beef. Bought a piece of rump roast, about 800 grams. Didn't actually need that much; a third or even a fourth of it would have been enough for today. But the trouble involved in slow cooking it means that it makes sense to cook a big piece and have some left over for other projects. Buying beef in the market tends to be an adventure. Works best if you are armed with some knowledge of the various cuts. They aren't identical to those used in the U.S. This cut sells for about 50 Yuan per kilo and doesn't have much waste. Slice it in half and tie the two pieces with twine so it will cook more evenly than if it had a thick "head" and a thin "tail." Bring it to the boil quickly in lightly salted water to clean it of blood and surface impurities, throwing away that water. Beef here in China tends to be tough, at least the most economical cuts do. So it's best to keep that in mind and cook it in a pressure cooker 高压锅 on high for 25 or 30 minutes. Let it come down to a safe temperature naturally over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, don't need to use a "quick-release" method. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can slow simmer it for 60 to 90 minutes until it's tender when pierced with a fork. Include some ginger 老姜, garlic 大蒜, a cardamom pod 草果, one star anise 八角 , a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark 桂皮, and a bay leaf 香叶。A few "numbing" Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 and several dried Yunnan red peppers 干辣椒 are optional. (I admit liking to add them.) After it cools completely, slice it thin. This process gets you what is known as 白切牛肉, plain sliced boiled beef. It's one of the old standards of Chinese cooking. Often served just like that with a fragrant and spicy dipping sauce 沾水 at the start of a special meal. I saved the stock this produced and combined it with some chicken stock I already had on hand. Turned my attention to the vegetables. Most of China, and most of the world, views mint differently from Yunnan. Here it's a bonafide green leafy vegetable, not just a garnish or a condiment. We eat it by the handful, especially in summer since it's a "cooling" food 清凉。Here's a link to mint soup, which shows it in its "vegetable" role: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/ Used the crinkly-skinned spicy green peppers 虎皮椒 that are so popular here along with a red bell pepper mainly for color. Had a bunch of garlic chives 韭菜 and a bunch of very small spring onions 小葱。Washed and sliced thin as shown. I went through the mint as I washed it and tossed out any tough woody stems and damaged bits, being careful to not just wind up with leaves since small and medium mint stems have lots of flavor. Assembled the meat, shown here beside some home-made chili sauce 辣酱 and spicy pickled turnip greens 酸菜 cut fine. Got out a handful of rice noodles; this is about 1 Yuan worth. Put the stock 高汤 on low flame in a clay casserole pot, uncovered. When the stock barely began to simmer, I added the peppers. Let them cook a minute or so, until just starting to soften a little, then added the small spring onions and the garlic chives. Stirred it frequently so it didn't boil over. Now it's time for the thin-sliced cooked beef and a pinch of salt. (Don't need much because the 酸菜 diced pickled vegetables are salty.) As soon as the meat heats through, add the mint. Let these flavors combine for a half a minute or so, minimal cooking time. Add the rice noodles, preferably a few at a time instead of in one big clump. These are fresh noodles, straight from the maker. They have never been dried. If you're using dried noodles, probably best to start them off to the side in a separate pot of lightly salted water. We're done. It's ready. Eat up 动筷子!The mint combines great with the beef and the other flavors are completely harmonious. Every spoonful of broth makes you want to close your eyes and smack your lips. Try it, you'll see what I mean.
  2. It is with some trepidation that I will try to give you a little background on how tofu is made and consumed here in my part of China (Yunnan, Kunming.) Since it is such a vast topic and I lack expertise, what I did was just walk around my neighborhood wet market and take snapshots of the tofu that was readily available. I'll simply show you the photos and tell you what I can about what they show. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) It goes without saying that other types can be found in supermarkets, the result of rigidly standardized large-scale industrial processes. These are nicely wrapped and have ingredients and expiration dates listed on the package. But they often come with flavor enhancers, preservatives, stabilizers, and coloring agents to make them sell better. My 老百姓 neighbors eschew them as "factory food," and find their way to the wet market to buy the "real stuff" instead. It also goes without saying that tofu differs from place to place within China, and even more so when talking about those from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma and so on. These often represent the taste preferences of members of the Chinese diaspora who landed and settled there many years ago. These "foreign tofu's" also often reflect changes made to incorporate local ingredients: coconut milk on such and such island, fish sauce in such and such port, and so on. All tofu starts out as soy milk, extracted with heat from soybeans, that has been acidulated to produce curdling or coagulation into a solid form. That basic raw tofu is then strained and pressed into blocks. It can be pressed a little or a lot, making it thin enough to need to be kept in a pot, or a little thicker, sort of like jello, or a lot thicker and firmer like cheese. (I have oversimplified grievously.) Here's a look at some of that basic raw tofu. In the two photos above, you can see a color difference between the tofu in the foreground and that in the background. The "whiter" tofu in back is softer; it is called 嫩豆腐 (nen doufu) or "tender" tofu. That in the front is slightly firmer and is called 老豆腐 (lao doufu) or "tough" tofu, though it isn't very tough at all. Some recipes work best with one, some with the other. Tofu vendors frequently sell other things as well, things that are often paired with tofu or things that can easily be made with the same raw materials. Photo on the left shows soy bean sprouts and mung bean sprouts next to the nice lady who sells them. Bottom left in this photo is a non-tofu item that is often eaten instead of tofu; it's made from bean sprouts that have been processed differently, often with addition of some natural gelatin. Goes by the name 凉粉 (liang fen) around here; in the west, when it can be found, it gets the odd name "grass jelly." In these parts it's usually cut in strips and served cold with a sauce of chilies and scallions. Sometimes the tofu is barely solidified at all, being described as "silken." This extremely soft style is known here as "tofu flowers" 豆花 and is used in making several delicious dishes such as 豆花米线 (tofu flower rice noodles) which is one of Kunming's signature snacks 小吃。Douhua mixian 豆花米线 is shown below right. The food stall offers a meatless version or a version with seasoned ground pork. I'm not vegetarian and I enjoy the kind that has meat, as you see here. It is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and includes pickled chopped greens 泡菜 and several kinds of herbs to achieve a result that is just this side of Heaven. Often tofu is processed instead of being consumed in it's raw, unadulterated state. One of the most common things that is done to it is to press it, removing some moisture and allowing a concentration of flavors. This process is particularly prized when the water with which the tofu has been made tastes good on its own. This is true of the deep Artesian well water of Jianshui 建水 and Shiping 石屏, both ancient cities in SE Yunnan's Honghe Prefecture 红河州。 Here is some of that on display at the stall where I usually buy it: Not surprisingly, these rectangular sheets of pressed Shiping tofu come in different tastes and textures. You can buy firmer or softer; milder or more flavorful varieties, tailored to your preference or cooking application. Some of this tofu has been allowed to ferment slightly and is formed into small "packets" shown at the rear of both photos above. This tofu is "mildly stinky" 臭豆腐 -- a far cry from the hugely pungent product popular in Taiwan. In the far left of the photo just above, in a white basket, is the notorious "hairy tofu" 毛豆腐, that has a very distinctive look, aroma, and taste. The photo below left shows another vendor's hairy tofu. Some days it's more photogenic than others. Below right you see a snack stall on the edge of the market where the guy is grilling the small briquettes of stinky tofu to serve hot with a spicy dipping sauce. You belly up to the bar facing him, sit on a low stool, and eat your fill. He keeps track of your consumption with small colored beans and and the sharp eye of an experienced casino croupier; you settle your account after eating your fill. Once tofu has been pressed it can be brined and then smoked, as discussed in the recipe posted here yesterday. As you can well imagine, the finished product is affected by the kind of tofu one pressed to start with and then how it was soaked, in what and for how long. Finally, the flavor and texture are further dictated by how it is smoked, over what wood or twigs and for how long. It comes in several shapes, analogous to the way smoked cheese varies: a smoked Edam is not the same as a smoked Provolone. One from this maker may not be exactly like that from his neighbor. Sometimes tofu is deep fried, puffing it up and giving it a golden color. It can then be eaten with a sauce, or served together with dishes that contain lots of gravy, such as red cooked pork 红烧肉。Here below left is some of it coming out fresh from the wok. That's a good time to buy it, instead of later the same day after it has sat around in a plastic bag getting stale. Sometimes tofu-making byproducts are for sale, such as tofu skin that has risen to the top of the pot during processing. It can be air dried or fried, and is usually sold as tofu skin 豆腐皮。(Below right.) Numerous special local wrinkles exist, such as this vendor who only sells tofu made with the water of a prized mountain spring in NE Yunnan's Xuanwei County 宣威县。It sells for a small premium but there is always a line outside his stall, telling me that it's in high demand. I've tried it, but honestly can't tell the difference. One part of my neighborhood wet market is "tofu row" with about 25 vendors near each other. Some have the usual fare, and others have exotica. Some make it completely on the premises and others have workrooms nearby where the rent is cheaper. They resupply throughout the day by motorbike or electric scooter 电动车。 This vendor makes his on the premises and has a workshop behind the sales area. You can see a tall pot on the stove, in the left corner. Probably has more kinds than anyone else. Unfortunately he is not very forthcoming and doesn't like to chat about his wares. You point and he bags it up; you hand over your money and leave. Not even a thank you. What I do from a practical standpoint is buy certain tofu staples over and over from the same one or two vendors. Then from time to time I branch out and try new types or new variations on the old types. I often ask the sellers for their recommendations as to cooking methods. Sometimes I try something in a restaurant that I would like to try to reproduce, or watch something being made on TV. Before moving here a decade ago I seldom ate tofu at all; in fact practically never. Now it's something I have about once a week. Good source of protein without many calories and it is definitely economical. For better or worse, tofu has become part of my China life. Here's a link to the last two tofu recipes: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56990-addictive-smoked-tofu-青椒豆腐干/ https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56975-sunday-brunch-tofu-and-eggs-豆腐炒鸡蛋/
  3. Today is Sunday in Kunming. I don't have to go anywhere soon or do much of anything. Woke up late and wanted a breakfast that would be substantial enough for me to painlessly skip lunch. Already had the ingredients for this on hand, all that was needed was to whip it together. Thought I would show you the method since it's a versatile dish that one could reasonably have for a light supper along with a soup or salad. Cheap, nourishing, easy to make. Tofu here comes in many kinds. This recipe can be made with most of them. What I had in my fridge was soft tofu 嫩豆腐 in a small block that I had bought earlier in the week. Rinsed it off 洗净, cut it into small pieces 切小块 and simmered 焯 them gently for about 10 minutes in lightly salted water 盐水。Scooped them out 捞起来 into a bowl. Drained away the water 干水。This removes any off taste 腥味 and makes the tofu less likely to fall apart later when handled. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) Cut up 切段 one medium spring onion 大葱, a ripe tomato 番茄, and a clove of garlic 打算。Shown together here with three free-range eggs 土鸡蛋。 Using medium heat, saute 煸炒 the aromatics (onion and garlic) until you can smell them 爆香; they don't need to become brown. Add the tomatoes followed by the drained tofu cubes and turn them 翻炒 gently until they begin to change color and become a little bit golden 变金色。 Stir the eggs 搅拌 and add them, reducing the flame to between low and medium. Be restrained with your spatula 锅铲 so as not to break things into small fragments. I used a flat-bottom non-stick pan 平底不粘锅 which made it easy. Add a sprinkle of salt 食盐 and another of MSG 味精 if you use it. A tablespoon or so of light soy sauce 生抽 also improves the flavor. When the eggs are no longer runny, the dish is done. Don't overdo and turn them to leather. Plate it up 装盘。Goes well with a pot of green tea 绿茶。 Try it out; see what you think. This is a good straight-ahead project that will give you an intro to working with tofu.
