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  1. Cauliflower 花菜 is a very popular early winter vegetable. It thrives after the weather cools off but before the first hard frost, which means it's prime right now. Lots of fiber and nutrition at a very attractive price. Chinese particularly prize it because of the way it aids digestion and dispels the common hacking cough that accompanies cold dry weather 润肺。 In Kunming, one finds two kinds. The standard “tight” head 紧头 and a more flavorful “loose“ head variety 散头 or 松头。Both sell for less than 5 or 6 Yuan per kilo. The long-legged, loose kind is sometimes sold as organic 全天然的, but t
  2. The best fried rice 炒饭 is made with yesterday’s leftovers 隔夜剩菜。Even restaurant classics, such as Yangzhou fried rice 扬州炒饭, started out that way. Yesterday we made ercai 儿菜 and Guangzhou sausage 广味香肠 on rice in the rice cooker 电饭煲 and had some left after the meal. Here’s the original dish: link Today I put the remnants to good use. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) If you aren’t making fried rice 炒饭 as a method of ice box cleanup, shame on you. 不要浪费 is the national anthem of China (“no waste.”) All citizens have it tattooed across their chests when they re
  3. Before moving to Kunming, I mainly thought of celery as something to turn into a salad. But here in China it is more often used as a hearty, medicinal vegetable. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) maintains that it dispels excess internal heat and lowers blood pressure. In addition to that, it boosts the immune system and fights constipation. As if that were not enough, it is also prescribed as a tonic to calm the nerves and fortify one against stress. By now it should not surprise you to learn that China has several kinds of celery, in fact 5 or 6 distinct types. The two main ones
  4. abcdefg

    End of the season 青头菌

    It's almost the end of wild mushroom season: the summer rains are playing out, cooler days arriving. Selection is limited, prices climbing. I paid ¥60 for a little over 500 grams of 青头菌 qingtou jun ("green head mushroom") a couple days ago and they were decent but not prime. This is another of those Yunnan mushrooms that don't really exist to any significant extent in the west. Their Latin name is Russula Virescens and they grow in mixed mountain forests, broad leaf and pine. The best ones come from the lower NW of the province: Chuxiong 楚雄, Baoshan 宝山, Dali 大理。 Decided to make the
  5. Been buying and cooking lots of wild mushrooms this season (summer 雨季)。Have gone a little bit nuts over them, in fact. They are Yunnan’s pride and joy, available for only a small portion of the year. Must be hunted in the mountains and harvested by hand, can’t be planted and grown like ordinary vegetables. Not sure if there is sufficient interest here to make it worthwhile to post complete and detailed recipes. Will gladly make them available on request but meantime what I’ll do instead is just give you a quick glimpse into a few ways they can be enjoyed, family style, without any
  6. Early spring in Kunming is glorious. The cherry blossoms open in February; by the end of the month the peach blossoms are everywhere too. Soon the golden fields of rapeseed flowers turn the karst hills of the outskirts into a stepped yellow sea; the crabapple orchards start releasing their flowers when gusts of spring wind blows, covering nearby roads with a pink and white snowstorm. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) Now it’s mid-spring; Tomb Sweeping Festival 清明节 has passed. It hasn’t rained here since before the start of the month, today
  7. Spring means asparagus 芦笋 here in Yunnan. My neighborhood wet market has recently looked like the scene of an impromptu Kunming Asparagus Festival: Neat green stacks of them everywhere. Even saw white ones, raised underground in complete dark. For the next two or three weeks, quality will be high; prices will be low. Time to invite the “King of Vegetables 蔬菜之王” home to dinner. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) You might be surprised to learn that China is far and away the world’s largest producer of this noble and nutritious vegetable. 7.84 millio
  8. Last week we looked at the Chinese BLT; today here are two other sandwiches that you might not have tried before. The first one presses salted duck eggs 咸鸭蛋 into service. This is one more of those foods that is not well known in the west even though it is immensely popular everyday fare throughout the Sinosphere. You have doubtless seen them in stores and markets if you live here: blue-gray in color and larger than chicken eggs. Inside, the yolks are deep yellow with a rich, slightly-salty flavor. You may have run into them simply sliced open and served as part of a multi-course meal. Or perha
  9. 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 wante
  10. Chinese kitchens usually don't have an oven, but everybody has a rice cooker 电饭煲。Even bachelors and newly-weds have a rice cooker; it's as essential as a wok 炒锅。Here's a simple chicken dish inspired by a more complex Hakka 客家人 favorite. Not much to it and the taste is surprisingly delicious. You will need one small, relatively young chicken, about 2 kg cleaned weight. If you've shopped for chicken lately, you realize the process does have a few small wrinkles. Avoid the big, fat, tough stewing hens 老母鸡 that make such splendid soup. Also, steer clear of the prized free-range chicke
  11. 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 wh
  12. 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.
  13. Grandmother's spicy tofu is an essential Sichuan dish, and graces the menu of every Sichuan restaurant I've ever seen, anywhere in the world. It is quintessential Sichuan food, bursting with flavor and chock full of bold spices. The Chinese name refers to its historical inventor, a grandma with a pockmarked 麻子 face. Yunnan, where I live, has fondly adopted this dish and has made it our own. Not surprising, since we appreciate spicy food here just about as much as they do in Sichuan. After enjoying it for years in restaurants, I've been making it at home these last several months. A
  14. Summer is wild mushroom season in Yunnan, peak time for skilled hunters to find them in the forest and peak time for you to find them in the market. Peak time to eat them in a restaurant or make them at home. Today’s report is about a robust and spicy mushroom sauce concoction that can turn the humblest bowl of noodles into a memorable gourmet treat. It's highly prized in Yunnan, 云南特产,though not well known in other parts of China or in the west. Shown here with sautéed red bell pepper 红甜椒 strips on top of freshly made 碱面 noodles. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.)
  15. If the weather’s gray, I don’t have hot water. Solar heater on the roof 太阳能热水。This is a recipe I developed during one of those spells to avoid as much dish washing as possible. It came out so good that I have continued to make it even when the weather is fine. It features er cai 儿菜, a popular winter vegetable I never met before moving here to Kunming but of which I have become very fond. Easy to use and plenty of flavor. Loaded with virtues; bursting with vitamins and minerals. It’s a member of the brassica family, and thus is related to cabbage, mustard and Brussels sprouts. One o
  16. You can have Kung Pao Chicken 宫保鸡丁at the all-you-can eat Chinese buffet in the strip mall on the outskirts of Smalltown, Texas, USA. I know because I’ve eaten it there. Panda Express also dishes up a ton of it at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Concourse B. You can always count on it to form the cornerstone of an honest, solid meal. East or West. But if you start chasing it around Mainland China, you will quickly find that the name is the same wherever you go, but what the waitress delivers to your table definitely won’t be what you remembered having last week down the roa
  17. Chanced onto some real nice shrimp this morning at a decent price. Could not resist. Sautéed them quickly using a method that provided lots of flavor without much oil. I'll show you how. (Please click the photos to enlarge them.) This is 18 large shrimp, a little over a pound, 450 grams. Pull off the heads, remove the dorsal digestive vein, and either just cut away the legs or peel off the shells. Cooking them with the shells on makes them more juicy, but it means a little more trouble at the table. Today I opted to remove the shells, an operation which too
  18. Here's a rough guide to what fruits are in season now, early summer. I hope it might be useful to you in staying well fed while you are in China. The list will obviously differ from one part of China to another. Best to ask some local gray-hair/long-beard types who have lived in your new temporary hometown for a long time. Even many younger locals, especially the women, will have been schooled by their mothers and grandmothers and can help you some. In the market I always ask lots of questions. I ask the old lady who is shopping for same thing I am why she buys this p
  19. This is a dead simple soup made with only two main ingredients, a green leafy vegetable and plain tofu. Chinese have a soup with almost every meal. It often does double duty as the beverage. Tea is not served until after. The soup I'll be showing you today is "poor people food" not something you would find at an imperial banquet or a state dinner for big shots in Beijing. My China recipe basket here in Kunming has two parts. One for things that are quick to whip up on a week night when I'm eating alone and the other part for things that I would call "labor of love" projects that I
  20. Since I'm in China I usually eat Chinese style, complete with rice bowl and chopsticks. But every now and then I get a definite hankering for one or another old favorite from back in the US. Earlier this week I succumbed to an illicit desire for a BLT sandwich (bacon, lettuce and tomato.) You know by now how much I hate to brag, but it turned out exceptionally well. Let me show you how to do it, here in your new China home, instead of spending a pile of Dollars or Yuan on a plane ticket back west. First buy some mantou 馒头。I know, I know, you would prefer a crusty San Francisco sou
  21. abcdefg

