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  1. Lotus root 莲藕 and corn 玉米 are a winning team, often paired in hearty winter soups. The flavors go so well together that last night I combined them in a 凉拌 or big hearty salad, just right for a hot weather meal. Here's how I made it in case you'd like to try it at home. Lotus root is one of those things that isn't quite accurately named. Instead of truly being a root, it's actually part of the segmented stalk of an unusual underwater rhizome. Grown mostly in the south part of China, as well as in Vietnam, India, Korea and Japan, it's a plant which loves sunshine. The paddies where
  2. 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 special
  3. 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.
  4. abcdefg

    Steamed fish 清蒸鱼

    I tend to forget about fish because I’m living in the interior (Kunming) instead of on the seacoast. But yesterday I saw some nice “fresh caught” ones on ice and bought a single 银鲳鱼 (yinchang yu) of about 450 grams. In English these are called silver pomfret. They live in the coastal waters of southern China, SE Asia and India. Cost ¥15.80, about $2.25 US. The seller cleaned and gutted it 清理 (qingli)。Please click the photos to enlarge them. Steaming 清蒸 is a very popular way to prepare fish in China and that’s what I did last night. Washed the fish out 洗净 and rubbe
  5. This delicious flavor combination is popular all over China, especially in the summer months. The two main ingredients, long green beans 四季豆 and eggplant 茄子, are both thought to help the body deal with hot weather. I was reminded of how good it tastes this weekend as a guest at a business lunch in a “home style” 家常菜 restaurant known for its Yunnan take on such well-known dishes. Today I decided to make it at home while the mental image was still fresh in mind. Here's the restaurant version. I didn't think to snap a picture until it was nearly gone. Hence the half-empty plate.
  6. It’s tomato soup in the summer, all over China. Here that usually means tomato and egg soup or tomato and tofu soup. This time of year, I make one or the other nearly every week. Both are easy, quick and delicious. Neither will break the bank. Good tomatoes are key: It’s worth paying a little more for ones which are vine ripened and fresh. I look for ones sold by small-scale outdoor 露天 growers instead of ones produced in huge quantities inside large plastic Quonset hut tents 塑料大棚。(Please click the photos to enlarge them.) I buy from a selle
  7. We both know that sweet and sour anything starts out in the “win” column by default, but sweet and sour lotus root is even better than it has to be thanks to the vegetable it is built on being so all-around appealing. Even served mostly plain, lotus root is thoroughly delicious. Crunchy texture, similar to celery or apple, flavor subtly sweet. Lotus root exemplifies the notion of food which is "light, clean and refreshing." I probably should stop right there and beg your indulgence to play “Mr. Science” for a minute so we can get one burning issue clarified and out of the way: Lo
  8. The anatomy of garlic: a key Chinese cooking ingredient. This post fits together with and expands on a thread I started yesterday, about how to use garlic bolts, or stems with Yunnan ham. (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58187-gift-ham-and-garlic-bolts-蒜苔炒火腿/?tab=comments#comment-451727) I use plenty of garlic here in my Yunnan kitchen. Love it in all of its various forms. Some of the lingo might be new if you've just moved to China of if you've just begun cooking authentic Chinese food. Please allow me to tease it apart for you. What you normally buy in th
  9. abcdefg

    Practicing humble tasks

    Early on I learned an "Imron Principle" that has proved very useful. He urged that we practice the skills we hope to master. Seems obvious, but is often overlooked in the dash or struggle towards language proficiency. Simple can sometimes be profound. As someone interested in food and cooking, I pick up the weekly "specials" flier at the entrance to Walmart when I go to shop. These kick around on the coffee table in my living room or on the kitchen table for a week or two. I study them like a textbook, learning common names for foodstuffs, ingredients, seasonings, drinks, woks, ric