  4. This is one of those dishes for which there are a hundred casual recipes on the internet, most of them sorely lacking. It has been oversimplified to death; but good results can be achieved with a modicum of effort. The bonus is that if you master the technique you will find it is transferable to a dozen other tasty dishes, all of which use this Chinese braising process. I'll show you how to do it. Buy 16 chicken wings, the medium joint. These should weigh about half a kilo or one pound. I've included a quick review of chicken wing anatomy below. The part to buy for this dish is the 鸡翅中。They cost more than the first joint, the 鸡翅根, but they are easier to work with because their size is more uniform, they don't have one large end and one small end. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) You will need 3 or 4 large spring onions 大葱, a thumb of ginger, 4 to 6 dried chilies 干辣椒, and a teaspoon of Sichuan prickly ash peppercorns huajiao/花椒。 Toast the huajiao 花椒 and the dried red chilies 干辣椒 over low heat until they begin to release their aroma. Scoop them out and pound the 花椒 with a mortar and pestle or simply crush them in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Tear the dry chilies into sections. Cut the white part of the spring onions into long pieces 切段 and slice the ginger into coin-sized segments. (The ginger does not need to be peeled.) Rinse the chicken, shake it dry, 洗净流干水分, poke a couple holes in each side with the point of a paring knife. You don't need to marinate the chicken for this recipe; it will acquire plenty of flavor as it cooks. Chinese poultry recipes usually have a step designed to remove any "off" flavors 去腥味 and cleanse the meat of blood 去血。This one is no exception. Put some of the spring onion and ginger into a deep skillet or wok along with the toasted and crushed Sichuan peppers and the chilies. Add a tablespoon of cooking wine 料酒。Boil this stock for a minute or two and then add the chicken. When the water comes to a full boil again, scoop the chicken out and set it aside to drain. This quick blanching step 焯 also serves the important function of thawing any frozen places so that all the wings will be the same temperature and can cook uniformly. Blot the wings dry with paper kitchen towels. Wipe out your wok or skillet 平地锅 and add two tablespoons of cooking oil. I generally prefer corn oil, 玉米油 though for this dish rapeseed oil 菜籽油 or peanut oil 花生油 are also fine. Add the wings and brown them about 3 minutes per side. If you have too many to do them in one batch without crowding, divide them in half. If you squeeze them all in too tight, they won't brown and will stew instead. The skin will never become crisp; it will be mushy and unappealing. By the way, even though I'm a firm believer in a standard, well-seasoned iron wok for most Chinese cooking, this browning step works best if you have a non-stick utensil 不粘锅。 Remove the chicken when it is golden 金黄 and add your liquid ingredients to the wok or fry pan. The cola needs to be standard old-fashioned Coke. Coke Lite or Coke Zero 零度 won't work. The artificial sweetener breaks down and turns bitter when cooked. Furthermore, the sugar is necessary for the meat to develop a pleasant caramelized surface. Pour in 250 or 300 ml; don't dump in the whole bottle. Two or three tablespoons of light soy sauce 生抽, two or three tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine 料酒 or dry sherry, and only one scant teaspoon of dark soy sauce 老抽。If you use too much dark soy sauce, everything will just acquire a nasty axle-grease color. To these add the remainder of your spring onion and ginger plus a teaspoon of salt. When it reaches a gentle boil, add the pre-browned chicken wings. Let it simmer uncovered about 10 minutes over low to medium heat. Then pick out and discard the spring onions and ginger slices. Now you are ready to thicken the sauce by reducing it carefully over low heat 小火慢炖。Be attentive and don't let it scorch since that will ruin the flavor profile. This stage usually takes about 10 minutes, but depends somewhat on your pan and flame. Might take a little longer. Stir it gently and slowly, but stir it a lot. When the sauce develops a rich color and is almost gone, you're ready to plate it up. Sprinkle on some minced cilantro 香菜 and white sesame seeds 白芝麻。These wings can be eaten right away while nice and hot, or served later at room temperature. The chicken is tender and moist, not dried out, and has a rich flavor. The glistening skin is intact and not soggy or falling off. No surprise that this recipe was a favorite of the Qianlong Emperor. (Smile) To be truthful, there are many ways this dish can go wrong; it isn't foolproof; it does require some care. But if you can master the process, you will find that it provides a key to a host of other tasty traditional braising recipes such as red-cooked ribs 红烧排骨。
  5. Chinese chives, known over here as jiucai 韭菜, is an ingredient that's easy to find all over China and it isn't too challenging to track down even in the west. It's an ingredient that's fun to use because it is versatile, lending itself to many applications. It's also forgiving, not easily ruined when you are using it. I unexpectedly lucked in to a big batch this weekend and wound up cooking jiucai three days in a row. I had three days of jiucai feasts. The back story might be of interest. A hot springs sauna where I sometimes relax grows all its own vegetables organically out on the northeast edge of the city. It's one of their boasting points and is a claim to local fame. Whatever they bring in fresh in the morning, gets used up by the end of that same day; they are scrupulous about not holding anything over. "Completely organic and completely fresh" is what you can expect to eat on their premises, according to their promotional literature. They set a lavish buffet for lunch and another for supper. Breakfast is also provided, but it's a simple affair. If you are leaving anytime after supper, as you check out and settle your tab, they will ask if you want a bag of that day's leftover veggies. The receptionist won't let you pick through them or select what you want. One person, one bag; take it or leave it. I find it hard to say no to this kind of pot luck bounty, and usually smile and nod yes. This means that sometimes I walk out with a heavy bag of cabbage or half a dozen eggplants plus two carrots. This time my treasure was more jiucai than anyone could possibly eat at one go. Luckily, it keeps pretty well for a day or two in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Looses a tiny bit of it's fresh-picked bite, but not much. It's a pretty durable item. So now after three straight days of jiucai practice, I'm a self-declared expert. My best friend agrees, but we all know she's biased. In any case, I'll take great pleasure in showing you some jiucai tricks so that you can also perform jiucai magic at home, wherever you might live. This splendid green vegetable has a taste somewhere between that of onion and garlic, and is related to both. The flavor is more concentrated than either and it makes a very distinctive ingredient in many quintessentially Chinese specialty dishes, top among them probably being jiucai dumplings 韭菜猪 肉饺子。These rule the roost if you live up north, above the Chiang Jiang 长江, aka the Mighty Yangtze. Someone else will have to show you how to make those, since my dumpling skills are rudimentary at best. But today I'll gladly show you how to use jiucai in a stir fried scrambled egg dish 韭菜炒鸡蛋。Next we will make it up into crispy thin griddle cakes 韭菜煎饼。A day or two later, if there's sufficient interest, I'll take you through turning them into a tasty and simple fried rice 韭菜鸡蛋炒饭。All three were a hit with my Kunming friends. Never broke the bank or required excessive amounts of kitchen time. Trim off a little bit of the fibrous white root ends and discard any brown or wilted leaves. Wash them well, dry them, then chop into pieces 3 or 4 centimeters long. Break two or three eggs into a dish and mix them with chopsticks. I usually figure one egg per person when preparing this as a side dish to go with other parts of a meal. Scramble the eggs in a non-stick flat bottom skillet 不粘平底锅 with a little oil over low to medium heat. Turn the eggs out into a dish when they are barely done, don't overcook them. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set them aside. 备用 Wipe out the skillet, heat to medium, add a little more oil. Stir fry the jiucai until they wilt, but don't let them get real dark or burned. This usually only takes a minute or two. Add a light sprinkle of salt. Add back the scrambled eggs and cook them together for another half minute or so. Scoop them out into a serving dish. Set it on the table and dig in. This is a dish best enjoyed while it's still nice and hot, fresh from the flame. This goes well with nearly anything you can name in the wide realm of Chinese cooking. Its taste is distinctive but not overpowering. I've had it accompany a fish main course, or chicken or duck. One can simply enjoy it with a bowl of steamed rice as a brunch, or even with a bowl of Yunnan noodle soup 米线。 Hope you will give it a try. Eager to see what you think. On a spectrum of one to ten, this falls somewhere around zero on the difficulty scale. Highly suitable for fledgling Chinese chefs.
  6. This simple dish is reason enough to visit Yunnan. The province is famed for doing magic with half a dozen kinds of rice noodles, and this is one of the specialty dishes that contributes in a major way to that reputation. The best ersi arguably come from Tengchong 腾冲, in the west, not far from Burma. But they have definitely spread to Kunming. Instead of being extruded like most fresh noodles, whether wheat or rice, these er si 饵丝 are first kneaded and pounded into a firm cake and then carefully sliced. They are thicker and more chewy than ordinary rice noodles, which makes them delicious when fried then quickly simmered with a bold gravy/sauce (lu 卤)。During the process, the sauce penetrates the noodles as well as coating them with flavor. Here's what they look like: I've put some chopsticks on top to give you a better idea of scale. If you cannot get ersi where you live, you could use ordinary rice noodles by shortening the cooking time. One could also substitute wheat noodles, though the dish would not have quite the same mouth feel 口感 or taste 味道。 I bought them this morning in a street stall instead of my usual market. The vendor looked surprised and asked, "Do you know what to do with them?" I assured her that I did, but it reminded me that these aren't easily available all across China. They are one of the regional glories of Yunnan cuisine. This bag cost 2 Yuan and I used most of it today. Today I made lu ersi 卤饵丝 with some smoked pork just because I had it on hand. Usually I use roast pork belly 烤五花肉 bought from the market from a vendor who makes it fresh daily over slow coals in a clay oven. I've seen it in supermarkets for sale pre-wrapped. The recipe can also be made with plain ground meat, pork or beef 磨肉。 I paired this strong-flavored meat with a vegetable that could stand up to it as an equal: long green chili peppers 青椒/尖椒。 These are only medium hot and I take out about half of the seeds. Cut some in rounds, some in strips. One could tone it down by using bell peppers. Added a large spring onion 大葱 and some garlic, crushed with the side of my knife and chopped fine. Heat the wok, add some oil and give the meat a head start. Since my meat was already cooked by the curing process, I only gave it 30 or 40 seconds. Didn't want to dry it out. Added the vegetables and aromatics one by one, stirring and turning things over quickly 翻炒, with my spatula 国产 using high heat. Season with half a teaspoon of salt 食用盐, a tablespoon of oyster sauce 耗油, a tablespoon of soy sauce 生抽, and a teaspoon of prickly ash oil 花椒油。 I add about a quarter teaspoon of MSG 味精, but leave it out if it disagrees with you. A pinch of sugar is also optional (but suggested.) When these flavors have had a chance to blend and the vegetables have just barely begun to cook (don't want them to loose their crunch) add slightly less than a rice bowl of water (about a cup.) Stir it up, reduce the flame to medium, and add the ersi 饵丝。 Stir fry about a minute longer, until the ersi become slightly soft, just al dente, not too soft. If making it for the first time, it's best to err on the side of too short a cooking time. Maintaining the texture is important for an authentic result. Serve it up. In an unpretentious Kunming open-front café, they will give you a small bowl of clear broth 清汤 to sip as you eat, but between you and me, this fine dish goes very well with a cold beer. Give it a try and see what you think. Pretend you have been transported to Yunnan.
