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?!
lo bak go / luo bo gao
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
When Tim and I still lived close to a Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Shop, our favorite ice cream was without a doubt, Candy Bar Pie. Its components: peanut butter ice cream, pretzel dust swirls, nougat ribbons, and flecks of chocolate chunks. We loved its salty-sweetnes and nice balance of flavors, not to mention that it was one of the few ice creams not overwhelmed by chocolate chips. As you know, getting ice cream at Ben Jerry’s is not cheap, so I looked online for the ingredients, with hopes of re-creating it at home. It was still summer when I tried to do this the first time, and needless to say, the nougat I made was a humid sticky, too-sweet mess. Furthermore, the thought of making nougat, an ice cream base, AND melting chocolate is a bit much to do on a semi-normal basis. The chewiness of the nougat is nice, so maybe someday, but for now, it’s not indispensable.
Even though it’s winter, there’s no bad time for ice cream! This Peanut Butter Pretzel Ice cream is my version of Candy Bar Pie Ice Cream, but without the nougat. Someday, nougat, someday. I like this ice cream a lot because it is easy to make, you can save your eggs for breakfast, there is not too much chocolate, but just enough, and because it is salty-sweet. Sorry, any pretzels that are mixed in during the churning process will obviously absorb moisture from the ice cream and not be crunchy. Make sure you grind up extra pretzels to sprinkle on top right before you eat it!
I hope you will try this recipe out, because we love it!
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!
You cannot even dream of getting these fruits (and of these quality) in the United States, unless you forgot about that passion fruit in your backpack when it comes time to go through customs =O
There are so many fruits that you should definitely try in Taiwan: papaya, dragon fruit, yellow watermelon, banana, longan and lychee, mango, starfruit, green skinned oranges, and pomelo, to name a few. I highly encourage you to pick as many different fruits as you can, and try them all! Depending on what season you visit Taiwan, there will be different availability of fruit. I’ll list my personal favorites here 🙂
For the best price, go to a market that sells only fruit, or only fruit and fruit juices, or a traditional wet market. For convenience, buy these pre-cut at night markets or wet markets, or wherever you may see them on the street.
Look for the word 水果 (shui guo / fruit) or 水果汁 (shui guo ji/ fruit juice).
You could ask the vendor,
Can you pick one for me that is ready to eat today? ”可不可以幫我挑一個 今天可以吃的？” “ke bu ke yi bang wo tiao yi ge jin tian ke yi chi de?” Or just Can you pick one for me “可不可以幫我挑一個?” “”ke bu ke yi bang wo tiao yi ge?” (Of course, Google Translate can you give you the exact pronunciation.
Custard apple, sugar apple / 釋迦 / shi jia
Appearances can be deceiving. These are not very pretty on the outside. HOWEVER..They are probably the sweetest fruit that exists, and the inside is a creamy white filling. The texture towards the green knobby clusters are more similar to that of a, say, soft but grainier pear, while the texture inside is soft and velvety. My mom used to say certain fruits were ‘sour’ if they were not obviously sweet-tasting. She obviously held shi jia as the gold standard for fruit sweetness 😀 Oh yea, did I mention my mom LOVES shi jia?
I find shi jia very filling, probably due to the high sugar content. If you want to save room for other goodies, better to find some friends to share with!
How to Pick
They are ripe when they are very soft to the touch. You can buy some that are more firm to have for later, and buy some that are super soft, to eat now. However, once they are ripe…better eat up! They do not travel well.
How to Eat
it is so soft when ripe, that you can use your hands to crack the fruit down the middle to split it open. Then, use a spoon to scoop everything out. Without a spoon, you can also just pick out one green knob at a time, and devour the white filling.
Guava / 芭樂 / ba le(la)
Yummy. Pale green on the outside, white on the inside, these are just really good. Some like these soft, some like them crunchy (sprinkled with some sour plum powder- YUM!)
How to Pick
Again, others have bought these, so I’m not too sure. This can be another one for the vendor.
How to Eat
Some people cut out the middle section that contains the seeds, but I eat everything, especially because the flesh around the seeds is generally even more soft than the surrounding flesh. To me, ba la taste best when they are sliced into wedges.
Passion fruit / 百香果 / bai xiang guo
“白香“ translates to 100-fragrances, so that would mean that passion fruit is 100-fragrance fruit, and I cannot agree more. Hands down, this is my favorite fruit! It is slightly tart, sweet (if you eat a ripe one), and has nutty seeds that can be eaten, too. If you are unable to find the fruit, look for the Chinese words on drink menus- there will definitely be tea shops that sell drinks with real passion fruit pulp in them.
