Garlic chives (韭菜) with bean sprouts

Here we have a great recipe for garlic chives (韭菜, jiǔcài), also known as Chinese chives or Chinese leeks. They grow into long, thin shoots with a delicious garlicky taste which pairs well with earthy vegetables or basically any meat. Here they are stir-fried with bean sprouts, but you could just as easily prepare them with slivers of pork, bacon, or beef.

Garlic chives with bean sprouts

Garlic chives with bean sprouts

Garlic chives can be grown and harvested in various ways. I used flowering chives, which some say have have a slightly mellower flavor. The flowers themselves are edible but some cooks will snap them off.  Others leave the flowers on for a more colorful and rustic dish.

Fkowering chives

Flowering chives, before cutting

The garlic chives are plenty flavorful on their own, but some additional aromatics make them just that much better.

Garlic, shallot, and ginger in their natural state...

Garlic, shallot, and ginger in their natural state…

...and garlic, shallot, and ginger, all minced up.

…and garlic, shallot, and ginger, all minced up.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 3 cloves garlic, 1/2 medium shallot, and 1/4″ ginger, all minced together
  2. 1/4 lb flowering chives (韭菜, jiǔcài)
  3. 4 oz bean sprouts
  4. 2 dried chiles, crumbled, with most of the seeds removed
  5. 2 tsp soy sauce

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around, then add the aromatics (#1) and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the garlic chives (#2) and stir-fry for another minute or two, until they just begin to soften.
  • Add the bean sprouts (#3) and stir-fry just until heated through, about another minute. Then add the chiles (#4) and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Splash the spy sauce (#5) over the recipe and give it one final stir.
  • Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: Add 4 oz slivered lean pork, ground pork, sliced pork belly, or sliced Chinese bacon. Substitute julienned onions or peppers for the bean sprouts. Or for simplicity’s sake, omit the bean sprouts completely and just make this a dish of garlic chives.

My essential Chinese pantry

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The essential Chinese pantry

Here is a collection of the items that I think of as my staples for the Chinese pantry. They are used in many of the recipes in this blog. Different cooks will have different opinions as to the essentials, which of course is right and proper. I invite comments. Let me know what you think.

Note: This post will be updated, so if you find it useful or interesting, please check back from time time to time. Any updates will be noted here in this header so you can easily tell if anything has changed.

You are currently reading the third version, posted 2/20/2014.

One important thing about Chinese sauces and condiments: there isn’t any national or cultural standardization. Contrast that with Western condiments like mustard or ketchup, which are pretty much the same everywhere unless you start getting into artisanal preparations. But in China, even with something as ubiquitous as spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng), you’ll find many different variations throughout China. So when you’re following a recipe, don’t worry too much about getting exactly the right preparation. Instead, try several varieties that interest you, note how they taste, decide what you like, and go with that.

Light and dark soy sauces

Light and dark soy sauces

First, let’s talk about soy sauce. There are three main varieties in Chinese cooking: light, dark, and flavored. The “light” soy sauce doesn’t imply less sodium; instead, it’s soy sauce with a crisper flavor and a relatively light color. Most of the common soy sauces available in Western grocery stores are similar to Chinese light soy sauce.

Dark soy sauce, on the other hand, is usually available only in Chinese markets. The flavor is much deeper and the color is richer. One Chinese cooking aphorism says that “light soy sauce is used for flavor, while dark soy sauce adds color.” It’s true that dark soy sauce adds a very striking dark color to dishes, but its flavor shouldn’t be sold short. It has a nice, deep umami taste. The last category is flavored soy sauces, with the most common flavor being mushroom. The flavored sauces can be substituted for dark soy sauce, with the flavor adding more richness.

Spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng)

Spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng)

Next in my essential pantry is spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng). Translation can be a bit difficult, as you can see in the picture above. Lee Kum Kee renders dòubàn jiàng as “Toban Dian,” while they translate the Chinese as “chili bean sauce.” If you’re not familiar with this product and are going to a Chinese market, print this out and show it to your shopkeeper: 辣豆瓣酱. In any event, it’s a versatile paste made of mashed beans, oil, and spicy peppers.

There are many different versions of spicy bean paste, so don’t be intimidated if your Chinese market has six or seven different varieties to choose from, none of which looking anything like the others. Some are oily, some aren’t; some are thick, some are more liquid. Just be adventurous and try one that looks good. Then try another one when your first bottle runs out.