  7. This popular Yunnan lunch item is easy to cook but difficult to translate. It has no catchy English name. For several years I was sure 红三剁 meant "three red things that were chopped." This was always puzzling because it uses red tomatoes and pink lean pork, but combines those with very green peppers for color contrast. What happened to that third red ingredient? Regardless of the linguistic issues, I can show you how to whip it up at home. This is a quick and easy dish to make, doesn't require any fancy ingredients or techniques. Furthermore, it's difficult to mess it up; a good beginner 初级 project. A couple of nice ripe tomatoes 番茄,two or three long green peppers 尖椒, the white part of one large spring onion 大葱, a couple cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a small piece of fresh ginger 老姜。 Lean pork works best for this dish and I usually buy a piece of tenderloin 里脊。Marinate it 腌制 for 20 or 30 minutes with a couple teaspoons of cooking wine 料酒 and a teaspoon of corn starch 淀粉。Sometimes I also add a half teaspoon of sesame oil. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water briefly, score the skin with the tip of a knife and slip it off. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp in the center. Chop them fine. Mince the ginger and garlic. 剁碎 Slice the spring onion fine. Do the same with the long peppers, removing the white fibrous sections and some of the seeds. These long slender green peppers are not very hot; the lady from whom I bought them at the market described them as "mild and fruity." Still, if you don't like spicy things at all, you could substitute sweet bell peppers 甜辣椒 (also called 柿子椒)。 Gentle reminder: You already started the rice, didn't you? Don't even think about heating the wok until the rice is ready. My rice cooker just dinged, took about 30 minutes plus a 15 minute soak. I checked the rice visually to make sure the surface had those important small steam holes. (Those tell you it's done.) Fluffed it up with a couple of chopsticks. Unplugged the cooker (don't leave it on "keep warm" 保温 or you will wind up with overcooked rice.) Closed the rice cooker lid, and now we are ready to proceed with the stir fry. Double check to be sure everything is ready; once you start the process, it goes fast. Today I used 150 grams of finely chopped meat 碎末肉 with two tomatoes and two long green peppers. These ratios are not critical, and you can make this dish by eye if you just use roughly equal amounts of meat, tomatoes, and peppers. First quick-fry 翻炒 the lean ground pork 猪肉末 with the minced ginger 碎末姜。Take it out and set it aside when about three quarters done 七成熟。The meat does not need to be browned, but it does need to lose its pink color. Wipe out the wok and add a little more oil. (Most Chinese families use a stiff bamboo whisk for this.) Stir fry the green peppers and the minced garlic for half a minute or so over high heat, being careful to not burn the garlic. When you can smell the aroma, add the tomatoes and the spring onion. Cook a minutes or so, adding stock 高汤 or water as needed to keep it from becoming dry and taking on a scorched note 糊。 Add the cooked meat and stir well, adding more liquid as needed. The result needs to be slightly soupy, not dry. Add salt 食盐 to taste and MSG 味精 if you like it. I usually add about a fourth of a teaspoon unless my guests ask me not to. Stir fry for a minute or two on medium heat. (Don't walk away.) And voila, the finished product. Serve it in a bowl beside steamed rice. My friends and I usually spoon some out and combine it with fluffy white rice in our individual bowls. Sometimes I present it as a plated "covered rice" dish 盖饭 because that looks extra nice. Either way, it tastes top notch. Hope you will give it a try someday soon, especially if you are in the mood for something with no good English translation.
  8. Instead of just reheating leftovers 剩菜 on day two, why not give them a new face? It’s easy to transform them into a tasty and attractive fried rice 变成炒饭。 A few days ago I made a large batch of stir-fried mushrooms and spicy green peppers. Came out good. Ate it as what Chinese call a “gaifan” dish 盖饭 (as shown below right.) Had all I wanted for supper, but some was left in the fridge. Next day I finished it up as fried rice 炒饭。It’s a good trick to have up your sleeve, and today I’ll show you how. Here's the original dish, as shown above left: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58735-yunnans-termite-mushrooms-鸡枞菌-jizong-jun/?tab=comments#comment-456710 Fried rice works best with day-old rice. The Chinese term is 隔夜饭 (translates as “last night’s rice.”) The texture and moisture content of rice that’s a day or two old makes it easier to handle in an application such as this. The typical Chinese family always has some day-old rice on hand. Use more rice than you think you need; the volume of the rice should be greater than that of the other ingredients. I usually add a touch of color, in this instance one small diced tomato. Spread the cooked rice in a thin layer on a large plate and spend a couple minutes breaking up any lumps with a spoon or your gloved fingers. Don’t wait and just try to do it later on the fly when your pan is over the flame and everything is moving fast. Heat a pan or wok to medium-high, non-stick is OK, add a small amount of oil. This doesn't require the blazing high heat of an authentic stirfry 炒菜, so an electric burner will get the job done. Mix the leftovers with the tomato bits. Heat the contents thoroughly, until they begin to sizzle. You want the flavors of anything new to combine fully with those of your leftovers. Now push the mushrooms and peppers to the sides and spread the rice all across the central portions of the pan. Break it up with your spatula, rapidly alternating between pressing with the flat part and chopping with the edge. (It won’t work if you just dump a large clod of cold cooked rice directly into the pan. Your dish will never recover.) Gradually combine the rice with the mushroom mixture, continuing to work out any lumps. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. If you do this with your sprinkling hand held high, it distributes better. When everything is well mixed and heated through, serve it up. Mound it loosely onto a plate. That’s all there is to it! I garnished with what was supposed to be a rose carved from the outer layer of a ripe tomato. I watched a chef do it on TV but realized later it was not as easy as it looked. By the way, it’s normal on the Chinese mainland to eat fried rice with a spoon. You will get odd looks if you struggle along valiantly with chopsticks. The closeup shot is to show how most of the grains of rice are only in small clusters, no big clumps. Professional chefs sometimes boast about how every grain of their signature fried rice 招牌菜 is separate and distinct. Afraid I have not reached that level of skill. Making a chao fan 炒饭 is an easy way to “repurpose” the contents of those mysterious small plastic containers hiding towards the back of the bottom shelf your fridge. If your leftovers are skimpy, you can stretch them with a scrambled egg or two. The most reliable way to do this is to scramble the egg alone as a first step and then remove it. Just cook it a little bit; you want it soft and tender, though not runny. Just add it back at the very end. Hope you will give 剩菜炒饭 a try at home.
  9. Chanced onto some real nice shrimp this morning at a decent price. Could not resist. Sautéed them quickly using a method that provided lots of flavor without much oil. I'll show you how. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) This is 18 large shrimp, a little over a pound, 450 grams. Pull off the heads, remove the dorsal digestive vein, and either just cut away the legs or peel off the shells. Cooking them with the shells on makes them more juicy, but it means a little more trouble at the table. Today I opted to remove the shells, an operation which took a little over 10 minutes. Leave the tails attached. Wash the shrimp under running water and drain them in a strainer. Pat dry with a paper kitchen towel. Marinate in the fridge between 30 minutes and one hour covered with a sheet of plastic wrap 保鲜膜。The marinade consists of: 1 tablespoon each of yellow cooking wine 黄酒,light soy sauce 生抽,and oyster sauce 蚝油 plus a generous sprinkle each of sugar, salt, and ground white pepper. The longer marinating time allows them to cook fast and have less risk of drying out. While the shrimp are marinating, I prep some aromatics: a couple slices of young ginger 生姜, and a couple large single-head garlics 独蒜, finely minced. (Old ginger 老姜 and standard garlic are stronger; so use less of them.) Three to five dry red peppers 干辣椒 torn into two or three pieces. (If you can't get these, use crushed chili flakes.) Just before you're ready to fire up the pan, add about a tablespoon of corn starch 玉米淀粉 to the shrimp and mix well. This allows the marinade to coat them better, locking in more flavor. Use a flat bottom non-stick pan for best results 平地不粘锅。Set it on the flame but don't let it get screeching hot before you add a generous tablespoon of a neutral oil (such as corn oil) and lay the shrimp in one at a time with chopsticks. Don't just dump them in; don't crowd the pan. Let them sear undisturbed for about a minute on medium heat. When the tails become deep pink, flip them and add the aromatics. Another minute and they're done. Serve them up. 装盘。They go well with a simple vegetable and steamed rice. (I served these with baby bok choi 小白菜。) These shrimp have a bold flavor and a pleasant texture. Quite a bit less oil than the method I showed you last time. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58622-spicy-chinese-twice-fried-shrimp-油炸虾仁/ Hope you will give them a try!
