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  1. 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.
  2. A dear friend went home for Hani New Year 哈尼族过年 recently and returned with a gift of some specialty meat from her village. It's a prime cut of pork belly 五花肉 that is first marinated or brined 腌制, then slow smoked over low coals, followed by a quick whiff of evergreen cypress 柏树。Finally, it's hung outside in the shade for a week or two and rubbed daily with various spices, sort of kneading them into the meat. Each part of the process must be adjusted for weather and other natural factors. So much flavor is packed in by this intricate process, that it's best when cooked simply. Goes by the name of 烟熏肉 or 烟熏腊肉, with 烟 and 熏 both meaning smoked. It was made from my friend's family "New Year's pig," the animal which had been carefully raised for most of the year with this special occasion in mind. Here's how I prepared for supper it today, at home in Kunming. After first washing under running water, it should be briefly blanched 焯。I put into boiling water, then turned off the flame after it returned to a boil, and left it 5 or 6 minutes. Lifted it out 捞出来 and set it aside to cool and dry 一旁待用。 Meanwhile I prepped the vegetables, a simple but flavorful combination of garlic greens 蒜苗, spring onions 大葱,and peppers 请教/红椒。These long green peppers have a little bit of heat, but nothing really challenging. I remove the white pith and some of the seeds. Sliced the meat thin after it was cool enough to handle. Got everything ready. When my rice cooker signaled that it was done, I fried the meat fast 翻炒 in very little oil. The meat itself releases some fat as it cooks. When it has turned a deep golden color, scoop it out and save it off to the side 备用。 Even though we often wipe out the wok after precooking 煸炒 the meat, this time that would be a felony crime. The oil that is left has way too much flavor to discard. We use it to stir-fry the vegetables, adding them in an appropriate cooking order. Ones that take longest to cook, such as the peppers, go in first, followed by the garlic greens and finally the spring onion. Last of all, add back the meat. I added a dash (about a quarter teaspoon) of MSG 少许味精, but you can omit it if you prefer. No salt needed most of the time. Stir in a small amount of corn starch slurry 水淀粉 as a binder and agitate the wok slowly another half minute or so. (I used 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch and a tablespoon of water.) Serve it up 装盘 beside bowls of steamed rice 米饭。Go right ahead and 动筷子,no need to stand on ceremony. It's a robust and hearty dish which goes well with 白酒。(And no, Dorothy, that does not translate as "white wine.")
  3. 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 it flourishes are initially filled with large, vivid flowers, parts of which are also edible. The flowers have acquired a good deal of significance in several religious and philosophical traditions. Here's how lotus roots are grown and what they look like when freshly harvested. Being a lotus farmer is challenging work. The ones I buy in my neighborhood wet market are grown near Yiliang 宜良,to the east of Kunming, not far from Stone Forest 石林。The young man and his wife who operate the stand sell them alongside bamboo shoots, from hills in that same area. They are a friendly and helpful couple, enthusiastic about their wares, and the wife always quizzes me carefully as to the intended use of my purchase. First time this happened I wasn't sure what to think and kind of drew a blank. So she prompted me by asking, "For salad, for soup, or for a stir fry?" Then the light bulb went on and I could answer. She selects the appropriate specimens with your culinary goal in mind; pretty darned helpful when you come to think of it. When I got them home, I scrubbed them clean under cool running water. Then sliced off the hard surface with a sharp vegetable peeler. She has picked me nice pieces, the ends of which are still closed. Pieces that are broken or already cut in half sometimes have traces of sand and mud inside that is very difficult to remove and makes them slightly gritty. Mine were pristine. Note that these two segments are not terribly big around, they are young sections and thus have a milder flavor than some of the bigger, more mature ones. The latter are great for soups and stews, but these are perfect for salads. They are crunchy and mildly sweet, while being slightly starchy. This is an item that plays well with others; doesn't insist on always dominating or being the center of attention. Slice it thin and put the slices directly into acidified water. I used a splash of white vinegar, but lemon juice is also fine. If you don't do this and just leave it exposed to air after cutting, it turns brown and ugly; never gets white again regardless of how hard you might scrub it. Let these slices soak while you get the other ingredients ready. I cut a cob of fresh corn into thin rounds. This makes them easier to pick up later with chopsticks at the table. Boil them for about two minutes in lightly salted water. I planed down a carrot 胡萝卜 with a vegetable peeler, though you could just as well do it with a knife. Sliced a large scallion 大葱, and a single hot pepper 辣椒, removing most of the seeds. If you like more fire, leave them in. Washed and chopped some cilantro 香草。 At this point I like to make the dressing. I used one with dark vinegar 老陈醋 for the mixed vegetables and another one for the lotus root slices with white vinegar 白醋 so as not to discolor them. In each case it was just a tablespoon of vinegar, a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽 and a tablespoon of sesame oil 香油。Salt and a pinch of sugar; add MSG 味精 if you like. (Most Chinese do.) Drop the lotus into boiling water (I used the same salted water in which I boiled the corn) and let it blanch for about a minute. If you cook it too long it becomes mushy and uninteresting. Plunge it immediately into ice water to cool it fast; this keeps it nice and crisp. Sauce the lotus and the other vegetables separately in two containers and put them into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Keeping them apart like this isn't essential, but it makes the finished product have more eye appeal. Very white lotus and colorful vegetables contrast nicely with each other when plated side by side. When you are ready to eat, build your big dinner salad and put it on the table. It's a tasty and healthy one-dish summer meal, easily supplemented as desired. I ate mine with French bread and Emmental cheese plus a glass of chilled Spanish white wine.
  4. 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. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Yunnan food is not quite as fiery hot as that of Sichuan and Hunan, but it is definitely no shrinking violet when it comes to using a bold palette of spices. This dish is a good example of how Yunnan cuisine constructs a distinctive regional flavor. These beans 四季豆 are as long as my forearm. My neighborhood outdoor farmers market has several related varieties, all inexpensive and fresh. I picked a nice-looking bundle, paid 3 Yuan, and then moved on to find some eggplant. At this time of year lots of small eggplant are being harvested, some no longer than my outstretched hand, from wrist to fingertips. I bought 2 that were a little larger than that. Paid 2 Yuan for them. Bought a red bell pepper 红甜椒 for 1.50 and a couple of moderately-large spring onions 大葱 for one more Yuan. Ingredient total at this point was under 8 Yuan. Factor in some garlic and ginger plus bottled sauces, and you are looking at a lavish total investment of around 10 Yuan. Washed 洗净 and cut the vegetables 切段, making the sections of green bean and eggplant approximately the same length. The pieces of eggplant were strips, about the size of a finger 切条状。Finely chop a little garlic and ginger, smash and slice the spring onion, sliver half the red bell pepper, and set out a tablespoon of doubanjiang 豆瓣酱。This is a spicy fermented bean and chili sauce that originated in Pixian County, Sichuan. 郫县, not far from Chengdu 成都。 Not shown is one small rice bowl containing a mixture of my liquid ingredients, prepared so that they can be added quickly without having to measure when the pan is hot and food is cooking fast. (1 tablespoon of soy sauce 酱油, 1 tablespoon of dark aged vinegar 老陈醋, 1 tablespoon of cooking wine 料酒, and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce 蚝油。) A second small rice bowl contains a half teaspoon of corn starch 玉米淀粉 mixed with about two tablespoons of water, to be added at the end as a binder and thickening agent 勾芡。 Preheat the wok over high flame; when it’s hot, add a couple tablespoons of cooking oil, 2 or 3 depending on the volume of the eggplant. I think rapeseed oil 菜籽油 works best for this since it isn’t overly delicate, stands up well to high heat and adds a little flavor of its own. Add the eggplant, stirring constantly until it becomes tender and starts to take on a golden color. Remove it to a pan and set it aside. If your wok is well seasoned, it won’t need washing at this point. You can just wipe it out with a paper kitchen towel and add another tablespoon or so of oil. Continuing to use high flame, add the cut green beans and stir fry them for two or three minutes, until they become slightly tender and start to look “crinkly” and develop speckling with dark in color. You don’t want them to actually scorch, but a little color is desirable. Below right, you can see the "breath of the wok" (wok hei or 锅气/镬气) as the beans near the end of their cooking time. It's closer to smoke than it is to steam. When you shake the pan, sometimes small tongues of flame jump into it. Adds depth to the flavor. Scoop them out into a pan. Set them aside. Wipe the wok and add a little more oil. (It won’t need much; a teaspoon or two.) Put in the ginger 姜末, followed by the minced garlic 蒜泥, thinly sliced red bell pepper 红甜椒丝 , chopped spring onions 葱花, 4 or 5 dried red chili peppers 干辣椒, and the doubanjiang 豆瓣酱。Stir fry these together until they are well mixed and you can smell the aroma. Add back the beans and the eggplant. Combine them well with the spices. Now add the bowl of wet seasonings, a pinch of salt 食用盐, a pinch of sugar 白砂糖, a pinch of MSG 味精。If it looks too dry, add a splash of boiling hot water (not cold water; you don't want to slow down the cooking process.) Cover and cook on low heat for two minutes. Remove the lid and mix in the corn starch slurry 水淀粉。 After it comes to the boil again, it’s ready to serve. Plate it up! Goes real well with steamed rice and part of a small roast chicken. At the restaurant it was just one component of a big lunch spread at a round table that had a dozen other dishes: chicken, pork, beef and fish. Vegetables that were steamed, boiled and fried. A couple types of soup. We rotated the center of the table slowly and had our fill of a fine assortment of Yunnan specialties. Can’t do all that at home of course, but still wanted to reproduce one small piece of it today and show you how. Here's the recipe all in one place if you would care to give it a try: (Please click "reveal hidden contents.")
  5. 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 rubbed it with a wet paper towel to remove the few remaining tiny scales. Cut off the pectoral fins and enough of the tail so that it would fit into my steamer. Deeply cross hatched the flesh on both sides and rubbed it down with cooking wine 料酒 (liaojiu) followed with salt 食用盐 (shiyong yan) and white pepper 白胡椒粉 (bai hujiaofen)。Put slivers of ginger 生姜 (shengjiang) and spring onion 大葱 (dacong) into the cuts and some into the cavity as well. Let it marinate 腌制 (yanzhi) like that 10 or 15 minutes. Then transferred it onto a bed of halved spring onions plus more ginger and set it into the preheated steamer 蒸锅 (zheng guo)。 (Water already boiling.) These relatively flat-bodied fish only take 5 or 6 minutes to cook, depending on size. At 5 minutes I open the steamer and check the flesh with a fork. It should be white and flaky. If you cook these small fish too long, they become sort of rubbery and tough 肉老了 (rou laole)。 Lift it out and pour off any excess steam condensation water 多余汤水 (duoyu tangshui)。Some usually pools in the bottom of the steaming dish. Discard the onion and ginger slivers that have cooked with the fish. Spread on a tablespoon or two of light soy sauce 生抽 (shengchou) or better yet use the same amount of special fish steaming sauce that is readily available in Chinese markets. It is called 蒸鱼豉油 (zhengyu chiyou) -- photo below. It’s a seasoned soy sauce that has some taste similarities with oyster sauce 蚝油 (haoyou)。Cover the fish with slivers of spring onion 葱花 (conghua -- the white part) and finely sliced carrot 或萝卜丝 (huoluobo si)。 Heat a couple tablespoons of high-grade peanut oil in a small pan until it just begins to smoke 威冒烟 (wei maoyan)。Pour that over the fish in its serving dish. It should be hot enough to pop and sizzle as it instantly cooks the scallion and carrot, carrying their flavors into the fish below. (My photo does not do the process justice.) The flesh of this fish is buttery and tender. Furthermore, it doesn’t have a lot of tiny bones 鱼刺 (yuci)。 One fish feeds two light eaters if served with vegetables, soup and rice. If the fish are small, 400 to 500 grams, it wouldn't hurt to make two. It's OK if they overlap a bit in the cooking dish. If you’ve been thinking about making a Chinese fish at home, this 清蒸鲳鱼 (qingzheng changyu) is a good one to try. Widely available, tasty, inexpensive. Healthier than frying. Footnote about the steamer: If you don’t have a dedicated steamer pot, you can set a shallow dish on a wire rack in your wok, add some water, put on the lid. Available in any small neighborhood supermarket 超市 (chaoshi) for 10 or 15 Yuan. Called 蒸菜架子 (zhengcai jiazi)。
  6. 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 the grocery store or the market is heads of garlic 蒜头。Generically it's referred to as 大蒜。These heads are composed of individual garlic cloves 蒜瓣。It looks like this: In Yunnan, we have another kind of garlic, namely that in which the whole garlic bulb is comprised of one large un-partitioned clove. It's easier to work with if your recipe calls for a large amount of garlic (quicker to peel.) The flavor is a bit milder, reminiscent of a shallot. Dusuan 独蒜 is what it's called. You might have already guessed that because you know that 独立 means independent or separate. And you slice 切 or chop 剁碎 or mince 蒜蓉 these garlic cloves most of the time when cooking. Sometimes you turn them into a paste 蒜泥。You have probably met spinach stir-fried with garlic paste, since it's a very common menu item: 菠菜炒蒜泥 When the next season rolls around, the farmer or gardener plants some of the individual cloves to grow more. It takes several months (six or eight according to what I read) for the new crop to mature. In the early stages of growth, the tops are green and luxuriant. The garlic bulb itself is under the ground, the green tops consist of two parts. Lots of leaves and a single flower stalk (aka "scape" or "bolt" or "stem.") Both of these parts of the garlic plant are prized here in China. They are largely ignored by commercial growers in the US. I'm not sure about England and Europe. The leaves, below left, are sold as suanmiao 蒜苗。The flower stalks, used in the recipe that started this ramble, are suantai 蒜苔。The farmer trims the flower stalks away to allow more of the plant's growth energy to be directed into the garlic bulb, making them larger. Sometimes the stalks are straight and sometimes they curl, as shown below right. He leaves the long leaves alone and they eventually start to become brown, signaling that the garlic bulbs are ready for harvest. When the garlic is eventually harvested, the bulb is gently dug up and the long leaves are left attached. It is hung with the bulb down for weeks or months to get firm and dry. Then the garlic bulbs are trimmed and sold. Some are held back to divide into cloves and plant for next year's crop. Variations in this process exist for different varieties of garlic and for different growing conditions. It's not exactly the same all over the world and not even all over China. Additional "garlic words" for your flashcard vocabulary file: 大蒜 = garlic heads, general name for garlic. Don't confuse it with 打算。Different tones, different meaning. 大蒜末 = garlic powder 大蒜油 = garlic oil 吸血鬼 = vampire. Yes, of course garlic repels vampires. How could you possibly doubt it? The rest you can extract on your own from the text of this post and the one which preceded it. Let me know if you have questions, bearing in mind that I'm not really a farmer.
