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!
Since moving to Indiana, I’ve found fewer Chinese or Asian grocery stores (three so far), and fresh Chinese cuts of pork have been slightly harder to find, but chicken is ever-present and evermore inexpensive. So…I guess it’s time to make more chicken? Also, I find myself reverting to making dishes with pork because that’s what I love and am used to eating, so using more chicken is a culinary stretch for me 😉
My mom and grandma started having weekly get togethers at Puopuo Jia (grandma’s house) which involve sharing stories and best of all, food. Sometimes my grandma cooks, sometimes they make food together, and sometimes they find a restaurant to try together. There’s a Sichuan restaurant that they loved (where my grandma and waitress spoke in Sichuanese, which I never even knew puopuo spoke!) that my mom’s going to take me to when we visit in December! Wooo!
My mom was telling me about one of my Puopuo’s most recent food experiments; this time it was feng ji,（風雞）, which translates to ‘wind chicken,’ because part of the process involves drying the chicken outdoors. Chicken gets salted and Sichuan-peppered , put in the fridge for a few days, then is hung outside to ‘dry’ and continue in the curing. Then, you steam it and EAT IT! After all, Chinese people don’t do prosciutto, cheese and crackers as a snack;D
Puopuo used her garage for the curing step, but I have no garage or basement, nor a crafty box to ward off critters as it hangs on the balcony.
Hearing of chicken, salt, and hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorn) made me salivate and want some, too. Since I haven’t devised that box yet, I made this dish to temporarily stave off my craving for some of puopuo’s feng ji. Thanks for the inspiration, Puopuo!
Turns out that this was quite tasty- the hua jiao does not overwhelm the chicken, and yet lends a nice different taste than ‘typical’ stir-fries. The carrots stay rather firm and don’t produce much water, so even if you stove is weaksauce, your stir-fry will not boil 😀 This was NOT created to be a spicy dish; the hua jiao are just supposed to give the chicken a little something. You can certainly add dried hot peppers with the oil at the beginning, if you wish.
Happy Duan Wu Jie! (端午節） I wanted to post a recipe for zongzi (Sticky rice and filling wrapped in bamboo leaves) because today is the Dragon Boat Festival or the DuanWu Festival, but I realized that most people don’t attempt these sorts of intense kitchen projects on a normal basis. I spent the good part of Saturday evening and Sunday morning soaking rice, soaking peanuts, boiling peanuts, soaking bamboo leaves, roasting peanuts, skinning peanuts, crushing peanuts, braising pork, dicing dried shrimp…and wrapping 30+ zongzi, all while fighting the splitting bamboo leaves (which had been soaked for several hours, too!) Whew! Just hearing the list makes me tired again.
(Oh, and zongzi are a traditional food eaten for Duan Wu Jie, which I believe involves dragon boat racing. Beyond that, I don’t know and am not curious to know more; I just take it as an excuse to eat more zongzi! )
Usually, big projects give me a boost of adrenaline, but this time was really tiring, and I feel like it made me burned out and I didn’t feel like anything requiring too much brainpower the whole week..
So, all I have to share with y’all today is a simple recipe for what most people call Dou Sha 豆沙, or red bean paste. Red beans are cooked to an oblivion, then toasted until they are dry, and mixed with fat and sugar to make a smooth paste that is fit for desserts of all kinds. According to a can I saw at the grocery store, this can also be called hong dou sha （紅豆沙），because it specifically uses hong dou, or red beans, as opposed to black beans, which can also be used to make a sweetened bean paste.
Our family always opts for the fastest/most rustic dou sha: chunky!
Tim and I have been eating lots of tofu lately. How much? Enough to buy the 6 lb packages of tofu! At about $5/pkg, it’s a pretty good deal, and there’s only one container to open.
Anyway, I have been substituting tofu for meat in several dishes and realized that it can be pretty darn good and fast, and requires less cutting board paranoia than when using meat.
We(I) had cooked Thai food for friends, and there leftover Thai basil but no more curry. Hmmmm…I saw my 3 lone blocks of tofu leftover, plus the basil. Three cup tofu? Could it be done? Read below to find out! If you are rolling your eyes at three cup tofu and are looking for three cup chicken, click here, if you please. Take notes that it’s almost exactly the same recipe..