  10. Bitter melon is still everywhere you look in the market even though autumn will be here soon. Still fresh, cheap and plentiful. Realizing that kugua/bitter melon 苦瓜 won't be around too much longer, I couldn't resist using some again today. Made a recipe that arrived in Yunnan via Hakka immigrants 客家人 from Fujian Province on the east coast. The melon retains a mildly bitter flavor 微苦 which I find pleasant though I realize not everyone will. Here's how to make it at home if you would like a change of pace from your usual fare. Buy one kugua melon 苦瓜。If you don't like kugua, you can
  11. I went to a working lunch a couple weeks ago at a respected restaurant in an exclusive conference center out near Dian Lake. It was sponsored by a hospital group with which I'm consulting part time. About a dozen people were present and it didn't take long for the conversation to shift to the always-interesting topic of "Spring Food." China eats by seasons as well as by regions. Most of you probably knew that. But it's not just a little bit; it's fairly extreme. Some of this is simply dictated by what's available when, but lots is also dictated by what is considered beneficial for
  12. Another thread recently touched on the issue of foods that were best ordered out instead of making them at home. The observation was by @somethingfunny. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55464-sweet-and-sour-what-do-you-call-it/?page=2&tab=comments#comment-427490 This got me to thinking about what dishes would fit in the "other" list; namely those things that are best made at home. Wondered what people thought might belong in this group. The dishes that most often call out to me here in Kunming are ones that utilize fresh seasonal
  13. I confess to not caring much about tofu prior to arriving in China about a decade ago. It wasn't that I actually disliked it, just found it insipid and boring. But over time, I've gradually discovered more and more of its uses and charms. One of the things which won me over was how varied it is: tofu comes in dozens of flavors and forms. Today I'd like to show you one kind of tofu that now has taken a front seat in my van. It's not puny and weak; it's not shy and retiring; it's actually rather forward and bold. I'm speaking of xiang gan 香干,which is tofu that has been cured, presse
  14. I'm in Taiwan for a few days and tonight visited the Ningxia Night Market 宁夏夜市 to enjoy a moveable feast. (Please excuse me for not being able to type the 繁体字 characters in this browser.) It's not one of Taipei's bigger and more famous markets, and it doesn't draw a lot of foreign visitors. But it had the appeal of being only a short walk from where I was staying. The night was not too hot, with only a little intermittent rain. Here's some of what I found during a couple hours of highly enjoyable grazing. First stop was this stan
  15. I bought too many potatoes last week and now I'm struggling to use them up in creative ways. For the last couple days I've been fiddling around with mashed potato pancakes as one option. These aren't particularly Chinese, but they do exist here as 土豆泥煎饼。I guess you could call it a "Made in China" recipe. Let me show you how they came out tonight. When I got these potatoes home from the wet market, my 阿姨 was in the middle of her weekly cleaning 打扫卫生。She loves to critique my purchases, and pointed out that some of the potatoes had flaws. Also asked that most Chinese of all questions
  16. This dish found its way across the ocean to just about every Chinatown 唐人街 in the West, but is also still alive and well here on the China Mainland. One of the nice things about making restaurant food at home is that you can put in more of your favorite items than you might get by ordering trusty old Number Four at China Star Café and Buffet at the corner of Main Street and Vine. Case in point is cashew chicken. Cashews are a relatively costly ingredient and are often sparse in the finished dish when you order it out; but you can easily add more when you are in charge of the process
  17. Most of the year one can only find dried lily bulbs 干百合, suitable for making porridge 百合粥, but during July and August fresh ones 新鲜百合 hit the market in a big way. Versatile and tasty. These are one of those things that you won’t find in the west; reason enough to try them while you’re here. These root bulbs grow deep in moist soil, concentrating nourishment so the lily plant can form its flowers. Botanists call them "storage organs" and refer to them as "energy reservoirs." They have a firm and slightly crunchy texture, not unlike that of fingerling new potatoes; a p