How to Pick
Don’t pay attention to what vendors may try to say to trick you (I fell prey to a sneaky vendor once)- These are ripe when they are wrinkly. However, if it is toooo wrinkly like a raisin, it may be not as juicy / somewhat dried out. Look for wrinkly ones, or ones that are heavy for their size, and only eat when wrinkly. There are the dark purple ones, as well as the lighter colored ones. The dark purple are more common, and I think I prefer the dark purple slightly more. The lighter color skinned ones have a more floral/ mild taste, if I remember correctly. I think of Madagascar versus Tahitian beans =o Both are good, though- try one of each to do a taste test!
How to Eat
If possible, hold the fruit steady from the top, and slice it in half with the knife parallel to the table. This way, the juices don’t just leak all over the plate, but they stay in the bottom half.
If you don’t have a knife, you can also use strong fingernails to make an incision in the top of the fruit, and tear the top open. Make sure you scoop everything out with a spoon!
Try this drink at Ju Zi Gong Fang- Orange House. It’s a franchise, but I really enjoy their passion fruit QQ green tea!
Papaya / 木瓜 / mu gua
Are they named mu gua (mu is a radical for the word tree) because they are melons that grow on trees? Anyway, do not dismiss papaya as something you can also eat in the US. Papayas in Taiwan > > > Papayas you eat in the US. I believe all the papayas we get are either from Mexico, other Latin American countries, or Hawaii?
Papayas in Taiwan are sweet, creamy, and do not have any weird stink to them. Mr. ABC Chef used to almost recoil at the sound of papaya, and could now also wax poetic about Taiwan papayas, like I do. If you can’t find papayas in the markets, papaya milk from a shop that uses lots of papayas instead of mostly milk (watch the workers before you buy) is next best.
How to Pick
Again, not really good at picking these, because most of the ones we ate were picked by friends. I think it’s safe to say that as long as the papaya is very soft (like a ripe avocado), it is ready for eating.
How to Eat
Because of the large size of a papaya and the need for a real knife, it’s probably easiest to eat it when you have a knife ready, or just buy it already cut. I think it’s best eaten when sliced up and eaten like a watermelon slice.
Wax Apple / 蓮霧 / lian wu
These do not have a texture like an apple at all! They are definitely more juicy than apples, and are very crispy and refreshing. Unlike with shi jia, I feel you could eat a bunch of lian wu and still have some room for other food.
How to Pick
I’m not too sure, actually..Pick ones that look rosy red, not pale, and maybe ones that do not look cracked on the bottom where the bell flares out. They also sell bigger ones that are more expensive and a shade of deep red (different variety, perhaps)? but I prefer the more normal sized ones, as I think they have better taste.
How to Eat
Wash and eat! Some people avoid the hairy part on the flared-out part (kind of similar to the hairy part on the bottom of an apple), but on the go (or on the train), I just eat it, too.
My first memories and experiences of making mochi were in my junior year of college, with my best friend Jeska. You see, Jeska has an unfortunately long list of foods that upset her stomach, including an essential ingredient of most Western desserts: eggs. This meant that most of the baked goods that I made were, well, anti-Jeska food..
Fortunately, she brought with her to our new apartment a handwritten recipe for making mochi from scratch, given to her by her mom (Thanks, Auntie!) Shortly after, we commenced on a mochi-making experiment. About an hour later, we were covered with cornstarch, ouch-ing from the hot mochi mixture, but very happy with the results. We now had chewy, Jeska-friendly dessert that we made all by ourselves.
Maybe it was the fear of the thought of wrestling that hot dough, or the influence of my husband’s aversion to having food-coated fingers….But sadly, I only made mochi a few times on my own after that, despite my love for all things chewy and QQ.
While perusing Taiwanese cooking shows on YouTube, I found a recipe for hakka-style mochi. We tend to think of mochi as having a filling (red bean paste comes to mind first), but this hakka style mochi is made by showering the mochi bits with coating; usually peanut or black sesame.
This may not have the red bean paste filling, but the peanut and black sesame are no-fuss and simple to prepare. A pair of chopsticks is highly recommended for this recipe, as it helps shape the mochi and keep your hands dough-free.
For Chinese people, I can scarcely think of any time that soup is a main dish, unless it is filled with some sort of noodles or starch. Soup is usually enjoyed first or last in a meal (soup usually was eaten last in our household, but I think this part really depends on who you ask), and is much more liquidy and thin than any Western soup I can think of. There is a saying about soup in Chinese- liu liu feng, 溜溜缝, and I have to ask my mom/dad what it actually means, but I always take it to mean that soup fills the cracks in one’s belly after all that ‘dry’ food like rice/veg/meat. Usually but not always, Chinese-style soup is a thin, liquidy component to drink, as well as some things to eat- maybe some pork bits, some chicken, some mushrooms, vegetable. Regardless, it is way different than Western soups, so set your expectations accordingly.