Xiaoxing rice wine

Shaoxing rice wine

Shaoxing glutenous rice wine is another staple. It’s used at the beginning of meals as a marinade to tenderize and flavor meats, and it’s used in the final steps of cooking to add flavor to the final sauce. As with all cooking wines, it’s best to use one that you’d be comfortable drinking, however some varieties are deliberately rendered undrinkable through the addition of lots of salt. So pay attention to whether you’re buying a salted or unsalted wine. Regardless, the cooking wines will have an alcohol content between 12% and 16%. The alcohol boils off if used at the beginning of the cooking process. If you don’t have Shaoxing wine, you can substitute dry sherry or even gin.

Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu)

Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu)

Next on my list is Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu). In my own words, this is a rich and tasty way to add depth of flavor and spice to any dish… but in Lao Gan Ma’s own words it sounds even better:

Today Over 1000 ″LaoGanMa″staff and workers produce 430,000 jars of chili foods per day,achieving the yearly output value approach in USD 50 million. The selling channel has covered 65 cities in the shole country. The products have been exported to more than 30 countries and regions like the United States, Australia,Canada,New Zealand,etc. ″LaoGanMa″has developed to be a nationally well-known enterprise,and it is playing a leading role in the production and selling of chili foods. ″LaoGanMa″was used to be the unique condiment of Guizhou.Nowadays,it has become the symbol of flavoured chili condiments and the indispensable and tasty spice of the most consumers at home and abroad. [sic]

    Tomorrow A series of chili foods with high additional value is going to be developed, and an″aircraft carrier″of chili processing industry is being under construction. [sic]

http://www.laoganma.com.cn/english/e_01.jsp

After hearing that the company is constructing the “aircraft carrier of chili processing industry”, how could you not want to try it?

Black vinegar

Black vinegar

Next on the list is black vinegar. Perhaps the most common kind is 镇江香醋, Zhènjiāng xiāngcǜ, but it is widely believed that the province of Shanxi (山西, Shānxī) makes the highest quality vinegar. (Ask for 山西香醋, Shānxī xiāngcǜ). Black vinegar has both a richer and softer, mellower flavor than light vinegars. It is made from fermented rice and thus has a different flavor than balsamic vinegar made from grapes. (Although balsamic vinegar could probably be substituted in a pinch.)

Chili oil

Chili oil

Chili oil doesn’t need much of a description. It isn’t used as a base for stir-frying, but instead is used later in the cooking process to impart flavor and heat.

Sesame oil

Sesame oil

Sesame oil is ubiquitous enough that it’s available in many Western markets. Like chili oil, it’s not used as a basis for frying, but instead is used later for flavor. It has a rich umami and smoky taste. A little goes a long way… if you’re in doubt about how much to use, start with a small amount, taste, and then adjust. Most dishes need no more than 1 tsp maximum.

Dried chiles

Dried chiles

Dried chiles are the next staple. These will keep forever in your pantry so you can buy any size bag you like. They should be dry enough that you can snap or cut them into small pieces, but not so dry that they crumble into tiny pieces or powder. The seeds can be very hot so feel free to discard the seeds after breaking up the peppers.

Star anise

Star anise

Star anise has a pleasant licorice flavor. Sold dried, it will keep for a long time. These are commonly used in northern Chinese braises and boils.

Sichuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns are simply amazing. They have a citrusy flavor and they produce a kind of numbing sensation in the mouth, so that the mouth feels tingly as if you’ve just had a tiny bit of novocaine. (Don’t worry, it’s much more pleasant that that sounds). The numbing effect of these peppers is combined with spicy chiles to produce the famous “numbing and spicy” taste (麻辣, málà) that is cherished in Sichuan cuisine.

Cinnamon

Chinese cinnamon

Cinnamon is common both in Asia and in the West. In China, the specific variety is often Cinnamomum cassia, also called Chinese cinnamon, also called cassia bark. The raw bark may appear coarser and rougher than traditional Western cinnamon sticks, although the taste is similar.