The drier your tofu is to start with, the faster it will brown up.
A few days before Chinese New Year, I brought red bean sticky rice cake for my friends at the restaurant to try. “What is it?” one of the servers asked. “Bean cake,” K told them. “Hmm, is this eaten with anything else- ice cream or something?” S asked. “It tastes….innnnnteresting…”
1) Sweet bean taste (and weaker bean taste, too, because this was a store-bought cake, not the one I made) and 2) Rice in dessert made for some disappointments in taste and texture department from these French cuisiners. Oops! Needless to say, they were not fans. I later told my mom on the phone about this funny cultural exchange, and we talked about the differences in Western and Eastern palates.
It’s funny how different cultures think about different ingredients. For beans, Western cuisine and Eastern cuisine have completely different takes on it!
When I think of beans with a Western brain, I think of salt: chili, hummus, rice and beans, split pea soup, and salad.
When I think of beans with an Eastern mindset, I think of both salt and sugar: tofu, soy sauce, soymilk pudding, red bean paste (豆沙), Vietnamese 三色冰 or Che Ba Mau, red bean soup, mung bean soup, etc.
But, please stay with me on this beany journey- learn to appreciate both the savory and sweet applications of our legume friends!
‘Mung bean’ is the more appealing translation of the Chinese word lv dou (綠豆). Lv dou actually translates to ‘green bean,’ just like adzuki bean is another word for red bean. I’m sure people would be gagging if they heard green bean soup as a dessert, as a picture of the lovely string bean would first pop up in their minds.
If the taro version is the ‘original’ 西米露, then allow me to call this its mung bean cousin.
I was tempted to add a pinch of salt, after thinking of how salt is so smartly applied in the famous Thai dessert of mango sticky rice, but feel free to include or exclude that if you wish. I don’t think Chinese people ever add salt to desserts, so I guess this is my take on this one.
Also, I’m not sure if 綠豆西米露 is the official correct name for this, but it’s the way I thought to differentiate it from its popular taro counterpart. Bon appétit!
|Pre-coconut milk…post coconut milk looks kind of funky! :d|
lv dou xi mi lu
Mung Bean Tapioca Soup Continue reading
I’m back from the (blogging universe) dead!
Today we had a busy day; it started out with my husband T not going to play airsoft outdoors because it was 25 degrees out, so he went to the gun range with his trusty friend K instead.
I had choir practice today until 4, then visited the new Penzey’s at the Bourse (Independence Hall East and Randstead)- my first time at a Penzey’s, ever! It was nice but I decided to stick to purchasing “Western” food spices, because some of the non-Western spices like Sichuan peppercorns, were not only much more expensive than I’m used to seeing, but not as high in quality. (They contained quite a few of those black crunchy seeds) My favorite aspect of the store was being able to smell all the different spices. Something that I actually would have preferred would be the ability to scoop out whatever amount you desire, instead of just buying previously portioned out amounts, like 1, 4, or 8 oz, etc. I bought 4 oz each of cayenne pepper and Hungarian paprika, and each was around $5. Not bad, considering they will last me a very long time.
If you are looking to buy spices, I have had good experiences with myspicesage.com. They also sell stuff including matcha powder (it’s from China, so I am a little skeptical- though it has good customer reviews), spinach powder, beet powder, and tons of other types of powders, if you want to use them to color your frostings naturally. Lots of spinach powder can actually make your food taste like matcha, strangely. I speak from experience- I used it to color the frosting on my mom’s wedding cake, and people were asking if the frosting was green tea!
I came home and had some chicken leftovers, but needed some vegetables. I had bought a big napa cabbage, and had soaked mushrooms already, so it was easy to think of what to make.
Braised Napa and Shiitake Mushrooms
Da bai cai xiang gu
Makes 2 hearty vegetable servings
I really like black pepper. As a kid, I used to shake a bunch of blackpepper onto my New England Clam Chowder at Souplantation (Sweet Tomatoes in the South), and would put tons and tons on my scrambled eggs at church retreats (so much that sometimes I contemplated unscrewing the cap for a bit). Aside: Looking back, I realize that one of the contributors to me furiously shaking the black pepper was its loss of intensity due to being pre-ground. If you don’t yet have a pepper mill, do yourself a favor and buy 1) a pepper mill 2) whole peppercorns. As you know, whole spices keep much better than ground spices, so do yourself a favor and jump on my whole spice bandwagon! My peppercorns have lasted indefinitely, and I never regret having to grind them fresh because of how superior they are in taste.