  7. 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 seller who is proud of his wares, who will gladly give anyone a taste. My minor wrinkle is to eschew his huge red perfect beauties and take smaller tomatoes that are blemished instead. Don’t look as nice but taste every bit as fine. 7 Yuan per kilo instead of 10. If the big tomatoes don’t measure up, I select miniatures instead, even though they are a little more work. Cut a shallow “x” on the bottom of each tomato; plunge them in boiling water for less than a minute. Cool them quickly under cold running water or plunge them into an ice bath. Slip off the skin, remove the stem and core. Cut them into cubes; sprinkle them very lightly with salt. (Salt early and often but do it with a light hand; don’t just wait until the end.) Finely chop the white part of a medium scallion; mince two or three coin-sized rounds of ginger. Then turn your attention to the dark horse that is the surprise star of this dish: Fuling Zhacai 涪陵榨菜 pickled mustard tuber. It is well worth a short detour. Beyond any doubt, zhacai is China’s number one pickle. It’s as much a part of everyday life here as sauerkraut is in Germany. The best of it comes from Fuling District in Chongqing Municipality. If the name Fuling strikes a note, it could be you heard it before as the place where Peter Hessler’s book was set: “River Town; Two Years on the Yangtze.” At harvest, this knobby and fibrous section low on the stem of certain varieties of mustard plant is first strung like a string of pearls and hung to air dry for several months. Then it is pickled in brine, chilies and spices for several more months. After that it is slowly pressed to extrude most of its moisture (the name 榨 comes from the pressing.) The best-known example of this condiment is made in Fuling, and that can be bought just about everywhere in cans, jars, or even small foil single-dose pouches. You may have had it served as part of an airplane meal to add a bit of spice to otherwise bland staples. Here in Kunming, I buy some which is locally made from my spice seller. Today I bought 200 grams 二两for 5 Yuan. They are a husband and wife team who hand make all the regional classics from scratch. For example, they also do a great job of Pixian Douban Jiang 郫县豆瓣酱 (originally the pride of Sichuan.) I quickly rinse a bit of this zhacai in a bowl of cool tap water to remove excess chili heat, though that is optional, not required. (I use it as is in other applications.) Chop it up to make it easier to eat. It retains a distinct crunch. No need to remind you how texture is valued here every bit as much as flavor. Ready to light the fire. Last minute check. What I usually do is run through the ingredients in the order I will need to add them to the skillet: Ginger, tomatoes, zhacai, scallions, water, eggs. I’m using a non-stick pan, so I oil it before it gets hot. One tablespoon of corn oil, swipe it around with a piece of kitchen towel. When my pan gets to medium, in goes the ginger. Never use more than medium heat with a non-stick pan; they just are not made for it. Don’t wait for the ginger to become brown; as soon as you smell its aroma, put in the tomatoes. Continue to work fast; these only need a minute or so to begin breaking down and releasing their juice. Add new things to the center of the pan, just like you did with your wok. Next up is the zhacai. Let it heat, then spread it around. Mix everything well. Follow that with most of the spring onions. Hold back a few for garnish. Stir well and let the flavors blend. Add 500 ml to 750 ml of warm or hot water. I have kept the pot of hot water that I used for boiling the tomatoes to remove their skin. It’s off to one side. Sometimes I make this as a thin soup when the rest of the meal is filling and heavy. Other times I make it thicker so it can be a more central part of the meal. Add about ¼ teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精。This contains some MSG, so skip it if you prefer. Taste the broth to see if any more salt is needed. (Remember the zhacai is salty.) Now you are ready to add the eggs. Stir them a few times with your chopsticks and add a pinch of salt. Turn off the flame and pour them in gently without any stirring. If the soup is boiling hard or you stir vigorously, the raw eggs will break up and kind of disappear, just make the soup cloudy, failing to add an interesting texture contrast. Now give it one or two slow stirs with a spoon. Once the eggs are evenly distributed, turn on the flame and bring the pan just to a boil. Immediately turn it off again, garnish with scallions and serve. This is one of those soups that I had mentally written off as "ho hum" until I personally tried making it a year or two ago. Didn’t expect it to be so interesting and complex. Today it has become one of the reasons I look forward to the arrival of premium tomatoes every summer. Can’t wait to get some home just for this very purpose. Hope you will try it and see what you think. Here’s a condensed version of the recipe to help you along, in Chinese and in English. Tomato and egg soup – 番茄鸡蛋汤。(Click the "Reveal hidden contents" link below.)
  8. 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: Lotus root is not really a root; it’s a rhizome. A rhizome is actually part of the plant's stem, not part of the root system. This lotus plant grows best in shallow lakes and muddy bogs and most of the stem runs parallel to and beneath the surface of the ground. This submerged stem is pinched into fat segments, resembling links of sausage. These segments store nourishment to feed the growing plant. They are chocked full of nutritional goodies and they are what is harvested as a foodstuff. Rootlets emerge from the nodes and go down, deep into the mud, while vertical stalks also originate at these nodes to go upwards, giving rise to spectacular holy flowers. Photos Baidu Digging them up is demanding stoop labor, not for the weak or dainty. You wade into the muck up to your knees and pull hard after loosening them with a stick or spade-like tool. Put the harvested lotus pieces on a flat-bottom boat or mud sled. Photos Baidu When you buy them in the market, the seller weighs out as many of these segments as you need. Sometimes two or three small ones are sold joined together. More often the individual “links” are 8 or 10 inches long and can be bought separately. The lotus lady where I usually get mine always asks how I plan to use it, so she can select pieces with the appropriate level of tenderness for me to buy. Today she asked, “你会炒还是炖?” (Will you fry it or stew it?) For stews, a big old tough piece is best. I explained my culinary plan, at which she nodded sagely and suggested one that “had my name on it.” I agreed, she scraped away most of the dried mud and weighed it. My trophy cost 11 Yuan, weighing in at a little over 900 grams. I try to select a lotus piece that is heavy for its size; but this is supremely inexact since I just heft two or three and make a face intended to convey I know what I’m doing, mostly for show. What does count, however, is to buy a piece of lotus that has closed ends. If the segments have been separated improperly, sand and grit get into the interior of the lotus are extremely difficult to fully wash away. The photo below right is taken end-on to show what I mean. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Next stop was for a red bell pepper. Spoiled for choice, I easily found a beauty. Peppers are abundant and perfect now. A large, shiny unblemished one cost 4 Yuan. Green peppers were half of that. These peppers start out green, and to get red ones, the farmer must leave some on the bush longer to allow them to ripen in place before picking. Extra time, extra risk. Makes them cost a little more. At home I decided to cook it up for a lazy Sunday lunch. The plan was to have it alongside a grilled chicken leg with a glass of iced Dian Hong 滇红茶 Yunnan red tea. Listening to Mozart fitted in somehow and I had Don Giovanni coming through bluetooth earphones. It was the Vienna Philharmonic recording with Sherrill Milnes and Anna Tomowa-Sintow. Note: Strategic thinking is important here. If you prep things in the wrong order it’s more work. But no worries: you have just received a battlefield promotion from grunt private to full bird colonel, so “big-picture” strategy has become your bread and butter. What I advocate is to divide the task into several distinct and separate parts and address the lotus itself last. If you clean and slice the lotus at the outset, it will discolor to an ugly brown unless you submerge the slices in cold water. Then you are committed to drying them well before frying. Better to eliminate that step entirely by dealing with the lotus last. With that rationale in mind, I got busy on the sweet and sour sauce first. Six tablespoons 汤勺 of vinegar go in a bowl. Three of those are white vinegar 白醋 and three are dark aged vinegar 老陈醋。 White vinegar is more sour and acidic; dark aged vinegar is more mellow and rich. A half-and-half blend works out just right. One tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽 completes the liquid part of the sauce. Add 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar 白砂糖, a teaspoon 茶勺 of cooking salt 食用盐,and a half a teaspoon of MSG 味精. Mix this well several times. The solids are granular and tend to settle to the bottom. Equal amounts of vinegar and sugar is the most common recipe equation. If you like your sweet and sour sweeter, go a little heavier on the sugar. The opposite holds true as well, and I’ve elected to use slightly more of the sour note in my mix today. Then I make the thickening sauce by combining two or three teaspoons of corn starch 玉米淀粉 and about a half cup of cool tap water. This doesn’t need to be exact. Slice the red bell pepper 红甜椒 into thin rounds, discarding the white pith and seeds. Crush and coarsely chop a head of garlic 蒜头。(I use single-clove garlic 独蒜 because it’s milder.) Survey your handiwork, checking mentally to be sure you haven’t skipped anything essential. Everything else is ready now, so turn your attention to the lotus. I go so far as to even put the pan on the burner (don’t turn it on,) add a tablespoon of oil, and get my spatula handy before starting "lotus work." I generally use a flat bottom non-stick pan 平地不粘煎锅 for this dish, even though a wok will also do just fine. Scrub the lotus with a brush under running water. The piece I bought today has both ends closed. As mentioned, that’s important because the last thing you want to turn out is an order of gritty lotus root. Serve it to the wrong table, and there goes your hard-earned Michelin star. Poof! Just like that. Peel it with a vegetable peeler or scrape vigorously with a very sharp knife. Work quickly; the clock is ticking now. If you dally, the whole thing will change from pearly white to muckle dun. Slice it into rounds about ¼ of an inch thick. If they are slightly uneven it doesn’t matter, but it’s best to avoid cutting large chunks, wedges or slabs because they will require more cooking time. Uniform pieces are one of the keys to success with this dish. Turn on the gas, medium flame, and quickly sauté the garlic. When you start to smell its aroma 爆香 (15 or 20 seconds) add the lotus and stir it briskly 翻炒 so as to coat both sides with oil. When it just barely begins to color 七成熟 add the sweet and sour sauce, stirring it to coat the lotus well. Cook it for a minute or so, still over medium heat, tossing the lotus so that all of it gets well sauced. Add the corn starch suspension; stir and toss a minute more. Add the red pepper rings. The lotus slices and the peppers should maintain their crisp texture; keep the flame at medium and shake the pan with one hand while you stir with the other. When the juice thickens 粘稠 and most of it has been absorbed, you are done. Transfer it to a serving plate with the remaining sauce poured on top. This is a dish which wins most prizes if eaten right away because the lotus and the peppers are still 脆嫩 crunchy but tender then. It’s not the end of the world if it comes down to room temperature, but don’t make it an hour or two ahead on purpose since it's less interesting if it becomes soggy. Sweet and sour lotus root is a warm-weather staple throughout most of China, and it is especially beloved in Yunnan. Hope you will try it and see what you think. Here's the recipe all in one place for your convenience: (Click the "Reveal hidden contents" tab.)
