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  1. If you thought of loofah 丝瓜 as only being a luxurious exfoliating bath scrubber, well…stick around and prepare to have your horizons broadened. The young ones cook up into a very tasty vegetable that is popular in China, especially in the summer. Traditional Chinese Medicine ascribes it cooling properties 清凉, which is why your favorite Chinese grandmother 外婆 made it for you when growing up. She saw it as her sacred duty to keep your humors in balance. This is the kind of loofah you might be used to seeing. These are great for scrubbing away dead skin and are also good for scouring pots and pans in the kitchen. Loofah is a gourd that grows on a climbing vine, gaining maturity really fast. If picked young, it makes good food, and I'll show you how I cooked it up tonight. (Click the pictures to enlarge them.) Here they are at the market, each one adorned with a bright yellow flower. The flowers are edible and I'll show you how to cook those another time. Smaller loofah gourds are available as well, some only 6 or 8 inches long. This plant is related to cucumbers 黄瓜 and zucchini 小瓜。 Here, as all throughout the market, they are vying for table space with kugua 苦瓜 bitter melon, which are at their peak right now and selling like hotcakes. In selecting sigua 丝瓜, look for ones that are of uniform diameter, from stem to flower, end instead of ones that have a thick part and a thin part like a baseball bat or bowling pin. I bought two nice ones, firm and evenly colored, each about the length of my forearm. Together they cost 2.5 Yuan, equivalent to 30 odd cents US. Most of the ones on sale here are the "ribbed" variety, (shown below) because they have a better flavor. The smooth ones are slightly cheaper, but the better-tasting ribbed ones ones are really not going to bust your budget. Mine are laid out here with a couple fresh, sweet carrots 胡萝卜 and some garlic 大蒜 plus a small piece of ginger 老姜。 I bought a few mushrooms 香菇 and a couple large spring onions 大葱。Had some premium Yunnan slow-cured ham/huotui 云南宣威火腿 in the fridge and I pressed it into service. Had I not had any ham, could have used a couple pieces of bacon. One can also make this dish meatless or with tofu. Sliced thin pieces of ham then cut them into slivers. Washed the mushrooms and cut away the stems. Instead of slicing them, cut them into thick sections so they would cook a bit slower and retain more texture. Cut the carrot and the spring onion. Finely chopped the garlic and the ginger. Kept them separate from eachother so I could give the ginger a few seconds head start. (It cooks a little slower than garlic.) Got out several dried red peppers 干辣椒。After all, this is Yunnan. Once everything else was ready, it was time to prep the sigua 丝瓜。Do it last since if it stands too long after being cut, it turns brown. Peel it about half way, strips of skin removed but also leaving some. If you buy smaller sigua, no need to peel it at all. Cut it in rolling wedges, rotating the gourd about 90 degrees between cuts. This looks nice plus it exposes more cut surface area to the spices and lets it absorb more flavor while still cooking fast. The flesh should look white and homogeneous, without prominent cavities or seeds. All set. Ready to fire up the wok. At this point I like to pause and mentally go through the order in which I'll put ingredients on the flame. Items that require more cooking time go in first. I also set out all the spices I'll need right beside the stove top so as to avoid last minute fumbling. In this case, I set out some salt 食用盐, sugar 白砂糖, MSG 味精。A bottle of soy sauce 生抽 and another of aged vinegar 老陈醋。Put a teaspoon of corn starch 淀粉 into a small bowl with enough water to dissolve it into a slurry 水淀粉。 Wok goes onto high flame, when it's plenty hot but not smoking, add the oil. Add the main aromatics (蒜姜.) When they become fragrant 爆香, add the carrots. Once they begin to soften, add the ham, then the mushrooms. All this takes maybe 90 seconds. Stir constantly. Mushrooms release some of their moisture as they cook and following that, they reduce in volume. That's your cue to add the spring onions; don't wait for the mushrooms to brown. You've set the stage for the entry of the star, the tender and juicy loofah gourd/sigua 丝瓜。Put them in the middle, just like you've done with each new ingredient. That's the beauty of a wok for making quick-fried Chinese dishes like this: add new things to the hottest part in the center as you push other ingredients up the sides. Don't walk away. Keep stirring and flipping things 翻炒 as they cook. Turn the heat down to medium. If it looks dry, add a splash of water; don't let it burn. This is the point at which I add dry and wet spices, blending well. 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of MSG (optional), 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Nothing overwhelming. The sigua gourd 丝瓜 itself has a gentle taste; don't want to hide it or cover it up. Poke a piece of gourd with your chopsticks to gauge resistance; indents easily when the vegetable is done; you can also stick it with a fork. The goal is to have it cooked through without becoming soft. Doesn't take long. Total cooking time is only 4 or 5 minutes. Just as everything is done, add the corn starch slurry. This thickens the sauce and binds the flavors. Serve it up. Goes well with steamed rice. And there you have it: a fresh, tasty supper from the lowly loofah gourd.
  2. If you are recently arrived in China, you may have discovered that the vegetable section of many restaurant menus features hearty combinations with stick-to-your-ribs portions of meat and potatoes that overshadow the lighter veggies in the dish. Furthermore, these often arrive at your table swimming in oil. If you are puzzled regarding how to get some simple fresh vegetables in a restaurant, three approaches can help you out. The first is to just order a vegetable stir-fried alone, such as 清炒菠菜。This would get you a plate of plain sautéed spinach. The waitress might ask if you wanted them to add garlic, 加蒜泥。 Another method is to order a clear soup made with a green leafy vegetable. Example of that would be 苦菜汤, the unfortunate translation of which is “bitter sow thistle.” It’s usually just the named vegetable and water, boiled till tender, with perhaps a dash of oil and a pinch of salt. The third approach is to order a 凉拌 or cold dish, made with a vegetable and an oil-vinegar dressing or sauce. Even though the name says “cold,” these are usually served at room temperature and take the place of salad in a western meal more or less. Today I’ll show you how to make one of my summer favorites: long green beans and king oyster mushrooms 四季豆杏鲍菇凉拌。Simple flavors with a pleasant crunch. I sometimes eat it by itself as a light lunch topped with a hard-boiled egg, but it can also be a side dish for your dumplings/jiaozi 饺子 and your lamb kebabs 羊肉串。 These 四季豆 beans go by several names, much as they do in English, and are easy to find in supermarkets here as well as closer to the source. They should be fairly stiff and not limp; color should be a vibrant deep green. I buy mine at the wet market, where a large bunch, enough for two generous meals, sells for 2 or 3 Yuan. They are traditionally paired with king oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇,but if you can't find these, the dish will work with other mild-flavored mushrooms just about as well. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) King oyster mushrooms 杏鲍菇 are on the left. They often grow on the stumps of dead hardwood trees. They have an umami note as expected and a tender texture, often compared to abalone or ... well, better yet, about like oysters. Flavor is mild, sometimes with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Cut away and discard the base of any thick, woody stems. Brush off soil with a wet paper towel. It's not necessary to scrub or soak them. Chinese chefs find their texture is best if you tear them into strips or coarse shreds with your fingers instead of chopping them with a knife. This gives a more pleasant mouth feel 口感。 Wash the beans and cut off the stem end. These are about as long as my forearm, but they aren't tough or knobby. They don't have tough "strings" or "threads" on the margin like some other varieties.The peas inside the long pods are tender and immature. I slice them into 6 or 8 inch sections, cutting on a diagonal, but you could chop them straight across to save a few seconds if necessary. I've also finely chopped three or four cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger 生姜。Removed some of the seeds from three hot chilies and cut them into thin strips 切丝。 Blanch 焯 the mushrooms in a pot of lightly-salted boiling water for a minute or so. Lift them out with a strainer and drain their water 捞出、流干水粉。You will use the same pot of water in a minute to boil the beans, so don't discard it. Saute the chilies, garlic and ginger in a little oil. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry quickly, adding a conservative pinch of salt. They don't need to brown; you just want the flavor of the aromatics to develop and blend with that of the mushrooms. Scoop them out into a temporary holding pan 备用。 Boil the beans for 4 or 5 minutes, testing them frequently so as to stop the process when they just barely begin to get tender. Don't overcook them; better if they are al dente. Drain them and "shock" them quickly with ice water. This stops the cooking and also improves their color. Drain them well and toss them with the cooked mushrooms 拌匀。 Sauce the combined beans and mushrooms with 2 tablespoons of olive oil 橄榄油, 1 tablespoon of aged vinegar 老陈醋, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce 生抽, half a teaspoon each of salt 食用盐 and sugar 白沙糖。 MSG 味精 1/4 teaspoon if you use it. (I do.) Toss everything together and allow the flavors to blend by putting it in the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes. It doesn't need to actually get cold. Best served at cool room temperature. It's easy to find this dish or some variation of it in simple neighborhood restaurants all over China. It's also pretty straight forward to make at home. Give it a try and see what you think. This kind of food works real well when the days are warm, such as now.
