Beancurd sticks doesn’t sound very appetizing (most translations of dried Chinese goods sound a bit questionable), but they are delicious! Really. They are made from the skin that forms on top of soymilk as it’s being cooked, and these ‘beancurd sticks’ are sponges for flavor as well as texturally sound. They have a little bit of chew to them, but are also soft. They soak up whatever liquid they are plunked in.
About a month ago, when it started to finally get warmer and more humid, I started craving mostly room temperature and/or dishes that didn’t require much cooking or braising. Liang ban fu zhu, or marinated beancurd stick, is a product of such cravings. The best part about liang ban food is that you can make it ahead of time and eat it as a side with your meal, so plan ahead! Continue reading
If Chinese cuisine had an eastern charcuterie equivalent, lu cai would definitely make it onto the plate. Lu cai is a general term for an assortment of soy sauce-and-other-spices-braised foods, ranging from the most popular beef shank, to seaweed knots, extra firm tofu (also known as bean curd- what an unappetizing translation 🙁 ), hardboiled eggs, pig ears, chicken legs, duck wings, and the like. A big pot of soy sauce and other seasonings (fennel, cinnamon, star anise, and sometimes a whole slew of 20+ spices!) is brought to a boil, then all these assortments of goodies are steeped and cooked on a low heat for a looong time, until all the flavors meld together and season the food items until they are spectacularly delicious. Lu niu rou, or cold braised beef (?) is probably one of the more famous, with the famous swirley beef shank cross section, but a lot of other foods can be ‘lu’ed! Excuse the Chinglish, but that’s probably the best way to explain some of these things..Oh, and lu niu rou should not be confused with lu rou or lu rou fan– they are completely different! Sorry, it’s probably a little confusing for non-Chinese speakers, no?
Lu cai is is easy to make, as long as you have some tastebuds, and patience. See, you’ll need to season the braising liquid to your liking, then cook and wait long enough for your choice of goodies to completely soak up the braising liquid. Once the foods have gotten generously seasoned, they will cool in the fridge and be served cold or at room temperature. It is the perfect dish to keep in the fridge to supplement a summer meal.
The most important component of this dish is the spice bag- in the past, I’ve either gotten these from my mom, grandma, or trips to Taiwan. If you live in the US, Oriental Mascot is a pretty popular brand, and that’s the default one my family would use. It should say on the packet how many pounds/ounces of food the packet is good for. A little goes a long way- for instance, I was told that my spice bag was good for 1200-1800 grams of food. Your spice bag should specify how many pounds it is good for…I used more than the 1800 gram suggestion, and thought it tasted fine! I think it depends on whether you are braising more meat or non-meat. Non-meat will dilute the liquid but meat will add its own flavor to the liquid. Continue reading
Now that I’ve gotten over my brief infatuation of gardening (the honeymoon phase is over; weeds galore have dampened my enthusiasm a little 🙁 ), I will be sitting down at the computer to write more. Thanks, reader MLee for leaving me a kind comment that reminds me why I started this blog in the first place 🙂
As I might have said before in the dumplings post and have been learning, you use hot water dough for foods like steamed dumplings, (zheng jiao) potstickers(guo tie) or chive boxes (jiu cai he zi) to make the dough nice and tender for crisping up. The hot water kills some of the gluten formation. For chewy stuff like noodles or boiled dumplings, use cold water for a chewier, stretchier dough.
Did you know that you can make these with whole wheat flour and they can still taste good, and in my opinion, even tastier? What’s even better is that the dough is nutritious and also more filling than if you were to use all-purpose flour, thanks to the fiber. Whole wheat also makes foods more jie shi (結實), or solid/sturdy/filling. I won’t be going back to all-purpose anytime soon. Read past the recipe for my favorite aspects of whole wheat flour, but first, the recipe and some pictures. Continue reading
The first time I had homemade sheng jian bao was circa 1999, when my aunts from Beijing visited and stayed with us for almost a month. That month, they made carb concoction after carb concoction for us. Sheng Jian Bao (or Shui Jian Bao) was one of such carby eats they made (One of the yummy foods they also made was hu bing, a cornmeal ‘pizza’ with garlic chives).