Dried black (shiitake) mushrooms

Dried black (shiitake) mushrooms

It’s also handy to keep dried black mushrooms (also known in Japanese as shiitake) on hand. When you have the opportunity to use fresh mushrooms, I’d encourage you to do so, but the dried versions are so good that it makes sense to keep some in your pantry. To reconstitute dried mushrooms, soak them in hot water for 30 minutes, and then press dry. The soaking water turns into a beautifully fish broth that’s worth using or saving, which is another reason to keep the dried mushrooms on hand.

Tianjin Preserved vegetable

Tianjin Preserved vegetable

Tianjin Preserved Vegetable ( 天津冬菜, Tiānjīn dōngcài), also called preserved “winter vegetable,” is cabbage that has been pickled with salt and garlic. It doesn’t have a strong flavor on its own, but it adds a rich umami depth to any dish. You can use it as a salt substitute, or you can sometimes use it in place of soy sauce since the flavors are different but the salt content is similar. It keeps forever.

That concludes my list of things that are essential for the Chinese pantry. Everything above will keep a good long while and is versatile enough to appear in many recipes in this blog. Enjoy, and please leave comments and suggestions.

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Long beans (长豆角) with wood ear mushroom slivers, dried chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns

Long beans (长豆角, zhǎng dòujiǎo), also called yard-long beans or asparagus beans, are a staple in southern China. Thankfully, their popularity is growing worldwide as well. The beans tend to be a bit thinner and softer than the traditional Western green bean, with a somewhat more intense “bean” flavor. Some say that their taste is reminiscent of asparagus, hence one of their their alternate names. This recipe comes to me via a friend who lives in Chongqing, a southern city in that spicy region between Sichuan and Hunan. Typical of the region, the dish is spicy, warming, and hearty.

Long beans with wood ear mushrooms and fragrant spices

Long beans with wood ear mushrooms and fragrant spices

This is also another “simple” recipe by TastyAsia standards, meaning that it can be completely finished in the time it takes you to cook the rice. Start with long beans, which are obviously quite long in their natural state:

Very long beans

Very long beans indeed

Cut the beans into bite-sized lengths before cooking.

The other vegetable in this dish is wood ear mushrooms (木耳, mùěr) which need to be in slivers that are about as long as the beans. Wood ears usually come dried, so you can slice them after softening in water. However, the dried mushrooms also come pre-sliced, which is much more convenient:

Dried, sliced wood ear mushrooms

Dried, sliced wood ear mushrooms before reconstituting

Note that wood ear mushrooms are sometimes translated as “black fungus” in English, despite the fact that the Chinese name, 木耳, mùěr, literally means “wood ear.” (On the package below, the full Chinese is 黑木耳, hēi mùěr, literally “black wood ear,” translated somewhat inexplicably as black fungus.)

Wood ear or black fungus?

Wood ear or black fungus?

Okay, with that somewhat lengthy introduction out of the way, the recipe itself goes quite quickly.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/2 lb long beans (长豆角, zhǎng dòujiǎo), cut into 2″ lengths
  2. 5 dried red chili peppers, snapped into roughly 1/4″ lengths, most of the seeds removed; 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns (husks only)
  3. 3/4 oz dried, sliced wood ear mushrooms (木耳, mùěr), soaked until soft in lukewarm water (about 15-30 minutes); alternatively, soak whole mushrooms and then julienne once soft
  4. 2 tsp soy sauce
  5. 2 tsp sesame oil

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around, then add the beans (#1) and stir-fry for about 5 minutes until heated through and softening just a bit.
  • Next add the chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns (#2) and stir-fry for another minute until hot and fragrant. Add the mushrooms (#3) and stir until everything is heated through, about a minute.
  • Drizzle the soy sauce (#4) into the wok and stir. Then pour in the sesame oil (#5) and give everything a final, thorough stir until everything is mixed together and hot.
  • Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: This is obviously a vegan recipe, but you could substitute slivers of pork, bacon, or Chinese sausage for the mushrooms. On the other hand, you could keep it vegan but substitute tea-soaked tofu for the mushrooms.

Posted in Long beans, Mushrooms, Recipes, Stir-fry, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bacon with wood ear mushrooms and tofu (培根双鲜)

This dish was an outstanding success. The tastes blended really well together and the textures were wonderfully complimentary. Wood ear mushrooms (木耳, mùěr), which are usually sold dried and need to be soaked in warm water before using, have an earthy but still fairly light flavor and a pleasant crunch. And, of course, anything with bacon is always phenomenal.