  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, rice cookers and other counter top small kitchen appliances. Along the way I pick up names for common brands. Eventually I toss these all out and start collecting new ones. When I get my purchases home, I read the cash register tape, trying to figure out what I've paid for what. Sometimes things are abbreviated and I have to scratch my head. Gradually this process has become faster and I do it quickly the first time while I'm still in the check-out area of the store. Do the same with menus at restaurants I visit. Particularly like the ones with pictures. I typically put a copy in my pocket and study it when I get home and the dishes are still fresh in my mind. More and more restaurants have these "disposable" menus, partly for use by take-out customers. Then I refer to them when I'm thinking about making a dish or going out somewhere to sample a new version. When I can pick one up and read it well enough without the help of a dictionary, I throw it out. The goal is to let me read new menus at a glance, scanning quickly for things I might like to try. Sometimes a special opportunity presents, such as this one at KFC where they were highlighting all the spices that they use in making a new signature crawfish dish, 小龙虾。They list the the spices (bottom of picture) along with pictures of them. Good for a review. I suppose all these tasks could be done in a completely digital form, but I find that having the actual paper copies around the house leads me to pick them up for just a couple of minutes of casual review. Seeing them serves as a reminder. I do browse lots and lots of Chinese recipes on line, not having any Chinese cookbooks. As I read these materials, I put new words automatically into a Pleco review queue and hit them a few times more on my phone as flashcards when I'm sitting on the bus or waiting my turn at the bank or otherwise just killing time. Small things like this are all around us while living in China. Paying attention to them and using them to build useful vocabulary is an easy thing to do and it's one way to get full value from your "immersion dollar." It's not a glamorous process or one you can brag about back home; but as a refinement of "survival Chinese" it's kind of fun and relatively painless.
  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 make this with zucchini 小瓜 or large cucumber 黄瓜。Look for a kugua with medium sized "bumps" 牙齿 ("teeth") and a pale green color. It should be firm without soft spots or large blemishes. Mine cost 1 Yuan this morning. What a fine bargain! (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Pick up a few medium-sized spring onion 大葱,a couple of carrots 胡萝卜, and a handful of either wood-ear mushrooms 黑木耳 or xianggu (shitake) mushrooms 香菇。 Next head for "pork row." My favorite pork is from a butcher who promotes semi-wild mountain pigs with black skin, known as 黑猪。The are "free-range" pigs 野跑猪, not raised in pens and the meat has more flavor with less intramuscular marbling. I asked them to grind me a piece of lean shoulder along with about 25 percent fat, just measured by eye. Sometimes I buy a large chunk and mince it myself at home, but today I didn't want that additional step. So I just bought 肉末, custom ground. Here's a look at the main ingredients and another picture after being chopped fine 切碎。Garlic and ginger are on the bottom, 蒜姜末 along with the spring onion 葱花。Carrot and wood ear mushrooms 木耳 on top. I used about 200 grams of meat, froze the rest for another day. Put it on my heavy tree-trunk chopping block and cut it one way and then another with a heavy cleaver 菜刀。Folded it in on top of itself and repeated the process several times. The goal was for the meat to be cut more finely than when it came from the butcher's machine. Next in chopped in the minced ginger and garlic, using the same type of process. Wash the kugua and slice it into rounds, each piece about an inch and a half tall. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds and white pith 去籽、去瓤。 That's where most of the "bitter" resides. Put the meat in a mixing bowl and add a tablespoon of corn starch, a half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of sugar, and one small to medium egg 液蛋。(If your egg is a large or jumbo one, just use its white 蛋白 and save the yellow for something else.) add a couple tablespoons of finely chopped carrot and finely cut mushroom. Mix this all together with a wooden spoon or chopsticks, moving in only one direction, clockwise or counterclockwise doesn't matter. 搅拌均匀。This motion makes the mixture get stiff and sticky, the better to use as a stuffing. Blanch 焯 the cut kugua in your wok for about one minute using lightly salted water. Scoop it out, cool it quickly by dunking it in cold water and set aside. Stuff the meat filling into the kugua sections 将肉馅塞入苦瓜段中。 Dry the wok and add a tablespoon or so of cooking oil after it gets hot again. Put in the stuffed kugua sections and turn the heat down to medium. Let them brown on one side 煎 then flip them over so the other side can brown too. Now add enough water to reach about half-way up the kugua sections, but not enough that you cover them. Put in a dash of soy sauce and another of oyster sauce. Stir these around. Reduce the heat to a simmer. After about 10 minutes (uncovered) most of the liquid will be gone and they will be done. Add a couple tablespoons of corn starch slurry 水淀粉 to produce a simple gravy. Plate it up. Spoon on the luscious pan gravy. Serve warm. Goes well with steamed rice and a bowl of plain leafy green vegetable soup 青菜汤。 This is not General Tso's Chicken or Sweet and Sour Pork. It will never be a big hit on Main Street, Small Town, USA. But if you would like to venture a bit beyond the safe confines of Panda Express, this is one good way to do it.
  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 health as the body is going through this particular stage of its annual changes. What promotes qi when emerging from winter, for example, and what helps maintain the proper balance between wet and dry, internal heat and internal cold? Such subjects are not considered esoteric here, and are things every boy or girl grows up understanding while still at grandmother's knee. The consensus of our group of knowledgeable locals was that the absolute glory of this time of year is wild vegetables. Things that don't thrive in cultivation and must be harvested by hand up on the side of the mountain. Under their guidance, we ordered several such items and my curiosity was piqued about several more. Here's a quick look into that world: Yunnan's wild spring vegetable world. Remember -- You can click the photos to enlarge them. Many wild vegetables are served with eggs. The dish above left is one of those. The small golden flowers are called 金花,logically enough, and are cooked tender and moist with their supporting green tips, resulting in a thin griddle cake, or 煎饼 of the type we have encountered before. What makes them great is that their taste is so fresh, so pleasant, so mild. The eggs let them shine. The bamboo shoots on the above right are a special kind found only in spring. Their distinguishing characteristic is that they are ever so slightly sweet. Being tender, all they require is a quick stir fry, here presented with red and green peppers. I often make them at home. The lady at my neighborhood wet market, above left, peels the tough outer leaves after weighing your purchase. Easy to fix, they are one of my "go to" meals at this time of year. One can also buy baby bamboo shoots, already peeled, that are usually sold as 春笋, sometimes a 竹呀 (bamboo sprouts.) I like these too and have posted recipes for them here in the past. You can see them above right. Our meal included a spicy, vinegary salad with an unusual earthy kick. It was made from the leaves of a root vegetable that's popular in Yunnan, namely the 折耳根。It has no translation, pronounced "zhe er gen" and I'd be surprised if it's found in the west. It's not even popular in other distant parts of China. The roots are like "underground vines" and can be found year round here, but the leaves are at their best now, tender and "peppery." I bought some at the market this morning, shown above right. Plan to prepare them at home tonight. Adding a spoon or two of fermented beans 豆豉 rounds out their taste. They served a large basin of small fish that were freshly caught an hour before in the nearby lake that we could see from the window. They were served in a spicy sauce, one to each diner, and were considered a special spring treat because each fish was filled with roe. The roe had been cooked in place. Interesting flavor and texture. I had not had it before. The lunch featured lots of vegetables, emphasizing what was best right then, going light on meat. These pictured above right are related to asparagus. Lightly steamed and served with a sauce, ready to be mixed at the table. The sauce had fire and a bite. Yunnan does love its spices. The lunch left an impression and I've been trying to make a lot of the same things to enjoy at home. When I went to the wet market this morning, I was bowled over by a huge assortment of edible flowers and edible ferns. Some I've made at home in years past, but others are still a mystery. Those give me something to which to look forward in days to come. Lady above left, in ethnic garb, has 3 or 4 kinds of flowers displayed as well as lots of young okra, popular here just now as 黄蜀葵。It's usually fried, sometimes pickled and served as a salad. 凉拌。Pretty sure you can make out the red roses, lower left in the frame. The fiddlehead ferns on the basket on the right above are sold as 蕨菜。 Often they are served scrambled with eggs. I bought a bunch of the fresh, crimson tipped 香椿 (aka "Chinese toon") pictured here to the left, and plan to make it tomorrow. They require a little knack, and if not done right can taste too strong to be pleasant. It's actually the young tip of a tree branch, the tree from the mahogany family, and it occupies an interesting niche partway between delicacy and survival fare. But I've made them in past springs and enjoyed them. Pretty sure I've posted some recipes here. Will go back and check later. I bought three of these small tropical pineapples for 10 Yuan. Some are brought up from Vietnam, but I understood her to say these were from Xishuangbanna, in the deep south of Yunnan. The seller will cut them into bite sized pieces, but I usually do that at home one at a time so they keep longer. I passed on the cherries this morning, though I bought some last week. Tasty. These are the small tart Yunnan cherries that become available in the middle of March every year. You recall that our cherry trees bloom in February, much earlier than those revered in the Cherry Blossom Festivals of Japan. No trip to the market would be complete without stopping off at the food stalls for a nice hot bowl of something or other local and delicious. Today I opted for won ton in a spicy red sauce 红汤馄饨 。Sometimes instead I have a bowl of 豆花米线,rice noodles with soft tofu "flowers," equally good for a Saturday snack. Both can be made at home, of course, but they are 6 or 8 Yuan very well spent in my estimation, just to avoid all the fuss and give the morning a "holiday" feel.
  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 ingredients, items that are tasty, plentiful and cheap for a few weeks out of the year. Dishes that feature special hand-made local condiments and seasonings would also fit on my list. And I gravitate to making dishes that might not readily be found elsewhere; things that might qualify as "regional cuisine." Are there certain Chinese dishes that you find relatively easy to make where you live? Things that taste better or are more healthy when done in your own kitchen? Would be interested in your thoughts.
  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, pressed, smoked and partially dried. In some parts of China you might find this called 熏豆腐干。 My neighborhood outdoor market has a couple dozen tofu shops, each selling eight or ten kinds of tofu. One might specialize in stinky tofu 臭豆腐, whereas another might specialize in hairy tofu 毛豆腐,and another's pride is their smoked tofu 熏豆腐。I haunt them all because I love diversity and appreciate the chance to continually challenge my taste buds. Sometimes I just stop at one of these stalls where the vendor is friendly (not all are) and ask him or her to introduce me to a kind that I haven't used before. I tell them I would like to explore tofu, that it's something we don't have much of back in the US. I explain that I see tofu as something very Chinese and I would like to get better acquainted with its various forms. That's how I found smoked tofu, which usually goes by the name 香干, a couple of years ago here in Kunming. Today we will stir-fry it with green and red peppers to make a balanced, flavorful, and nutritious main dish that pleases the eye as well as the palate. It's a dish that doesn't require any advanced techniques or special equipment; suitable for a beginner cook in a basic Chinese kitchen. Start with some fresh crisp peppers. I usually buy long ones that have a little heat 尖椒, but you can just as well use sweet bell peppers 甜椒 if you prefer. Today I was feeling playful, so I sliced them on a diagonal to turn them into rings instead of strips. Remove all the white pith and some of the seeds. I found two young brothers at the market early this summer who sell the best sweet Bermuda-type onions I've ever tasted. They are sweet, juicy, and have absolutely no bite. They promote them for use as a raw ingredient in salads. I will occasionally sacrifice one to a stir-fry or use one to dress up scrambled eggs. When you cut them, they drip juice, but the fumes do not sting your eyes. If you are not fortunate enough to have such premium onions, you could cut your onions smaller than I did and soak them for a few minutes in cool salty water. That would "tame" them a bit and prevent them from overpowering the other vegetables. This smoked tofu is made by first brining fresh tofu in a solution of salt and several spices, the list usually including Sichuan peppercorns 花椒,star anise 八角,fennel seeds 小茴香,ginger and garlic 姜蒜。Then it is pressed to gradually flatten it and remove a third to a half of the water. Afterwards, it is smoked in an oven, using coals made from various local woods. Often an abandoned or second-hand refrigerator is used to provide the closed smoking chamber. The makers never tell you all of their secrets. Here's what it looks like. Slice it thin. (Footnote: These six slices, enough for a meal for three or four people, cost me 4 Yuan, less than a US Dollar.) The rice cooker just beeped to tell me the rice was done, so I'm ready now to fire up the wok. I've developed the habit of mentally rehearsing the cooking process before actually starting, so as to be sure I've assembled all needed ingredients and seasonings. Once the bullet train gets rolling at speed, it won't stop until it arrives at the station. I've peeled, smashed, and minced some ginger and garlic. They are separate because the ginger needs a head start. If you put it and the garlic into the wok together, the garlic burns before the ginger is sufficiently cooked. Fry the aromatics (onion, ginger, and garlic) over medium heat, stirring briskly until you can smell them. They don't need to brown, they just need to develop aroma 炮香。Add the tofu and flip everything over again and again 翻炒 for about a minute until the flavors have blended and the tofu is heated through. Then turn it out into a pan where it can wait off to the side 备用。 Add another spoon or two of oil to the hot wok and stir-fry the peppers over high heat. Notice the smoky fumes in my photo; this is a home-cook's version of that famous "wok hei" you have read about; the "breath of the wok ." It's fine if the peppers even develop a tiny bit of char in places to give them a full flavor. With proper technique, they do this without losing their original crunchy texture. The way to achieve this, if you can manage it, is to shake the wok with your left hand and toss the contents with the spatula/wok tool 锅铲 in your right. Pretend you are a sweating line chef in a gray undershirt, an unlit cigarette tucked behind one ear, toiling deep in the bowels of some busy Chinatown dive, putting in 16 hours a day to pay back the Snakehead gang that smuggled you over from Fuzhou two and a half years ago in a freighter. Take a deep pull of beer from your recycled Starbuck's coffee cup and smell the aromatic smoke coming off that wok as you do your thing for the 50th time since you rolled out of bed early this morning. Add the tofu back to the wok. Hit it with a tablespoon or two of light soy sauce 生抽 and a teaspoon or two of sesame oil 香油 poured over the back of your wok tool 锅铲 and stirred in. A sprinkle of salt, but not too much because the tofu is pre-seasoned to some extent as it is cured. Stir in a small amount of 水淀粉, corn starch slurry. Mine had a half teaspoon of corn starch mixed with a tablespoon of water. And finally a pinch of MSG 味精 sprinkled in at the last minute. Toss it and sir it for all you are worth now. Smile as you see how nicely it has all come together. Serve it up 装盘, steamed rice on the side. This can easily be a main dish or it can accompany a separate meat and a vegetable if you are serving more people. I usually make it for only one or two. If you have leftovers, they will reheat well. Give it a try next time you crave something quick and delicious! It will put a smile on your face without breaking the bank.