  10. Prompted by a recent question in another thread (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59118-revisiting-the-classics-家常菜/?tab=comments#comment-459919), here's some simple help on picking the right soy sauce. My neighborhood supermarket has 30 or 40 brands on several yards of shelves. If one just walked in cold, the choice would be nearly overwhelming. In figuring out what kind of soy sauce to use, It helps to divide them into broad categories or types. Light soy sauce 生抽 is far and away the most commonly used. If a recipe just calls for "soy sauce" without specifying further, best strategy is to use light soy sauce 生抽。It is made by fermenting soybeans for several months. The higher grades usually have a longer fermentation time. Look for brands that have no additives (many of the cheaper ones are laced with MSG.) These better ones often bear the designation 特级 te ji, which roughly means "top grade." Expect to pay 15 to 25 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle. Please click the photos to enlarge them. Here's the kind I have used for the last 5 or 6 years. Notice that it says 不加味精 (no added MSG.) I'm not against small amounts of MSG, but would rather add it judiciously with my own hand instead of having unknown amounts of it hiding in my soy sauce. The arrow near the bottom points to where it says 特级。It has fermented 280 days; that's what the large number means. Same company makes one with a shorter time (180 days) and another with a longer time (380 days.) I take the middle road; the middle way. This brand also has no preservatives. You can also buy soy sauce in large plastic jugs for little more than the price of Coca Cola. You could afford to take a bath in it, not that you would want to. That stuff is made with lots of zippy "instant chemistry" and has only a passing acquaintance with the soy bean to which it owes its name. Best avoided. It's easy to get seduced by "special purpose" soy sauce being promoted just for making one kind of food. One can buy a special type of soy sauce for steaming fish 蒸鱼豉油 and another soy sauce that has been flavored with tiny 虾米 dried shrimp 海鲜酱油。One other common type is promoted as being specifically for 红烧肉 red-cooked pork. It typically contains star anise plus a little cinnamon. There's nothing wrong with these, but they take a lot of extra cabinet space and aren't really necessary. You can use plain soy sauce just as well and add the extra seasonings by hand as required. Low-sodium soy sauce exists, and will usually be labeled 低盐酱油, meaning "low salt." It would be a mistake to think that "light soy sauce" means it is low in salt. Some brands are labeled as being "natural and organic" 天然有机。I don't have any experience with them. When I use soy sauce in a dish, I dial back the cooking salt 食用盐 a little to allow for it. All soy sauce contains flour in addition to fermented soy, so it's not gluten free, just in case that is something with which you are concerned. The second main kind of soy sauce is 老抽,usually rendered into English as "old soy sauce." or "dark soy sauce." It is used in cooking, not as a table condiment. It's quite a bit more concentrated than "young soy sauce" 生抽,and typically contains both flour-based thickeners and molasses-type sweeteners. It is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, whereas light soy sauce just runs right off. If I'm using a casual Chinese recipe that calls for both 生抽 and 老抽 without specifying precise amounts, I will use three or four times as much 生抽 as 老抽。Old soy sauce imparts a deeper color to a dish but not a whole lot of flavor. It is very often made with fermented mushrooms added during processing to enrich the taste, to make it more substantial. Here's one I've used several years with good results. Note the arrow pointing out that it is also 特级 (top grade.) Costs about the same as 生抽, 15 or 20 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle. Sometimes one also uses a very thick soy sauce as a dipping sauce for roast meat or duck 烤肉/烤鸭, alone or mixed with plum sauce. It is slightly sweet and comes in a wide-mouth jar; thick enough to require a spoon to serve it. If you are looking for general-purpose Chinese cooking soy sauce, that's not what you are after. Pass it by. In summary, your kitchen cupboard will be just fine with a bottle of 生抽 and another of 老抽。It's worth shelling out the little bit extra to get 特级 editions of both.
  11. This cornerstone condiment is somewhat unusual in that it's not only found in every Southwest China kitchen for daily use in cooking, but it is found on nearly every restaurant table as well, in an open-top jar or small ceramic pot. You won't find a salt shaker on cafe tables in Kunming, but even the simplest 小吃店 snack shop has some of this 红油 readily available so you can easily add it to your noodles 米线, fried rice 炒饭 or wonton 红油馄钝。 Let me show you how to make it at home. Sure you can buy it ready-made, and that's better than going without. But when you make it by hand in your own kitchen you will know what goes in it. No artificial coloring or flavoring, no MSG, no unpronounceable stabilizers and preservatives. First and foremost you need some dried chilies 干辣椒。I made a small batch yesterday afternoon and it required two large handfuls, on my small kitchen scale this was 50 grams. Rinse them quickly to remove any dust, and spread them out to dry thoroughly in the sun. Smash a thumb-sized piece of ginger 老姜, two large cloves of garlic 大蒜。Coarsely cut the white part of one large spring onion 大葱。Set these aside and turn your attention to the dry spices. Cinnamon bark 桂皮 at 12 o'clock, followed by a smashed cardamom pod 草果,a piece of dried orange peel 橙皮,two or three star anise 八角,two bay leaves 香叶,four or five cloves 丁香,a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns 花椒,most of a tablespoon of white sesame seeds 白芝麻,and finishing up at 11o'clock with a teaspoon of fennel seeds 小茴香。Toast these quickly over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking it constantly so they don't burn. Take them out and then toast the dry red peppers the same way, again being careful not to let them get too hot. This slight caramelization of the peppers really boosts the flavor of the finished sauce. (But I must caution you that this step is where it's easy to go wrong; it's easy to scorch them if your attention wanders.) Now grind the peppers fine either using a mortar and pestle or a blender 搅拌机。You want a coarse powder, not chunks and flakes. Might mention that if you want to tone down the Scoville heat a little, you can remove some of the seeds now, before you do the grinding. On the other hand, if you want to soup it up and give it more kick, this is the place to add a small amount of some other smaller, more pungent dry chilies, chopped fine. Plenty of options exist. Your 50 grams of dry peppers should yield about half a cup when ground. Pour this into a heat-proof bowl (I use metal) and scoop out a hole in the middle like the crater of a volcano. Now pour a little more than one cup of rape seed oil 菜籽油 into the skillet 平底锅 with the toasted dry spices and the ginger, scallion and garlic. Use medium heat to gently fry these flavor ingredients for three to five minutes. Don't let the oil get hot enough to smoke. When you can smell the aroma of the spices and can see the white scallions and garlic beginning to get golden brown 金黄,take it off the flame and strain the oil. Discard the solids and return the oil to the heat. When the oil reaches the point of just barely beginning to smoke, turn off the flame. Pour about a third of it into the dry peppers and stir quickly with chopsticks as it boils, fizzes and bubbles. Let the oil stand for another few seconds, most of a minute, and then pour another third into the peppers and stir, just like before. After a few more seconds, half a minute or so, add the sesame seeds and pour in the remaining hot oil, stirring it some more. It is said that pouring the oil in stages like this lets the hottest oil develops the fragrance (增香) of the ground chilies, while the second develops the red color (颜色变红) and the third balances their heat (会辣)。 The old Chinese kitchen saying that deals with this is 一香二红三辣。 Let it cool overnight to let the flavors blend before using. It also gets more red as it stands. Some of it can be stored in a small ceramic pot on the table and the rest can be put away in a screw-top jar in the fridge, where it will last 3 or 4 months. Of course if you live in Sichuan or Yunnan, you will use it all up long before then. In the photos below, I've poured some in a plate so you can see it better. This red chili oil 红油 is good stuff! Versatile and tasty. It's fragrant, rounded and balanced; pungent, yet without any sharp bite. Much more to it than simple liquid fire. Makes a great dipping sauce for 饺子 jiaozi, combined with equal parts soy sauce 酱油 and black vinegar 黑醋。
  12. abcdefg

    My new Hong Kong knife 菜刀

    Inspired by some other recent threads, I made time during my most recent visa stamp run (must exit China every 60 days) to buy a new cooking knife at the famous Hong Kong Chan Chi Kee knife store 陳枝記刀莊。 Was staying in Wanchai 湾仔 after returning from a visit to Macau to see the Dragon Boat Races 赛龙舟。Took the Star Ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙嘴 in Kowloon 九龙。The ferry is efficient and inexpensive. Taxi from the ferry terminal 码头 to the knife store, on Shanghai Street, took about 10 minutes and cost 45 HKD. Address: 香港九龍上海街 316-318. Bought their Number 2 knife, a thin-edged slicer with wooden handle, for 320 HKD. It's suitable for cutting up vegetables and meat, but not for chopping through bones. Got back to my hotel room and unwrapped it for photo purposes, only to find that I had somehow dinged the leading corner of the blade. It's not clear from the photo, but the damage was on the sharp edge, not the spine. Have no idea how it happened. I wasn't juggling lots of parcels or slinging it around carelessly. Had not dropped it or bumped it perceptibly. After lunch, I turned around and went right back. Rode the ferry across again; this time being easier because I knew the way. The man at the store swapped it for a new one, no questions asked. They were busy with other customers, and there was no chance to discuss it further or try to guess what had happened. He had earlier given me a short curb-side tutorial on how to sharpen it. Only 5 to 10 degrees of angle on a medium to fine whet-stone; making lots circles instead of changing sides too much. Sharpening the second side, he said, would only require a few strokes. The process didn't need to be symmetrical. I hope this blade does not prove too fragile. I definitely won't abuse it back in my Kunming kitchen, but I'm also unwilling to baby it. I like the fact that it is very, very sharp; should not take much effort to slice cleanly through tender things without tearing them up. The store was on a street with many other kitchen supply stores. I bought an instant-read thermometer which I will install ceremonially in a sleeve pocket on my white chef's smock along with a long tasting spoon (Only kidding; My kitchen has zero Michelin stars.) I've wrapped the knife very well, padding the entire edge with some styrofoam-type plastic that I found beside a trash bin on the street outside. It will travel back to Kunming in my checked suitcase, not in my carry-on, thank you very much. Will let you know how it works out. Related threads: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53912-chinese-cleaver-cai-dao-桑刀-or-菜刀-–-carbon-or-stainless-steel/ https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53947-hong-kong-residents-help-to-clarify-if-the-store-chan-chi-kee-陳枝記-still-exist/ https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54134-show-your-cai-dao-wok-and-other-kitchen-equipment/
  13. If the weather’s gray, I don’t have hot water. Solar heater on the roof 太阳能热水。This is a recipe I developed during one of those spells to avoid as much dish washing as possible. It came out so good that I have continued to make it even when the weather is fine. It features er cai 儿菜, a popular winter vegetable I never met before moving here to Kunming but of which I have become very fond. Easy to use and plenty of flavor. Loaded with virtues; bursting with vitamins and minerals. It’s a member of the brassica family, and thus is related to cabbage, mustard and Brussels sprouts. One of those things your Mama would nag you to eat more of if she were here. It grows in much of China but is most plentiful in the south and southwest. Yunnan people can’t praise it enough. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Today I bought a kilogram of the lovely stuff for under 5 Yuan. Saved part for tomorrow, washed the remainder, broke off six or eight “knobs” from which I pared away the damaged or tough outer leaves. Sliced them into thick pieces as shown. Bottom right photo shows what I mean. Knobs in the middle, trimmings on the right, slices on the left. The central heavy white stem I hold back and use later for soup. Thinly sliced the white part of one spring onion and one small sausage, about 50 grams. I buy top grade Guangdong style sausage for this kind of use. 特级广味香肠。This kind of sausage hasn’t been smoked and has a slightly sweet taste. Meanwhile I have soaked my rice. Important step: takes 15 minutes and allows the rice grains to swell instead of burst when heat is applied. Assembled the ingredients, a pretty simple collection. My rice in my rice cooker takes about 30 minutes to get done. Although it doesn’t require military precision, my general game plan is to add the sausage after the rice has cooked alone for 10 minutes and add the ercai in a steamer basket on top when the whole works is 6 or 8 minutes from done. Now that the rice is underway, lets make a dipping sauce, a zhanshui 蘸水。Here’s where you can use your imagination. My personal favorite is a tablespoon each of dark sesame oil 黑芝麻油, aged dark vinegar 老陈醋, and light soy sauce 生姜。Into these I mix a teaspoon of red chili oil 红油。You could use a store brand such as Old Grandmother 老干妈。It’s pretty good; but I use my own home made chili oil instead and I would modestly point out that it’s perfect. (Recipe here -- link.) After 10 minutes, quickly open the lid and add the sausage, more or less in one layer. Don’t dally; you want to minimize the escape of steam. About 12 minutes later, add the steamer basket of ercai with the minced scallion sprinkled on top. Again, work fast when raising the lid. The rice cooker will beep when it’s done. It usually takes a few minutes more than the usual 30 because both sausage and the vegetable add some moisture. Take the ercai out and add a sprinkling of salt and a dusting of white pepper. Serve it up 装盘。What I did here just to make it look nice was to put a scoop of rice in the middle with meat on top and vegetables around the side. Second helping less fancy. Not a huge belt-buster feast; but still a well-balanced, relatively healthy dinner. Good tastes. Total cost for two people under two dollars; total time investment under an hour. Minimal cleanup. All in all, pretty sweet! (If you can't find ercai, you could use another vegetable such as Brussels sprouts or baby bokchoi 小白菜。)