The finished dish

The finished dish

I used American bacon smoked with apple wood. China has rich tradition of smoked and cured meats, but Chinese bacon is different than western bacon. Chinese bacon is frequently spiced with star anise and clove, and purchased more commonly in sturdy chunks rather than the fine soft slices we’re used to in America. I will explore that tradition in other posts. For now, this dish uses American bacon… and uses it extraordinarily well.

Dried wood ear mushrooms

Dried wood ear mushrooms

Soak the dried mushrooms in lukewarm water until thoroughly soft. Fry the bacon lightly; it should be very gently crispy in places but mostly still fairly soft.

Bacon and wood ear mushrooms

Bacon and wood ear mushrooms

You’ll want to cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces before frying. After soaking the mushrooms, cut or tear them into pieces of similar size. Cut the tofu into bite-sized triangles.

Tofu!

Tofu!

I started with a traditional block of tofu, about 4″ x 3″ x 2″. If you have a block that size, you can make triangles by first cutting it into three 4″ x 3″ slices. While keeping the slices stacked on top of each other, cut them into quarters and then cut each quarter on the diagonal. This yields 24 identical triangles.

Fry the tofu slices  briefly in the fat left over from frying the bacon. It’s best to fry the tofu in batches so that you can treat the triangles gently. You don’t want to have any heavy stirring.

Fried tofu

Fried tofu, removed from the wok

To assemble the dish, put the mushrooms and bacon back in the wok with some garlic and spicy bean paste. Then gently add the tofu and stir until everything is hot. You will love this, I promise.

The recipe looks a bit fussy, but as usual for this blog, cooking and prep are actually simple and fairly quick.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 4 oz sliced bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces, about 1″ square and between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick
  2. 14 oz extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized triangles (see above)
  3. 1 oz dried wood ear mushrooms (木耳, mùěr), soaked until soft in lukewarm water (about 15-30 minutes), and then cut or torn into pieces to match the size of the bacon
  4. 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  5. 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns (husks only), 1 very generous Tbsp spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng)
  6. 1/4 cup water or stock, 2 tsp soy sauce, and 2 tsp dark soy sauce

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the bacon (#1) in batches so that each piece can lay flat against the bottom of the wok. Let it fry until it just begins to curl, then turn and continue cooking for another minute or so. Remove the bacon to drain on a paper towel. Repeat until all the bacon is cooked. It should be gently crispy in places but overall still flexible and soft.
  • Bacon fat will have collected in your wok at this point. Heat it until hot but not smoking, and then add the tofu (#2) in batches, frying on each side like the bacon. Treat the pieces gently so that they don’t break up. Remove them to a paper towel to drain.
  • Make sure the bacon fat in the wok is once again hot but not quite smoking. Add the mushrooms (#3) and stir-fry to heat, perhaps one minute. Then add the garlic (#4) and continue stir-frying for another 30 seconds. Next, add the Sichuan peppercorns and the bean paste (#5). Stir-fry everything for another half minute.
  • Stir in the water and soy sauce (#6), heat until just bubbling, and then add the tofu back to the wok. Stir gently until everything is heated through. Garnish with some chopped scallions in the final stir.
  • Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: you can make a successful vegan version of this dish by omitting the bacon and substituting the caps of shiitake mushrooms (known in China as black mushrooms, 香菇, xiānggū). You could also substitute non-cured bacon (which is just sliced pork belly). You could also try using fresh chili peppers instead of the spicy bean paste.

Posted in Meat, Mushrooms, Pork, Recipes, Stir-fry, Tofu, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chinese cabbage with shrimp and chili paste (虾茸大白菜)

This is another of TastyAsia‘s “fast and easy” recipes, meaning that the dish can be prepared start to finish in the time it takes to cook the rice. It’s also light, fresh, spicy, and delicious. Chinese cabbage, also called napa cabbage, has a delicate and slightly mustardy flavor that goes very well with the shrimp and the chili.

Chinese cabbage with shrimp and chili paste

Chinese cabbage with shrimp and chili paste

Start with a medium-sized head of Chinese cabbage, called 大白菜 (dà báicài) in China.

Chinese cabbage ()

Chinese cabbage (大白菜, dà báicài)

Slice the cabbage into thin strips. It’s okay to be a little rough with the slicing, so don’t worry if the slices aren’t uniformly thick.