  14. 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, "多少钱?" (How much did it cost?") I told her 2 Yuan per kilogram and small change. She was aghast. "I never pay more than 1.9 at this time of year. 他们骗你了。“ (Translation: "You were robbed.") Un-deterred, I've been using them up. And they have proven to be a versatile meal component. Scrub, peel them and cut as shown. Boil for 20 to 30 minutes. Mash them coarsely while warm with the back of a spoon. You want to wind up with about a cup and a half, or one heaping "rice-bowl" 饭碗 unit of measure, for those in the know. (By the way, you can left click the photos to make them enlarge.) I had some leftover beef steak from yesterday which I sliced very thin and then cut fine. Wanted about a third as much by volume as the potatoes. Minced a section of mild and sweet Bermuda onion 洋葱。 Wanted a quarter to a third the volume of the mashed potatoes. These ratios are not ironclad, but you are better off not using too many "extras" or else the cakes will fall apart. Minced a large clove of garlic 大蒜 and collected the seeds of three large dried chili peppers 干辣椒。 On other days I've made this with spring onion 葱 instead of the Bermuda onion, and that works well too. Similarly, I don't always have left over steak in the fridge, and have used crumbled bacon 腊肉 or slivers of Yunnan cured ham 云南火腿丝 instead. I've also sometimes sauteed the onions and garlic before mixing them in. Mix these finely-cut items into the mashed potatoes. Add a large tablespoon of all purpose flour and one beaten egg. Dash of salt. This makes a stiff batter, not a thin runny one. My pan is a non-stick ceramic coated wonder with a flat bottom. Heavy and a pleasure to use. Recent addition to my kitchen arsenal. Heat it to medium and add some olive oil. (This isn't like a stir-fry where high heat breaks down olive oil and makes it just burn and smoke.) Drop three or four large spoonfuls of batter into the skillet and flatten them out. Don't make them too thin, or they will dry out. Mine are between 2 and 3 centimeters thick. Use a lid on the pan for most of side one. After 2 or 3 minutes, flip them and add butter to the pan. Turn the fire to low. Shake the potato cakes around so they soak it up. Top each cake with a thin slice of cheddar cheese. Give it another minute or two, then peek at the underside, and if browned, take them out. Being blessed with a surfeit of ripe late-season tomatoes, I made some as an accompaniment to the steak and potato pancakes. Sliced them thick and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Cooked them quickly in the already-hot pan. Wound up with a pretty nice meal. I'm a little embarrassed to present it to you because, even though it was tasty, it totally lacks elegance. It is, however, true to the essence of "family style" cooking 家常菜: Great for you and me although not terribly suitable for guests. The potatoes were crispy on the outside, but tender and moist inside. The melted cheese gave them an added (decadent) dimension. If you have surplus potatoes and a little spare time, you might want to give it a try. It's honest and unpretentious food that sticks to your ribs. Puts a smile on your face and goes well with red wine.
  15. 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 stand, where the grill lady/proprietor filled half seashells with chopped scallops and oysters, mixed with cheese and shredded vegetables, all topped with an oven-roasted breadcrumb dressing. You could have a small one for 40 TWD or a large one for 50. She dusted it to order with a spice mix according to your preference. I had it hot. She put it in a paper basket and gave me a plastic spoon. Wow, what a great blend of flavors. I became an instant fan. Since I live in Kunming, which is way inland, I'd been missing seafood and have made it a focus of my Taiwan eating experiences. I sampled several straight forward fresh seafood items tonight, as well as some exotics. You could have fish and shellfish grilled, deep fried, sauteed on a griddle, or cooked into a soup. I passed on the small oyster pancakes that are so popular here, because I had them in Taizhong less than 24 hours before. Next stop was for these interesting griddle-balls, which were made of a dough that was filled with mixed seafood and spices. They got browned on the outside as they cooked. It was one of the stands that I would have tried blind, without any idea of what they were selling, simply because the line was several times longer than of the other nearby stands. They lived up to their reputation, moist on the inside and with a crispy exterior. Mine were dusted with chili powder, though you could have had curry instead. Fresh fruit was everywhere, some sold as slices, some blended into juice according to your specs. I saw sugar cane and coconut and pineapple. Several vendors even had fresh durian for sale. I paused a long time at a place selling large deep-fried buns stuffed with seafood. My hunger had been sated, but my eyes were still talking to my mouth and making it water. I managed to hold off, though I really wanted to try one. Maybe next time. And then there was another place where I lingered and watched a long time, struggling valiantly, but finally succumbed to temptation. By now I was really wishing I had skipped the chicken wings. They were great tasting, but nothing truly unusual. What had me talking to myself here now was grilled baby squid that were mixed with a batter and fried in small molded balls. Not only had I never eaten any such item, I didn't even know they existed. I was intrigued by what they might have to offer. Could not ignore them. Four came in an order for 100 TWD. I knew that would be impossible, and I only wanted a taste. After some intense negotiation, I managed to buy only two pieces for 60 TWD, content to be paying a premium to cover the cost of the paper carton, skewers and plastic bag. They turned out to be pretty chewy and tough. Glad I had not bought four. This was the only dish the whole evening that did not meet or exceed my expectations. I now stumbled into a convenience store and bought a bottle of plain water. Sat down on a bench outside and washed my greasy hands, splashed water on my face in an effort to revive the nearly comatose gourmand. It worked well enough that after a while, I gathered a second wind and went back into battle. The two sides of the food alley were close enough together that the heat from the fires was now becoming oppressive. People were gently bumping each other with their umbrellas, albeit more tentatively and politely than if they had been scrimmaging on the Mainland. So now I walked along the outside of the food stalls where they offered some seating. This also let me see the actual walk-in restaurants which lined the street (Ningxia Street) and take a look at their slightly more formal offerings. Plenty of booths were completely out of the question for me at this stage in the game, but I still had to pause briefly for a look. This one had an assortment of delicious-looking sausage. This one next door to it featured large grilled mushrooms, each one the size of an ear of corn on the cob, brushed repeatedly with a spicy sauce as they cooked, and then sliced thin after cooking. These aren't the superbly savory wild mountain mushrooms of Yunnan, but they still looked pretty good. Time to go now. A bite of something sweet and that would surely do it. Just then I saw exactly what the doctor ordered, a stand selling two very small scoops of taro flavor ice cream, topped with some kind of shaved nut candy, freshly planed from the top of a large block, all wrapped in a crepe and folded into a bag like a cold desert burrito. I had never seen any such culinary invention in my threescore years and ten. Had to have one, even if I could only finish half of it. Well, that was quite an evening. Turned around and headed for home. Passed a block that was mostly given over to carnival-boardwalk-type games for children. One booth offered a chance for young kids to fish for small shrimp and minnows. The rain had stopped and I bought a plastic cup of freshly blended kiwi fruit, with a dash of local honey. Just tart enough to be interesting, but not so sour as to generate a pucker. Perfect for sipping on the road as I strolled back to the hotel and the vendor promised it would also aid digestion. Wish I knew more about how these treats were made. It impressed me that lots of them were original and inventive, not simply old standards rehashed. Such things as these night market snacks 夜市小吃 are not to be missed if you have a chance to visit this interesting Chinese island.
  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 at home. Let’s start from the beginning, and that would be the chicken. When cooking at home you can use better ingredients throughout. For example, I used fresh free-range chicken instead of bulk-pack, industrial frozen. Two ways to go in selecting the meat, and the decision is entirely yours. Leg meat is dark and has more flavor than light breast meat, but it takes a little more effort to prepare. Today I had time, and opted for leg. In Kunming I haven’t seen chicken thighs for sale separately, either in the wet market 菜市场 or in the Walmart/Carrefour type super stores 超市。Have to buy a whole leg, including the drumstick, which is not ideal. But doing what you can with what you’ve got is part of the China experience. First off, disjoint it at the knee; make a long slit and then work your knife along the bone of each piece while pulling at the same time. Takes a little concentration at first, but no sweat once you get the hang of it; eventually goes fast. It is beyond the scope of this humble article to turn anyone into an expert poultry butcher, so here’s a link to a good video which clearly shows the how-to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWMMm1D4zYQ If you are in China and your VPN is too slow for YouTube, don’t despair. Use Baidu to search “鸡腿怎么去骨头” to find some good “deboning chicken” tutorials. It won’t stay a mystery long. I bought 4 fresh (not frozen) good-sized legs that weighed 900-odd grams, just shy of a kilo. They yielded about a pound of meat, cut into pieces no larger than the tip of your thumb. It’s important not to make these pieces too large; they need to cook fast and get golden brown. I did the meat prep just before starting the rice, because the meat has to marinate half an hour, and that’s how long it takes the rice to cook. Left, above, is the raw chicken. Right, above, is the chicken after mixing with the marinade. Note that it isn’t soupy. Marinate the cut chicken cubes in a combination of: Cooking wine, 黄酒 (绍兴酒)-- 1 Tablespoon Light soy sauce (酱油) – 2 Tablespoons Sesame oil (着麻油)-- 1 teaspoon Corn starch (小粉) – 1 teaspoon White pepper (白胡椒) – a generous dash, maybe two While you have these ingredients out, go ahead and prepare a sauce to be added to the stir fry later, near the end of cooking. It serves both as seasoning and as a “binder,” bringing diverse flavors together. Chicken stock – ¼ cup. If you don’t have it, add some chicken bouillon or ji jing 鸡精 to a quarter cup of hot water. (Do be aware that most brands of ji jing contains some salt and MSG.) Soy sauce – 1 Tablespoon – a light soy sauce works best. Look for one that has 生 in its label name, such as the 生抽 pictured below. Sesame oil – 1 teaspoon – can be light or dark. Dark has a stronger flavor. White sugar – 1 teaspoon Corn starch – 1 teaspoon – 小粉 or a comparable starch is fine. White pepper – a generous dash or two. Prepare some garlic and ginger, minced fine, a generous tablespoonful of each. Next, prep the vegetables. Every recipe seems to have a different assortment of vegetables. The classic combination is red bell peppers, onion and celery; not too much of them. This leaves 腰果炒鸡丁 being mainly a meat dish, and as such it requires a side dish of vegetables to make it into a full meal. Personally, I like to add some other vegetables with the aim of turning it into a one-dish stir-fry meal. The guiding principle should be that they are all things which cook quickly and go well together. Best to avoid veggies with an overly strong flavor, since you don’t want to eclipse the gentle chicken and cashews; they should have star billing. I used red bell peppers, green mildly-spicy Chinese peppers 虎皮椒, some onion 洋葱,and an ear of young corn. This choice was partly dictated by what I had on hand. They also look nice together. A tip about cutting up peppers. First slice off the stem, and set the pepper on its broad end, tip in the air. Slice from the apex towards the base, leaving a central core of seeds. After that, I julienned the flesh, shiny side down on the cutting board. I sliced the tender corn off the young cob. Prep completed, now heat the wok over high flame until you can sprinkle a couple fingertips of water into it and they immediately skitter and disappear. Then you know it’s hot enough to add oil. Add only a tablespoon of oil, and stir fry the cashews. It takes about half a minute, and they become crispy, changing hue from pale to golden. Scoop them out into a pan and set aside. No seasoning needed. No need to clean the skillet or wok between steps. Just add another couple scant tablespoons of oil and toss in roughly half the ginger and garlic. Ginger goes in first because it requires a little more heat to fully develop its flavor. Fifteen seconds later, add the garlic. (I was fiddling with the camera and almost waited too long.) Now add half the chicken cubes and stir fry 3 or 4 minutes. They need to become slightly golden. Best not to crowd the pieces together or else they will stew instead of sauté. The pan should be hot enough that the chicken cubes can dance around and cook very quickly. Scoop them out when done. Add the rest of the ginger and garlic with a little more oil, and stir fry the remaining chicken. Scoop it out into a bowl and set it aside. See how nicely the color has developed by the end. Wok tip: When you are stirring a small-cut ingredient like this quickly, I think it helps to use two utensils, as pictured above. Gives better control of the process. If you prefer to just shake the wok with one hand like a celebrity chef, go for it. Now you are ready for the vegetables. They should be all lined up and ready. A couple more scant tablespoons of oil, and put them in. I like to add the onions first, but these vegetables all have about the same cooking time, so it doesn’t really matter. If some took longer than others, you would add them first and give them a slight head start. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring briskly. Now for the last part. Photo below shows the chicken, the sauce, and the cashews, lined up right to left in the order in which they will be added to the pan. Add the chicken and the pre-made sauce. Stir for a minute or so. Then in go the cashews. Stir on the flame another few seconds, and it’s ready to serve. A side bowl of steamed rice, and time for a big smile. Dig in. When people write cooking articles like this, they sometimes have a hidden agenda. Maybe it’s “eat more chicken,” or “buy more cashews.” In my case, what I’m trying to do is show you that you can make delicious food at home with limited tools and limited time. I’m hoping you will realize that it’s quite feasible to make a favorite restaurant dish on your own. Odds are that you can do it better in your kitchen than if you bought take out from China Star. Less salt, less oil, and so on. In the interest of explaining a little more about how to do that, let me take you behind the scenes and show you a couple of personal tricks that help me when cooking for one. Sometimes I have guests, and that's always more fun, but most of the time I cook and eat solo. When I serve my plate, directly from the wok, I put the remaining food in a microwave-safe plastic container. If I have a guest, the same principle applies, serve two plates and “serve” my storage container at the same time. The left over rice goes into something similar, ready to be popped in the fridge once it’s cool. Leftovers are easy to reheat for a quick lunch. (The cashews do lose their crunch.) Also, I’ve been washing the prep dishes as I go along, grabbing a few non-critical seconds here and there. The wok and a few dishes are all that is left; the others are already clean and drying in the rack. Let the wok soak while we eat. After the meal, scoop out the left over rice, and let the rice-cooker pot soak a while. Wipe down the stove and I’m done. There is no huge pile of dirty dishes to make me wish I had visited China Star instead of cooking at home. In my opinion, it's a huge disincentive to to have to return to the kitchen and tackle that chore once you put down your chopsticks. An approach such as described here allows you to triumph over that obstacle. You can have your cake and eat it too; or in this case you can have your cashew chicken and eat it too.