When I went to Taiwan, I saw lots of street vendor menus reading 貢丸湯, or, gong wan soup. Gong wan? Gong wan (貢丸) are my favorite type of meatball to eat. With origins in Taiwan, gong wan are meaty and made of blended pork, and as opposed to tender meatballs that Westerners often strive for, gong wan are actually quite bouncy, if you will, in texture. It was and still is my favorite sort of meatball to eat with hot pot, so when you have hot pot, make sure to get a package (or three!) of gong wan.Where we are now in the Midwest, selection of frozen gong wan is limited (maybe because the majority of Chinese people here are from mainland China), so I hope to develop a recipe for homemade gong wan. In the meantime, frozen will have to do. If you can find (or make!) gong wan and skinny Chinese radish, you can make this tasty and easy soup.
My sister, BIL, and nephews/niece came over and we had dumplings, and I thought, hmm, dumplings are all ‘dry’- what would go with it that can help fill in those cracks? I remembered this soup from watching Taiwanese cooking shows on YouTube, so I had to make it.
This soup is souper simple, but I feel that it is quite refreshing and a light way to end the savory portion of any Chinese or Taiwanese meal. I hope you’ll make a pot of it and enjoy it with your dinner next time 🙂
Gong Wan Luo Bo Tang
Hello there! Mr. ABC Chef and I made our annual trip to California to celebrate Christmas with my side of the family. We had a great time meeting up with some friends, picking a bunch of citrus at a vacation rental home, watching Gotham with my sister and brother-in-law, and celebrating a late 2 year anniversary with Mr. ABC Chef. Needless to say, we ate LOTS of carbs and meat, and barely no veggies- someone’s jeans were uncomfortably tight on the plane ride back 🙁 . Now, it’s time to eat better and lose some of that major pudge :O We returned to the Midwest, only to be greeted by rain and cold the day after we got back. The redeeming quality of winter is that it is the perfect time for soups, stews, and all other cold-weather yummies.
Today I’m sharing the recipe for the tasty chili I made when Mr. ABC Chef’s long time video game buddies came over to meet for the FIRST TIME in person, as well as what you can do to make your own chili bar. (Nope, no psychos- they were a bunch of normal and rather funny nerds from diverse backgrounds. Whew) I decided on chili because I could make a big batch for not too much $$, provide variation with almost endless chili topping options, and I could prepare it well in advance to make sure it was ready when they arrived. I made this chili the day before company came, so that all the flavors could marinate, and sink in overnight. Mr. ABC Chef says that people eat one serving so as not to appear rude, but seconds and thirds means they actually liked it. I hope our new friends’ seconds and thirds meant something! Continue reading
Sometime before Thanksgiving, I was trying to decide between pecan pie and pumpkin pie..a very serious problem =O. So, I played the husband card and had Tim decide. Though he picked pumpkin pie, I also wanted to do something with the big bag of pecans from Costco. HMM…I remember seeing this recipe in my recipe binder of sweets, so I pulled it out. I’m glad I made it, because they are SO goood! If you need more reasons to make these, I’ll list 7:
1) No corn syrup. (I am not a fan of its gloopiness)
2) 7 ingredients only, including salt o.O
3) Super easy to make. Really. easy. No need to even buy leavening agents.
4) Has whole wheat flour, so you can say these are whole grain
5) Passed the co-worker test (Tim’s coworkers) with flying colors!
6) Have a great shelf life and stay chewy for a long time (if they stick around that long)
7) Are sturdy, packable and would be great for care packages for friends
It’s everything you want in a pecan bar- chewy, crunchy, nutty, sweet, and just a little salty. Best of all, I actually think that using whole wheat flour enhances the nuttiness, as it seems to be a perfect match for all that sugar and nuts.
Mr. ABC Chef jokes that it’s Me(i)-Gan cai, and it has easily become one of his favorite things to eat, braised with pork. What IS mei gan cai ( 梅乾菜）? Before, I only knew that mei gan cai was some vegetable that was salted and then dried, but didn’t know much else, so I decided to do a little research..
So, this is what I learned- mustard greens are salted, (xue cai or xue li hong), fermented, (fu cai), then dried (mei gan cai). All these products are made from the humble mustard green and some salt..AMAZING. Check out some videos of the process- this and this were what I found.
Please eat me!