  3. Last week I had something real good in a local restaurant and today I tried to reproduce it at home. That is always a risky proposition, but what I wound up with was a pretty good adaptation even though it required more labor than initially expected. As you know, Kunming is famous for its cross-bridge rice noodles 过桥米线, as is most of southern Yunnan. One local eatery which I frequently visit is known for its variations on the old, time tested theme. They offer a variety of vegetables and meats to put in the boiling hot broth: sometimes they offer seafood, sometimes pigeon or quail, other times it's wild mushrooms that takes center stage. Last week they were trying out beef combinations with mint. One dish was called 滇味牛肉过桥米线 which had thin-sliced cooked beef 白切牛肉, green peppers 青椒, and mint 薄荷。It was available at an introductory price of 15 Yuan, down from 17 list. The other new menu item was those ingredients plus sliced beef stomach tripe 牛肚, called 金牌牛肉过桥米线 at the special price of 23 Yuan instead of the usual 25. If you aren't familiar with Yunnan cross-bridge rice noodles, please take a look at this previous discussion. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52493-yunnan-cross-bridge-rice-noodles-过桥米线/?tab=comments#comment-404109. Here's what it looks like in the restaurant, complete with raw quail eggs and chrysanthemum flower petals. (Click the photos to enlarge them.) Small plates 碟子 of cool or room temperature items are brought to your table along with a bowl of uncooked rice noodles. The waiter next delivers a bowl of extremely hot broth 高汤, and you put it together yourself, adding ingredients one at a time so they cook quickly on the spot. The noodles go in last of all, so as not to prematurely cool off the broth. My home adaptation of this dish saw me making it on the stove. If I had owned a free-standing hot plate or induction burner, could have done it right on the dining table instead. The flavors of beef and mint seem like they were meant for each other and the combo is a staple of Yunnan cuisine, much as lamb and mint are wedded in some western traditions. This dish showcases the marriage of beef and mint. Here's how I did it; here's how you can make it yourself at home. First, let's look at the beef. Bought a piece of rump roast, about 800 grams. Didn't actually need that much; a third or even a fourth of it would have been enough for today. But the trouble involved in slow cooking it means that it makes sense to cook a big piece and have some left over for other projects. Buying beef in the market tends to be an adventure. Works best if you are armed with some knowledge of the various cuts. They aren't identical to those used in the U.S. This cut sells for about 50 Yuan per kilo and doesn't have much waste. Slice it in half and tie the two pieces with twine so it will cook more evenly than if it had a thick "head" and a thin "tail." Bring it to the boil quickly in lightly salted water to clean it of blood and surface impurities, throwing away that water. Beef here in China tends to be tough, at least the most economical cuts do. So it's best to keep that in mind and cook it in a pressure cooker 高压锅 on high for 25 or 30 minutes. Let it come down to a safe temperature naturally over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, don't need to use a "quick-release" method. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can slow simmer it for 60 to 90 minutes until it's tender when pierced with a blunt chopstick. Include some ginger 老姜, garlic 大蒜, a cardamom pod 草果, one star anise 八角 , a piece of cinnamon or cassia bark 桂皮, and a bay leaf 香叶。A few "numbing" Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 and several dried Yunnan red peppers 干辣椒 are optional. (I admit liking to add them.) After it cools completely, slice it thin. This process gets you what is known as 白切牛肉, plain sliced boiled beef. It's one of the old standards of Chinese cooking. Often served just like that with a fragrant and spicy dipping sauce 沾水 at the start of a special meal. I saved the stock this produced and combined it with some chicken stock I already had on hand. Turned my attention to the vegetables. Most of China, and most of the world, views mint differently from Yunnan. Here it's a bonafide green leafy vegetable, not just a garnish or a condiment. We eat it by the handful, especially in summer since it's a "cooling" food 清凉。Here's a link to mint soup, which shows it in its "vegetable" role: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/ Used the crinkly-skinned spicy green peppers 虎皮椒 that are so popular here along with a red bell pepper mainly for color. Had a bunch of garlic chives 韭菜 and a bunch of very small spring onions 小葱。Washed and sliced thin as shown. I went through the mint as I washed it and tossed out any tough woody stems and damaged bits, being careful to not just wind up with leaves since small and medium mint stems have lots of flavor. Assembled the meat, shown here beside some home-made chili sauce 辣酱 and spicy pickled turnip greens 酸菜 cut fine. Got out a handful of rice noodles; this is about 1 Yuan worth. Put the stock 高汤 on low flame in a clay casserole pot, uncovered. When the stock barely began to simmer, I added the peppers. Let them cook a minute or so, until just starting to soften a little, then added the small spring onions and the garlic chives. Stirred it frequently so it didn't boil over. Now it's time for the thin-sliced cooked beef and a pinch of salt. (Don't need much because the 酸菜 diced pickled vegetables are salty.) As soon as the meat heats through, add the mint. Let these flavors combine for a half a minute or so, minimal cooking time. Add the rice noodles, preferably a few at a time instead of in one big clump. These are fresh noodles, straight from the maker. They have never been dried. If you're using dried noodles, probably best to start them off to the side in a separate pot of lightly salted water. We're done. It's ready. Eat up 动筷子!The mint combines great with the beef and the other flavors are completely harmonious. Every spoonful of broth makes you want to close your eyes and smack your lips. Try it, you'll see what I mean.
  4. If you’re Chinese, this is a familiar classic. Your mom made it for you once a week every summer from the time you were a tadpole until you finally went off to college. It was mandatory hot weather food. Bitter melon 苦瓜/kugua has myriad health virtues, chief among them is that it dispels excess internal heat. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals, delivering them with relatively few calories. People striving to lose weight and adult-onset diabetics are always advised to eat plenty of it. For the rest of us it’s somewhat problematic; it seems foreigners either love it or hate it. Furthermore, you're not likely to find it at Panda Express. If you aren’t sure which camp you belong in, I would urge you to give it a try. Paired with beef like this and with the bite reduced through smart handling it has a lot going for it in the flavor department. You could try it first in a restaurant and if you think it’s a winner, then come back here for the “how to.” Ask for 苦瓜炒牛肉 (kugua chao niu rou) and you won't get any strange looks; the waiter might even think you're a local. Here's what this bad boy looks like in the wild, namely in the wilds of my neighborhood wet market. It will be less bitter if it's not too large and the bumps (called "teeth") are not too prominent. Light green is milder than dark green. After selecting a couple, head over to the beef lady with her sharp cleaver. Ask for a cut that's suitable to stir fry so you don't wind up with stew meat. Butchers in the local market are specialized: this one only purveys pork, that one only beef, and another one, flanked by woven bamboo coops, handles chicken, killing them to order right on the spot. (Remember, you can click these photos to enlarge them.) At home, you should start on the meat first, since it requires some time to marinate. Chinese beef can be tough, and restaurants all give it special handling. The Muslim restaurants 回族餐厅 are especially skilled at making it tender and delicious. But you can use some of their tricks in your own kitchen. First and foremost it needs to be properly cut. Sharpen your knife and work across the grain of the muscle 横着。When I remember in time, I put the meat in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes to firm it up and make it easier to handle. What I had today was a 320 gram piece of eye of round, a relatively tough and lean cut from the rump of the cow ("黄瓜条“). The grain of the muscle fibers is not well seen when viewed from above (left photo) but you can see how they slant in the right photo. This meant my cuts needed to be on an angle, as shown, instead of straight down. I was slicing as thin as I could, being deliberate about it. If you are pressed for time, shortcuts are possible, but tday I wanted to be sure to get it right, so I took the long, careful road. Put the meat in a bowl and sprinkled in a half teaspoon of baking soda 苏打粉。Added enough water to barely moisten it and massaged it with a gloved hand for half a minute or so. Let it stand 10 to 15 minutes, then washed it clean with potable water. This gets it ready for the main marinade, composed of 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce 耗油, one tablespoon each of Shaoxing cooking wine 黄酒 and sesame oil 香油, a half tablespoon each of light soy sauce 生抽 and dark soy sauce 老抽。Resist the urge to go nuts with the soy sauce or you won't be able to taste the beef itself. Put on another disposable glove and give it the second massage of the day. Let it stand 20 minutes or so on the kitchen counter, or up to an hour in the fridge. (The two marinade steps can be combined, but use less baking soda if you do it that way.) Move on to the beautiful melon. Cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Use your spoon to scrape away at least some of the white pith, since it has a very strong flavor. Cut it into uniform pieces that suit your fancy. If it's a small melon, I just cut straight across, but this one was larger so I cut on a rolling bias 切棍。 To reduce the bitterness, salt these cut melon pieces and let them stand about 10 minutes. Then blanch 焯 it all for a minute or so, straining it into an ice bath. If you prefer your dish to have more of a bite, like I do when I'm making it just for myself, omit either or both of these two steps. Strain the cooled melon and set it aside. Now it's time to quickly stir fry your marinated beef. But first add a teaspoon of the last-minute secret ingredient, 木薯粉/mushu fen/cassava powder. Mix well. Using high heat, preheat the wok and add two or three tablespoons of oil (beef tends to stick.) The meat needs to just barely cook, to still be slightly pink in the center in order to avoid becoming tough. This only takes a minute or so. Scoop it into a pan on the counter 备用 and rinse out your wok. Most people use a stiff bamboo brush for this step. A little more oil in the hot wok and quick fry part of an onion, some minced ginger and garlic. They don't need to brown; only need to begin releasing their aroma 爆香。 Add the bitter melon and fry quickly for a minute or two. You want the vegetable to become slightly soft but to still retain some of its crunch. Then add back the cooked meat. Cook it all together for a quick minute so the flavors can blend, adjust the seasoning. Shouldn't need much, if anything. Plate it up 装盘。 Serve with steamed rice. Some Chinese food can be made a few minutes ahead and served at close to room temperature without significant loss of its charm. This dish, however, really needs to be eaten hot from the wok. If I'm making several dishes for guests, this is the one I do last for that reason. Any discussion of bitter melon seems to include comments about how learning to "eat bitter" or 吃苦/chi ku early in life builds character and is essential to wisdom and virtue. I would certainly not want to argue with the sages, and simply present that as one more reason to try this fine dish without too much delay.
