Favorite Recipes from ChinaLet’s face it, some of the recipes I’ve put up on this site for dishes described in The Last Chinese Chef are difficult to replicate. So here, for your delectation, are some I have collected in China over the years which have become keepers in my kitchen. Happy cooking!
YANGSHUO COUNTRY EGGPLANT
I learned this deliciously satisfying vegetable dish at the lovely Yangshuo Cooking School in rural Guangxi Province. This is a scenic area very close to Guilin, with lazy mirror-smooth rivers and karst-spire hills. The school itself is located in a renovated farmhouse with a vegetable garden outside and soul-stirring views through the wood-latticed windows. The dishes taught represent the peasant cooking of the area, like this dish, hardy, piquant, and so good my kids have been spotted vacuuming up leftovers the next day.
Abt 1 lb Asian eggplant (or 3-4 long ones)
abt 6 T oil
1 red sweet pepper cut into strips
1-2 oz ginger, smashed and minced ( a peeled 1.5-2” chunk)
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
2-4 spring onions, sliced in julienne style strips
salt to taste (1 tsp or less depending on soy sauce and bean sauce)
3-4 t soy sauce (a splash is the right attitude here)
2 t oyster sauce
splash of water (1/4-1/3C)
2 T chile/black bean sauce or to taste. With this ingredient you can make it more or less hot. And you can really use any chile/bean paste if you do not have chile/black bean.
Cut eggplant in sections about six inches long and then in half again to 3” tubes. Halve the long way, then turn flat cut side down on board and halve again the same way. For the final step turn each wedge again until the round skin side is down, then work from the apex downward with the cleaver to cut wedges. I find cutting an average halved eggplant of the tubular Asian type into 6 wedges to be about right. (See photo above.)
Heat wok until smoking, Add oil. Let oil come to smoking, add eggplant, and reduce heat to medium. Fry until brown and cooked through. Move to side of wok. Keep heat medium. Add garlic, ginger and red pepper. Fry until fragrance rises. Add chile/black bean sauce.
Then add the splash of water. Change to high heat.
Guide eggplant back into the vegetables. Add salt and oyster sauce. Cook until the water’s gone. At the very end fold in the spring onions and serve. (Personally, I also scatter fresh cilantro leaves over the top.)
NOTE: The next day my fellow students and I were commiserating about how much oil eggplant soaks up; wasn’t there a way to do it with less? I asked the teacher, Xiao Fan. She said she too does not like to use so much oil day in and day out. For regular home meals, she uses much less oil, and then when the eggplant inevitably drinks it in and starts to catch, she completes the first step by adding tiny, gradual amounts of water as needed to keep it from sticking.
STEAMED STUFFED VEGETABLES OR EDIBLE FLOWERS
Consider the dumpling. What is it but seasoned minced meat (usually), wrapped in some kind of dough? Why not apply the idea to stuffing other things, for a treat which is at once lighter and more complex? This is what the country people around Yangshuo do, stuffing and steaming pumpkin flowers, mushroom caps, and even those little golden-fried tofu balls or squares you can find in Asian markets.
12 oz minced pork
6 T chives, chopped fine
4 T oyster sauce
1 t spoon salt or to taste.
Other herbs can be added. Mint or cilantro are very nice.
Mix ingredients. If using mushrooms remove stem ( it may be chopped into the mince) . If using little fried tofu balls carefully tear a small hole with your finger; there is space inside. You can use any edible flower such as squash or pumpkin. Miniature sweet peppers would work.
Using a spoon, place filling in vegetable and then use the handle of the spoon to stuff it down. If using mushrooms or tofu balls, stuff firmly. For the more delicate squash or pumpkin flowers, be gentle but try to fill it.
Place in steamer basket or plate on upended cup in the wok, cover, and steam for 15 min.
RIVER SNAILS STUFFED WITH GROUND PORK:
Got snails, the edible kind? Wonder how to pluck them from the yard and make them delicious? I confess, I haven’t tried this at home. But this dish, by Cheng Jing, chef/owner of Fei Jie (Fat Sister) Restaurant in Yangshuo, was so good I am passing her recipe on.