Sliced cabbage

Sliced cabbage

In addition to minced garlic, the other fresh aromatic herb for this recipe is scallions. Use about four and slice them into smallish “horse ear” slices.

Sliced scallions

Sliced scallions

This recipe also uses two tasty pastes. The shrimp paste is salty…

Shrimp paste

Shrimp paste

… while the chili paste is quite hot. Not every chili paste is equally spicy, so get to know your ingredients. This brand, from Thailand, is impressively hot.

Thai spicy chili paste

Thai spicy chili paste

The actual cooking is simple and easy.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1 medium napa cabbage, sliced into strips about 1/8″ thick
  2. 4 cloves garlic, minced finely
  3. 4 scallions, cut into thin “horse ear” slices (see photo), and 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  4. 1 Tbsp shrimp paste, 1-2 tsp fried chili paste
  5. 2 tsp sesame oil

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok with 2 Tbsp oil on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the sliced cabbage (#1) and stir-fry for about a minute until it just begins to wilt. Then add the garlic (#2) and continue stir-frying for another minute so that the garlic is mixed in and cooked through.
  • Add the scallions and cilantro (#3) and continue stirring, just until mixed. Then add the shrimp and chili pastes (#4) and stir-fry until heated and mixed, just another few seconds.
  • Turn off the heat and drizzle the sesame oil over the cabbage, giving everything one final stir to distribute the oil.
  • Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: This dish can go in several entirely different directions. First, it’s easily made vegan by substituting regular or dark soy sauce for the shrimp paste. Alternatively, for a more northern Chinese taste, you can omit the chili paste and add some ginger to the garlic (#2). Finally, you could augment the cabbage with other vegetables such as thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, julienned fresh peppers, or whatever else you might have handy.

Posted in Cabbage, Recipes, Stir-fry, Vegetables | Leave a comment

Simple chili beef with peanuts

Here is another simple recipe. Thinly cut beef is quickly stir-fired with aromatics and then given some heat with dried chiles. Peanuts and soy sauce contribute some wonderful depth of flavor. The whole recipe is fast, simple, nourishing, and delicious.

Simple chili beef

Simple chili beef

You can use any kind of beef that you’d like. I used some chuck that had a bit of marbling in it. Make sure you slice it very thin.

Thinly sliced beef, marinating

Thinly sliced beef, marinating

Mince the garlic and ginger into pieces that are about the same size. Many of the recipes here at TastyAsia call for about equal amounts of ginger and garlic, but this recipe works better with about a 3:1 ratio, heavy on the garlic.

2013-6-6 Chili Beef_Garlic and ginger

Onions give both flavor and crunch. When stir-frying, cook them until they just begin to soften. Don’t let them get limp.

Red onions

Red onions

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/2 lb beef (such as chuck, roundsteak, or flank steak, preferably with a bit of marbling), cut into very thin slices; marinated for 30 minutes in 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp potato flour
  2. 4 cloves garlic and 1/4″ ginger, minced
  3. Half a red onion, sliced into bite-size pieces (see photo)
  4. 10 dried red chili peppers, snapped into 1″ lengths, loose seeds discarded
  5. 2 tsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 2 tsp potato flour, 1 tsp sesame oil
  6. 1/2 cup peanuts
  7. 1/2 cup cilantro and 2 scallions, chopped, for garnish

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the beef (#1) and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes until cooked through and beginning to brown.
  • Add the garlic and ginger (#2) and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Then add the red onion (#3); stir-fry until it is heated through, about a minute. Don’t overcook, as the onion should retain some crunch.
  • Add the chiles (#4) and stir-fry for another minute or so. Then add the sauce (#5) and stir until heated. Add the peanuts and stir again until everything is coated.
  • Garnish with chopped scallions and serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: You can serve the garnish along side, letting diners use it at their own discretion, or garnish the whole dish before serving. You can substitute any protein for the beef, including tofu. If you add black vinegar to the sauce in #5, you’ll start to get a taste very similar to kung pao (宫保, gōng bǎo).

Posted in Beef, Meat, Recipes, Stir-fry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salmon with spicy relish

TastyAsia’s first salmon recipe is here. That one is just a bit more basic than this one, so if you need something simple, just follow the link to that first recipe. Or, well, you can also really just stay here, since this recipe is  quite simple as well. The main difference is the spicy and sweet relish.