  5. abcdefg

    Crazy for pickles 泡黄瓜

    Before moving here a decade ago I hugely underestimated Chinese love of pickles 泡菜。Fortunately, it was not a fatal mistake. Pickled vegetables of some sort are served with nearly every meal, including a nice salty-spicy dish of them with your porridge 粥 for breakfast. It's always risky to generalize, but this holds pretty much true from the frosty northeast 东北 to the humid sub-tropics of Canton 广州。 It's definitely true in Yunnan, where the predominant style of pickling is the one developed in neighboring Sichuan: namely long, slow fermentation in special crockery and glass jars with a water-seal lip that allows gas to escape while denying entry to stray unwanted bacteria. Not only are a wide assortment of vegetables transformed in this way, but the process is applied to such diverse ingredients as lake crabs and chicken feet. Some Chinese pickles are closer to being a relish or a chutney than they are to my usual mental image of a pickle: a big Kosher Dill carefully fished out of a wooden barrel at the old corner Deli, one block over from P.S. 106, Bronx, New York, circa 1950. Yunnan also has a truly perverse love affair with pickled fruit. One frequently sees street vendors selling small pickled pears and plums. They taste of anise, cinnamon and clove; right beside strong notes of chili, garlic and ginger. Some pickles are eaten raw, others are used as ingredients in cooking. Pickled greens 泡菜/酸菜 are often combined with fish and meat. (Recipe for pickled greens with fish slices here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51433-yunnan-spicy-fish-酸菜鱼片/) (And here's one for pickled greens with pork loin: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/47975-suancai-chao-rou-酸菜炒肉/) In the warmer months of the year, we are fortunate to have several varieties of cucumber here in Kunming, all of which invite pickling. I've been turning out at least one batch a week for the last few months. Thought I would show you how to make them yourself in case you have a "pickle tooth" too. Sometimes I use carrots, radish, bell peppers and even cauliflower, but today we will be sticking to cucumbers. (The method adapts easily to other vegetables if you prefer them.) This morning at the local wet market I found two of the three main kinds of local cucumbers: the long thin ones with bumpy skin (sometimes called "Japanese cucumbers," and the shorter stout ones with smoother light skin (sometimes called "English cucumbers.") A third kind that is smaller than either of these, with dark smooth skin, might have been present somewhere, but I didn't run across them and had no particular reason to seek them out. (Remember, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The kind on the right in this photo are the ones that work best for "smashed cucumber salad" 拍黄瓜。(Recipe for that here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53783-another-simple-classic-smashed-cucumber-拍黄瓜/?tab=comments#comment-412400) The big ones on the left are the kind I bought this morning to turn into pickles. These two varieties cost approximately the same. The smaller, "gherkin-sized" ones, cost a little more. In selecting a fresh cucumber, regardless of size, nothing works as well as a gentle squeeze test. It should feel firm, without much give. If it's soft, that means it's old. These local cucumbers don't need to be peeled. The surface isn't bitter and they haven't been sprayed with wax or oils like they are in some US supermarkets. The recipe I'm using for these today is one that originated in Fujian and is popular in Taiwan as well. It made its way to Guangdong and Hong Kong, but isn't terribly popular here in Kunming. It's a "Quick Pickle" that doesn't require much time. It's also not terribly salty or sour: very well balanced, at least for my palate. Scrub the cucumbers and slice them into rounds about a half an inch thick (2 cm or so.) Don't peel them and don't remove the seeds. Notice that these have nice looking centers; if they were past their prime, the centers would have larger seeds and a network of large empty spaces. Peel the garlic 独蒜 and smash it into chunks, scrub the ginger 老姜 and slice it thickly, unpeeled. Cut the hot pepper 小米辣 into thirds and remove some of the seeds if you want to decrease the heat. The dry orange peel 橙皮 is optional, but the dried licorice root 甘草 is very strongly suggested. It adds a distinctive note and the resulting taste would definitely be less interesting without it. You can buy it in Chinese herbal pharmacies if your grocery store doesn't stock it. For each large pickle combine 2 tablespoons of soy sauce 生抽, two tablespoons of aged vinegar 老陈醋, and two tablespoons of white rice vinegar白醋. Add one tablespoon of sugar 白砂糖 and one teaspoon of salt 食盐。Do not add water. As the pickles marinate, they will release some of their own flavor-laden moisture. Put everything in a saucepan and boil it for one only one minute over low to medium heat. Remove it from the flame and let the pickles cool in this liquid. You can cool it in bowls if you want it to go a bit faster. When it is cool enough to handle easily, put everything into the jar and screw on the lid. Let it stand out on a shelf or counter top overnight, then refrigerate it in the morning. The pickles are ready to eat in 24 hours and will keep ten days or two weeks, though I confess I've never made a batch yet that possessed that degree of longevity. Let me be clear: the pickles didn't go bad; I just ate them all up. They improve with every passing day. On occasion I've made a half batch to replenish the jar, adding the new ones to the bottom. These pickles really do have a way of disappearing. I like that they have plenty of crunch, aren't too sweet, aren't too sour, aren't too hot, but still definitely are not too bland. They make a great mid-afternoon snack, along with a hard-boiled egg. You won't be struck by lightning, however, if you want to vary your own batch of pickles to taste. What I've hoped to provide for you here is a safe and sensible starting place so you can avert disaster while carrying out your own personal fine-tuning. I often eat them along with a sandwich, or better yet, alongside a fresh steamed bun spread with spicy fermented tofu. I was introduced to this sterling combination several years ago when climbing Mt. Emei 峨眉山 (in Sichuan, south of Chengdu) very early one morning trying to get to the top by sunrise. I stopped for a break beside the steep trail and two middle-aged ladies sat down beside me. They were friendly and shared their snacks, which were, you guessed it, mantou, lufu, and pickles. Plus a big thermos of green tea. As an impressionable youth, I was hooked for life. Three rounds of rehab have not put a dent in my shameful cravings or my ruinous pickle addiction. This morning I bought a folded steamed bun with sesame seeds (huajuan 花卷) instead of plain mantou 馒头。Ate the last few remaining pickles from my jar before starting a new batch. These had been marinating about one week and were bursting with flavor. A fine compliment to the spicy fermented tofu (lufu 卤腐) which is one of the odd-ball darlings of Yunnan cuisine. Life is too short not to eat plenty of pickles; especially home-made Chinese pickles. Give these a try and see what you think!
  6. With the arrival of warmer summer days, I've been looking for ways to have less fried food while still enjoying premium local fresh produce and bold Chinese flavors. Eggplant 茄子 (qiezi) is one of my favorite vegetables, and tonight I made it steamed for supper. Let me show you how. Bought three of these tender long Asian eggplants 长茄子 at the outdoor market, along with some mildly-spicy crinkly red peppers 红椒 and a handful fresh spring onions 大葱. Took three heads of single-clove garlics 独蒜 from my existing kitchen stash. (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) When making an eggplant dish it's best to prepare the other ingredients first, saving the eggplant until last. If it stands too long in room air, the cut edges turns an unattractive brown color. So that's the sequence I followed today. If you're not used to cooking with these Chinese spring onions, I can save you some time. Don't try washing them to remove the sand and soil. Just grasp a few leaves and peel them all the way to the root end, then snap that part off. I cut them on a bias with my sharp Hong Kong knife 菜刀 so they would fall apart and blend better with the eggplant in the steamer. Next I sliced the peppers in half and removed the fibrous core as well as most of the seeds. Sliced them into julienne slivers 切丝。 Smashed the garlic, removed the skin, and then minced it fine 蒜蓉。 After washing the eggplants, removed the stems and cut them into long pieces 切条 without worrying too much about making them completely uniform in size like you would if using them in a stirfry. These eggplants are young and tender; no need to remove the skin. Put all the ingredients together in a shallow bowl and set it in a steamer. Had I not had a steamer, would have used a wok with a lid. Let it steam for a scant 7 or 8 minutes, until the eggplant pieces can be easily pierced with a chopstick. While that was going on, I made a simple sauce. Whisked together one part aged vinegar 老陈醋, one part light soy sauce 生抽, one part sesame oil 香油。Stir in a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of chicken essence 鸡精, and a big pinch of sugar. When it's done, lift it out. Remember that the dish is real hot, so best to use a tool such as the one shown here. Drizzle on the sauce, stir it gently and serve while nice and warm. Inexpensive, healthy, easy summer food. Give it a try and see what you think.