  17. The idea behind pulling this information together into one place is to make it more useful to people who are looking for recipe ideas or wondering about dishes they have seen on Chinese menus. Some of these articles have more information than others and not all were done with the same degree of care. My hope is that they still might serve as a starting point for someone who, for example, wants to know what to do with all that fine eggplant they are suddenly seeing in the market at a very low seasonal price or all those great looking wild mushrooms that became available after the summer rains started. Additions are more than welcome: This is not intended to necessarily be a one-person show. If you see something here which is incomplete and that sparks your interest, please fill in the gaps. For example, "Oh, he talked about tomatoes, but didn't even mention the way we always ate them in Chengdu. They were so yummy that way." Please share those tips and secrets with the rest of us by starting a new thread. I'll be glad to index it here and credit you with its creation. It seems that lots of the people who have posted here about food since about 2010 have just visited once or twice as a way to drive traffic to their personal blog sites or to stimulate attention for their YouTube videos. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it has kept the food and drink forum from growing as robust as it otherwise could have. This is a work in progress, so if you see problems with it or have ideas on making it easier to use, please don't hesitate to speak up. I will update the thread as more articles are written over the coming months. Asparagus and tomatoes stirfry -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58373-asparagus-and-tomatoes-番茄炒芦笋/?tab=comments#comment-453422 Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich -- BLT -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58309-chinas-best-blt-and-other-extravagant-claims/?tab=comments#comment-452823 Bamboo shoots -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48192-adventure-eating-early-season-bamboo-shoots/ Bamboo shoots and ham -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41586-yunnan-bamboo-shoots-%E4%BA%91%E5%8D%97%E7%AB%B9%E7%AC%8B/ Beans -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52065-cheap-eats-for-the-end-of-the-month-beans-and-rice-tofu-and-sprouts/ Beef -- Mint-beef rice noodle soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57044-mint-beef-rice-noodle-soup-薄荷牛肉米线/ Beef stew -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57290-yunnan-top-shelf-beef-stew-牛肉炖山药/?tab=comments#comment-444476 Beefsteak -- Discussion of how to order it cooked in a restaurant -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/32348-eating-steak-in-china/ Bitter melon -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56911-taming-bitter-melon-苦瓜炒牛肉/ Stuffed bitter melon -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57137-stuffed-bitter-melon-酿苦瓜/ Bread -- Free form white bread in a stone hat -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59741-chop-wood-carry-water-bake-bread/ Broccoli -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/46802-broccoli-and-yunnan-goat-cheese-%E8%A5%BF%E5%85%B0%E8%8A%B1%E7%82%92%E4%B9%B3%E9%A5%BC/ Cashews -- Cashew chicken -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50226-chinatown-supper-at-home-cashew-chicken-%E8%85%B0%E6%9E%9C%E7%82%92%E9%B8%A1%E4%B8%81/ Cauliflower -- Dry fried organic cauliflower -- 干煸有机花菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57449-dry-fried-cauliflower-干煸花菜/?tab=comments#comment-445668 Cauliflower and tomatoes -- 番茄炒花菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59249-seasonal-eats-cauliflower-time-番茄炒花菜/?tab=comments#comment-461065 Century eggs -- Century egg rice porridge -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53530-century-egg-rice-porridge-皮蛋瘦肉粥/ Celery -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48872-summer-veggie-feast-yunnan-style/ Celery stir-fried with smoked tofu -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59341-celery-with-cured-tofu-西芹菜炒豆腐干/?tab=comments#comment-461940 Cheese -- Yunnan goat cheese -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/46802-broccoli-and-yunnan-goat-cheese-%E8%A5%BF%E5%85%B0%E8%8A%B1%E7%82%92%E4%B9%B3%E9%A5%BC/ Chicken -- Yellow Braised Chicken 黄焖鸡 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57780-yellow-braised-chicken-with-rice-黃燜雞米飯/ Chicken thigh (dark meat)– http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50226-chinatown-supper-at-home-cashew-chicken-%E8%85%B0%E6%9E%9C%E7%82%92%E9%B8%A1%E4%B8%81/ Chicken breast (white meat) -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52008-using-a-chinese-recipe-corn-and-chicken-stir-fry-%E7%8E%89%E7%B1%B3%E7%82%92%E9%B8%A1%E8%82%89/ Chicken breast or thighs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59150-the-many-faces-of-kung-pao-chicken-宫保鸡丁/ Chicken wings -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57186-chinese-cola-chicken-wings-可乐鸡翅/ Salt baked chicken thighs in a rice cooker -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57244-salt-baked-hakka-chicken-in-a-rice-cooker-电饭煲焗鸡/ Chicken curry -- Chinese chicken curry -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57573-chinese-chicken-curry-咖喱鸡肉/ Condiments -- Lufu -- 卤腐 and 腐乳 -- (second part of this post) https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56777-crazy-for-pickles-泡黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-439918 Corn and chicken stirfry -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52008-using-a-chinese-recipe-corn-and-chicken-stir-fry-%E7%8E%89%E7%B1%B3%E7%82%92%E9%B8%A1%E8%82%89/ Chilled Cucumber mint soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58454-chilled-cucumber-mint-soup-黄瓜薄荷凉汤/?tab=comments#comment-454016 Cucumber pickles -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56777-crazy-for-pickles-泡黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-439918 Cucumber Rickey (drink) -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58295-the-kunming-cucumber-rickey/ Cucumber salad -- Smashed cucumbers -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53783-another-simple-classic-smashed-cucumber-拍黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-412400 Curry -- Chinese chicken curry -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57573-chinese-chicken-curry-咖喱鸡肉/ Dim Sum -- Cantonese dim sum -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54982-enjoying-dim-sum/ Dao, Caidao 菜刀 -- selecting a kitchen knife -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53912-chinese-cleaver-cai-dao-桑刀-or-菜刀-–-carbon-or-stainless-steel/ (And more knife talk here) -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54134-show-your-cai-dao-wok-and-other-kitchen-equipment/#comment-415832 Dao, Caidao, Hong Kong cooking knife -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54306-my-new-hong-kong-knife-菜刀/?tab=comments#comment-416849 Dormitory cooking -- Minimalist Chinese food -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53539-survivor-china-minimalist-dormitory-cooking/ Duck -- Roast duck mango salad -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56489-roast-duck-mango-salad/ Edamame Chinese style -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54585-spicy-chinese-edamame-毛豆/ Egg and tomato soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58408-egg-and-tomato-soup-番茄鸡蛋汤/ Eggplant – Cold food -- Steamed eggplant and tomato salad -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/44902-summer-food-%E5%87%89%E6%8B%8C/ Eggplant –Steamed eggplant with lufu -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41554-eggplant-%E8%8C%84%E5%AD%90/ Eggplant -- Red cooked eggplant -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48252-hongshao-qiezi-%E2%80%93-an-eggplant-mistake-set-right/ Eggplant -- Hongshao qiezi 2019 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59126-red-cooked-eggplant-红烧茄子/ Eggplant -- Fish flavored eggplant -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50126-yuxiang-qiezi-%E9%B1%BC%E9%A6%99%E8%8C%84%E5%AD%90-a-cultural-bridge/ Eggplant and tomatoes stirfry -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48872-summer-veggie-feast-yunnan-style/ Steamed eggplant with garlic -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56568-steamed-eggplant-with-garlic-vinaigrette-蒜蓉蒸茄子/ Scrambled eggs and tomatoes -- 番茄炒鸡蛋 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53734-the-basics-tomatoes-and-eggs-番茄炒鸡蛋/?tab=comments#comment-412117 Ercai -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59430-a-simple-winter-supper-儿菜蒸香肠饭/?tab=comments#comment-462513 Ersi -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48526-yunnan-simple-%E7%82%92%E9%A5%B5%E4%B8%9D-stir-fried-ersi/ Lu Ersi -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55635-yunnan-special-卤饵丝-a-rice-noodle-dish/ Fennel -- Fennel mashed potatoes -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53803-grandmas-fennel-potatoes-茴香老奶洋芋/?tab=comments#comment-412551 Fennel and tofu soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57547-fennel-tofu-soup-茴香豆腐汤/?tab=comments#comment-446386 Fensi glass noodles -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54529-chinese-glass-noodles-红薯粉条/ Fish -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51433-yunnan-spicy-fish-%E9%85%B8%E8%8F%9C%E9%B1%BC%E7%89%87/ Fried rice -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58742-turning-leftovers-into-fried-rice-剩菜变成炒饭/ Fried rice encore -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59434-fried-rice-with-what’s-left-炒饭/ Garlic -- Single-clove garlic -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/44552-kunming-tomato-season/ Garlic -- The anatomy of garlic; a key Chinese cooking ingredient -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58189-the-anatomy-of-garlic-a-key-chinese-cooking-ingredient/ Garlic stems and Yunnan ham -- 蒜苔炒火腿 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58187-gift-ham-and-garlic-bolts-蒜苔炒火腿/ Goose -- cured goose -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52192-yunnan-mountain-mushrooms-and-nearly-wild-goose/?tab=comments#comment-402198 Huotui -- Yunnan cured ham -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52376-using-prime-local-ingredients-yunnan-huotui-%E8%8A%B9%E8%8F%9C%E7%82%92%E7%81%AB%E8%85%BF/ Green beans -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57072-liang-ban-凉拌-the-chinese-equivalent-of-salad-四季豆杏鲍菇凉拌/?tab=comments#comment-442671 Green beans 水煮四季豆 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57216-too-much-feasting-水煮四季豆,小瓜,茄子/?tab=comments#comment-443779 Long green beans and eggplant -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58702-long-green-beans-and-eggplant-四季豆炒茄子/ Ham -- Yunnan Huotui -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52376-using-prime-local-ingredients-yunnan-huotui-%E8%8A%B9%E8%8F%9C%E7%82%92%E7%81%AB%E8%85%BF/ Hongshao Rou (red-cooked pork belly) -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/44461-your-favorite-version-of-红烧肉/?page=2 Huotui -- Yunnan ham -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56709-improving-a-classic-火腿蒸乳饼-steamed-yunnan-ham-and-mountain-cheese/ Jiucai 韭菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56328-chinese-chives-韭菜-two-or-three-ways/ Jiucai griddle cakes 韭菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56335-chinese-chives-griddle-cakes-韭菜煎饼/?tab=comments#comment-435506 Jam -- Discussion of sweet fruit jam in China -- including pomelo honey 柚子茶 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59248-chinese-jam/?tab=comments#comment-461100 Kimchi fried rice Yunnan style -- 酸菜炒饭 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56195-a-yunnan-take-on-kimchi-fried-rice-泡菜炒饭/?tab=comments#comment-433973 Kucai 苦菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54191-stir-fry-chinese-greens-with-ham-苦菜火腿炒饭/?tab=comments#comment-415700 Kucai tofu clear soup -- 苦菜豆腐汤 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58219-a-dead-simple-week-night-soup-苦菜豆腐汤/ Liang ban -- Salads -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57072-liang-ban-凉拌-the-chinese-equivalent-of-salad-四季豆杏鲍菇凉拌/?tab=comments#comment-442671 Lily bulbs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58750-fresh-lily-bulbs-in-season-荷兰豆炒鲜百合/?tab=comments#comment-456828 Limoncello -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55547-middle-kingdom-limoncello/ Loofa gourd -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57103-loofah-gourd-for-supper-丝瓜炒火腿/ Lotus root – lotus root and shrimp -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51357-spring-flavors-of-china-lotus-root-and-shrimp-%E8%99%BE%E4%BB%81%E7%82%92%E8%8E%B2%E8%97%95/ Lotus root salad -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/49345-hot-weather-eats-lotus-root-salad-%E8%97%95%E7%89%87%E5%87%89%E6%8B%8C/ Lotus root sweet and sour -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58478-sweet-and-sour-lotus-root-糖醋藕片/ Lotus seeds -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/49425-lotus-seeds-%E8%8E%B2%E5%AD%90/ Mango -- Roast duck mango salad -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56489-roast-duck-mango-salad/ Market in early summer -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56632-heres-the-backstory-in-photos-market-early-summer/?tab=comments#comment-438195 Mint, cucumber, and yogurt soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58454-chilled-cucumber-mint-soup-黄瓜薄荷凉汤/?tab=comments#comment-454016 Mint -- Mint-beef rice noodle soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57044-mint-beef-rice-noodle-soup-薄荷牛肉米线/ Mint -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/ Mushroom hotpot -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41836-mushroom-hotpot/ Mushrooms -- Wild mushrooms -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41537-wild-mushroom-time-again/ Mushrooms -- Wild pine mushrooms -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/49597-%E6%9D%BE%E8%8C%B8%E8%8F%8C-the-worlds-most-expensive-mushrooms/ Mushrooms, cultivated 香菇 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56622-spicy-green-peppers-and-mushrooms-香菇炒青椒/ Navigating the local wet market -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51465-a-trip-to-the-local-wet-market-%E8%8F%9C%E5%B8%82%E5%9C%BA/ Nangua squash -- Nangua zhou -- 南瓜粥 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55430-chinese-comfort-food-南瓜粥-pumpkin-porridge/?tab=comments#comment-427201 Noodles -- Stir-fried noodles -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58853-stir-fried-noodles-炒面/ Pea shoots and tofu soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/47614-wandoujian-toufu-soup-豌豆尖豆腐汤/ Peaches -- Poached peaches -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58514-local-peaches-poach-them-please-煮熟桃子/?tab=comments#comment-454606 Pears -- steamed pear with rock sugar -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51906-chinese-medicine-that-tastes-good-%E5%86%B0%E7%B3%96%E7%82%96%E9%9B%AA%E6%A2%A8/ Pear porridge -- Snow pears 雪梨 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57682-pear-porridge-for-winter-cough-雪梨粥/?tab=comments#comment-447385 Peppers -- long green peppers 尖椒 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55164-triple-cut-red-云南红三剁/ Pickled pears 泡梨 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57682-pear-porridge-for-winter-cough-雪梨粥/?tab=comments#comment-447528 Pickled vegetables -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52065-cheap-eats-for-the-end-of-the-month-beans-and-rice-tofu-and-sprouts/ Pickles -- Pickled cucumbers -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56777-crazy-for-pickles-泡黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-439918 Pipa fruit 枇杷果/loquat -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58106-spring-fruit-hits-the-stands-糖水枇杷果/ Peppers, long spicy green peppers 青辣尖椒 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56622-spicy-green-peppers-and-mushrooms-香菇炒青椒/ Steamed pork ribs -- 粉蒸排骨 (+土豆) very simple dish (By DavyJonesLocker) -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57260-粉蒸排骨-土豆-very-simple-dish/ Potatoes -- mashed potato pancakes -- 头豆泥煎饼 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54917-too-many-potatoes-土豆泥煎饼-mashed-potato-pancakes/?tab=comments#comment-423551 Yunnan potato pancakes -- 云南洋芋丝干 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54060-yunnan-potato-pancake-云南洋芋丝干/?tab=comments#comment-414600 Potatoes and fennel -- 老奶洋芋 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53803-grandmas-fennel-potatoes-茴香老奶洋芋/?tab=comments#comment-412551 Pork loin -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41497-adding-meat/ Pickles -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56777-crazy-for-pickles-泡黄瓜/ Pork tenderloin -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/47975-suancai-chao-rou-%E9%85%B8%E8%8F%9C%E7%82%92%E8%82%89/ Quail tea eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54342-quail-tea-eggs-鹌鹑茶叶蛋/#comment-417368 Quick food outside (快餐) -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41498-best-kept-dining-secret-%E5%BF%AB%E9%A4%90%E5%BA%97/ Recipe, written in Chinese -- How to use a Chinese recipe -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52008-using-a-chinese-recipe-corn-and-chicken-stir-fry-%E7%8E%89%E7%B1%B3%E7%82%92%E9%B8%A1%E8%82%89/ Red chili sauce, home-made -- 红油 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55120-making-your-own-chili-sauce-自制红油/ Rice noodles -- Mint-beef rice noodle soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57044-mint-beef-rice-noodle-soup-薄荷牛肉米线/ Sandwich using steamed bun -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58309-chinas-best-blt-and-other-extravagant-claims/?tab=comments#comment-452839 Local sandwiches using salted duck eggs and lufu -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58327-unlikely-local-sandwiches-salted-duck-eggs-咸鸭蛋-and-lufu-卤腐/?tab=comments#comment-453127 Shanyao and beef stew -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57290-yunnan-top-shelf-beef-stew-牛肉炖山药/?tab=comments#comment-444476 Seasonal vegetables -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56355-kunming-spring-bounty-seasonal-eats/?tab=comments#comment-435691 Shrimp -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51357-spring-flavors-of-china-lotus-root-and-shrimp-%E8%99%BE%E4%BB%81%E7%82%92%E8%8E%B2%E8%97%95/ Skillet shrimp without much oil -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/59090-skillet-shrimp-without-much-oil-少油煎虾仁/?tab=comments#comment-459584 Spicy Chinese twice-fried shrimp -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58622-spicy-chinese-fried-shrimp-油炸虾仁/ Sigua 丝瓜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57103-loofah-gourd-for-supper-丝瓜炒火腿/ Smoked pork -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55235-hani-twice-smoked-meat-烟熏肉/ Smoked tofu - https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56990-addictive-smoked-tofu-青椒豆腐干/?tab=comments#comment-441718 Snow peas -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41474-chinese-vegetarian-cooking/ (post #7) Sprouts -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52065-cheap-eats-for-the-end-of-the-month-beans-and-rice-tofu-and-sprouts/ Strawberries -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51173-strawberry-season-kunming-%E8%8D%89%E8%8E%93/ Suancai with meat -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/47975-suancai-chao-rou-%E9%85%B8%E8%8F%9C%E7%82%92%E8%82%89/ Suancai with fish -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51433-yunnan-spicy-fish-%E9%85%B8%E8%8F%9C%E9%B1%BC%E7%89%87/ Stir-fry -- making a stir-fry -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54191-stir-fry-chinese-greens-with-ham-苦菜火腿炒饭/?tab=comments#comment-415700 Sweet potato/hongshu 红薯 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57307-honey-steamed-sweet-potato-蒸蜂蜜红薯/ Taiwan night market snacks -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54703-taiwan-night-market-snacks-台湾夜市小吃/#comment-421567 The Three Fresh Treasures 地三鲜 -- Eggplant, potato, green pepper -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57487-the-three-fresh-treasures-地三鲜/ Termite mushrooms of Yunnan -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58735-yunnans-termite-mushrooms/ Tofu -- Sichuan Mapo Doufu -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55081-sichuan-fire-mapo-tofu-麻婆豆腐/ Tofu -- Tofu and ham -- Shiping tofu and Xuanwei ham sauteed with spring onion -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55009-tofu-and-ham-火腿香煎豆腐/?tab=comments#comment-424232 Tofu from Shiping Town -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54450-getting-the-most-from-shiping-tofu-香煎石屏豆腐/#comment-418192 Tofu and eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56975-sunday-brunch-tofu-and-eggs-豆腐炒鸡蛋/ Tofu in Kunming -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57002-neighborhood-tofu-a-short-practical-tour/ Tomatoes and eggs -- 番茄炒鸡蛋 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53734-the-basics-tomatoes-and-eggs-番茄炒鸡蛋/?tab=comments#comment-412117 Tomato and egg soup -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58408-egg-and-tomato-soup-番茄鸡蛋汤/ Tomatoes and green beans -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/44552-kunming-tomato-season/ Toon, Chinese Toon -- Xiang Chun -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53919-wild-china-spring-香椿煎蛋饼/?tab=comments#comment-413601 Wild mushroom wholesale market -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58788-kunming-behind-the-scenes-wild-mushroom-wholesale-market-木水花野生菌批发市场 /?tab=comments#comment-457176 Wild mushroom soups and stews -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58794-wild-mushrooms-for-supper-野生菌炖汤/?tab=comments#comment-457240 Wo Sun 莴笋 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54904-chinese-stem-lettuce-莴笋炒豆腐/ Wok -- Selecting and seasoning a wok -- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51217-wok-and-chopsticks/ Yangmei -- Seasonal fruit -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54402-yang-mei-season-杨梅-the-chinese-bayberry/ Yogurt -- Chilled cucumber mint soup (made with yogurt) -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58454-chilled-cucumber-mint-soup-黄瓜薄荷凉汤/?tab=comments#comment-454016 Zhacai -- 涪陵榨菜 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58408-egg-and-tomato-soup-番茄鸡蛋汤/ Zhou -- Chinese pumpkin porridge -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55430-chinese-comfort-food-南瓜粥-pumpkin-porridge/?tab=comments#comment-427201 Zhou -- Chinese rice porridge -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53530-century-egg-rice-porridge-皮蛋瘦肉粥/ Zhou/Pear Porridge -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57682-pear-porridge-for-winter-cough-雪梨粥/?tab=comments#comment-447385 Zucchini -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54552-when-its-too-hot-to-cook-小瓜蒸红椒/
  18. 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 pleasant, mostly bland flavor with a mildly sweet aftertaste. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) assigns them lots of benefits. They are frequently recommended as a food that can help rid your system of excess internal heat; plus they moisturize the lungs, thus reducing cough 润肺治咳。Furthermore, with continued use they are said to promote restful sleep at night 安眠的作用。 (This lily flower is a Baidu picture.) Ducked out between rain showers this afternoon and bought some at the local farmers market. Decided to pair them with tender snow peas 荷兰豆 and a sweet organic carrot 有机或萝卜。Added a few slivers of Yunnan ham 宣威火腿 to boost the flavor. Minced one head of single-clove garlic 独蒜。(Please click the photos to enlarge them.) The seller had older, more mature snow peas (shown on the left of the frame above) as well as the very tender young ones that I was after. Bigger ones are cheaper, but both kinds are inexpensive. Wash them and snap off the stem. These usually don’t have tough “strings” along the seam. Scrub and slice the carrot (doesn’t need to be peeled.) Here's a closeup showing how these are mostly "pod" at this stage, with only undeveloped peas inside. Lily bulbs grow in moist sandy soil , usually requiring full sun. They need to be washed well, all grit removed. The way to do this is to take them apart by hand, peeling off one petal at a time. Each bulb has a woody "stem" or "bud" that should be removed and discarded, as should any brown or damaged parts. These tough central bits become next year's flowers, but they aren't good to eat. Wash the petals again after they are “disassembled.” Each bulb required almost a minute. I used three of them. I blanched the cleaned lily petals and the sliced carrot for half a minute in a pot of lightly salted water. If the snow peas had been more mature and tougher, I would have blanched them too. Heat the wok over high flame, add a little oil. Start with the ham and minced garlic. Add the lily petals and carrot slices. Keep them moving briskly for half a minute or so until they begin to soften. Add the snow peas. Stir and flip, shake the wok, only about a minute more. You want the vegetables to be tender, but still retain their crunch. Add a light sprinkle of salt (remember that the ham is salty.) That’s all. No need for chili peppers or complex sauces. You want the gentle flavors of the lily, carrot, and peas to shine. Serve it as part of a larger meal or alone with steamed white rice. Clean and simple taste. Fresh seasonal combinations like this are one of the glories of China. Not much trouble; not much expense. Don’t let them pass you by.
