When I was growing up in the great state of California, our house never had air conditioning. Despite the shade that the humongous avocado tree in the backyard provided for the house, summer would be very, very hot.
I remember many hot nights of sleeping next to my sister on the large area rug under the dining table, in the one room that had a window air conditioning unit. It was also common to see my dad walking around the house without a shirt! (Is there a more economical way to cool oneself, anyway?)
As a remedy for these hot summer days, my mom would make liang2mian4, also known as 涼麵 or cold noodles, for dinner. Whereas we would rinse the noodles with cold water to speed up the cooling process, my mom’s job as a kid, assigned by her grandmother, would be to cool the noodles by fanning them!
If my mom’s job as a kid on 涼麵 days was to fan the noodles, my job was to make the sesame paste sauce. My mom would hand me the jar of zhi1ma2jiang4 (not to be confused with the game, mahjong) so I could scoop some into a bowl, asking “more?” until she said that it was enough. I learned how to adjust the ratio of sesame paste to water, adding more of one or the other until I got a nice consistency of ‘paste’: not too thin, not too thick.
I knew I wanted to make cold noodles because of the warm weather, and I knew that I had leftovers of romaine lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots from previous cooking days. The first thought that came to mind was the question of authenticity. I’m sure they don’t use cabbage and romaine in Taiwan. I remember romaine in cold noodles from Silk Road Express, a Chinese cafe on JHU’s campus! But other than that, I had never eaten it in cold noodles; after all, I’m quite sure romaine lettuce is not a frequently eaten vegetable in Taiwan.
I’ve been thinking about “authenticity” lately. I remember that we would more often than not, eat spaghetti noodles in our liang2mian4. Why? It
happened to be the noodles that we had in the house. Then I thought, if my mom used spaghetti, I should be able to use nontraditional vegetables if that’s all I got. Apparently, my mom was open to using substitutes in order to feed her ravenous husband and children without another trip to a store. Sounds logical, right? These is a place and time for substitutions, I have come to realize more and more.
Although my favorite cold noodles are still my mom’s version, I enjoyed today’s as well (so did Tim!). I’ll provide both versions. In my family, liang2mian4 was DIY, and I would encourage you to do the same.
Yep! Just sesame seeds.
I can tell you that sesame paste and tahini are very different, both in color and taste. My research tells me that Chinese-style sesame paste is made from unhulled sesame seeds, whereas tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds. The difference in color seems consistent with that claim. The sesame paste shown above is made from white sesame seeds and should not be confused with sesame paste made from black sesame seeds (used in Chinese desserts).
When I was in Taiwan on vacation, we stayed at the 台北國軍英雄館 (Taipei Hero Hotel) while we were in Taipei. The rooms are affordable and location is great because it’s within minutes (walking) to Ximending, a popular shopping/market area.
Anyway, there was a breakfast buffet that came with the room rate (otherwise it was something like 2 USD…what a steal!), and there would be a lady making fried eggs and scrambled eggs with lo2bo1gan1, or salted radishes. I had both egg options on 2 separate days. These pictures were clearly taken during some of my first days in Taiwan there, because I got greedy then realized it would be wiser to save room for lunch and goodies..
Hongdoutang- the only not so good item, because it was not cooked for long enough for the soup to get ‘sandy’!
Chinese people, in my obviously unbiased opinion, are the masters of the humble soybean. They were making soymilk eons before soymilk became popular among Americans. They even use soymilk to make desserts like 豆花!
|Tofu pudding with brown sugar syrup and taro mochi- from my Taiwan trip in 2011|
They are also famous for making stinky tofu, whether it be the steamed/boiled type, or the fried kind, shown here (also from the Taiwan 2011 trip)
|Served with pickled cabbage and carrots to balance out the oil|
Chinese people were not the wealthiest of people groups in history, and I think it is because of that that they were able to among many other things, 1) be creative in making delicious dishes with meat as a flavoring agent rather than the star, and 2) use soybeans for all sorts of goodies.
So, today’s recipe features…well, yes, tofu!
I’ve been browsing xiachufang.com (thanks Lydia, for the tip!) for recipes, and I found this one while searching for vegetarian dishes.
It’s all in Chinese, and my Chinese reading skills are limited to mostly menu reading, so I use google translate’s voice function and pinyin function to read and listen to the author’s directions. I only have the patience and time to translate some of the directions, so I go mostly by instinct for the cooking methods, and pictures if they are there.
Homestyle Sauteed Tofu 家常豆腐 jia1chang2dou4fu3
adapted from Olivia85
As a main dish, this will easily feed 2 with leftovers! I prefer to cook a side vegetable with it.
1 Tbsp dried preserved black beans
1 package firm tofu
1/4 tsp salt or 2 pinches
2-3 Tbsp oil
3/4 cup of black fungus (木耳), chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ dice
4 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal into rhombi
2 stalks green onions, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce (optional)
1-2 tsp sugar
1. Soak your black beans while you slice up your tofu and other ingredients. Use about 2 Tbsp water, or just enough water so that black beans are completely covered by water.
2. Drain the tofu of its water, then wrap it in a clean kitchen or paper towel and apply gentle pressure to get residual water out.
3. Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch thick pieces, then into 1 1/2-2 inch squares. If you tofu is old or holey like mine was for the second batch of this recipe 🙁 , slice thicker pieces!
4. Beat the egg with some salt. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a nonstick pan or wok, and in the meantime, put the tofu pieces in the egg. Gently coat the tofu on both sides and place 5-6 pieces on the hot wok at a time.
5. Cook the tofu about 30 seconds to a minute on each side, or until the egg sets up and gets slightly golden. Flip and cook the other side, then remove the tofu to a plate. Repeat these steps for all the tofu.
6. While the wok is on medium heat, add the soaked black beans to the wok along with their soaking water. Use a spatula to break up the pieces of black beans. Alternatively, you could chop the black beans with a knife on a cutting board. Stir the black beans occasionally and cook until all the water has evaporated.
7. Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok, then let the oil warm up. When the oil is hot, add the black fungus. Stir-fry until the fungus is cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Try one if you are unsure if it’s done.
8. Add the bell pepper, celery, and green onion, stirring around until the bell pepper is slightly softened and no longer raw tasting, about 3-4 more minutes.
9. Add the tofu to the wok, omitting any accumulated juices. Heat through and gently mix tofu with vegetables, being careful not to break too many tofu pieces. Season with soy sauces and sugar!
10. Adjust with more of either soy sauce or sugar, using your tastebuds to guide you.
11. Eat with plenty of steamed rice and sauteed cabbage with garlic on the side 🙂
a. For dried preserved black beans, I use this brand- Yang Jiang Preserved Beans（陽江美豉）
There is no substitution for the black beans. Sorry!
b. If you prefer, you can substitute the celery with 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ dice. I like the crunchiness that celery retains post-cooking.
c. If you are starting out with dried fungus, soak 1/4 to 1/3 cup in water. For an okay but not great substitution (black fungus has a unique texture), use sliced oyster or king oyster mushrooms.