Welp, I had a bunch of sentences about how I believe the origin of sheng jian bao to be in Shanghai and all this stuff…but now I’m all confused after seeing a blog called TaiwanXifu. She writes, “Earlier today I asked a foodie friend, a chef who formerly worked at the Shanghai Shangrila Hotel, about the origin of Shui Jian Bao. He said that Shui Jian Bao are from Jiangsu/Shanghai. The dough is, as this recipe is, half yeast and half oil based. But Sheng Jian Bao are from Beijing. They are a totally yeasted dough, i.e. bigger and fluffier.”
Ack! Let’s just say I’ll be making what I know as sheng jian bao, also called shui jian bao. If an expert can shed light on the situation and confirm/deny TaiwanXifu’s friend’s words, please leave a comment!
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating sheng jian bao before, think of the crispy crunchiness of the potsticker, crossed with the fluffiness of a steamed bun or baozi. If you haven’t had both of those before, think of a meat or vegetable (or both)-filled piece of fluffy yeasted dough, with a crispy and crunchy on the bottom where it meets the pan. Hungry yet?
This pita bread and blog it came from got me thinking about using sourdough starter for EVERYTHING! It also helps that I gave away my quart container of yeast when we moved, and keep forgetting to get some from my sister who lives less than a mile away. Hah.
Not only did I want to use sourdough starter for everything, but I also wanted to use my white whole wheat or red whole wheat berries (by the way, milling your own flour makes the most sweet and fragrant flour!), so it was a double challenge.
I hesitate to take the time to post recipes that use sourdough starter AND whole wheat AND feature Chinese food, because how many people are in that Venn diagram intersection of interest groups?! Very few, I think. But, maybe there are more of us out there than I appreciate. (By the way, if you are in that intersection, please leave a comment!) Also, I wonder what came first- sheng jian bao or white, processed, all-purpose flour? Maybe whole wheat was how it’s always been made. Who knows..
Anyway, the first experiment of using sourdough starter in man tou (want to make a post on that someday, too!) was a big flop that resulted in a heavy rock of a dough. I learned from that experience, so here we are. If you are not in the sourdough or whole wheat club, I’ll also post the recipe I used for ‘regular’ dough.
As for the filling, there are several options- I don’t think there’s any rule, and something that would work in a baozi or dumpling would probably also work in sheng jian bao. On my first trip (of 4) to Taiwan, I ordered a sheng jian bao that looked scrumptious, then bit into it, only to find that it was ONLY CABBAGE and shrimp skin. WHAT! So really, it can be anything, though just seasoned pork seems to be a pretty popular option. I prefer meat (pork) + some vegetable in mine. Hm, maybe napa cabbage wouldn’t be right- I don’t think I’ve ever encountered napa in sheng jian bao. So, maybe no napa. I’ll ask my mom and get back to you ;D
More oil and slightly more flour in the steaming water
In the process of buying a house (plumbing issues have arisen upon further inspection….maybe we won’t be buying a house?)
Getting sick with gastroenteritis (wooohoo, free weight loss!)
Working as a pastry chef @ a cafe nearby (getting paid to do what I love- make food!)
As you can see, I’ve been busy with life outside the blog! However, the show must go on…
Today I wanted to share with you the recipe I use for dan jiao, or egg dumplings. If you like regular dumplings, pork, egg, or tasty food, you will like these, too!
My family is not traditional. When Chinese New Year would roll around, sometimes my dad would give me nothing. Other years, he’d be like, Here’s $40! Happy New Year! I would be envious of my Cantonese friends at school when they bragged about the 300 dollars that their grandma gave them, and how their savings was mostly comprised of Chinese New Year money. I don’t remember celebrating Chinese New Year with a big traditional meal, or any particular meal at all! I found out only 2 CNYs ago from my friend Desmond that you’re supposed to cook 2 fishes on New Year’s Eve- one to eat, and one for leftovers ? Huh.
