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
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
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
One of the perks of marrying into a Cantonese family is being introduced to lots of very Cantonese dishes, at least ones that run strong in Mr. ABC Chef’s family. Almost every time we made plans to see Mr. ABC Chef’s mom, she would ask him a few days before, if he wanted some lo bak go* (蘿蔔糕) or lo mai fan* (糯米飯). Obviously, the answer was always yes. This was not only great news for Tim, but for me, too! You see, usually, the only place my family and I ate luo bo gao was at dim sum restaurants. We really love luo bo gao, and were always trying to find and remember a restaurant that made it the way we liked it. Our criteria was pretty simple: a strong luo bo taste, and not too firm or too soft. We would discuss that so-and-so restaurant’s luo bo gao didn’t have much flavor and just tasted like rice flour, or that such-and-such restaurant actually had luo bo taste in it and that was liked it. I guess we never gave too much thought to experiment making it ourselves, though we definitely knew that getting the right ratios of luo bo (daikon/turnip) to liquid to rice flour was the secret. Turns out that all this time, my mother-in-law (MIL) had perfected it! Maybe that’s why I married Tim. Haha.
Since I’ve I had my MIL’s lo bak go, I haven’t missed the lo bak go at dim sum places, and don’t plan on ordering it out anytime soon. Now I can see why for Tim, eating luo bo gao at restaurants was outrageous, because of how good his mom’s was.
What makes this lo bak go so good? It’s chock-full of lo bak (daikon/turnip) and does justice to its name. It is the right firmness- not too jelly-like, and not too firm. It fries up beautifully and, like a well-seasoned dumpling, can be enjoyed alone without sauce (though, you can always choose to do so if you wish).
*Lo bak go = luo bo gao = 蘿蔔糕. How I say it depends on who I’m with, or who I was with when the memory was formed (Cantonese or Mandarin). Gotta fit in, yanno?!
In Chinese, there is a dish that appears on menus everywhere- tang qing cai (燙青菜), or blanched vegetables. It could be some sort of lettuce, A choy (a cai), could be you cai (yu choy), could be whatever vegetable the restaurant gets that is inexpensive at the moment. (In Taiwan, you can often expect tang qing cai to be accompanied by just enough lu rou to add some meaty flavor.)
When Tim and I celebrated special occasions with his side of the family, I would see bags and bags of gai lan in dai yi mah’s(first/eldest aunt) kitchen that needed to be thoroughly washed before cooking. Always impatient for dinner, I would volunteer to wash the gai lan, hastily swishing and rinsing the stalks in water to try not to have my hands turn red from the cold. Once the gai lan was cooked, it was imperative that the hot water was thoroughly drained to stop residual cooking, all stems and leaves were arranged to face the same way, and that the gai lan were cut one or two times crosswise (with scissors) for ease of eating. It was probably fitting that I washed the gai lan anyway, seeing as I would eat up oodles of gai lan before moving to sticky rice, chicken with scallion/ginger sauce, cha siu that was ubiquitous at big family meals.
At Cantonese joints, especially dim sum and barbecue (noted for the hanging ducks and chicken in the windows) places, blanched gai lan (also known as Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauce is almost always on the menu. You don’t have to go to a restaurant to get this one, though-it is easy to make at home. Usually, I assign Tim, my Canto hubby, to make perfectly cooked gai lan, but yesterday I cooked them on my own, with his detailed directions ;D
Cilantro haters, beware!!!! You have been warned. Now entering cilantro territory.
A visiting scholar named Ye Feng is staying with my sister and her family while she is in the US, and as she has pretty much become part of the family, she often joins us for meals when we do our weekly family dinners. One particular meal, Ye Feng announced that she wanted to share a dish with us, and, always curious, I looked around to get hints of what it might be. I saw a big bowl of cut-up cilantro, so I knew it would be a winner. (Mr. ABC Chef the cilantro-hater, had other thoughts.)
Ye Feng made what she called ‘lao hu cai,’ which in her version, consisted of a trifecta of scallions, cilantro, and jalapeños. ‘Lao hu cai’ literally means ‘tiger vegetable,’ and rightly so, because of the hot peppers in it. Apparently, Xi’An Famous Foods also sells something very similar, by the name of Tiger Vegetable Salad! Anyway, Lao hu cai is tangy, spicy, salty, and a great simple side dish that can be served with any Chinese-style meal. I love the freshness of the cilantro, paired with the malty tartness of the vinegar and topped off with heat from the peppers, and hope you would, too.
It’s helpful to let the vegetables sit in the marinade for at least 10-15 minutes to let the jalapeño seeds sink into the liquid, and let all the flavors meld together. The next day, the vinegary spiciness will be even more apparent, but some of the cilantro won’t be as crisp, so keep that in mind. I’m not sure if there’s any ‘official’ way to serve lao hu cai, but I loved it with rice and cabbage alongside the teriyaki chicken we had. Thanks, Ye Feng, for introducing this dish to us!!
Lao hu cai
1 big bunch of cilantro
2 stalks scallions
2 or more jalapeños
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp lao chen ( 老陳) vinegar OR Chinkiang black vinegar
1 Tbsp light soy sauce OR salt to taste
1 tsp sesame oil
1) Dice the cilantro into small pieces. Slice the scallions and jalapeños thinly.
2) Add the vinegar, soy sauce (or salt), and sesame oil. Mix well.
3) If possible, let all ingredients sit together for 10-15 minutes, as you prepare the rest of your meal.
-Feel free to adjust quantities as needed, adding jalapeños or using even spicier chilies if you want. If you can’t handle the heat but love cilantro too much to pass on this dish, you could use a green bell pepper in place of jalapeños.
-I usually use all of the cilantro- stems included, but feel free to use only leaves if you wish.
-Other recipes may include sliced cucumbers and/or red chile peppers instead- this version is made the way Ye Feng made it, and the way it was introduced to me. Adjust it to your taste!