Salmon with hot and sweet relish

Salmon with hot and sweet relish

The salmon is marinated for a few minutes in soy sauce and sesame oil and then briefly cooked. While it’s getting hot, you can make the fresh relish; its spicy sweetness goes extraordinarily well with the savory marinade.

2013-4-12 Salmon with relish_2

A half-pound of salmon will serve between two and four people depending on how many other dishes you serve with it.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/2 lb salmon, marinated for 20 minutes in 1/4 cup dark soy sauce, 1/4 cup (regular) soy sauce, 1 Tbsp mirin or light rice wine, and 2 tsp sesame oil; spoon or brush the liquid over the salmon several times while marinating
  2. 1/2 clove garlic, 4-5 pickled red Thai chiles, 1 scallion (green parts only), 1/2 medium shallot; all minced finely and stirred together with 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp lime juice

DIRECTIONS:

  • You can cook the salmon in any number of ways. To steam it, place the salmon in a steamer tray over boiling water for about 25 minutes. To bake it, put the fish and the marinade in an over-proof baking dish and bake for 25 minutes at 350°F. To grill it, well, just grill it.
  • Serve with some fresh lime wedges and the relish on the side.
  • Complete the meal with rice and a few contrasting dishes.

VARIATIONS: As mentioned above, you can steam, grill, or bake the fish. All of the ingredients are negotiable; but that being said, in my opinion the saltiness of the marinade and the sweet spiciness of the relish are what make it successful. So you can vary the heat of the relish by adding or subtracting chiles to taste, or vary the amount of the sugar, but make sure to include both of them to some degree.

Posted in Baking, Fish and seafood, Recipes, Salmon | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another cumin beef recipe (孜然牛肉)

The first cumin beef recipe I posted called for thin slices of beef to be twice-cooked; first, briefly fried in about an inch of oil then drained and stir-fried with other ingredients. This recipe uses bite-sized chunks rather than slices, and relies only on stir-frying. That makes this version quicker and a bit lighter, but still just as tasty.

Cumin beef (孜然牛肉, zīrán níuròu)

Cumin beef (孜然牛肉, zīrán níuròu)

Other than cutting things up into small pieces, the only preparatory step that takes any effort is to gently toast some cumin seeds and  grind them into a powder. Toast whole cumin seeds un your dry wok until they just begin to turn golden.

Toasted cumin seeds

Toasted cumin seeds

Then grind the seeds with a suribachi or mortar and pestle until they form a coarse powder.

The heat in this dish comes from fresh Thai chiles. Slice them diagonally and remove the loose seeds.

Thai chiles, sliced and seeded

Thai chiles, sliced and seeded

Everything else is simple and straightforward.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/4 lb beef (such as chuck, roundsteak, or flank steak), cut into bite-sized pieces; marinated for 30 minutes in 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp potato flour
  2. 2 cloves garlic, minced; 4 small Thai chiles (or to taste), sliced with loose seeds removed
  3. 1 small red bell pepper, cut in slices to match the size of the beef pieces

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the beef (#1) and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes until cooked through and beginning to brown.
  • Add the garlic and chiles (#2) and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Then add the red pepper (#3); stir-fry until the pepper is heated through, about a minute.
  • Garnish with chopped scallions and serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

Variations: This recipe is drier than most of TastyAsia’s meat recipes. If you’d like more sauce, finish the dish by adding 2 Tbsp stock or broth of your choice, mixed with 1 tsp potato flour, to your wok and stir thoroughly before removing from the heat. Don’t think you need to though; this dish is authentic and delicious just as it is.

Posted in Beef, Meat, Recipes, Stir-fry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

Bitter melon (苦瓜, kǔguā) is a wonderful vegetable. I’ve never seen it in a Western grocery store, but it’s very common in Chinese shops and in Chinese cooking. It has a certain bitterness, of course, and that makes it something of an acquired taste. But don’t be frightened; it’s tasty and worth getting used to.

Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

Bitter melon (苦瓜) with peppers and pork

This particular recipe is ideal for newcomers to bitter melon, because there are a number of contrasting flavors so nothing is overpowering. The green bell peppers contribute a certain sweetness, while the chili peppers and the sesame oil add heat and depth.

Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, looks like a lumpy cucumber when raw.