4 years ago, I decided that I wanted to create some traditions, starting with Chinese New Year dishes. Puo Puo’s dan jiao were nestled in a big clay pot, among a bed of napa cabbage, fen si, and soaking in gao tang, or umami-rich broth that had been stewing for a looong time. The fen si soaked up the broth, and the dan jiao were just sooo good! It didn’t take much for PuoPuo to remind us that dan jiao, or egg dumplings, were gongfu cai, meaning dishes that require time, skill, and patience.
The first year I made them, it took no time for me to understand why puopuo called them gong fu cai- it took forever to make them. It will probably take you forever to make them, too, the first time you try. BUT! It is worth it. Really. These luxury dumplings now make it to our CNY table every year, despite a lack of any other tradition keeping. That enough should be incentive enough for you to try these out!
Makes 3 dozen
1 lb ground pork- in this case, the fattier, the tastier
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 stalk scallion, minced
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
1/4-1/2 tsp white pepper (to taste)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
4 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
9 large eggs
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cornstarch+1 Tbsp water (optional)
For the soup:
-8 cups of broth- pork or chicken (pork recommended)
-Handful of dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
-2-3 tsp dried shrimp or scallop
-Half a head of napa cabbage, roughly chopped
-1 box of frozen tofu, cut into chunks
-2.5-5 ounces of mung bean threads / vermicelli / fen si (粉絲）
-Salt to taste
-Anything else you want to toss into the soup (carrots, daikon, winter melon…in our household, the dan jiao is the star, so it doesn’t even need much else!)
For the soup:
1) I usually get a bunch of pork neck bones (~2 lbs) and add enough water to cover them, and then some. Bring to a boil, then rinse the bones of the yucky grey stuff. Dump that water, then replace with clean water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours. The hearty add-ins like shiitake mushrooms and dried seafood can go in with the clean water, but wait until the very end (last 10 minutes of cooking) for the napa and frozen tofu. For the mung bean threads , they should be soaked in room temperature water until you are ready to eat. When your dan jiao are cooked and hot, add the fen si, close the lid, then turn the heat off. Let the residual heat cook the mung bean threads while you call people for dinner.
For the dan jiao:
1) Just like for making any other meat filling, (like for dumplings or hu jiao bing) you want to stir up the filling ingredients really well. If the mixture is really hard to stir (say, if it is very fatty), add one teaspoon of water at a time so that the water can help break up the pork pieces. When the filling is well mixed, the filling will start to form one big clump of filling, meaning that the fat has been mixed enough to help ‘glue’ everything together. Mix and mix until you see this big clump! Note that this will take longer to achieve with leaner meat, as it doesn’t have as much fat to glue everything together.
If possible, cover the filling and let it marinate in the fridge while you do other stuff. When you are about ready to use it, take a small piece, and zap it in the microwave or cook it on the stove. Does it need more salt or soy sauce? Add more now. Keep in mind that as you stew the dan jiao in the broth, it will lose some of its saltiness, so if by chance you over-salt/soy sauce it, fear not, because some of the saltiness will leach into the soup.
2) Make the egg wrapper part: beat the eggs and salt together. The cornstarch is optional, as I’ve seen both recipes that have and do not have cornstarch. But, it’s what I do, and it seems to help? Totally up to you. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water to form a slurry. Add to the eggs and beat well.
2) Now it’s the fun part: making the dan jiao! Heat up a cast iron skillet (or non-stick pan). Then, add oil just to barely grease the pan, using a spatula to evenly spread it everywhere.
3) For the heat- it cannot be on high, nor can it be on low: it must be just right. Whatt? Too high, and the egg will set up before you can use the raw egg to glue the other half of the egg together. Too low, and the egg will just be runny and ugly as you add it onto the pan. So, you’ll need to find the perfect heat setting. Something like medium low should be about right.
4) Use a spoon to slowly transfer the egg onto the saucepan; you want a little bit of the egg to set up before adding more. When I make them, the spoon actually makes contact with the pan a bit; I find this helps me shape the oval well! Make an oval that is about twice the length of however tall you want the danjiao to be.
5) Look for the side of the egg that looks less set-up/cooked through; put a little bit of filling (no more than 2-3 tsp) on that half. leaving a small border on one side, and a large gap on the other side.