  14. You can have Kung Pao Chicken 宫保鸡丁at the all-you-can eat Chinese buffet in the strip mall on the outskirts of Smalltown, Texas, USA. I know because I’ve eaten it there. Panda Express also dishes up a ton of it at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Concourse B. You can always count on it to form the cornerstone of an honest, solid meal. East or West. But if you start chasing it around Mainland China, you will quickly find that the name is the same wherever you go, but what the waitress delivers to your table definitely won’t be what you remembered having last week down the road a piece. It varies all over the map. More so than most popular dishes. Why is that? Gongbao jiding originated in Shandong during the latter Qing. Chicken and peanuts were both staples of Shandong Cuisine, which is also know as 鲁菜 lu cai. The Governor of Shandong Province 山东省 was a real aficionado of that particular taste combination; anecdote has it that he would even occasionally fiddle around with cooking it himself instead of just relegating the task to his staff. We are talking about Ding Baozhen 丁宝桢(1820年-1886年.) Shandong Governor Ding was originally from Guizhou 贵州省 and that is where he began his political career. When his relatives and friends from back home visited him at the Governor’s Mansion, he couldn’t wait to introduce them to his Shandong “find.” They were suitably impressed and carried the word back to Guizhou. The dish was quickly adapted to the local palate, and soon became a staple of Guizhou Cuisine 黔菜 (Qian Cai) as well. Guizhou loves hot food, so the fire quotient was ramped up. Guizhou also insists that sour be part of the flavor mix. That was accomplished by including pickled vegetables 泡菜。 In his later years, Ding was appointed governor of Sichuan. Not surprisingly, he took his culinary discovery with him. Once again it was modified for local tastes and to make use of prized local ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns, also known as prickly ash, a mouth-numbing member of the citrus family 花椒 huajiao. Today Gongbao jiding 宫保鸡丁 definitely belongs to the cannon of best-loved Sichuan Cuisine 川菜 chuancai. Ding continued to attract favorable national attention by revising the salt tax codes and by refurbishing the famous Dujiangyan Water Conservation System 都江堰水利工。In the course of his long career, Governor Ding caught the eye of the Qing Emperor in a positive way, and before long his favorite dish got picked up by the power elite in the northern capital city. It earned a proud place in Beijing Cuisine. So today your order of Gongbao Jiding 宫保鸡丁 can have many faces. Not to worry; they are all pretty darned good. I’ll show you one very decent recipe that’s not difficult to cook up at home, but I make no extravagant claims to it being the “one true way” or the “gold standard.” (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) The finished product and the vegetables. Start with the meat. Use two large chicken breasts if you plan to make enough for 3 or 4 people to share as part of a Chinese meal. I suggest buying fresh chicken, instead of frozen chicken breasts since they have more taste. The two I had today weighed 0.549 kg (a little over a pound.) I sliced them open first off so they wouldn’t be quite so thick, then proceeded to cut the meat into roughly one-inch cubes. 鸡丁 Safety tip: Put a folded piece of damp paper kitchen towel under the cutting board so it won’t scoot around. Marinate the cut chicken in a mixture of 1 beaten egg white 蛋清, ½ teaspoon cooking salt 食用盐, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper 白胡椒粉, 1 tablespoon of yellow cooking wine 料酒, and a heaping teaspoon of corn starch 玉米淀粉。Put on a disposable glove 一次性手套 and massage the seasonings into the meat. Let it marinate 腌制 in the fridge about 15 minutes. Notice that the marinade isn’t “soupy.” It coats the meat without much excess. Wipe a small amount of cooking oil around the inside of your wok and heat it with low flame. Put in a heaping teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 and stir them until you start to smell their lemon-zest aroma. Take them out and let them cool. Meanwhile, cook a handful of peanuts 花生米 the same way. You want them to slowly toast, but not scorch or burn. Keep them moving over low flame for a couple minutes. They become crunchy as they cool, not while they are still hot. Crush the toasted Sichuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back of a stout soup spoon. Toasting and crushing them like this greatly increases their flavor. Set them and the roasted peanuts aside, turning your attention to the vegetables. Cut the red bell pepper 红甜椒 into thumb-sized pieces and chop a cucumber 黄瓜 into cubes 丁that are about the same size as the chicken. If you are using long Chinese cucumbers as shown, no need to peel them. Cut the spring onion into rounds, using only the white part. Mince 切碎 a thumb of ginger 生姜 and a clove or two of garlic 大蒜。 Prepare a thickening sauce 勾芡酱 by putting a heaping teaspoon of corn starch and a half cup of water into a bowl. Stir well to dissolve. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar 白砂糖。Add a tablespoon of cooking wine 黄酒, a tablespoon of dark vinegar 老陈醋, a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽 and about a third as much dark soy sauce 老抽。Set aside. Prep finished, time now to cook. Get the chicken from the fridge, stir it up. I always like to lay out the ingredients and mentally rehearse what goes in first, what follows, and so on. I suppose you could even arrange all your “mis en place” dishes in time-sequence order if you were of a mind to. “Hot wok, cold oil” 热锅粮油。I realize you knew that. Preheat it before adding two or three tablespoons of cooking oil. I used corn oil today. Flame on medium 中火 instead of high. Chicken requires a different approach from pork or beef. Add the chicken in one layer, spreading it quickly with your chopsticks (not all mounded up in the center of the wok.) Leave it alone for a minute or so, allowing it to sear. Carefully scrape it up and turn it over, trying to minimize surface tearing. It should mostly have changed color from pink to white by now and have a little bit of golden crust. The goal for this first stage is to only cook it two-thirds or so; not completely done. Only takes two minutes max. Add the crushed Sichuan peppercorns and 4 or 5 dry red peppers 干辣椒。I usually just tear these peppers in half as I add them. Some people cut them into smaller bits with scissors. Stir everything well and then add the chopped cucumbers and red bell peppers. Add new ingredients to the center of the wok; that’s the hottest part. Then stir it all together. Give it a minute or so, allowing flavors to blend, stirring and flipping all the while 煸炒,翻炒。 Now the thickening sauce goes in, mixing it well because the solids will have settled in the bowl. Stir everything well for a minute or so until you see the chicken and vegetables developing an attractive sheen. Last of all, add the peanuts and incorporate them more or less evenly 拌均匀。You want the peanuts to have a very short cooking time so they will retain their crispy texture. Plate it up 装盘。Admire your handiwork. Snap a photo with your phone. Set it on the table. Call the team to come dig in. Gongbao jiding and steamed rice 蒸饭 are just about inseparable, so plan ahead and have some rice ready when the chicken comes off the stove. Took a little over half an hour today, maybe 45 minutes including clean up. I listened to the Sutherland - Pavarotti Turandot while working. London Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta. Although this is fun to make at home, it’s also an easy thing to order in a simple restaurant. Any random six-table Mom and Pop joint will be able to turn it out. I often supplement it with a clear green-leafy vegetable soup. 苦菜汤 kucai tang, for example, is easy to find and serves the purpose of turning this into a real meal: veggie, meat, and soup. Tasty and won’t break the bank. Try it soon and see what you think! Here's the recipe all in one place to make it easier to use: (Click "reveal hidden contents."
  15. Spring Festival 春节 bounty:A generous friend brought bought me back a big piece of slow-cured mountain ham from his village up in Zhaotong Prefecture 昭通州 and I asked about some of the favorite ways they used it back home. Today's dish headed the short list. Use the tender shoots of the garlic plant to make a simple stir-fry. I gave it a try and it turned out first rate. The complex aged ham was offset by the slightly sweet garlicky flavor of the tender spring vegetable. Let me show you how to do it yourself. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Lately these garlic stems been abundant and inexpensive at my local wet market. The ones I got cost 4 Yuan for a big bundle, and the sign says they were grown locally. This is another of those vegetables I'd never seen until moving to China. My background reading says they are sometimes called "garlic bolts" or "garlic scapes" in the west, though I admit to never having heard either of those odd names. Farmers cut them off so that the (underground) garlic bulb will grow larger. In any case Chinese love them and call them suantai 蒜苔。They are at their best right now. Later in the full heat of summer they become tough and somewhat woody; now they are juicy and tender. I bought one large bundle, washed them and cut them into pieces between two and three inches long. Trimmed and discarded a few brown tips. You can see the unopened garlic flowers near the growing end of most stems. (Yes, you eat that part too.) They have a pleasant garlicky flavor without any of that garlic bulb heat and bite. Almost sweet, though not quite. Texture is close to that of young asparagus. Washed and then cut a couple of small red bell peppers 红甜椒 into thin slivers (removing the stem and the seeds.) 洗净、去蒂、去籽、切丝。 Rinsed off a piece of ham and carefully cut it into very thin slices. Leave the fat, it adds to the flavor. (Sharp knife is essential. My trusty Hong Kong caidao 菜刀 did not let me down.) This ham was two years old; rich, complex flavor. The pigs from which it came are about half wild, roaming large pastures instead of being confined to small pens. Elevation 3,000 meters. Yunnan's most famous ham comes from Xuanwei 宣威, in Qujing 曲靖, a bit south of Zhaotong 昭通。It is similar in character to an Italian Parma ham. Smack a large spring onion 大葱 with the side of the blade to crush it and flatten it somewhat, then slice it thin. Partly flattening it like that makes the volatile aromatics release easier when it hits the heat. Boil a small pot of water and drop the garlic stems into it. When the water returns to a boil, scoop them out and drain them well 沥干水。You only want to blanch 焯 them; be careful not to overdo it. These were so tender I actually could have omitted that step. Readied my soy sauce 生抽 and some cooking wine 料酒。Put a teaspoon of corn starch into a rice bowl along with a tablespoon or two of tap water, mixing them together to make 水淀粉。Will use this in the last step to thicken the sauce and bind the various flavors. A little oil swirled around in the bottom of my hot wok to coat. Full flame, almost making it smoke. Add the ham, stir it around to render some of its fat. Quickly add the red peppers and spring onion, stirring constantly. Then in go the blanched garlic stems. Continue to stir fry 翻炒 briskly and shake the wok at the same time to keep things from sticking and burning. I've turned the heat to medium, but the steel of the wok is still plenty hot. It smells real good by now. Add about a tablespoon of soy sauce and the same amount of cooking wine. No salt or MSG needed. When the vegetables are just beginning to take on a golden color, add the corn starch solution and stir a few seconds more. The entire cooking time was only a minute or two: fast and hot is the ticket for this. You are done. Serve it up. Sip a glass of white wine. The vegetables are tender, but have retained their crunch. Eat it with steamed rice and a simple clear vegetable soup to make a light warm-weather meal. If you can locate the ingredients, give it a whirl. A farmers market would be the place to look for these garlic stems. I've seen recipes which use processed ham links 火腿肠 and young asparagus 芦笋。Not quite the same, but probably still good.