  7. Here's the backstory to yesterday's recipe. (Link, in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56622-spicy-green-peppers-and-mushrooms-香菇炒青椒/?tab=comments#comment-438182 ) Let me give you a look at my trip to the outdoor market for the ingredients. It's a look at my neighborhood wet market in early summer. It's also a daily-life taste of the non-tourist China. (As usual, you can click the photos to enlarge them.) It was clear that lots of people had the same idea at the same time because it was hard to find a place to park my bike outside the gate. As previously mentioned, rainy season has arrived, and we all rush out to do errands when we get a blue-sky sunny day. We have begun to see some wild mushrooms for sale, though not the abundance that will be here in a month. As business is slow, the vendor even has time to puff his Yunnan water pipe, lower right. Instead of buying wild ones today, I headed for the large table where they sell an assortment of cultivated mushrooms. The boss was having a reflective moment, contemplating the meaning of life. Next door, I bought a pile of dragon fruit 火龙果. They were being sold by the pile 一堆 instead of by weight. You couldn't sort through them, but my pile had 4 fruits for 10 Yuan, so I wasn't about to complain. These had been brought up from Vietnam. One of the glories of this market is the large assortment of fermented condiments, pickled vegetables and vibrant Yunnan spices. Look at the lovely long red pickled peppers in the photo lower right. They are not as hot as they look and make a great accompaniment to a roast chicken. Today I bought a chunk of lufu 油卤腐, a specialty of nearby Yuxi 玉溪。It's a rather strange salty and spicy fermented product, made from hairy tofu 毛豆腐 pickled in chilies and oil for several months. It's pungent and sort of stinky; reminiscent of Limburger cheese, great spread onto a fresh steamed bun baozi 包子。 Even better when spread on one of these steamed braided buns hua juan 花卷。Doubt it will ever be a hit with Joe Sixpack back in Texas. Here's the source of the peppers in yesterday's meal. They are abundant just now. I bought the green ones 青椒 or 青辣尖椒, but red ones are available too. They are moderately piquant, and sometimes I prefer small red bell peppers instead. Yunnan people love their peppers and one can find a couple dozen different kinds. I stopped to say hello to Mr. Gao, purveyor of edible flowers. I sometimes cook the large yellow ones, but never got around to making the photos to show you. They are very tasty, but require some extra work. Today he had a basket of perfect jumbo figs, bottom left corner of his display. I bought a few one day early last week; an experience to be long treasured; goodness they were sweet. One fills you up and makes the sun shine even at night. A few meters away, a cluster of people looked over the lettuce and cabbage. It was a popular spot: prices were low and quality was high. It was early in the day, and the place I usually buy roast duck was just gearing up for round two. They hang the birds to air dry for a while before rubbing them inside and out with spices. Then they put them into sealed clay ovens to roast slow. This produces the famous Yilaing roast duck 宜良烤鸭 for which this region is famous. It rivals those from Beijing. They are prized for their tender meat and their crispy skin 脆皮。 Next door someone was selling roast duck by the kilo. They were cheaper because they were prepared somewhere off premises. Competition was stiff and they had a bowl of free samples that you could spear with a toothpick. This middle-aged couple lingered there a long time, sampling steadily as if trying to make up their minds. They didn't fool me and they probably didn't fool the duck seller; eventually they moved on without making a purchase. At the bottom of the frame, lower right, notice the big metal pan of spicy Yunnan chicken feet. They are not for the faint of heart. By now it was time for a bowl of one of my favorite local specialties, silky tofu "flowers" on rice noodles with a pungent pickled vegetable sauce 豆花米线。Mine had a sprinkling of ground meat, although they make a meatless version as well. 7 Yuan for a medium serving. The boss was bouncing a baby on his knee. I asked if it was his grandson. "No, he is my neighbor's.” 他是隔壁的。In a couple minutes the mother came over from the stall next door to reclaim her happy little boy. On the way out with my trophies, I passed some zongzi 粽子 booths just getting cranked up. Dragon Boat festival 端午节 is on the horizon and will be here in less than two weeks. Zongzi made with Yunnan ham 云南宣威火腿 are very popular here. Made my way back to the street, passing some free lancers selling small items they had carried in by hand. Outside the market proper there are always several small mobile vendors selling just a few items. Doubt they are really making a living; more likely just supplementing their slim pensions. The old man had brought in some small dried fishes, carried in two baskets on either end of a bamboo shoulder pole 扛。 When people back home ask me about the "Real China," I never know quite what to say, then I think about places like this. Ten minutes by bicycle from my apartment.
  8. It has rained a lot over the last week; our rainy season 雨季 has started with a bang. Clueless tourists will be stranded in mud slides before even making it to the entrance of Tiger Leaping Gorge. In Kunming we know about weather and adapt to it, and when the rain clears, like it did this morning, we jump fast to take full advantage. The sun was out by 9 a.m. and I was in the wet market 菜市场 with my shopping list by ten. It was bustling and busy like a Sunday. The aunties 阿姨 and grannies 奶奶 had large baskets and cloth bags to take home a portion of the bounty. I made a beeline to where the most people were grabbing stuff; this produce was bound to be the freshest, cheapest and best. Most locals are savvy shoppers and I imitate them. I loaded up with crispy green long peppers, the pointy kind, not sweet bell peppers. Thought I would make an old standard, green peppers and lean pork stir fry 青椒肉丝。But then I noticed the abundance of mushrooms. It's too early to eat the wild ones 野生菌 just yet, there is too much chance of unpleasant toxins 毒 Later in the season the wild ones are safer, so I usually wait another month or so. With that in mind, today I bought cultivated ones instead 人工香菇。 Swung by the stall that features "black pork." That designation puzzled me for a long time, until I finally figured out that 黑猪肉 doesn't mean black meat, it means the meat from pigs that have black hide. Supposed to be a little more tasty. They are raised in the hills in large pastures, sort of "free range," instead of being confined to cages or pens. Purchase a nice piece of lean loin meat 猪里脊。This cut is not marbled and it can be tough; but proper technique can make it delicious. Came out real good, so I thought I would share. Here's how I put it together. (Remember, you can click the pictures to enlarge them.) Clean the mushrooms and cut off the stems. Slice the caps thin. Wash the long green peppers and cut off the stems. These are spicy, have a nice bite, but are not fiery hot. I leave most of the seeds but remove the pith near the base. Cut some of them into circles instead of slivers. Why? Because it looks good. Locally these go by the name of 青辣尖叫 some of the time. You can find red ones as well, same shape and basic flavor profile. Peel down the outer leaves of a few spring onions and snap off the root end. Slice them into small rounds, using all of the whites and some of the greens as well. Wash and finely chop some cilantro. Stems as well as leaves. Assemble the vegetables. Turn your attention to the meat. I had put it in the freezer for 15 or 20 minutes while prepping the vegetables to let it get firm and be easier to handle. The goal was to slice it thin across the grain, into slivers 肉丝 or very small pieces 肉片 so it would cook fast. This piece weighed only 150 grams; less than a fourth of a pound. It doesn't take much: a dish like this is mainly about the vegetables. The meat is just in it to enhance the flavor, to give it a little more punch. Marinate the cut meat in corn starch and cooking wine for 30 minutes or so. Makes it more tender. Fire up the wok. Use high heat. You want these ingredients to sear, cook fast and get a little color without actually scorching. If the flame is too low they will stew and be soggy. This is the part of the process that requires your full attention; don't play with your phone or look out of the window. If you don't stir fast enough, something will burn. Start with the meat; cook it about three-quarters through and scoop it out while it is still faintly pink. Then cook the mushrooms, stirring and flipping 翻炒 them constantly. The idea behind a process like this is to start with the ingredients that take more time to be done. Mushrooms take longer than peppers. When the mushrooms have released their moisture and wilted, add the peppers to the center of the wok. That is the hottest part. Let the peppers get soft and even begin to get slightly brown before adding the spring onions. Last of all, add the cilantro leaves and stems. At each step along the way I add a sprinkle of salt, instead of waiting until the very end. It's easier for me to judge the right amount that way, though it isn't essential to follow that strategy. Return the cooked meat to the pan and cook it all together for a minute or so to blend the flavors. At this stage I added a splash of soy sauce 生抽 and a few spoons of a corn starch slurry 水淀粉 to thicken the juices. If you like a pinch of MSG 味精, this is the time to put it in. (I use it, but realize not everyone can.) When the juices have been absorbed into the dish and all these harmonious flavors marry, in only a minute or so, it's ready to serve. Don't want to overcook things like this; the vegetables still need to have some crunch. That's part of what distinguishes real Chinese food from what you get for $5.98 at Golden China Buffet in the strip mall on the loop in small-town Texas where I spend part of every year. Plate it up. Goes well with plain steamed rice. Goes well with sunshine after a week of rainy days.