  19. 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 large spring onion 大葱 and a clove or two of garlic. I used gentle single-clove garlic 独蒜。A thumb of fresh ginger 生姜, which has a milder flavor than old ginger 老姜。Don't fret if your garlic and ginger are not the same as mine; just use a little less of them. Start with the meat, pork 猪肉。Rinse it and slice it thin across the grain then chop it several times on the cutting board 菜板 with your kitchen knife 菜刀 to turn it into small pieces, not quite as small as if it had been ground. I use meat that is about 80% lean 瘦肉 and 20% fat 肥肉。Marinate it with a teaspoon or two of corn starch 淀粉 and a tablespoon or two of cooking wine 料酒。This is called “velveting” the meat and it helps make it tender. Wash the eggplant and cut it on a bias. This is called a “rolling cut” and what you do is hold the eggplant with one hand and give it about a quarter turn with each angled slice. 切滚刀快。Couldn't photograph the actual process without risking the loss of a thumb. Put it in a big bowl and toss it with a couple tablespoons of vinegar 白醋 and a teaspoon or so of salt 食用盐。Toss it well and let it stand about 10 minutes. This removes a good deal of excess moisture without letting the eggplant become brown. Mince 切碎 the garlic and thinly slice the ginger into rounds 切薄片。Wash and cut the peppers into strips 切条, removing and discarding the seeds. Slap the spring onion with the side of your knife to break it and partly flatten it; then cut it into thin slices. This allows it to cook fast and eliminates any “bite.” Prepare a braising sauce by adding about 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce 生抽 and the same amount of yellow cooking wine 料酒 to a bowl. Mix in about a half a tablespoon of dark soy sauce 老抽, a half teaspoon each of salt 盐 and granulated sugar 白砂糖。Stir in a tablespoon of corn starch 玉米淀粉 and a cup of water. Here’s where to put the 味精 MSG if you use it. I like about a fourth of a teaspoon. Ready now to fire up the wok. It's always good to assemble everything you will need; then look it all over critically like a general before going into battle. Once you are "over flame," the process goes real fast. You won't have time to fumble around looking for stuff. By the way, I’ve already got the rice working off to the side in the electric rice cooker. It takes about 30 minutes, and I want it to be ready when the other food comes off the stove. That way everything can hit the table hot. Don’t forget the culinary school adage, 热锅冷油。Get the wok hot over high heat before swirling in a couple tablespoons of oil. This lets it coat the metal better and makes the food less likely to just soak it up. I used rapeseed oil 菜籽油 today because it adds a pleasant note to eggplant, but it’s fine to use any oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil or corn oil. Olive oil won’t cut it. Fry the meat quickly together with the garlic and ginger. Keep it all in motion with your wok tool 锅铲 over high flame for about a minute, until the meat loses its pink color. Add the eggplant a handful at a time, squeezing out the extra liquid as you do so. My two eggplants left behind over a half a cup of their intracellular water. Stir 煸炒 and flip 翻炒 the food steadily over high heat until you start to see the eggplant taking one a bit of golden color 变金黄色。 That’s the point at which to add the sliced peppers. They don’t require much cooking time. After a minute or so, mix in the braising liquid, remembering to stir up the corn starch which has settled to the bottom of the bowl. The eggplant will need 4 or 5 more minutes, all the while uncovered. Keep it all moving, don’t let the sauce get too thick and scorch or stick to the wok. It’s fine to add more hot water as needed in small amounts, quarter of a cup or so at a time. I splash it in from a tea kettle. Check the eggplant frequently as you stir to see if it is done. The way to do that is to try to cut a piece of it with the edge of your spatula, pressing against the side of the wok. You are “there” when it still resists slightly, but then gives way without requiring too much muscle. Last of all, blend in the sliced spring onions. As you work the dish, it will acquire a deep color plus a glossy sheen; it will give off a complex aroma. Serve it up! What I often do when just making it for two is to start with one plate for each of each of us that has rice plus the eggplant, served 盖饭 “gaifan” style. No deep philosophic reason; it just looks nice. Hope this dish is something you might feel inclined to try. It’s not tricky or treacherous to execute. Reasonably healthy and memorably delicious. If you have no way to cook where you live, it's still good to be aware of 红烧茄子 (hongshao qiezi) since it's readily available in restaurants, small and large, all over China. -------------------- Cook’s footnote 小窍门: You will need to make two decisions ahead of time. First, whether to add meat or not. It’s good either way. Generally speaking, I add meat in order for it to become a “one-dish meal.” Otherwise, I leave it out. Second decision is whether or not to pre-fry the eggplant. The most common restaurant version includes that step. It gives the eggplant an improved texture but comes at the cost of quite a bit of extra trouble. Also, there are many ways to cut the eggplant. It’s OK to get creative.
  20. 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 beloved 红烧肉 -- hongshao rou (red-braised pork,) red-braised ribs 红烧排骨, red-braised chicken wings 红烧鸡翅 and so on. My short list so far has 鱼香肉丝 -- yuxiang rousi (fish-flavored pork slivers), which doesn't taste anything like fish, but is spicy and loaded with southwest charm. The same technique and flavor palette can be used with eggplant to make 鱼香茄子 -- yuxiang qiezi if one does not eat meat. Also thought I'd make 扬州炒饭 -- yangzhou chaofan (Yangzhou fried rice,) not only because it's great in its own right, but as a rough template for how to make other kinds of fried rice. Please let me know what else you think should be included. Everyone is also welcome to post their own recipes, preferably with photos to make them easier to understand and use.
  21. Curry doesn't have a venerable ancient dynastic history; nobody claims it was 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 (red-cooked pork.) Simple grocery stores patronized by local people here in Kunming often have six or eight kinds of curry spice blends available for sale, attesting to demand. Chicken curry and beef curry have both become favorites in my own simple kitchen; today I'll show you how to make a killer Middle-Kingdom version with the humble chicken leg 咖喱鸡腿。Frozen chicken drumsticks 冻琵琶腿 (pipatui) are cheap and plentiful; they are what I used today. Six of these cost about 20 Yuan (weight 900-odd grams, nearly a kilo.) I picked up a couple potatoes and a couple carrots plus one medium sized onion. Sprung for an optional apple and one ripe tomato. As an afterthought, I bought a few spicy long green chilies to increase the heat. Figured that would give the dish a nice Yunnan touch. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) When I headed to the spice aisle, I found lots of different curry seasonings. The most popular kind here is sold in solid blocks. Chinese cooks claim the flavor is more robust, but one can also buy several brands of curry powder. Most of these spice blends are graded as to their "fire quotient." The kind I bought today was marked 微辣, or barely hot; category 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. I'd rather add spiciness by means of actual peppers, fresh or dried. Seems to me the results that way are better balanced and less likely to yield an unwelcome last minute surprise. Here's a closer look at my curry cubes and a shot of the coconut liquid I bought. Curry comes in all sorts of flavor profiles, the one I made today had apples and coconut to offset the heat. Chinese "take-out" curry in the US often is mainly meat and onions. Today's edition is a little more complex and interesting. This brand of curry cubes, House or 好特,is what I usually buy and has been dependable. Note the circular "heat meter" in the upper right corner. The store only had this coconut drink 椰汁, and not the more concentrated 椰奶 that I would have preferred, but it still served the need. One can rudely hack the chicken legs into pieces with a heavy cleaver, leaving the bones in place. That is the "family style" approach 家常菜 used in lots of small mom and pop, open-front eateries. Today I decided to cut the meat off the bone; it's a more elegant approach and doesn't really take much time. Wound up with about 650 grams of usable meat and some bones that I will freeze for stock. What you do is first make a circular cut all the way around the smaller end of the drumstick. Then slice along the bone, working in the direction of the larger joint, producing a "lollypop" effect. Then sever this leg meat that you have sort of "turned inside out." Cut it into smallish pieces so that it cooks more evenly and is suitable to eating with chopsticks. If you want to remove some of the shiny white tendons with the tip of your knife, your guests will thank you and Gordon Ramsay won't shout loud obscenities in your direction. Marinate these chicken pieces in a tablespoon of cooking wine 料酒, a tablespoon of soy sauce 生抽, a dash or two of white pepper 白胡椒粉 and a half teaspoon of salt 食盐。I often add a teaspoon or so of vegetable oil 食用油, because that makes the chicken less likely to stick to the pan later when it's on the heat. If your kitchen is warm, set it in the fridge 放在冰箱。If it marinates longer, it doesn't matter. (I've sometimes been interrupted and it has waited an hour or two; the prolonged time might even give it more flavor.) If you are pressed for time, it's OK to use chicken breasts 鸡胸脯肉 in this recipe. They dry out (overcook) easier and usually have a bit less flavor than the dark meat of the chicken's leg. If your market offers boneless chicken thighs, that would be ideal. (Not available in China.) Wash and cut the vegetables. In addition to the onion, potato, carrot, apple, tomato and peppers already mentioned, I used a large clove of garlic 独立蒜 and about an inch of ginger 老姜, both of the latter minced. I took the skin off the tomato by dunking it in boiling water for half a minute. The apple proved too big, and I only used half of it. Nibbled the remainder -- cook's prerogative; the spoils of war. Should mention that before prepping the vegetables, I put some rice on to soak. Wanted to have the finished curry with fresh steamed rice. I would start the rice cooking after it soaked 15 minutes. Turned out that this particular onion was over the hill and it's flavor was too strong. Didn't have another one on hand. So I soaked it in cool salted water after chopping it. Changed the water several times. This tamed it. (A good trick to know.) First order of business is to make the curry base. Did that by stir-frying 煸炒 the ginger and garlic for a few seconds, added the onion and continued to stir for a minute more. Next, put in the the green peppers. When all these have begun releasing their aroma and have wilted down (without really becoming brown,) then add the tomato. Poured in one rice bowl of hot water (about 250 ml.) and put in the curry blocks. Stirred them well to dissolve. Put on the lid 盖上盖, turned the fire to it's lowest setting 小伙, and cooked this sauce 15 minutes, peeking and stirring several times. It all pulled together nicely and the flavors blended. I let it thicken somewhat, until it would coat the back of a spoon, but was careful not to let it scorch. Poured it out into a dish 备用。Rinsed and dried my wok. By now this rich sauce looks attractive and smells delicious. 熬好的酱特别香! Saute the potatoes and carrots until you see a little bit of color developing. No need to actually make them golden brown. Add the apples last, the idea being just to heat them through. Stir fry some more, medium heat, scoop it all out into a bowl and set aside for later 去锅,备用。 Ready now to cook the chicken, which has been marinating in the fridge. Hot wok, cold oil 热锅冷油 (old Chinese kitchen saying.) Stir fry 翻炒 it over high heat until you no longer see surface pink. The illustration below left shows that it still needs more time. Be careful, however, not to dry it out. Add the coconut milk. Curry recipes often call for adding sugar or even honey, but since this coconut milk is sweet, as are the apples, I didn't use any. Next add the curry base that you already prepared. Stir it well. Add some additional hot water if it looks too dry. Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes 焖煮。This lets you check the progress and prevents it from sticking to the bottom of the wok. By now the chicken is cooked through 熟透 and the flavors are well developed. Time to return the vegetables to the wok and allow it all to marry. Cover and give it 15 minutes on low. Near the end of that time, check the potatoes and carrots to see if they pierce easily with a fork. This will let you know that they are done. Taste and adjust the salt (mine needed a little extra.) If there is still lots of liquid, turn up the flame and leave the lid off for a minute or so, stirring as it reduces. 至汤汁浓稠。Don't make it too dry, however, because that flavorful juice is delicious over rice. By now your rice is done, tender and piping hot. Notice the little steam holes telling you it's ready. Fluff it up with a pair of chopsticks and leave it in the rice cooker. Close the cover to keep it warm, but unplug it so that it does not continue to cook. The "keep warm" 保温 setting supplies too much heat. Time to eat. What I usually do is serve the first round as individual plates 盖饭 gaifan style to get everyone started. Then set the remainder of the curry on the table so my friends can help themselves to seconds (and thirds, and fourths.) The rice stays in the rice cooker, off to the side but within arm's reach. Hope you try it soon. One point three billion Chinese are unlikely to be wrong.