  18. It should come as no surprise that the best version of this classic dish is the one Mom always made back home when you were just a tadpole. Nonetheless, you can still turn out a decent approximation today without much fuss. Be glad show you how. 红烧茄子 -- red cooked eggplant, soy sauce braised eggplant. Above: The finished product and the main ingredients. Long Asian eggplants 长茄子 work best because they have tender skin. No need to peel them. One or two long green peppers and a red one. I’ve used mildly spicy green peppers 青椒 and a red bell pepper 红甜椒。One larg
  19. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the classics of Chinese cuisine, things you run into again and again in simple mom-and-pop restaurants all over China. Would want to focus on dishes that are easy to make at home; ones that don't require exotic ingredients or specialized equipment. Have bought the fixings for 红烧茄子 -- hongshao qiezi (red-braised eggplant) and will make it later tonight to kick things off. It's good either meatless for vegetarians, or with meat for omnivores. The method of making it is easy to adapt to other red-braised dishes, such as Chairman Mao's belo
  20. Curries don't have a venerable ancient dynastic history; nobody claims they were invented on the banks of the Yellow River in the Ming. But it's an indisputable fact that curry has caught on and is now very popular Mainland fare. It's not considered "exotic" here; it has been adopted and assimilated. Curry is also big in Japan and Korea; same is true in much of SE Asia, notably Thailand, and even down into Malaysia and Indonesia. All over China you can find it listed on the short tabletop or wall menus of small family-style restaurants right beside traditional favorites like hongshao rou 红烧肉 (
  21. If you live in China, you've probably noticed the push-cart sweet potato sellers out in force recently, shouting “红薯, 红薯, 买红薯"。This morning I succumbed and bought a kilo from a local auntie 阿姨 with a hand-held balance scale 称子。Cost me ¥3.5 for six of them (1 公斤/ 1 kilogram,) about 50 cents US. This afternoon I'll show you a quick and simple way to fix them as a side dish for your evening meal. The lowly sweet potato is not a star in the West. It often shows up in the US at Thanksgiving, then disappears. But it's definitely a staple in the Far East, particularly China and Japan. It
  22. It's been a cold and rainy October; perfect weather for beef stew. Sometimes I make this dish with shortcuts, but today I had time for the "top shelf" version. It took several hours, but came out delicious. Let me show you how to do it. Buy a good looking piece of beef; I most often go for brisket 牛胸肉 or a rib cut 肋排肉。You can use shoulder or rump, but they are tougher and take a little longer to get done. I ask my butcher to include a couple of marrow bones 筒骨; sometimes she is in a good mood and tosses them in free because I am a regular customer 老顾客。Sometimes I have to pay, but
  23. I've had a lingering cough from a winter cold and have been exploring traditional Grandmother-type home remedies, as suggested by several Chinese friends. Pears 雪梨 kept topping everybody's list. Can't swear that they are the best thing since the invention of penicillin, but it seems they might actually be helping some. Furthermore they taste real good. Snow pears 雪梨 (xueli) are the variety most highly recommended, but if they aren't available where you live, other pears can be used instead. The best xueli come from Xinjiang 新疆。 They cost more than locally-grown varieties, bu
  24. If you thought of loofah 丝瓜 as only being a luxurious exfoliating bath scrubber, well…stick around and prepare to have your horizons broadened. The young ones cook up into a very tasty vegetable that is popular in China, especially in the summer. Traditional Chinese Medicine ascribes it cooling properties 清凉, which is why your favorite Chinese grandmother 外婆 made it for you when growing up. She saw it as her sacred duty to keep your humors in balance. This is the kind of loofah you might be used to seeing. These are great for scrubbing away dead skin and are also good for scouring
  25. If you are vegetarian in China, you have doubtless become acquainted with this popular dish. I'm not of that persuasion, but several vegetarian friends have told me it was sufficient to sustain life for their first few weeks here on the Mainland before they had enough vocabulary to explore and branch out. You could do much worse than a steady diet of this, alternating perhaps with tomatoes and scrambled eggs 番茄炒鸡蛋。Plus of course steamed rice 米饭。 地三鲜 di san xian is a simple but glorious combination of eggplant (aubergine), green peppers, and potatoes 茄子,青椒,土豆。It supposedly originat
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