  9. abcdefg

    Roast duck mango salad

    Summer is approaching fast and, as the days get warmer, a hearty salad sometimes hits the spot for supper. Here's one of my favorites. Cannot really call it Old School Yunnan cooking, but it nonetheless is a fine fusion of some classic local flavors. The duck was one of our prized Yiliang birds, purchased from the market for 25 Yuan. The type of bird and the method of cooking it are different from the more famous Beijing roast duck. The bird is very succulent, with crisp skin, partly attributed to being roasted in large, free-standing clay ovens. They originated east of Kunming, not far from Stone Forest in the small town of Yiliang 宜良县城 but now are widely found in Kunming as well. We old timey locals brag that they put Beijing ducks to shame. The vendor usually chops them into pieces for you, but today I asked him not to. Was a little surprised that it was a trick to find the right verb. They don't call it qie 切 or duo 剁,instead using kan 砍。"老板请不要砍" got the job done. (Remember you can click the photos to enlarge them.) The mangoes were from Thailand, and cost 12 Yuan a kilo. Price will come down a little next month. These are "sheng de long" mangoes 圣德龙, a sweet, sought-after variety. The seller will help you select a couple that are ready now, today and tomorrow, and a couple others that will be ripe towards the end of the week. Took me most of my first mango season to master this simple trick of "strategic spaced purchasing." Transported my bounty home in the basket on the handlebars of my bike. Wasn't feeling terribly ambitious, but fortunately this dish is really easy to make and doesn't even require turning on the stove. Bought a sweet Bermuda onion 洋葱 and a small bunch of fresh cilantro with the stems 香菜。A crisp Asian cucumber 黄瓜 and a couple limes 青柠檬。These cucumbers are long with tender skin that isn't bitter. I only partly peel them. The limes have less bite than Chinese lemons. Rough cut half of the onion. This ginger is different from what is usually exported: it's fresh 生姜 instead of dried 老姜。It has a milder flavor; you can use more of it with impunity. Coarsely sliced a big piece of it, the size of two thumbs. Doesn't need to be peeled. I usually buy cucumbers from the same lady. For whatever reason, hers are always fresh and sweet. She also has the bigger English-style cucumbers for sale; you can see them in the right front of her display. I partly skinned one Asian cucumber and cut it in half the long way. Scooped out the seeds with a spoon and sliced it into pencil-sized slivers. Put the cucumber and onion in a bowl, added salt and a pinch of sugar. Squeezed two limes and added the juice along with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cut a few stalks of fresh coriander, stems plus leaves. Tossed it all together. Skinned and sliced one ripe mango 芒果。It was so sweet and juicy that it required considerable self control not to just wolf it down immediately and forget the rest of the meal. Tossed it together with the vegetables, making sure the mango slices got well coated with lime juice. Let the flavors marry while cutting up the duck. I cut and tore the tender breast meat off the bone. One of the hallmarks of well-made duck is that the juices stay in the meat, trapped by the golden crispy skin. I added a sprinkle of salt. If you didn't have roast duck readily available, you could use roast chicken, although it wouldn't have quite as full a flavor. Home stretch now. Just toss it all together. This is enough for two hungry people as a main course. Great for a summer evening when you don't feel like firing up the wok. Hope you will give it a try before too long. You won't regret it.
  10. 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.
  11. Here's another good way to turn Chinese chives (jiucai 韭菜) into something tasty without too much trouble. Admittedly, it requires a little more effort than the simple stir fry scramble that we made with them a couple days ago, but not a whole lot. That recipe is here in case you missed it: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56328-chinese-chives-韭菜-two-or-three-ways/?tab=comments#comment-435504 Today we'll make griddle cakes 煎饼 which can easily serve as a breakfast or as the backbone of a light supper or lunch. Adding a bowl of rice, a salad or a soup turns it into a decent, well-balanced meal. Start with the same primary ingredient 主料, namely a bundle of fresh jiucai 韭菜, aka Chinese chives. The first time or two that you make this, you might want to be more careful with the weights and the measures, though after that it's fine to just work by eye. This handful of jiucai weighed about 250 grams when I started, and about 200 grams after pulling off brown or dead leaves and trimming away the tough sandy/muddy ends of the white stems. Washed them well three times, until the wash water remained completely clean to the eye. Drain in a colander and blot dry. This time, instead of cutting them into short pieces like we did before, I chopped them up fine. This makes them easier to incorporate into a batter a few minutes later on. Also cut up a few slices of lean ham/huotui 火腿, this time using some I bought in the store instead of my favorite which comes from the wet market a little farther away. Canadian bacon would work well in place of this if you live in the west. Finely diced half a large carrot and lightly beat two fresh eggs in a small bowl with my chopsticks. Made a thin batter from 50 grams of all purpose flour and about half a cup of potable water. Stirred it well with a fork. You could also use a small balloon whisk for this, but an electric mixer would be overkill. Mix in the two eggs, followed by the ham, carrots, and jiucai. Stir it well to evenly distribute all ingredients, adding about a half teaspoon of salt 食盐 as you work. 搅拌均匀。It should be a somewhat soupy, wet batter for this particular use; not a thick, stiff batter like you might prefer in some other applications. Use a non-stick flat-bottom saute pan 不粘平底锅 for this instead of your trusty wok. If you don't have one of those, don't despair. A well seasoned wok will also get the job done, though it requires a little more oil. Heat your pan over medium heat and add the batter using a large spoon. The individual cakes won't be perfectly round, but don't fret about that. It's not your year for that second Michelin star anyhow. After a couple of minutes, turn them with a silicone spatula and a pair of chopsticks. Let the second side brown as well. By now the centers are well cooked, but still moist. Take them out of the pan and reserve 备用 on a preheated plate or platter. You will probably have to make them in two batches. What I do is pour boiling water over a large plate and then dry it. Cover the finished griddle cakes 煎饼 loosely with a clean kitchen towel. This way your fresh-cooked goodies are still hot when they reach the table. Dig in. You and your friends or family are ready to enjoy a home-made jiucai treat.
  12. Chinese chives, known over here as jiucai 韭菜, is an ingredient that's easy to find all over China and it isn't too challenging to track down even in the west. It's an ingredient that's fun to use because it is versatile, lending itself to many applications. It's also forgiving, not easily ruined when you are using it. I unexpectedly lucked in to a big batch this weekend and wound up cooking jiucai three days in a row. I had three days of jiucai feasts. The back story might be of interest. A hot springs sauna where I sometimes relax grows all its own vegetables organically out on the northeast edge of the city. It's one of their boasting points and is a claim to local fame. Whatever they bring in fresh in the morning, gets used up by the end of that same day; they are scrupulous about not holding anything over. "Completely organic and completely fresh" is what you can expect to eat on their premises, according to their promotional literature. They set a lavish buffet for lunch and another for supper. Breakfast is also provided, but it's a simple affair. If you are leaving anytime after supper, as you check out and settle your tab, they will ask if you want a bag of that day's leftover veggies. The receptionist won't let you pick through them or select what you want. One person, one bag; take it or leave it. I find it hard to say no to this kind of pot luck bounty, and usually smile and nod yes. This means that sometimes I walk out with a heavy bag of cabbage or half a dozen eggplants plus two carrots. This time my treasure was more jiucai than anyone could possibly eat at one go. Luckily, it keeps pretty well for a day or two in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Looses a tiny bit of it's fresh-picked bite, but not much. It's a pretty durable item. So now after three straight days of jiucai practice, I'm a self-declared expert. My best friend agrees, but we all know she's biased. In any case, I'll take great pleasure in showing you some jiucai tricks so that you can also perform jiucai magic at home, wherever you might live. This splendid green vegetable has a taste somewhere between that of onion and garlic, and is related to both. The flavor is more concentrated than either and it makes a very distinctive ingredient in many quintessentially Chinese specialty dishes, top among them probably being jiucai dumplings 韭菜猪 肉饺子。These rule the roost if you live up north, above the Chiang Jiang 长江, aka the Mighty Yangtze. Someone else will have to show you how to make those, since my dumpling skills are rudimentary at best. But today I'll gladly show you how to use jiucai in a stir fried scrambled egg dish 韭菜炒鸡蛋。Next we will make it up into crispy thin griddle cakes 韭菜煎饼。A day or two later, if there's sufficient interest, I'll take you through turning them into a tasty and simple fried rice 韭菜鸡蛋炒饭。All three were a hit with my Kunming friends. Never broke the bank or required excessive amounts of kitchen time. Trim off a little bit of the fibrous white root ends and discard any brown or wilted leaves. Wash them well, dry them, then chop into pieces 3 or 4 centimeters long. Break two or three eggs into a dish and mix them with chopsticks. I usually figure one egg per person when preparing this as a side dish to go with other parts of a meal. Scramble the eggs in a non-stick flat bottom skillet 不粘平底锅 with a little oil over low to medium heat. Turn the eggs out into a dish when they are barely done, don't overcook them. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set them aside. 备用 Wipe out the skillet, heat to medium, add a little more oil. Stir fry the jiucai until they wilt, but don't let them get real dark or burned. This usually only takes a minute or two. Add a light sprinkle of salt. Add back the scrambled eggs and cook them together for another half minute or so. Scoop them out into a serving dish. Set it on the table and dig in. This is a dish best enjoyed while it's still nice and hot, fresh from the flame. This goes well with nearly anything you can name in the wide realm of Chinese cooking. Its taste is distinctive but not overpowering. I've had it accompany a fish main course, or chicken or duck. One can simply enjoy it with a bowl of steamed rice as a brunch, or even with a bowl of Yunnan noodle soup 米线。 Hope you will give it a try. Eager to see what you think. On a spectrum of one to ten, this falls somewhere around zero on the difficulty scale. Highly suitable for fledgling Chinese chefs.