6) As soon as you put your filling on the egg, use a spatula to take the half without meat and fold it over, so you form a half-circle egg dumpling. Try to lightly press down on the edges to help adhere the egg to itself. In an ideal world, you will accomplish this step while there is still raw egg on the filling side that will help the sides seal up well.
7) Gently move the finished dan jiao to the edge of the pan, and make room for the next dan jiao. When the dan jiao is golden brown on each side, remove it to a plate.
8) Repeat steps 4-7 as many times as necessary to use up all your stuff! Add a little oil in between batches, if necessary. Cooking is an art, and you may end up with extra filling or egg. Make more egg to go with extra filling, or just cook the egg and eat it, if you have extra egg.
9) When you make the dan jiao, the filling inside will not cook all the way. That is because dan jiao are meat to be served in soup. Eat a bite of the dan jiao, drink some hot soup.
10) So, when you are ready to eat the dan jiao, heat up your stock until it’s a gentle boil, and add your dan jiao. Cook on a gentle boil for 10 minutes, and then your dan jiao will be ready! Follow directions up top for fen si, if you are using them.
If you have leftover dan jiao, they’re great with leftover stock plus rice noodles (米粉). Heat up the dan jiao and stock, and cook the rice noodles in a separate pot (to avoid getting the stock gummy from the starch of the rice noodles). Portion out the rice noodles, and top with dan jiao, stock, and leftover stuff from the stock. It’s a great lunch or dinner!
If you find red bean paste too time consuming to make, try your hand at taro paste! I recently made ba bao fan (8 treasure sticky rice) for Chinese New Year, experimenting by using both taro paste and red bean paste, only to find that the flavors were in competition with each other, and that I should have just used one or the other. Thanks, Mama, for explaining! (It still tasted preeeetty good though!)
Taro paste, or yu ni, is basically cooked taro that is sweetened and lightened up with some sort of fat. Some people use milk powder, others might use milk or cream, but I just used oil because that’s what I had. Of course, you can always use more oil and you can use a food processor and/or sieve to make it extra smooth in texture, but I find that hand-mushed is just fine for our tastes.
What can you make with taro paste, you ask? Anything that you would put red bean paste in! You can do Chinese bakery buns with taro paste filling, make your favorite cinnamon roll or cinnamon swirl bread with taro paste instead, taro paste steamed buns, taro paste tang yuan, or just steam some with sticky rice and eat it.
1 lb big taro, sliced thinly
1/3 cup oil (or cream or milk, or a combination)
6 Tbsp white sugar
1) Steam the taro until it is easily poked with a fork and is no longer speckled milky white. Use a fork or food processor to mush up the taro to the smoothness or chunkiness that you desire.
2) Heat a heavy bottomed pot, then add oil. Add the taro, and cook for 5-10 minutes, until you see a somewhat crusty film of dried-up taro on the bottom of the pan. That’s good- means that some of the water has dried up! Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. That’s it!
-For baked applications of taro paste, I would suggest using something like 1/2 cup or more, to account for moisture loss in the oven). This is not so much an issue with steamed applications (sticky rice, bao zi)
-This recipe is suited to my taste, and you may find that you want more oil in yours, or more sugar. Definitely remember to make it slightly more sweet than you think it should be, so it can season/complement the plain carb (bread, sticky rice or bao zi) well.
-Depending on what fat you used, the shelf life will vary. You can always freeze it in ziptop baggies for later use!
This post is going to address all aspects of preparing big taro- not to be confused with little taro. I probably haven’t had enough little taro and haven’t given it enough chances, however, big taro has thus far won my heart over. Little taro is slightly slimy/slippery, and has a different and I’d say, more mild taste than taro. If little taro was a waxy potato (like a red potato), big taro would be a russet (half way between starchy and waxy). You know those “taro” (in quotes because 99.9% of the time, they use purple-dyed artificially flavored powder) drinks at boba shops? They mimic / attempt to imitate the big taro taste.