  16. 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.) 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. 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. These 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. 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. 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。 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.
  17. Here's the backstory to yesterday's recipe. (Link, in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56622-spicy-green-peppers-and-mushrooms-香菇炒青椒/?tab=comments#comment-438182 ) Let me give you a look at my trip to the outdoor market for the ingredients. It's a look at my neighborhood wet market in early summer. It's also a daily-life taste of the non-tourist China. (As usual, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) It was clear that lots of people had the same idea at the same time because it was hard to find a place to park my bike outside the gate. As previously mentioned, rainy season has arrived, and we all rush out to do errands when we get a blue-sky sunny day. We have begun to see some wild mushrooms for sale, though not the abundance that will be here in a month. As business is slow, the vendor even has time to puff his Yunnan water pipe, lower right. Instead of buying wild ones today, I headed for the large table where they sell an assortment of cultivated mushrooms. The boss was having a reflective moment, contemplating the meaning of life. Next door, I bought a pile of dragon fruit 火龙果. They were being sold by the pile 一堆 instead of by weight. You couldn't sort through them, but my pile had 4 fruits for 10 Yuan, so I wasn't about to complain. These had been brought up from Vietnam. One of the glories of this market is the large assortment of fermented condiments, pickled vegetables and vibrant Yunnan spices. Look at the lovely long red pickled peppers in the photo lower right. They are not as hot as they look and make a great accompaniment to a roast chicken. Today I bought a chunk of lufu 油卤腐, a specialty of nearby Yuxi 玉溪。It's a rather strange salty and spicy fermented product, made from hairy tofu 毛豆腐 pickled in chilies and oil for several months. It's pungent and sort of stinky; reminiscent of Limburger cheese, great spread onto a fresh steamed bun baozi 包子。 Even better when spread on one of these steamed braided buns hua juan 花卷。Doubt it will ever be a hit with Joe Sixpack back in Texas. Here's the source of the peppers in yesterday's meal. They are abundant just now. I bought the green ones 青椒 or 青辣尖椒, but red ones are available too. They are moderately piquant, and sometimes I prefer small red bell peppers instead. Yunnan people love their peppers and one can find a couple dozen different kinds. I stopped to say hello to Mr. Gao, purveyor of edible flowers. I sometimes cook the large yellow ones, but never got around to making the photos to show you. They are very tasty, but require some extra work. Today he had a basket of perfect jumbo figs, bottom left corner of his display. I bought a few one day early last week; an experience to be long treasured; goodness they were sweet. One fills you up and makes the sun shine even at night. A few meters away, a cluster of people looked over the lettuce and cabbage. It was a popular spot: prices were low and quality was high. It was early in the day, and the place I usually buy roast duck was just gearing up for round two. They hang the birds to air dry for a while before rubbing them inside and out with spices. Then they put them into sealed clay ovens to roast slow. This produces the famous Yilaing roast duck 宜良烤鸭 for which this region is famous. It rivals those from Beijing. They are prized for their tender meat and their crispy skin 脆皮。 Next door someone was selling roast duck by the kilo. They were cheaper because they were prepared somewhere off premises. Competition was stiff and they had a bowl of free samples that you could spear with a toothpick. This middle-aged couple lingered there a long time, sampling steadily as if trying to make up their minds. They didn't fool me and they probably didn't fool the duck seller; eventually they moved on without making a purchase. At the bottom of the frame, lower right, notice the big metal pan of spicy Yunnan chicken feet. They are not for the faint of heart. By now it was time for a bowl of one of my favorite local specialties, silky tofu "flowers" on rice noodles with a pungent pickled vegetable sauce 豆花米线。Mine had a sprinkling of ground meat, although they make a meatless version as well. 7 Yuan for a medium serving. The boss was bouncing a baby on his knee. I asked if it was his grandson. "No, he is my neighbor's.” 他是隔壁的。In a couple minutes the mother came over from the stall next door to reclaim her happy little boy. On the way out with my trophies, I passed some zongzi 粽子 booths just getting cranked up. Dragon Boat festival 端午节 is on the horizon and will be here in less than two weeks. Zongzi made with Yunnan ham 云南宣威火腿 are very popular here. Made my way back to the street, passing some free lancers selling small items they had carried in by hand. Outside the market proper there are always several small mobile vendors selling just a few items. Doubt they are really making a living; more likely just supplementing their slim pensions. The old man had brought in some small dried fishes, carried in two baskets on either end of a bamboo shoulder pole 扛。 When people back home ask me about the "Real China," I never know quite what to say, then I think about places like this. Ten minutes by bicycle from my apartment.
  18. The slow-cured ham of Xuanwei 宣威火腿 and the lightly-processed cheese from the high-pasture cattle north of Shilin 石林乳饼 are both big Yunnan favorites. It shouldn't be in the least surprising to learn that they are often combined, more often than not by simply steaming them together. It was a marriage of flavors made in food heaven and I would wager that nearly every family in this part of China makes it at home on a regular basis, using just ham and cheese without anything else. I make it with some regularity too, but tonight I fancied it up in a way that compliments the primary textures and flavors. Came out real good and the process was straight forward. Let me show you the method. The only trick if you live overseas might be finding authentic ingredients. I believe you could substitute another cured (not smoked) ham such as those from Smithfield in the southeasten US, and you could use a good quality Italian bufala mozzarella for the cheese. Wouldn't be exactly the same, of course, but it should still be good. Wash some red and green peppers and peel the outer tough skin off a mild Bermuda onion 洋葱。I used red bell peppers 红甜辣椒 and the long green half-hot chilies 青辣椒, but you could substitute locally available varieties, as long as they are fresh and full of flavor. Cut these vegetables up as shown; no need to be too fussy about it. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The cheese vendor offers to slice it at the time of purchase and I usually say yes because it saves some labor at home. He does it freehand, using a piece of stout monafilament string. He cuts it just right, but if you are doing it at home, don't slice it too thin, or else it will fall apart when steamed. China is not known for its cheeses, but this Yunnan product is an exception to the rule. Different versions of it exist around Dali, where it can be made from goats milk, and around Lijiang, where it can be made with milk of the great hairy alpine yak. I buy my ham in a block and then slice it myself, making the cuts thin but as thin as I might with prosciutto . I include a little fat, but not as much as most Chinese cooks. They often prefer the slices to be nearly a third fat. You could adjust that element to taste. My ham lady has a brother in Xuanwei Town 宣威县城 who hangs and cures these hams for about half a year. The prep work is simple and fast, and now you are almost ready to apply the heat. Select a shallow bowl that will fit in your steamer. If you don't have a steamer, you can use your wok with a wire rack and a lid. Spread a layer of onions in the bottom of the bowl, follow that with a layer of cheese topped with ham. Sprinkle on plenty of sliced red and green peppers, then do it all again. Two layers is usually enough, but there is no law against more if your dish is deeper than mine. This dish doesn't need any added salt because the ham supplies just enough. Place it in your steamer and set a timer for 25 minutes. At that point I usually wash up my knife, cutting board and any other prep dishes that might have accumulated. So much easier than waiting till later and it gives you clean work surfaces. Near the end of the cooking time, I usually make a tablespoon or two of thin corn starch slurry 水淀粉 to use to thicken the pan juices before serving. This makes a fine gravy to use in topping your rice. One nice thing about steaming a dish like this is it doesn't dry out. Nothing more to do until the timer dings, then lift it out. Pour some of the juices into the bowl with your corn starch slurry and combine well. Drizzle it over the cooked ham and cheese. The flavor of the vegetables melts into the primary notes of the mild cheese and the ham and does it without getting in the way or becoming confusing. I've made this dish for several Yunnan natives, and as conservative as they sometimes are, none have yet turned up their noses and walked away. Changing a classic comes with some risks and is not always successful. The "less is more" mantra often applies. But this time the modifications yielded a real winner. Try it yourself for your family or your friends and see what you think. Pretty sure you won't be disappointed.