  13. Kimchi is more than a staple in Korea: it's a national passion. It's nearly a religion. Not sure I've ever had a meal anywhere on the peninsula which didn't include it, regardless of the time of day. But any Chinese north-easterner 东北人 will be quick to remind you that it was invented in China and only later exported or stolen. A debate of that subject draws more heat and patriotic emotion than a discussion of nuclear weapons. Let me just say that pickled, fermented and salted vegetables are extremely popular here in Kunming, regardless of their origins. These are typically made from Napa-type cabbage and slivers of large white daikon radish, but hundreds of variations exist. Even a trip to the grocery store (below left) shows an ample selection, and my local wet market has even more (below right.) Note that all of these are spicy, to some degree or other. If you have a strong preference for bland 清淡 food, this glorious stuff is not for you. You can click the photos to enlarge them. And the Chinese equivalent of kimchi, usually called 泡菜 or 腌菜 or 酸菜, makes up into a killer fried rice. You can find it on the menu of even the most humble small eateries, and it's a snap to make at home. Let me show you how it worked out tonight as a tasty one-dish meal. I bought some robust cured beef 牛肉干吧 at the stand where they use lean mountain cattle from Yunnan's northeast Zhaotong Prefecture 着通州。It comes in large pieces of hind leg that are hanging in the shade. The helpful young guy cuts it into thin slices for you 切片。I bought 20 Yuan worth, pictured here below right, which was enough for two meals. It's more expensive than pork. When I got ready to use it, I cut it up into very thin slivers and marinated them in corn starch 淀粉 and yellow cooking wine 黄酒 for 20 or 30 minutes. I prep the meat first and let it stand while I'm washing and cutting up the vegetables. This "velveting" process makes the meat more tender; allows you to use a shorter cooking time. Today I used some small cherry tomatoes, ripe on the vine, and some freshly-cut spring corn. Both have a subtle sweet flavor that makes a nice contrast with the other, more forward ingredients. The pickled, salted vegetables are the star of this show. The ones I bought today were made from mustard greens. Yesterday I made the mistake of using an extremely hot type made with lots of pickled peppers. That didn't work out, set fire to my mouth, and today I knew better. Here below is the more temperate kind that I bought from the same seller's wife. She is usually more helpful, giving me recommendations and tastes of this or that, but she was off on my first shopping trip. The devil is often in the details of these things and many recipes I found on the Chinese internet said things like "Use enough, but be careful to not use too much." Well thanks many times over for that sagacious tip. The result of my own experimentation over the years and deep discussions with knowledgeable friends has resulted in this secret formula: One heaping tablespoon of cut up 腌菜 pickled vegetables for each small bowl of rice used. (The small, individual rice bowl 饭碗 is an accepted unit of measure.) Today I was using three bowls of left-over rice, hence three generous tablespoons of finely chopped greens. Obviously this is not ironclad, and will need to be adjusted to suit your taste buds. But at least it gives you a starting point. Fried rice works best with left-over rice, some that has spent a night or two in your fridge (not a week or two.) It dries out a little and is less likely to stick together. It still needs to be fluffed up with chopsticks or even with your dampened fingers before using. Everything is assembled now, as seen below, ready to rock and roll. Fire up the wok. Add a small amount of oil after it's hot. Use high heat: after all the name of this game is "fried rice," not "stewed rice." A timid, low flame results in an unpleasant mush. Start with the meat. Quickly stir fry, until it just begins to brown. This only takes 30 or 45 seconds. Scoop it out and set it aside. One can make a a vegetarian version of this dish by substituting firm tofu. Smoked tofu strips work especially well. Start with the corn and tomatoes. Stir them fast until they begin to release some aroma and then add the preserved vegetables. Work quickly; this is not the time to walk away and check your phone for messages. When these ingredients have mixed well and the corn has begun to develop a slight surface caramel color, add back the meat, continuing to flip everything with flourish and vigor 翻炒。Try your best to not let things stick to the bottom of the wok. You would like to avoid a burned flavor. Now it's time for the rice. Notice that it's not just one large chunk. Break it up even more with your spatula 锅铲 using the edge and the flat part alternately. Work quickly, as mentioned before. Notice that there is lots of rice, relative to the added ingredients. If you put in chicken and ham and left-over shrimp and peas and mushrooms and carrots and celery and so on, you will wind up with a mess. Please exercise some restraint, hold those creative urges in check, and make a different stir fry with a selection from those other goodies tomorrow. You may have noticed no mention of adding salt, pepper, or any other seasonings. That wasn't an oversight: this dish doesn't need them. The meat 干吧 and the pickled greens 腌菜 supply all that is needed. No soy sauce, etc. Serve it up and eat it while warm. A fried rice dish like this can serve as a one-dish meal or you can supplement it with a soup or a salad. I followed mine tonight with some sweet freshly-cut pineapple, brought up from Xishuangbanna 西双版纳傣族自治州 in the very south of the province. Pro tip: It's OK to eat fried rice 炒饭 with a spoon. Look around next time you are in a small lunch room off on a side street in whatever province, all across China. A few people are doing it with chopsticks, but most efficiency-minded Chinese have picked up a spoon. Even though this tasted real good, I might have to relinquish my Michelin star because the rice isn't all individual grains. Perfect fried rice has no clumps at all, not even small ones. Never mind that. Give it a try. It's easy to find Korean kimchi in refrigerated packages all over the world, and it works very well, even without being Chinese.
  14. Freezing drizzle mixed with light snow flurries outside my window today here in the City of Eternal Spring sent me on a quest for some simple comfort food. Kunming has real good weather overall, but that doesn't mean we totally escape winter. Managed to make a quick run to the fresh market on one of the trusty Ofo shared bikes before getting really socked in. Invested 3 Yuan in a nice slice of long, skinny Yunnan pumpkin 南瓜, not the Jack-O-Lantern kind. The seller had donggua/wintermelon 冬瓜 on offer as well. She lets you buy as much of one as you want, since both these vegetables are usually too large for only one family. Deftly scoops out the seeds and shaves off the thick rind, then chops it into two pieces so it will easily fit inside my shopping bag. Wound up with 600 grams, a little over a 斤 or a pound of usable flesh 肉。 Before anything else, I started washing and soaking the rice. I used one cup total, about half of which was medium-grain white rice 大米, with the remainder being millet 小米 and short-grain sticky rice 糯米。That combination is completely optional; the recipe works just fine with all plain rice instead. The thing I most often got wrong when starting out making zhou 粥 several years ago was that I always seemed to use too much rice. It's easy to forget how much it will expand during the process of cooking, and you want the result to be soupy, not thick. I would suggest thinking long and hard before exceeding one cup of grain, since it eventually needs to be diluted 10 to 1 or 12 to 1 with water or stock. Next order of business, and another of those simple things that is easy to slight, is to wash the rice very well. The idea is not just to get it clean, but to remove surface rice powder and begin softening or even breaking some of the grains. This is different from making steamed rice where you would like to maintain grain integrity. Rinse it four or five times, each time scrubbing it around with your hands, rolling it between your palms. Consider this some kind of mild primal therapy. Put on loud music if necessary. Then let it soak. Ideally for about an hour. And this soaking water will be discarded before you actually start cooking. Now turn your attention to the pumpkin. Wash it quickly under running water and then slice it into thin pieces. These don't need to be tiny slivers, but it works best if they aren't large chunks. Steam these for 15 or 20 minutes, until they are soft and pierce easily with ordinary blunt chopsticks. Some recipes call for mashing them at this point, but I think that's unneeded labor. While the pumpkin was steaming, I defrosted a large cup of frozen chicken stock that I had made a week or two before. Water can be used instead if you want to go vegetarian. Poured off the rice soaking water, which by this time was pretty clear, added the stock and enough extra water to be twelve times the volume of the dry rice. Add the soft steamed pumpkin and turn on the heat. I'm using my trusty rice cooker, which has a setting for zhou, labeled 稀饭 because that's the preferred term in Yunnan. Make sure your rice cooker is not more than about three quarters full; don't want it to boil over. If you don't have a rice cooker you could make it stovetop, but it requires lots of stirring to be sure it doesn't stick. You can also use a slow cooker 电子砂锅。The "zhou" program on my rice cooker takes a little over 30 minutes. But I open the lid every five minutes or so and stir it well with chopsticks. Want to break up any clumps and make sure it doesn't burn in the bottom of the pot. Towards the end of cooking time, I add a teaspoon of salt 食盐 and four or five pieces of rock sugar 冰糖。Taste to be sure the rice is cooked through and completely tender. If not, give it a few more minutes. The results are smooth, steamy, aromatic, and nourishing. I garnished the bowl with a few wolfberries/gouqi 枸杞。 You can use your imagination in adding other ingredients, or you can keep it classically simple. Regardless, it will chase away the cold weather blahs admirably and not saddle you with much in the way of cleanup. Give it a try.