    The Kunming Cucumber Rickey

    It would be best to confess up front that I have finally caved in to popular demand. Here's the drink recipe for which you have all been clamoring. Cuba has its Mojito and Daquiri, Mexico is home of the Margarita, and Kunming boasts the Cucumber Rickey. As the days heat up it's difficult to resist a refreshing after-work libation. With one as crisp and clean as this ready to hand, your prayers have been answered. I promise not to tell if you have more than one. The ingredients, a short list, are at their best right now. Perfect time to buy: quality high; price low. What you will n
  22. Local peaches have come in. 10 Yuan per kilo for small, slightly irregular ones; 15 Yuan for the larger, prettier specimens. The seller I visited at the farmer's market 农贸市场 was from Chenggong 呈贡,Kunming’s university and government suburb an hour or so to the south. The fruit orchards there aren't ancient, but they still long predate these relatively recent encroachments of civilization. This part of China has several kinds of peaches; friends tell me there are four main ones. The ones I got today were 水蜜桃 (“honey water peaches.”) Here’s what they looked like in the market. The pea
  23. Today is Dragon Boat Festival 端午节。 I'm not a big fan of zongzi 粽子 but have had some anyhow. One friend brought over a box of them as a gift and they were also on the table at a couple places I visited. Have seen TV feature reports about the huge variety available. Even in my two local neighborhood supermarkets, several aisles have been given over to frozen food chests where they are for sale in any flavor you could possibly desire. Temporary hawker ladies will sell you a big batch if you break your stride as you walk by or if you blink twice. If you make eye contact, your goose is
  24. Fennel 茴香 (huixiang) here means the fragrant lacy fronds of the fennel plant; not the solid bulb that you are used to seeing in the west. If you've traveled much in China, you have probably met it paired with ground pork in dumplings 茴香猪肉饺子, but in Yunnan it's the prime ingredient of a very tasty soup. Yunnan takes pride in making main dishes out of several items that you are used to thinking of as seasoning or garnish. Mint is one such that we have looked at before. Link to that: Mint soup Today I'll show you how to make an honest, straight-forward soup from fennel and silky tofu
  25. This is one of those dishes for which there are a hundred casual recipes on the internet, most of them sorely lacking. It has been oversimplified to death; but good results can be achieved with a modicum of effort. The bonus is that if you master the technique you will find it is transferable to a dozen other tasty dishes, all of which use this Chinese braising process. I'll show you how to do it. Buy 16 chicken wings, the medium joint. These should weigh about half a kilo or one pound. I've included a quick review of chicken wing anatomy below. The part to buy for this dish is th
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