Big taro (as opposed to the hairy little ones) ranks high up on my list of favorite root vegetables- the best thing about it is that it is one of few vegetables that I think is adaptable both as savory (pan-fried then tossed into hot pot, taro cooked with pork, taro pork vermicelli (yu tou mi fen tang) <—want to post a recipe for this- someday!) AND sweet (xi mi lu, among many others) , without tasting too sweet for the savory, nor too savory for the sweet.
My mom used to buy taro in vacuum sealed bags, but when I moved to the other coast for college, I noticed that any supermarket that sold it, sold it whole- the big whonking taro root! Where Mr. ABC Chef and I live now, there are enough Chinese people that there is one supermarket-count em! one, that actually sells big taro. It sells taro both in the vacuum sealed bags, and also whole.
Unless the taro looks dreadfully moldy and dried up, I’ve found that buying a whole taro and cutting it up yourself, is the better way to go. The prep time is probably comparable to preparing a butternut squash, so buy a whole taro and slice and freeze what you don’t need! I know this varies by state/area, but over yonder, the supermarket near me sells whole taro by the pound for $.79/lb, versus the pre-sliced and vacuum-sealed taro for $2.79/lb (!!) Continue reading
How many people out there have a bunch of celery leftover in the fridge after making soup? I do…it seems that celery often wins for best ingredient in a supporting role, but not often is it a lead ingredient.
Several days ago, I looked in the fridge and saw that there were still leftovers of the celery that I bought for soup and chicken pot pie. I thought of a dish that reminds me of home- my mom’s beef, celery, and dou fu gan (extra firm seasoned tofu). There would be sliced flank steak that was lightly marinated, there was tender-crisp celery, then dou fu gan for some meaty texture. Sadly, there was no dou fu gan to be found, but I did have beef, so I decided to make it without. It was still good, just different!
Sometimes, the strangest (and worst) meals are made when I throw stuff together randomly. Thankfully, more often than sometimes, these spontaneous ideas end up working out! The only downside is that during those times, I’m just trying to get dinner together and don’t have my notebook by my side. so that I can write ingredients down so that I can share them with you. Luckily, I made this thrice- so, it better be good!
As a note, this is inspired by one of my favorite dishes- fish and eggplant, that seemed to be ubiquitous in Philly’s Chinatown. Distinctions are that the eggplant is NOT deep-fried, and it is not a saucey dish, but will go dandily with rice..
Tasty Place and M Kee, thanks for your inspiration over the years <3
At some point before or around college, I developed an interest in matcha, or mo cha (抹茶), when I was in high school and college, and would make desserts for fancy occasions with the prized $6/1 oz matcha canister that I would get from Mitsuwa. When my sister got married in 2009, one of the cake tiers that I made for her was a lovely green tea chiffon cake with passion fruit mousse. When I was in college, I experimented with that same chiffon cake with a pomegranate mousse for Christmas- green and red! Boy, was I ambitious then 😉
Nowadays, I don’t dream about matcha as much as I did before, but I did see a great deal on matcha at Mitsuwa when we went to get ramen. I’ll bet that no ‘Asian’ food blog is complete without at least one matcha item in it, so here is matcha in one of its simplest forms (besides just drinking it)- ice cream!
I looked and looked to see if I could find any information about ingredients used in this old school brand of green tea ice cream that I remember seeing in California grocery stores, but no luck..There was a picture of a snowy mountain on the container, with dark bluish and white accents for the snow? Maybe even light pink/coral background. I think it was some brand name that sounded rather Japanese, and I remember it was very bitter, and that at first I didn’t like it that much. Once I actually got over the bitterness and tasted it for its tea-ness, I enjoyed it. Sadly, I have no idea if that brand exists anymore, and have no recollection of the name. Please leave a comment if you can shed some light on this long lost ice cream brand!
Anyway, all this to say that nowadays, sometimes I am disappointed in green tea ice creams because I expect a kick of strong matcha, and it’s not..I set out to make a very strong
Disclaimer: This ice cream is very matcha-y, but does not like to form into an ice cream scoop very well. It is much easier to get thick shavings of. However…if you like hard or chewy ice creams, this one is totally for you!