When I staged at the French restaurant, one of the now-former garde manger cooks informed me, rather authoritatively, that black pepper was supposed to be an accent, not a main flavor. Though I agreed that one should not add so much black pepper in dishes so that it overwhelms the other flavors, it made me kind of sad that black pepper is not more often the star in the dish. Two memorable food items include the black pepper filet mignon on Chinese banquet menus, and black pepper sauce at Hong Kong-style cafes in the San Gabriel Valley like Regent or
When I first made this dish in May, I had some flank steak to use up, and the poor celery was getting limp from too much time in the fridge. This time, I was equipped with delicious skirt steak, and fresh peppers from the CSA.
I hope you will forgive me for making not totally dry and not totally flat string beans. Let me explain…gan bian si ji dou is a standby dish that my sister and I would order because we were confident that it would be on a Chinese restaurant’s menu 95% of the time. Whether it was the plenty of garlic in the dish, morsels of ground pork, or the salty string beans, something kept us coming back! My mom would judge this dish based on how gan (dry) and bian (flat) the string beans were. Restaurants most often deep fry the beans to save time, but for the dish to be true to its name, you were supposed to stir-fry the beans in oil until they slowly dried out and flattened.
The string beans from the CSA were amazing, and I couldn’t bear to cook the string beans silly, so I erred on the side of less dry and more plump.
When I was still single and living with 2 other girls, my housemate Lily made zhen zhu wan zi and shared some with me. I suppose they are named pearl meatballs because they look like pearls due to the sticky rice coating! I would also dub them porcupine meatballs, because they also remind me of porcupines..
I think they are from Hubei, China, where my grandma was born. Regardless of their origin, they are pretty tasty. This dish still requires some Asian market ingredients, but is one of the easiest dishes involving sticky rice that I am familiar with. These meatballs are slightly fancier than “regular” Chinese meatballs, but only take a bit more time for a taste and appearance that are so worth it, in my opinion! If you like rolling snickerdoodle dough in cinnamon sugar, this recipe is for you 😉 I am sorry that there are no water chestnuts in this recipe, because Tim doesn’t like them. But, if you want to get some, chop up 5-6 water chestnuts to add to the filling ingredients.
Cooking, especially Chinese cooking, is a good fit for me in the sense that I don’t like to follow all the directions all the time, and I like to make substitutions when it’s more convenient! Please refer to the notes and substitutions sections for some tips for the like-minded.
|Fresh out of the steamer, minus two! (One for Tim, one for me)|
One of our favorite places to eat authentic Taiwanese food in the US is Sinbala in Arcadia, CA. They have a dish called “spicy stir-fried with spicy” (辣炒辣, or la4chao3la4), which to my understanding means that it should contain peppers, peppers, and more peppers. Sinbala’s rendition was not very spicy, but it had a nice flavor. My dad remarked, “this would be easy to make at home!” So, here I am.
Disclaimer: I have no idea what the most “authentic” way to make this dish is. Many a google search in Chinese left me with no definitive answer. If you can eat the entirety of the amount that this recipe makes in one sitting, spicy props to you.
|I am thankful to be able to take this picture in the DAYTIME with natural light! HURRAY.|
Spicy Pepper Stir Fry
Makes around 1 cup
3 Tbsp chili oil or canola oil
1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup string beans, finely chopped
20 Thai chili peppers, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
3 Tbsp finely chopped dried+salted radish (luo2buo1gan1 萝卜干)- optional if you can’t find it
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1) Add the chili oil to pan and add ginger and garlic while the oil is still cold. Heat the oil to medium high and stir until the ginger and garlic are fragrant, or until you can smell them.
2) Add the string beans, peppers, and radish, and stir fry until the string beans are just cooked, or longer if you like them softer.
3) Add salt and soy sauce.
4) Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold, with hopefully plenty of hot rice!