Let’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 from the Yangshuo Cooking School which have become keepers in my kitchen. Happy cooking!
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 on left.)
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.
PAO LA JIAO (PICKLED CHILES)
The pickled chiles mentioned in the previous 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. After pickling, a hot red chile like the one in the dish shown here can be eaten as a vegetable. 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)