  15. This simple dish is reason enough to visit Yunnan. The province is famed for doing magic with half a dozen kinds of rice noodles, and this is one of the specialty dishes that contributes in a major way to that reputation. The best ersi arguably come from Tengchong 腾冲, in the west, not far from Burma. But they have definitely spread to Kunming. Instead of being extruded like most fresh noodles, whether wheat or rice, these er si 饵丝 are first kneaded and pounded into a firm cake and then carefully sliced. They are thicker and more chewy than ordinary rice noodles, which makes them delicious when fried then quickly simmered with a bold gravy/sauce (lu 卤)。During the process, the sauce penetrates the noodles as well as coating them with flavor. Here's what they look like: I've put some chopsticks on top to give you a better idea of scale. If you cannot get ersi where you live, you could use ordinary rice noodles by shortening the cooking time. One could also substitute wheat noodles, though the dish would not have quite the same mouth feel 口感 or taste 味道。 I bought them this morning in a street stall instead of my usual market. The vendor looked surprised and asked, "Do you know what to do with them?" I assured her that I did, but it reminded me that these aren't easily available all across China. They are one of the regional glories of Yunnan cuisine. This bag cost 2 Yuan and I used most of it today. Today I made lu ersi 卤饵丝 with some smoked pork just because I had it on hand. Usually I use roast pork belly 烤五花肉 bought from the market from a vendor who makes it fresh daily over slow coals in a clay oven. I've seen it in supermarkets for sale pre-wrapped. The recipe can also be made with plain ground meat, pork or beef 磨肉。 I paired this strong-flavored meat with a vegetable that could stand up to it as an equal: long green chili peppers 青椒/尖椒。 These are only medium hot and I take out about half of the seeds. Cut some in rounds, some in strips. One could tone it down by using bell peppers. Added a large spring onion 大葱 and some garlic, crushed with the side of my knife and chopped fine. Heat the wok, add some oil and give the meat a head start. Since my meat was already cooked by the curing process, I only gave it 30 or 40 seconds. Didn't want to dry it out. Added the vegetables and aromatics one by one, stirring and turning things over quickly 翻炒, with my spatula 国产 using high heat. Season with half a teaspoon of salt 食用盐, a tablespoon of oyster sauce 耗油, a tablespoon of soy sauce 生抽, and a teaspoon of prickly ash oil 花椒油。 I add about a quarter teaspoon of MSG 味精, but leave it out if it disagrees with you. A pinch of sugar is also optional (but suggested.) When these flavors have had a chance to blend and the vegetables have just barely begun to cook (don't want them to loose their crunch) add slightly less than a rice bowl of water (about a cup.) Stir it up, reduce the flame to medium, and add the ersi 饵丝。 Stir fry about a minute longer, until the ersi become slightly soft, just al dente, not too soft. If making it for the first time, it's best to err on the side of too short a cooking time. Maintaining the texture is important for an authentic result. Serve it up. In an unpretentious Kunming open-front café, they will give you a small bowl of clear broth 清汤 to sip as you eat, but between you and me, this fine dish goes very well with a cold beer. Give it a try and see what you think. Pretend you have been transported to Yunnan.
  16. 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.
  17. abcdefg

    Enjoying dim sum

    Dim sum 点心 is one of the glories of the South China Cantonese food world 粤菜。It is the fine art of leisurely early-day munching on an assortment bite-sized delicacies served in bamboo steamer baskets or on small plates. This kind of feast sometimes goes by the name of yum cha 饮茶 because these small tasty morsels are typically washed down by endless small cups of hot tea. I was fortunate enough to have had several memorable dim sum brunches last week during a trip to Macau and Hong Kong. Let me give you a look at how it works in the hope that this will help induce you give it a try, or if you are already an aficionado, to go back for another dim sum adventure real soon. Three days in a row I just walked across the street from my Macau Hotel (十六浦酒店) to an unpretentious dim sum joint that's always busy and popular with locals. Their name sign boasts 御龙海鲜火锅 but their operating hours are only from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. so nobody really goes there for that. Instead 茶市点心 is clearly their principal draw. You always have to wait a few minutes for the busy waitresses to clear you a spot at one of their long communal tables, each of which seats 6 to 8 people. (Upstairs the tables are round.) Reminder: You can click the photos to enlarge them. She brings you a pencil and a check-box menu. You order your big pot of tea (mine was Tieguanyin 铁观音) and study the options, taking time out to do the ritual washing of your eating utensils. It's something I thought a bit strange initially, but by now I wash my own dishes right along with the meticulous elderly grannies. You use the scalding hot tea water from your big pot, emptying the waste into a bowl provided temporarily for that purpose. In a few minutes the waitress returns with a receipt to show that your items have been entered into their ordering system. Sometimes these dim sum menus can be really forbidding, providing only the names of the dishes in Traditional Hanzi, with no pictures or descriptions and of course no English. I always try to grab an extra menu to study back in my room in preparation for the next visit. Dim Sum works best if you go with several family members or friends so you can order lots of different items and taste each other's selections. This time I was alone, so I just planned on having some leftovers. Not ideal, but still workable. The dishes arrive in no fixed order. As they are delivered, the waitress scratches them off your receipt with her thumbnail. I always struggle with whether to order my favorites, or to try out new options that might not be as much to my liking. Shrimp dumplings 虾饺, made with fresh shrimp, is one of those things I find irresistible. I'm also a sucker for well made Cantonese turnip cake 萝卜糕, shown just below the shrimp. This time I accompanied those two with an order of plain cooked caixin 白灼菜心。It's the small tender heart of a member of the cabbage family, immensely popular in the south. I had some of these left over for a late-night snack in my room, heated together with a container of instant noodles. Lingered at table about an hour, enjoying many cups of tea and even some conversation with two neighbors. Set me back under 100 MOP. This unit of currency is the Macanese Pataca, roughly equivalent to the HKD (Hong Kong Dollar.) Time and money well spent. Returned the next morning, intent on variety. Had rolled out early, hit the gym, gone for a swim, and worked up a good appetite. Decided on shao mai 烧卖 as my most expensive item. These are made with dumpling wrappers squeezed around a filling of lean pork and shrimp combined, leaving the top open, sprinkled with crab roe. (Many recipes exist, using other ingredients.) Accompanied the shao mai with griddle cakes made with whole kernels of sweet corn 香煎玉米饼 and some plain-cooked Cantonese lettuce 白灼生菜。 The menu designates items as belonging to one of several price categories. For example, today's shao mai and the shrimp dumplings that I had yesterday are both in the 特 category, costing 28 MOP. 大点 dishes, such as the luobo gao, sell for 22 MOP, and so on down to 中点 and 小点 items. Pot of basic tea costs 8 MOP, including endless refills of hot water. Some places offer gong fu tea 功夫茶 made in small pots, but not here. Today's expedition once again did not break the bank, coming out well under 100 MOP. If I'm with others, which I prefer, we always order a bowl of porridge 粥。It is offered in many varieties and goes very well with all of these other dishes. My personal favorites are the fish slice porridge 鱼片粥 and the century egg porridge 皮蛋瘦肉粥。These bowls are just right for 2 or 3 people. Sometimes, in a group, we will add a plate of fried noodles 炒面 or fried rice 炒饭。Sometimes a plate of sliced roast pork 叉烧 or goose 烤鹅。Cantonese roast pork, in particular, is a recommended specialty item, slow cooked and glazed with honey. Here was day three. No fear of monotony. One could come here lots of times without it becoming boring. On weekends, one usually sees extended family groups from grandparents to toddlers, making a real project out of it. Cousins and nieces coming to join the big round table as others are leaving, maybe one withdrawn uncle reading the newspaper, an auntie with her knitting, empty bamboo steamer baskets piled high. Merry conversation is the order of the day. They also love to praise and show off the babes in arms. How can a restaurant handle the logistics of putting a large variety of food on all these tables, given such close quarters? They don't use magic, but they utilize available space extremely well. Food is prepared in a remote kitchen upstairs and then sent to the waitresses by means of a "dumb waiter" on the guest levels. One cashier handles all the checks, guarded by a red-faced, bearded kitchen god and and equally iconic "Hello Kitty." (Could he be 关羽, General of Shu and blood brother of Liu Bei 刘备?) Here's what I enjoyed this time around. More Cantonese specialties. No trip is complete without at least one batch of 肠粉,which are a type soft steamed rice noodle rolls, built with an interesting stuffing. Mine were 韭王鲜虾 fragrant garlic chives and fresh shrimp, served with a brown sauce. Nicely balanced, while still following the 清淡 (bland, non-spicy) dictates of Cantonese cooking. Lots of these dishes probably would not sell well in Kunming, where seasoning is more "forward." Had them with an order of plain-cooked 芥菜,usually translated as "leaf mustard." I like that it has a slightly bitter note, even though it's not very aggressive,does not entirely take over the mouth. These steamed dumplings are something I saw my neighbors eating the day before. So darned pretty I had to try them. Made with translucent rice skins and stuffed with a mix of lean pork and a vegetable I don't know how to translate (Latin name Rubia cordifolia.) The Chinese name of the dish is figurative more than it is descriptive. 瑶柱茜草。You dip them in dark aged vinegar 老陈醋。 It's borderline bad manners to ask your neighbors too many questions about their food. OK to maybe just inquire, "What is that called?" 这是什么菜?You enter a troubled zone if you add, "Does it taste good?" 好吃吗?because then they will usually smile and offer you one of their three or four bit-sized pieces whether they really want to or not. So it was another great meal for under 100 MOP, rough actual cost about 70 Chinese Yuan or $11 US Dollars. And being a "tea nut" you probably guessed I would have to play with the leaves at least once. (Tieguanyin again. 铁观音) If you go to Guangzhou, Hong Kong or Macau, be sure to make time for at least one Cantonese dim sum meal. It's a regional specialty and culinary treat not to be missed. It is now copied all over the world, but this is the source, and it remains the original Mother Lode.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.")