The story behind Yangshuo’s famous stuffed snails goes back to the late Qing dynasty. At that time fishermen saw ducks eating the snails and figured they might be good to try cooking. Prior to that the river fish had been so plentiful there had seemed no need to try to harvest snails. They started catching the snails, steaming them, and picking out the meat. Then they tried chopping it together with fresh pork with great results. But the ground meat did not hold its shape well when stewed About 100 years ago they had the idea of stuffing the minced mixture back into the shell.
Snails are kept on clean diet of grain meal for 5 days to clear any toxins. Well washed. They are removed and the tough part at the bottom discarded. Shells washed again, thoroughly. The tender part of the snail is chopped raw with raw pork and minced fresh mint. Mint, she commented, counters xinwei, the fishy flavor that even the freshest seafood can have. (Salt? She didn’t say this, but I suspect a little). The mince is stuffed back into the shell, pushed in to fill. Then the stuffed shells are stewed in soy sauce, oyster sauce, a little water, ginger, pickled chiles if desired (you can substitute a few dried ones), scallions, and a little garlic.
Serve with toothpicks to dislodge the meat stuffing.
PAO LA JIAO (PICKLED CHILES)
The pickled chiles mentioned in the above recipes are a ubiquitous condiment in northern Guangxi Province, though you can always substitute fresh ones (in smaller quantity). Preserving the chiles makes them tender to the bite and less hot, so they can be enjoyed more as a vegetable than a heat-raiser. Want to try it at home? Here is chef Cheng Jing’s recipe:
1/2 kilo fresh hot chiles
same weight of water 1/2 kilo
salt – a little less than 1/4 kilo. Actually close to 1/8.
Wine (should be white rice wine, meaning sake better than shaoxing) double the weight of the salt.
Close tight in a jar. Use a sheet of plastic wrap under the lid to make it extra tight.
Wait one month. The chiles will keep on the shelf for half a year.
If you want it faster, add a little vinegar, and then wait 20 days.
Caution – never touch with oil. This will cause them to spoil. When retrieving chiles from the jar always use clean wooden chopsticks. Never retrieve with a metal implement such as fork or spoon. Do not use plastic chopsticks either. Metal and plastic are thought to not be completely free of oil after washing.
Cheng Jing even cautions that you should not trim the fresh chiles with scissors. Scissors tend to hold tiny amts of oil. Use a very clean cleaver to trim the green end (they leave the tiny green nub on) and then wash the chiles very well and fully dry, not with towel but in sun (or maybe on counter), before proceeding. Don’t handle them. Your hands have oil. Handle with clean wooden chopsticks.
Xiao Fan, the lead cook at the Yangshuo Cooking School, is famous for this sauce which is ingenious, easy to make, and transforms anything from a steamed or grilled piece of meat or poultry to a cold tofu salad. Since Gourmet refined this recipe in their test kitchen and published it, I will give you their version:
XIAO FAN’S SPECIAL SAUCE:
1 1/2T peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 fresh hot minced Thai chiles, including seeds
1/2 C coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 C water
1 t soy sauce
1 t rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1/4 t salt
1/4 cup stock or meat juices (if you are cooking meat for this sauce)
Heat a wok or large heavy skillet (not nonstick) over high heat until smoking, then drizzle oil down side of wok and swirl to coat. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and stir-fry 15 seconds. Add chiles and stir-fry 15 seconds. Add cilantro and stir fry one minute. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer one minute. Drizzle only the liquid over the dish or, to make it spicier, add some of the solids. (Courtesy Fan Nianfeng, Yangshuo Cooking School)
In my house, this is the single most popular dish I have brought back from China. We have it often. The name comes from the ancestor-worshipping practice of the Dai minority people who, after offering a ceremonial boiled chicken to their dear departed, sensibly shred the meat to make this high-octane cold dish. It’s a great do-ahead when you want to leave food in the fridge for the kids or take something different along to a picnic. I found it at Baita Daiwei Ting, a tiny Dai restaurant in Kunming, and their version is the dish on the right. The Dai people live in southern Yunnan near the Laotian border; note the presence of lime, rare in Chinese cooking.