  19. abcdefg

    Crazy for pickles 泡黄瓜

    Before moving here a decade ago I hugely underestimated Chinese love of pickles 泡菜。Fortunately, it was not a fatal mistake. Pickled vegetables of some sort are served with nearly every meal, including a nice salty-spicy dish of them with your porridge 粥 for breakfast. It's always risky to generalize, but this holds pretty much true from the frosty northeast 东北 to the humid sub-tropics of Canton 广州。 It's definitely true in Yunnan, where the predominant style of pickling is the one developed in neighboring Sichuan: namely long, slow fermentation in special crockery and glass jars with a water-seal lip that allows gas to escape while denying entry to stray unwanted bacteria. Not only are a wide assortment of vegetables transformed in this way, but the process is applied to such diverse ingredients as lake crabs and chicken feet. Some Chinese pickles are closer to being a relish or a chutney than they are to my usual mental image of a pickle: a big Kosher Dill carefully fished out of a wooden barrel at the old corner Deli, one block over from P.S. 106, Bronx, New York, circa 1950. Yunnan also has a truly perverse love affair with pickled fruit. One frequently sees street vendors selling small pickled pears and plums. They taste of anise, cinnamon and clove; right beside strong notes of chili, garlic and ginger. Some pickles are eaten raw, others are used as ingredients in cooking. Pickled greens 泡菜/酸菜 are often combined with fish and meat. (Recipe for pickled greens with fish slices here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51433-yunnan-spicy-fish-酸菜鱼片/) (And here's one for pickled greens with pork loin: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/47975-suancai-chao-rou-酸菜炒肉/) In the warmer months of the year, we are fortunate to have several varieties of cucumber here in Kunming, all of which invite pickling. I've been turning out at least one batch a week for the last few months. Thought I would show you how to make them yourself in case you have a "pickle tooth" too. Sometimes I use carrots, radish, bell peppers and even cauliflower, but today we will be sticking to cucumbers. (The method adapts easily to other vegetables if you prefer them.) This morning at the local wet market I found two of the three main kinds of local cucumbers: the long thin ones with bumpy skin (sometimes called "Japanese cucumbers," and the shorter stout ones with smoother light skin (sometimes called "English cucumbers.") A third kind that is smaller than either of these, with dark smooth skin, might have been present somewhere, but I didn't run across them and had no particular reason to seek them out. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The kind on the right in this photo are the ones that work best for "smashed cucumber salad" 拍黄瓜。(Recipe for that here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53783-another-simple-classic-smashed-cucumber-拍黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-412400) The big ones on the left are the kind I bought this morning to turn into pickles. These two varieties cost approximately the same. The smaller, "gherkin-sized" ones, cost a little more. In selecting a fresh cucumber, regardless of size, nothing works as well as a gentle squeeze test. It should feel firm, without much give. If it's soft, that means it's old. These local cucumbers don't need to be peeled. The surface isn't bitter and they haven't been sprayed with wax or oils like they are in some US supermarkets. The recipe I'm using for these today is one that originated in Fujian and is popular in Taiwan as well. It made its way to Guangdong and Hong Kong, but isn't terribly popular here in Kunming. It's a "Quick Pickle" that doesn't require much time. It's also not terribly salty or sour: very well balanced, at least for my palate. Scrub the cucumbers and slice them into rounds about a half an inch thick (2 cm or so.) Don't peel them and don't remove the seeds. Notice that these have nice looking centers; if they were past their prime, the centers would have larger seeds and a network of large empty spaces. Peel the garlic 独蒜 and smash it into chunks, scrub the ginger 老姜 and slice it thickly, unpeeled. Cut the hot pepper 小米辣 into thirds and remove some of the seeds if you want to decrease the heat. The dry orange peel 橙皮 is optional, but the dried licorice root 甘草 is very strongly suggested. It adds a distinctive note and the resulting taste would definitely be less interesting without it. You can buy it in Chinese herbal pharmacies if your grocery store doesn't stock it. For each large pickle combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce 生抽, two tablespoons of aged vinegar 老陈醋, and two tablespoons of white rice vinegar白醋. Add one tablespoon of sugar 白砂糖 and one teaspoon of salt 食盐。Do not add water. As the pickles marinate, they will release some of their own flavor-laden moisture. Put everything in a saucepan and boil it for one only one minute over low to medium heat. Remove it from the flame and let the pickles cool in this liquid. You can cool it in bowls if you want it to go a bit faster. When it is cool enough to handle easily, put everything into the jar and screw on the lid. Let it stand out on a shelf or counter top overnight, then refrigerate it in the morning. The pickles are ready to eat in 24 hours and will keep ten days or two weeks, though I confess I've never made a batch yet that possessed that degree of longevity. Let me be clear: the pickles didn't go bad; I just ate them all up. They improve with every passing day. On occasion I've made a half batch to replenish the jar, adding the new ones to the bottom. These pickles really do have a way of disappearing. I like that they have plenty of crunch, aren't too sweet, aren't too sour, aren't too hot, but still definitely are not too bland. They make a great mid-afternoon snack, along with a hard-boiled egg. You won't be struck by lightning, however, if you want to vary your own batch of pickles to taste. What I've hoped to provide for you here is a safe and sensible starting place so you can avert disaster while carrying out your own personal fine-tuning. I often eat them along with a sandwich, or better yet, alongside a fresh steamed bun spread with spicy fermented tofu. I was introduced to this sterling combination several years ago when climbing Mt. Emei 峨眉山 (in Sichuan, south of Chengdu) very early one morning trying to get to the top by sunrise. I stopped for a break beside the steep trail and two middle-aged ladies sat down beside me. They were friendly and shared their snacks, which were, you guessed it, mantou, lufu, and pickles. Plus a big thermos of green tea. As an impressionable youth, I was hooked for life. Three rounds of rehab have not put a dent in my shameful cravings or my ruinous pickle addiction. This morning I bought a folded steamed bun with sesame seeds (huajuan 花卷) instead of plain mantou 馒头。Ate the last few remaining pickles from my jar before starting a new batch. These had been marinating about one week and were bursting with flavor. A fine compliment to the spicy fermented tofu (lufu 卤腐) which is one of the odd-ball darlings of Yunnan cuisine. Life is too short not to eat plenty of pickles; especially home-made Chinese pickles. Give these a try and see what you think!
  20. With the arrival of warmer summer days, I've been looking for ways to have less fried food while still enjoying premium local fresh produce and bold Chinese flavors. Eggplant 茄子 (qiezi) is one of my favorite vegetables, and tonight I made it steamed for supper. Let me show you how. Bought three of these tender long Asian eggplants 长茄子 at the outdoor market, along with some mildly-spicy crinkly red peppers 红椒 and a handful fresh spring onions 大葱. Took three heads of single-clove garlics 独蒜 from my existing kitchen stash. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) When making an eggplant dish it's best to prepare the other ingredients first, saving the eggplant until last. If it stands too long in room air, the cut edges turns an unattractive brown color. So that's the sequence I followed today. If you're not used to cooking with these Chinese spring onions, I can save you some time. Don't try washing them to remove the sand and soil. Just grasp a few leaves and peel them all the way to the root end, then snap that part off. I cut them on a bias with my sharp Hong Kong knife 菜刀 so they would fall apart and blend better with the eggplant in the steamer. Next I sliced the peppers in half and removed the fibrous core as well as most of the seeds. Sliced them into julienne slivers 切丝。 Smashed the garlic, removed the skin, and then minced it fine 蒜蓉。 After washing the eggplants, removed the stems and cut them into long pieces 切条 without worrying too much about making them completely uniform in size like you would if using them in a stirfry. These eggplants are young and tender; no need to remove the skin. Put all the ingredients together in a shallow bowl and set it in a steamer. Had I not had a steamer, would have used a wok with a lid. Let it steam for a scant 7 or 8 minutes, until the eggplant pieces can be easily pierced with a chopstick. While that was going on, I made a simple sauce. Whisked together one part aged vinegar 老陈醋, one part light soy sauce 生抽, one part sesame oil 香油。Stir in a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精, and a big pinch of sugar. When it's done, lift it out. Remember that the dish is real hot, so best to use a tool such as the one shown here. Drizzle on the sauce, stir it gently and serve while nice and warm. Inexpensive, healthy, easy summer food. Give it a try and see what you think.
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    Roast duck mango salad

    Summer is approaching fast and, as the days get warmer, a hearty salad sometimes hits the spot for supper. Here's one of my favorites. Cannot really call it Old School Yunnan cooking, but it nonetheless is a fine fusion of some classic local flavors. The duck was one of our prized Yiliang birds, purchased from the market for 25 Yuan. The type of bird and the method of cooking it are different from the more famous Beijing roast duck. The bird is very succulent, with crisp skin, partly attributed to being roasted in large, free-standing clay ovens. They originated east of Kunming, not far from Stone Forest in the small town of Yiliang 宜良县城 but now are widely found in Kunming as well. We old timey locals brag that they put Beijing ducks to shame. The vendor usually chops them into pieces for you, but today I asked him not to. Was a little surprised that it was a trick to find the right verb. They don't call it qie 切 or duo 剁,instead using kan 砍。"老板请不要砍" got the job done. (Remember you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The mangoes were from Thailand, and cost 12 Yuan a kilo. Price will come down a little next month. These are "sheng de long" mangoes 圣德龙, a sweet, sought-after variety. The seller will help you select a couple that are ready now, today and tomorrow, and a couple others that will be ripe towards the end of the week. Took me most of my first mango season to master this simple trick of "strategic spaced purchasing." Transported my bounty home in the basket on the handlebars of my bike. Wasn't feeling terribly ambitious, but fortunately this dish is really easy to make and doesn't even require turning on the stove. Bought a sweet Bermuda onion 洋葱 and a small bunch of fresh cilantro with the stems 香菜。A crisp Asian cucumber 黄瓜 and a couple limes 青柠檬。These cucumbers are long with tender skin that isn't bitter. I only partly peel them. The limes have less bite than Chinese lemons. Rough cut half of the onion. This ginger is different from what is usually exported: it's fresh 生姜 instead of dried 老姜。It has a milder flavor; you can use more of it with impunity. Coarsely sliced a big piece of it, the size of two thumbs. Doesn't need to be peeled. I usually buy cucumbers from the same lady. For whatever reason, hers are always fresh and sweet. She also has the bigger English-style cucumbers for sale; you can see them in the right front of her display. I partly skinned one Asian cucumber and cut it in half the long way. Scooped out the seeds with a spoon and sliced it into pencil-sized slivers. Put the cucumber and onion in a bowl, added salt and a pinch of sugar. Squeezed two limes and added the juice along with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cut a few stalks of fresh coriander, stems plus leaves. Tossed it all together. Skinned and sliced one ripe mango 芒果。It was so sweet and juicy that it required considerable self control not to just wolf it down immediately and forget the rest of the meal. Tossed it together with the vegetables, making sure the mango slices got well coated with lime juice. Let the flavors marry while cutting up the duck. I cut and tore the tender breast meat off the bone. One of the hallmarks of well-made duck is that the juices stay in the meat, trapped by the golden crispy skin. I added a sprinkle of salt. If you didn't have roast duck readily available, you could use roast chicken, although it wouldn't have quite as full a flavor. Home stretch now. Just toss it all together. This is enough for two hungry people as a main course. Great for a summer evening when you don't feel like firing up the wok. Hope you will give it a try before too long. You won't regret it.