  20. This popular Yunnan lunch item is easy to cook but difficult to translate. It has no catchy English name. For several years I was sure 红三剁 meant "three red things that were chopped." This was always puzzling because it uses red tomatoes and pink lean pork, but combines those with very green peppers for color contrast. What happened to that third red ingredient? Regardless of the linguistic issues, I can show you how to whip it up at home. This is a quick and easy dish to make, doesn't require any fancy ingredients or techniques. Furthermore, it's difficult to mess it up; a good beginner 初级 project. A couple of nice ripe tomatoes 番茄,two or three long green peppers 尖椒, the white part of one large spring onion 大葱, a couple cloves of garlic 大蒜 and a small piece of fresh ginger 老姜。 Lean pork works best for this dish and I usually buy a piece of tenderloin 里脊。Marinate it 腌制 for 20 or 30 minutes with a couple teaspoons of cooking wine 料酒 and a teaspoon of corn starch 淀粉。Sometimes I also add a half teaspoon of sesame oil. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water briefly, score the skin with the tip of a knife and slip it off. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp in the center. Chop them fine. Mince the ginger and garlic. 剁碎 Slice the spring onion fine. Do the same with the long peppers, removing the white fibrous sections and some of the seeds. These long slender green peppers are not very hot; the lady from whom I bought them at the market described them as "mild and fruity." Still, if you don't like spicy things at all, you could substitute sweet bell peppers 甜辣椒 (also called 柿子椒)。 Gentle reminder: You already started the rice, didn't you? Don't even think about heating the wok until the rice is ready. My rice cooker just dinged, took about 30 minutes plus a 15 minute soak. I checked the rice visually to make sure the surface had those important small steam holes. (Those tell you it's done.) Fluffed it up with a couple of chopsticks. Unplugged the cooker (don't leave it on "keep warm" 保温 or you will wind up with overcooked rice.) Closed the rice cooker lid, and now we are ready to proceed with the stir fry. Double check to be sure everything is ready; once you start the process, it goes fast. Today I used 150 grams of finely chopped meat 碎末肉 with two tomatoes and two long green peppers. These ratios are not critical, and you can make this dish by eye if you just use roughly equal amounts of meat, tomatoes, and peppers. First quick-fry 翻炒 the lean ground pork 猪肉末 with the minced ginger 碎末姜。Take it out and set it aside when about three quarters done 七成熟。The meat does not need to be browned, but it does need to lose its pink color. Wipe out the wok and add a little more oil. (Most Chinese families use a stiff bamboo whisk for this.) Stir fry the green peppers and the minced garlic for half a minute or so over high heat, being careful to not burn the garlic. When you can smell the aroma, add the tomatoes and the spring onion. Cook a minutes or so, adding stock 高汤 or water as needed to keep it from becoming dry and taking on a scorched note 糊。 Add the cooked meat and stir well, adding more liquid as needed. The result needs to be slightly soupy, not dry. Add salt 食盐 to taste and MSG 味精 if you like it. I usually add about a fourth of a teaspoon unless my guests ask me not to. Stir fry for a minute or two on medium heat. (Don't walk away.) And voila, the finished product. Serve it in a bowl beside steamed rice. My friends and I usually spoon some out and combine it with fluffy white rice in our individual bowls. Sometimes I present it as a plated "covered rice" dish 盖饭 because that looks extra nice. Either way, it tastes top notch. Hope you will give it a try someday soon, especially if you are in the mood for something with no good English translation.
  21. Youzi 柚子,sometimes translated as pomelo or shaddock, is one of the foods typically associated with Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节, which arrives tomorrow. The formal name for this luxurious fruit is "citrus maximus" and that's a good fit because it's much larger than a grapefruit, nearly the size of a bowling ball or cantaloupe. In fact, it's the biggest member of the citrus family. When I went to the market yesterday, they were everywhere I looked, fresh and cheap. Now is the start of their season (they aren't available in summer.) I bought one and wanted to show you how it worked out. The youzi lady helped me pick out a good one: heavy for its size and firm all over with no soft spots. Hers were from Fujian 福建, though we also get them brought up from Hainan 海南。This fruit is actually popular all over SE Asia, but is not found much in the West. She asked if I wanted it peeled or not, and I asked her to do the honors and save me some work. She scored it with a large knife, cutting through the tough rind barely into the white pith. Then she separated the center with a large flat plastic spoon and lifted it out. Often a "cooked rice scoop" is used for this, the kind that came free in the same box as your rice steamer. If I had been a bit more ambitious, I would have asked her to give me the rind. It can be turned into fantastic marmalade, or dried and candied as a sweet snack. I usually have a large jar of the marmalade in the fridge year round. The best of it comes from Korea and is made with honey instead of white sugar. It goes by the name of "youzi cha" 柚子茶 here, and stirring a spoon or two of it into hot water makes a refreshing warm drink. Here's the center of the youzi as it looked when I got it home. I tore it in half and removed the bitter white pith from several sections. The chopsticks are just for size, they aren't necessarily needed when eating it. Fingers or a fork are just fine. I had also purchased a bag of fresh Mandarin oranges, since they are at their best now also. Even though I usually just eat yozi plain, today I decided to make a pretty salad because my ladyfriend was coming over to bring me a gift of some Mooncake 月饼。Peeled a couple oranges and pulled them apart into sections. Dug out some youzi in a similar manner, freeing it up from the tough segmental membranes. Tossed it together with some fresh mint 薄荷 and a sprinkle of gouqi berries 枸杞 (aka "wolfberry.") Set it out with some toothpicks 牙签 to use as utensils. Youzi has a mild taste, with less tang and bite than grapefruit. It's a mellow companion for orange slices with enough taste contrast between the two to make the combination interesting. I've also seen it served with cucumber slices and a vinaigrette dressing. That was fine enough for us just as shown above, and we enjoyed nibbling it together at the living room table. Hard to go wrong with something that is this pretty as well as tasty. But I'll go ahead and show you how to "gild the lily" if you want to take it a step or two further sometime just for fun. Mix two tablespoons of citrus jam, here I'm using one made from lemon, with one tablespoon of Cointreau. This makes an unparalleled tangy-sweet dipping sauce. Shake some ground red pepper and salt into another shallow dish beside it. First dip a piece of fruit into the sauce, then barely touch it to the salt and hot pepper. The contrasting flavors make your mouth oddly happy, although admittedly this treatment is not going to please everyone. Regardless of how you use it, youzi is a very worthwhile addition to your citrus fruit repertory. And now is the perfect time to enjoy it. Not only is it part of this holiday season, it's something that can stand on its own admirably all through the cooler part of the year.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. abcdefg

    Dim Sum Menu

    Here is the menu for the recent food article in which I reported on three mornings of Cantonese dim sum. This menu is from Yulong Seafood Hotpot Restaurant in Macau, near Ponte 16. The dim sum article is here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54982-enjoying-dim-sum/?tab=comments#comment-424075 (You can click the photos to enlarge them.) The waitress brings a pencil along with the menu, and you put a check mark below the items that you want to eat. She told me it didn't matter which box I checked, one of which is for ordering an item a la carte 单点 and the other for ordering an item as part of a larger meal 加单。 She returns later with a typed receipt for the order as it was entered into their system. Always a good idea to double check at that point to be sure there was no mixup. Pricing category designations appear beside the name of the item: 特点,大点,中点,小点。 I always try to pick up a blank extra menu so I can study it at my leisure later in the day and do a better job of ordering tomorrow.
  25. 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.
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