From lest to right: one green bell pepper and two bitter melons

From lest to right: one green bell pepper and two bitter melons

When you cut it open, you see some reddish seeds surrounded by soft, white pith.

Bitter melon, sliced lengthwise

Bitter melon, sliced lengthwise

The seeds and the pith are easily removed with a spoon, at which point the bitter melon looks like a tube. This is the tasty and edible part.

Bitter melon, sliced and seeded

Bitter melon, sliced and seeded

This recipe is good for newcomers to bitter melon, because the bitterness is mellowed somewhat by the green peppers. The recipe below will feed 2-4 people as part of a meal with several other dishes.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 1/2 cup ground pork
  2. 1 clove garlic, minced; 1-3 red Thai chiles, to taste
  3. 1 bitter melon (cut lengthwise, with the seeds and pith scooped out with a spoon; then cut crosswise into crescents about 1/4 inches thick; tossed with 1 Tbsp salt and rested for a half hour; then rinsed well with water); an equal amount of green bell pepper cut in a similar fashion (but not salted)
  4. 2 tsp sesame oil

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the ground pork (#1) and stir-fry on high heat until just beginning to brown.
  • Then down the heat to medium and add the garlic and Thai chiles (#2). Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chiles and garlic become fragrant. Don’t let the garlic darken beyond golden.
  • Add the bitter melon and the green pepper (#3) and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables turn bright green and are just beginning to soften.
  • Drizzle in the sesame oil (#4), toss to coat, and serve alongside rice and contrasting dishes.

VARIATIONS: One variation would be to omit the green peppers and make this a melon-only stir-fry. Also, if this will be served alongside other savory dishes, you should consider omitting the pork. Many other choices are possible: omit the Thai chiles, or else add more (to taste). Omit the sesame oil, or substitute chili oil. Consider adding 1 tsp chopped douchi (豆豉, dòuchǐ) or Tianjin preserved vegetable to #3 above.

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Fragrant chicken soup with tomato and lime (柠香蕃茄鸡)

This soup recipe, which I’m calling fragrant chicken soup with tomato and lime (柠香蕃茄鸡), is delicious. It’s also quite simple, because it creates its own stock. Pre-made soup stocks are wonderful things. I use them often and I’d never discourage you from using one. But sometimes you  need soup on days when a pre-made stock just isn’t handy.

Fragrant chicken soup

Fragrant chicken soup

Today is supposed to be the fourth day of spring, and if you go by the meteorologists’ strict definition, I suppose it actually is. But we had leaden skies and snow flurries, while places not 50 miles from here got dumped on with up to 12 inches of wet snow. Since shaking my fists at the sky doesn’t seem to help, I chose to combat the wintery chill with a warm and comforting soup. The ingredients are all straightforward, so very little extra explanation is needed.

Instead of mincing the ginger, slice it into coarse rounds. Peeling it isn’t necessary.

Ginger rounds

Ginger rounds

The heat come from Thai chiles:

Thai chiles

Thai chiles

The quantities given below will feed four people as a soup course of a larger meal.

INGREDIENTS and PREP:

  1. 2 cloves garlic and one medium shallot, minced
  2. 2 tsp salt dissolved in 6 cups water
  3. 1 medium tomato, diced; 5 slices ginger (see photo above); 1 Thai chili, sliced diagonally into seven or eight pieces with the loose seeds discarded
  4. 1/2 lb chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated for 25 minutes in a mixture of 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine and 1 Tbsp potato flour
  5. 3 Tbsp soy sauce and 2 tsp lime juice

DIRECTIONS:

  • Heat 1 Tbsp peanut oil in a soup pot (or in your wok, if it’s big enough).  Add the garlic and shallot (#1) and fry on gentle heat until soft. This should take less than five minutes. Take care not to let the garlic burn.
  • Pour in the salted water (#2) and turn the heat up. Next add the tomato, ginger, and chili (#3); heat until the water is boiling.
  • Add the chicken (#4) and simmer for 20 minutes, then stir in the soy sauce and lime juice (#5). Serve, garnishing individual bowls with chopped cilantro.

VARIATIONS: Obviously this recipe creates its own stock. But if you have chicken or vegetable stock on hand, you can substitute it for the salted water in step #2. If you want to scale the recipe up for more than four people, or if you simply want a more substantial soup, you can use a whole chicken instead of thighs.

COMING SOON: TastyAsia enjoys bitter melon!

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