  22. Here's another good way to turn Chinese chives (jiucai 韭菜) into something tasty without too much trouble. Admittedly, it requires a little more effort than the simple stir fry scramble that we made with them a couple days ago, but not a whole lot. That recipe is here in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56328-chinese-chives-韭菜-two-or-three-ways/?tab=comments#comment-435504 Today we'll make griddle cakes 煎饼 which can easily serve as a breakfast or as the backbone of a light supper or lunch. Adding a bowl of rice, a salad or a soup turns it into a decent, well-balanced meal. Start with the same primary ingredient 主料, namely a bundle of fresh jiucai 韭菜, aka Chinese chives. The first time or two that you make this, you might want to be more careful with the weights and the measures, though after that it's fine to just work by eye. This handful of jiucai weighed about 250 grams when I started, and about 200 grams after pulling off brown or dead leaves and trimming away the tough sandy/muddy ends of the white stems. Washed them well three times, until the wash water remained completely clean to the eye. Drain in a colander and blot dry. This time, instead of cutting them into short pieces like we did before, I chopped them up fine. This makes them easier to incorporate into a batter a few minutes later on. Also cut up a few slices of lean ham/huotui 火腿, this time using some I bought in the store instead of my favorite which comes from the wet market a little farther away. Canadian bacon would work well in place of this if you live in the west. Finely diced half a large carrot and lightly beat two fresh eggs in a small bowl with my chopsticks. Made a thin batter from 50 grams of all purpose flour and about half a cup of potable water. Stirred it well with a fork. You could also use a small balloon whisk for this, but an electric mixer would be overkill. Mix in the two eggs, followed by the ham, carrots, and jiucai. Stir it well to evenly distribute all ingredients, adding about a half teaspoon of salt 食盐 as you work. 搅拌均匀。It should be a somewhat soupy, wet batter for this particular use; not a thick, stiff batter like you might prefer in some other applications. Use a non-stick flat-bottom saute pan 不粘平底锅 for this instead of your trusty wok. If you don't have one of those, don't despair. A well seasoned wok will also get the job done, though it requires a little more oil. Heat your pan over medium heat and add the batter using a large spoon. The individual cakes won't be perfectly round, but don't fret about that. It's not your year for that second Michelin star anyhow. After a couple of minutes, turn them with a silicone spatula and a pair of chopsticks. Let the second side brown as well. By now the centers are well cooked, but still moist. Take them out of the pan and reserve 备用 on a preheated plate or platter. You will probably have to make them in two batches. What I do is pour boiling water over a large plate and then dry it. Cover the finished griddle cakes 煎饼 loosely with a clean kitchen towel. This way your fresh-cooked goodies are still hot when they reach the table. Dig in. You and your friends or family are ready to enjoy a home-made jiucai treat.
  23. Freezing drizzle mixed with light snow flurries outside my window today here in the City of Eternal Spring sent me on a quest for some simple comfort food. Kunming has real good weather overall, but that doesn't mean we totally escape winter. Managed to make a quick run to the fresh market on one of the trusty Ofo shared bikes before getting really socked in. Invested 3 Yuan in a nice slice of long, skinny Yunnan pumpkin 南瓜, not the Jack-O-Lantern kind. The seller had donggua/wintermelon 冬瓜 on offer as well. She lets you buy as much of one as you want, since both these vegetables are usually too large for only one family. Deftly scoops out the seeds and shaves off the thick rind, then chops it into two pieces so it will easily fit inside my shopping bag. Wound up with 600 grams, a little over a 斤 or a pound of usable flesh 肉。 Before anything else, I started washing and soaking the rice. I used one cup total, about half of which was medium-grain white rice 大米, with the remainder being millet 小米 and short-grain sticky rice 糯米。That combination is completely optional; the recipe works just fine with all plain rice instead. The thing I most often got wrong when starting out making zhou 粥 several years ago was that I always seemed to use too much rice. It's easy to forget how much it will expand during the process of cooking, and you want the result to be soupy, not thick. I would suggest thinking long and hard before exceeding one cup of grain, since it eventually needs to be diluted 10 to 1 or 12 to 1 with water or stock. Next order of business, and another of those simple things that is easy to slight, is to wash the rice very well. The idea is not just to get it clean, but to remove surface rice powder and begin softening or even breaking some of the grains. This is different from making steamed rice where you would like to maintain grain integrity. Rinse it four or five times, each time scrubbing it around with your hands, rolling it between your palms. Consider this some kind of mild primal therapy. Put on loud music if necessary. Then let it soak. Ideally for about an hour. And this soaking water will be discarded before you actually start cooking. Now turn your attention to the pumpkin. Wash it quickly under running water and then slice it into thin pieces. These don't need to be tiny slivers, but it works best if they aren't large chunks. Steam these for 15 or 20 minutes, until they are soft and pierce easily with ordinary blunt chopsticks. Some recipes call for mashing them at this point, but I think that's unneeded labor. While the pumpkin was steaming, I defrosted a large cup of frozen chicken stock that I had made a week or two before. Water can be used instead if you want to go vegetarian. Poured off the rice soaking water, which by this time was pretty clear, added the stock and enough extra water to be twelve times the volume of the dry rice. Add the soft steamed pumpkin and turn on the heat. I'm using my trusty rice cooker, which has a setting for zhou, labeled 稀饭 because that's the preferred term in Yunnan. Make sure your rice cooker is not more than about three quarters full; don't want it to boil over. If you don't have a rice cooker you could make it stovetop, but it requires lots of stirring to be sure it doesn't stick. You can also use a slow cooker 电子砂锅。The "zhou" program on my rice cooker takes a little over 30 minutes. But I open the lid every five minutes or so and stir it well with chopsticks. Want to break up any clumps and make sure it doesn't burn in the bottom of the pot. Towards the end of cooking time, I add a teaspoon of salt 食盐 and four or five pieces of rock sugar 冰糖。Taste to be sure the rice is cooked through and completely tender. If not, give it a few more minutes. The results are smooth, steamy, aromatic, and nourishing. I garnished the bowl with a few wolfberries/gouqi 枸杞。 You can use your imagination in adding other ingredients, or you can keep it classically simple. Regardless, it will chase away the cold weather blahs admirably and not saddle you with much in the way of cleanup. Give it a try.
  24. Youzi 柚子,sometimes translated as pomelo or shaddock, is one of the foods typically associated with Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节, which arrives tomorrow. The formal name for this luxurious fruit is "citrus maximus" and that's a good fit because it's much larger than a grapefruit, nearly the size of a bowling ball or cantaloupe. In fact, it's the biggest member of the citrus family. When I went to the market yesterday, they were everywhere I looked, fresh and cheap. Now is the start of their season (they aren't available in summer.) I bought one and wanted to show you how it worked out. The youzi lady helped me pick out a good one: heavy for its size and firm all over with no soft spots. Hers were from Fujian 福建, though we also get them brought up from Hainan 海南。This fruit is actually popular all over SE Asia, but is not found much in the West. She asked if I wanted it peeled or not, and I asked her to do the honors and save me some work. She scored it with a large knife, cutting through the tough rind barely into the white pith. Then she separated the center with a large flat plastic spoon and lifted it out. Often a "cooked rice scoop" is used for this, the kind that came free in the same box as your rice steamer. If I had been a bit more ambitious, I would have asked her to give me the rind. It can be turned into fantastic marmalade, or dried and candied as a sweet snack. I usually have a large jar of the marmalade in the fridge year round. The best of it comes from Korea and is made with honey instead of white sugar. It goes by the name of "youzi cha" 柚子茶 here, and stirring a spoon or two of it into hot water makes a refreshing warm drink. Here's the center of the youzi as it looked when I got it home. I tore it in half and removed the bitter white pith from several sections. The chopsticks are just for size, they aren't necessarily needed when eating it. Fingers or a fork are just fine. I had also purchased a bag of fresh Mandarin oranges, since they are at their best now also. Even though I usually just eat yozi plain, today I decided to make a pretty salad because my ladyfriend was coming over to bring me a gift of some Mooncake 月饼。Peeled a couple oranges and pulled them apart into sections. Dug out some youzi in a similar manner, freeing it up from the tough segmental membranes. Tossed it together with some fresh mint 薄荷 and a sprinkle of gouqi berries 枸杞 (aka "wolfberry.") Set it out with some toothpicks 牙签 to use as utensils. Youzi has a mild taste, with less tang and bite than grapefruit. It's a mellow companion for orange slices with enough taste contrast between the two to make the combination interesting. I've also seen it served with cucumber slices and a vinaigrette dressing. That was fine enough for us just as shown above, and we enjoyed nibbling it together at the living room table. Hard to go wrong with something that is this pretty as well as tasty. But I'll go ahead and show you how to "gild the lily" if you want to take it a step or two further sometime just for fun. Mix two tablespoons of citrus jam, here I'm using one made from lemon, with one tablespoon of Cointreau. This makes an unparalleled tangy-sweet dipping sauce. Shake some ground red pepper and salt into another shallow dish beside it. First dip a piece of fruit into the sauce, then barely touch it to the salt and hot pepper. The contrasting flavors make your mouth oddly happy, although admittedly this treatment is not going to please everyone. Regardless of how you use it, youzi is a very worthwhile addition to your citrus fruit repertory. And now is the perfect time to enjoy it. Not only is it part of this holiday season, it's something that can stand on its own admirably all through the cooler part of the year.
  25. Since I am fortunate enough to be able to easily put my hands on some of China's best tofu and some of China's best ham, it would be a pity not to combine them into a simple main dish from time to time. The premium Yunnan tofu I'm bragging about is from Shiping Town 石屏县城 in Honghe Prefecture 红河州 to the south of Kunming, and this fine Yunnan ham is from Xuanwei 宣威 in Qujing Prefecture 曲靖 to the northeast. I buy them both fresh by weight at my local wet market. Bear in mind that wherever you are, it's easy enough to substitute a local tofu and a local ham for these particular specialty items. The results can still be tasty and the cooking technique is the same. Here's how I did it today. Assemble the ingredients. Only used about half of this small block of dark-cured ham. Three or four dried chili peppers 干辣椒 for a little heat. This isn't a fussy recipe with critical weights or measures; a little more or less of any single item won't much matter. You can adjust it to taste. I've made it many times and never had it fail. Smash the big spring onion 大葱 with the edge of your knife 菜刀 to partially flatten it out and release more of the aroma and flavor. Then slice it thin on a bias, with the knife blade almost parallel with the cutting board. Slice a little bit of ham into very thin slivers. Use a just-sharpened knife and try to make them nearly transparent. Roughly dice one fresh tomato. The one I used here is from a batch that I knew to have slightly tough skin, so I quickly dunked it in boiling water and slipped the skin off before cutting it up. Put one large tablespoon of oyster sauce 耗油 together with one large tablespoon of catsup 番茄酱 in a small bowl and mix in two or three tablespoons of water, making a slurry. Cut the tofu sheets into rectangles of a size that will later be easy to grasp with chopsticks at the table. Brown them slightly over low to medium heat in a non-stick pan with a little bit of oil. When they are golden on both sides, take them out and reserve them nearby. Now add the ham, roughly-torn chili pods, and spring onions into the pan and lightly saute them. Add the tomatoes and the sauce, stir it up, and then add back the tofu. Heat through to combine flavors and serve. Since the ham, the oyster sauce and the catsup all have some salt, you won't need to add any extra. This tasty dish only takes 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish and doesn't require much in the way of special equipment or cleanup. Give it a try one day when you aren't sure what to cook for supper. Your expedition into the flavors of Yunnan will be amply rewarded.
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