2 chicken breasts, skin-on and bone-in, about 1.5 lb
1.5 t fresh lime juice
1 t chile bean paste with garlic; Lan Chi if you can find it
1 t red-chile oil, or to taste (this is available in Asian markets)
1 t Sichuan pepper oil (see below)
1 t rasp-grated fresh ginger
1/2 t rasp-grated garlic
1/2 t minced fresh mild long red chile
1/2 t salt
1 C fresh cilantro sprigs
Steam chicken. When cool enough, coarsely shred and discard skin and bones. Stir together all other ingredients except salt, adding up to 2T steaming liquid from chicken if it seems needed. Dress the chicken, add the salt gradually to taste, and toss with cilantro sprigs just before serving.
Sichuan Pepper Oil
Sichuan pepper, hua jiao, the dried berry of the Chinese prickly ash, has a hot and also temporarily numbing effect on the tongue. For this reason the primary flavor profile of Sichuan is called ma-la, numbing and hot, which refers to the combination of hua jiao and hot chile peppers. Used on its own, at home, Sichuan pepper can be a bit much. The test kitchen at Gourmet came up with this alternative, which is easy to make and keeps for 3 months in the refrigerator. You will need an electric coffee/spice grinder.
2 t Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 C peanut oil.
Pulse the peppercorns to a coarse grind.
Heat oil with peppercorns in a 1-1.5 qt heavy saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until peppercorns appear a shade darker, about 1 min. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Stir before using. Store in a covered glass jar.
BEAN JELLY WITH CHILE-VINEGAR SAUCEBean Jelly is a signature food of Yunnan Province, with every town having its special version made from a local bean (producing a different color jelly). Here in the U.S. you have only one choice at Asian groceries–dried mung bean starch, which makes a snow-white jelly. This is an unflavored base food, like pasta, which shows off any number of sauces; it has the consistency of very firm jello and is much lower in calories and carbohydrates than pasta. You can cut it into any shape or shave it into ‘noodles’. It is firm enough to hold up to stir-frying, although as this dish has traveled across China in the last decade, showing up on restaurant menus and in home kitchens, it has become most popular in the cold form described below.
Yunnan is adjacent to Sichuan, hence this Yunnan-style sauce has the ‘ma-la’ flavor.
2 3/4 C water
1/2 C mung bean starch
1/2 t salt
2 T soy sauce
1 T Chinese black vinegar
2 t sugar
2 t Sichuan pepper oil
1 t red-chile oil
1 t rasp-grated ginger
1/2 t rasp-grated garlic
3 large scallions (white and pale green part) cut into shreds
1 3-inch piece of daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
For garnish: shopped scallion green tops, coarse-chopped roasted peanuts
Mix together sauce ingredients. Run thin knife around side of jelly to loosen, unmold on cutting board. Cut into strip shapes. Gently combine with sauce, scallions and daikon; top with sliced scallion tops and peanuts.
SALT-ROASTED BROAD BEANS
Fried salted broad (fava) beans are a popular snack and drinking tidbit in China, which led to me placing them on a fictional table somewhere in The Last Chinese Chef. Yet when a reader wrote to me asking for the recipe, I was flummoxed. I had never thought of making them. In China they are sold in most convenience stores; it would be like deciding to make potato chips. However, people do that… soon, the idea began to appeal to me. Commercial broad bean snacks in China are invariably deep fried. Why couldn’t I roast fava beans in the oven with a little olive oil instead?
I adapted the following recipe from one I found on the internet. This is the plain version–olive oil and salt, but your imagination is the limit as far as additional seasonings are concerned.
One problem–and it is a problem with the commercial version of the snack in China too–is that the beans don’t cook evenly and every so often you bite into a bean that is hard as a rock. If, in the boiling step below, you let the beans ‘explode’, they will roast up light and crispy, never hard. Though they erupt they will still hold together in the roasting process.
1 C dried fava beans
1 t salt or to taste
about 5 t olive oil (or your choice)
Soak beans 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil until the beans pop (something like a corn kernel.) They won’t all open at the same time, so remove when you feel most are ready.
Handling the beans gently now, drain and let them cool a little, then toss in the oil and salt and spread on a baking sheet to roast in a 350-degree oven until they are golden brown (around 25-40 min, but check and taste often; you don’t want the center of the bean to still have any moisture after cooling ). Evenness of cooking time may still be a problem and you may have to discard some; pick over before serving.