  22. 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, but they have more flavor when cooked. Turns out these pears are often prepared as a thin rice porridge, usually served warm. This combination is a staple in many households not only for its medicinal value, but simply because it is tasty, refreshing and easy to digest. Often recommended for the very young, the very old and the ailing or infirm. Not something I ever encountered in the west. Thought I'd show you one way to fix them at home in case you'd care to try them for yourself. The rice can be ordinary white rice 大米, but glutinous rice 糯米 is generally preferred. The recipe I'm using today mixes it 2 to 1 with millet 小米。It's a good idea to soak the grains for several hours or even overnight. If you forget, it's not a deal breaker, but texture is affected. Here's what these ingredients look like. Millet 小米 is at the top, with glutinous rice 糯米and ordinary white rice 大米 below. The grains of glutinous rice are nearly round, bottom left, and it is said to have more nutritional value than the white Dongbei rice 东北大米, pictured bottom right. Please click the photos to enlarge them. One can use just the grains and the pear alone, very plain, but to enhance efficacy one can add some lotus seeds 莲子 and a few chuanbei seeds 川贝. Grocery stores have lotus seeds; a pharmacy 药店 will have 川贝。The latter is a powerful Chinese herbal medicine, tiny root bulbs of the Fritillaria cirrhosa plant, which grows on alpine slopes and meadows. These two items also benefit from soaking, right along with the grains. Recipes often call for hongzao 红枣 Chinese jujube dates, and gouqi/Chinese wolfberries 枸杞 as well. I like both, so included them. Cut the pear into small pieces, removing stem and seeds. It's not necessary to peel it, though it does improve appearance. The traditional way to make rice porridge/zhou 粥 is in a covered clay pot on the stove. Doing it that way takes an hour or more of frequent stirring and requires that your stove burners have a "simmer" setting which supplies very low heat. Lots of Chinese home cooktops tend to put out too much flame. Consequently, one turns instead to the trusty rice cooker 电饭煲 which is found in even the leanest of small home kitchens. Put the grains together into one small bowl so you can get an idea of combined volume, add them to the rice cooker, then supplement the grains with roughly 10 times that amount of water. Less or more to taste, depending on whether you prefer your zhou thin or thick. (Regional preferences exist.) Put in a small handful of dried Chinese jujubes 红枣 and a "palm" of dried Chinese wolfberries 枸杞. A tablespoon or so of rock sugar 冰糖, more if you like it sweeter. Also add a tiny pinch of salt. I cut up one large pear and put it into the rice cooker bowl to become part of the zhou/porridge, and cut up the other one to place into the steamer basket. This way I'll have some extra pear to enjoy with nearly zero extra time and effort. Plug it in; crank it up. Most rice cookers have a button marked 粥, but in Yunnan we call it xifan 稀饭 instead (bottom right.) Let the cooker run through its cycle and shift to "keep warm" 保温 (top left.) This usually requires 30 to 40 minutes. Open it and take a look, stirring with your chopsticks. If the porridge still shows rice that isn't falling-apart tender, give it an extra 15 minutes or so. On my machine I do that by pressing the 蒸/煮 button, all the way to the left, bottom row. Sometimes I use my electric pressure cooker 高压锅 instead of the rice cooker 电饭煲。It also has a 粥 setting, which is what I use. It does a good job in about half the time. It's finished now. Serve it up. Tasty, healthy stuff. Restorative for the lungs. 止咳、 润肺、化痰。
  23. Smoked tofu 豆腐干 or 香干 is one of those things that I would have given you a funny look about only a few short years ago. Today I can't get enough. It has its own distinctive flavor but also plays well with others. One traditional popular taste combination results from pairing it with slightly spicy tapered green peppers 青椒 or 青尖椒。This is one of those dishes that you can confidently order in any real Chinese kitchen from a simple hole in the wall to a prestigious place sporting a Michelin star. Let me show you how it worked out today, partly as a way to introduce you to yet another kind of tofu. It most often comes in rectangles about 4 by 6 inches and a bit less than half an inch thick. As you can see from these pics however, that is not a hard and fast rule. The ones I bought yesterday cost less than one Yuan each. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) At home I cut mine into thin strips 条。Sometimes I cut them into postage-stamp squares or cubes 丁 instead. Here's the green pepper 青椒, a large spring onion 大葱, and a few mushrooms 香菇。Later I added a red bell pepper 红椒 for enhanced eye appeal. Chopped a couple cloves of garlic 大蒜 and ginger 老姜。These green peppers have very little bite, but if you must have really bland food, substitute a green bell pepper. Got out a jar of Grandma's douchi 老干妈豆豉, a type of spicy fermented soybeans popular here, originally from Sichuan. Sometimes I supplement this with 豆瓣酱, but today I didn't have any on hand. Scooped out one heaping tablespoon of it into a small dish. That's how much I will use, and I wanted to show you what it looks like. Add a tablespoon or two of corn oil 食用油 to a flat-bottom skillet or a wok (both work well for this) and fry the aromatics over medium heat until they begin releasing their aroma 炒出香味。The aromatics here mean the onion, ginger and garlic. These are such a classic combination that in "recipe shorthand" they are written as one word without punctuation: 葱姜蒜。Then add the spicy fermented bean sauce 豆豉 and crush most of the whole beans with the back of a spoon. Add the smoked tofu strips 香干丝 and stir fry using flipping motions 翻炒 with your spatula tool 锅铲 for a minute or two, until everything begins to soften a little. The red pepper goes in last because it takes the least time to cook. It's OK to add a little water if needed to prevent things from burning. Some dishes need to be made dry 干煸, but this isn't one of them. Now sprinkle in a half teaspoon of salt 食用盐 and a quarter teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精。Add about a tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽 and thicken the dish 收紧 with a small splash of corn starch slurry 水淀粉。Presto, you're done. Total time on the flame well under 5 minutes. Plate it up 装盘。Good eats! I've read that it's not difficult to smoke tofu in your back yard over coals, but haven't tried it. Obviously this dish goes well with steamed rice; after all, what doesn't? Easy to make, inexpensive, and tasty. If you live in China I would respectfully suggest that this needs to be part of your week-night arsenal to keep from relying too much on delivered take-out. If you live in the West, it will add some variety to your usual fare without taking much time or busting the budget.
  24. 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 has lots of nutrition without many calories. Furthermore this fine root vegetable is just now coming into high season here. That means it's abundant and prime quality is cheap. In a month or so, the itinerant potato roasters will be out and about with their charcoal fires, standing on a street corner or moving slowly with a cart. Wash them well and peel them 洗净剥皮。The surface usually has some grit. Slice them into angled rounds 2 or 3 cm thick 切片。The three sweet potatoes shown here weighed just under 400 grams /400克。(Click the photos to enlarge them.) Add a quart or so of tap water to your steamer pot 蒸锅。If you don't have one, you can use your rice cooker 电饭煲 with its steamer basket. Failing that, use your wok 炒锅, with a wire rack and a lid 盖子。Place the sliced sweet potatoes in a shallow bowl 浅碗子, set it inside and cover the pot 盖上盖子。 Using high heat 高火, bring the water to a boil, 沸水, such that you can see escaping steam 看到上汽。Then turn it down to low 小火 and cook for 10 minutes. When your timer rings, turn off the flame, leaving the pot covered and undisturbed for another 10 minutes 关火焖十分钟。 While the sweet potatoes are cooking, mix 2 tablespoons 两汤勺 of honey 蜂蜜 with 1 tablespoon of hot water 热水 in a cup or rice bowl 饭碗。When the time is up, check to make sure they are done by being sure it's easy to pierce one or two with a chopstick. You want them to be soft 微烂, but not mushy and falling apart. Lift them out 去锅, sprinkle them lightly with coarse-ground salt 食用盐and drizzle with the honey mixture. Toss gently 轻轻的拌匀。Serve while hot. They really hit the spot as well as being cheap and easy. Give them a try when you have a chance.
  25. 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 even then it's usually only ¥5 extra. Don't need to trim it, just rinse well under tap water 洗净 and cut it into more or less equal sized pieces 切块。This piece of beef weighted 600 grams and cost 38 Yuan. (BTW, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) Put these in a pan with cold water and let them soak 30 minutes. Don't add anything. Some blood will come out and slightly color the water. Here are before and after shots. I use that 30 minutes to prepare dry seasonings for the next step. Boil some water in your wok (no need to get another pot dirty.) Add a splash of yellow cooking wine 黄酒 and a few slices of ginger (don't need to peel it.) Simmer it for two minutes and scoop off the foam 去掉浮沫。Lift out the meat and discard that water. Don't worry about losing flavor; a couple minutes of boiling here just cleans the meat; the long, slow stewing yet to come will develop plenty more good tastes. Let the meat drain and then blot it dry with paper towels so it won't splatter too much when you brown it in oil. Here are the dry spices: a few dry red chilies 干辣椒 at 12 noon, two pods of cardamom 草果 at 2 o'clock. Smash them open with the heavy blunt handle of your knife so they will release their flavor more readily. Cassia bark is next at 6 o'clock. (It's a relative of cinnamon.) At 9 o'clock are two pods of star anise 八角,and in the middle are two or three bay leaves 香叶。Not shown in this photo is a tablespoon of rock sugar 冰糖。 Crush some garlic, two or three cloves, and slice it coarsely. Several large slices of ginger; no need to peel it; cut them big so you can pick them out later before serving. Lay out a heaping tablespoon of rock sugar 冰糖。(This will help give the meat a pleasant golden color. I've included a closer look at the magic ingredient that some people call "The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine." It's Pixian Douban Jiang 郫县豆瓣酱, a fiery paste, concocted of fermented soybeans, broad beans, rice and crushed chilies. It's beloved in Yunnan too, and I buy it in bulk from the spice lady at my nearby wet market so I can always have some in the fridge when needed. It's a staple in my house. A thoroughly worthwhile condiment. It's available in jars from your Asian market or from Amazon. Now you want to brown the meat. Put a couple tablespoons of oil into your wok (which you have dried well after using it to boil the beef) and stir the meat cubes around until it develops some color. One at a time, add the rock sugar 冰糖, ginger, garlic, and the Pixian doubanjiang. You probably recognize this way of starting the meat as typical of recipes for making red cooked beef 红烧牛肉。 Now scoop this out into your pressure cooker 压力锅 with enough water or stock to cover generously .Remember, your vegetables will be added later and the liquid level should be enough to cover them as well. I prefer to use stock, and usually have some in the freezer which I thaw and use for things like this in place of plain water. Add any remaining dry condiments. Deglaze the wok with cooking wine 黄酒 and pour that flavorful juice into the the pressure cooker as well. Put the big marrow bone in with the meat. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce 生抽, a teaspoon of dark soy sauce 老抽。 Close the top and cook it using the "beef/lamb" cycle 牛羊肉。On my pressure cooker that is 25 minutes. When it turns off, don't immediately open the lid with a "quick release" method; give it time to come down to zero pressure on its own. On mine, that means waiting another 25 minutes or so. I use that time to wash up any dishes that have accumulated during the meat prep. Clean and put away my wok. If you don't have a pressure cooker, this stew can be made in a big clay pot set over a burner of your stove, using a very low flame. That requires periodic stirring attention so that it doesn't run dry or scorch on the bottom. A better alternative is an electric clay pot slow cooker 紫砂电锅。These are common in China and usually cost about the same as a pressure cooker (¥350 to ¥450 or so.) Need to allow 4 or 5 hours of slow cooking time. Start it on high and reduce the heat to low after it reaches a boil. I used one of these for years and loved it; only this year did I buy a pressure cooker. When the cooking cycle completes, let the pressure come down on it's own as before. Open it and lift out any pieces of meat that offend you with too much fat or heavy gristle. It's better to trim it now than when it was raw; you lose less flavor. Here's what I discarded, shown below. The immensely-practical Chinese way is to leave it all intact, and let each person just spit out what they don't want later at the table. The remaining beef is now almost tender enough, but not quite. I washed the mint, lovely and fresh. It's an essential part of Yunnan cuisine and even the supermarkets stock it, a large bouquet of it for only a few Yuan. Furthermore, it goes extremely well with beef; the flavors are complimentary. Now add a generous handful of mint and give the meat another cycle, just like the one you did a few minutes ago. This is a good time to get the vegetables ready, except for the shanyao 山药 because it discolors if it stands exposed to air. (You can put it in cold water after cleaning it to retard that process.) I used half an onion. Slipped off the tomato skin by dunking it in boiling water for a minute or so, scoring it with a knife after cooling it enough to handle (using cold running water.) Next I got the shanyao ready. Wash it well with running water; scrub it a little 擦干净。 Since it grows in the earth, sand and soil remain when it is harvested. Shanyao 山药, the name literally means "mountain medicine," is a rhizome, it grows underground in sections up to about three feet long. The best of it is harvested in winter. Chinese Traditional Medicine calls it a "restorative" and "anti-aging" vegetable. Said to "nourish your Qi." It's a highly-recommended cold weather food: suitable for fall and winter. Then peel it and cut it into "rolling sections" 切棍块 -- rotate the stick of shanyao half a turn with each cut to wind up with wedge-shaped sections. It is mucilagenous and slippery; hard to handle. (That feature disappears when cooked.) I used 300 grams today (about half the amount of meat.) My carrot weighed 250 grams. When the second cooking cycle completes and the temperature comes down to a safe level, open the pressure cooker, remove the bone and lift out the mint. Also fish out big pieces of ginger, star anise, bay leaves, and cassia bark. Anything that you would not like as an alien surprise when you are wolfing down your stew. Add the vegetables and cook it on a short cycle of 8 or 10 minutes. On my cooker the fish program does a fine job of cooking the vegetables and blending the flavors. Be careful with adding salt; the doubanjiang is salty, as is the soy sauce. A pinch is OK, but don't overdo it. When it comes down to a safe temperature, open and serve. The beef is tender enough to tear it with your chopsticks. The meat has acquired a flavor profile similar to that of 红烧牛肉 (red cooked beef.) I garnish the serving bowl and each individual bowl with a few pieces of mint, not just for looks but so we can eat it as we enjoy the stew. That's common practice in Yunnan, land of mint and peppers. It's not quick and easy, but it's bold and balanced: worth the effort. Try it once and you will never look back.
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