Sunday, January 24, 2010

True Adventure.... Southwest China- the Yangshuo region

I don't have to tell you how much I love Chinese food. According to many there are three great cuisines from which most others sprang from: The Chinese, who had elaborate dishes at the time most other countries were still figuring out how to cook meat on fire; The French, who perfected the basics of food in general and gave us the point from were we learned techniques for all things scrumptious; and last but not least, the Mexican that was present even before the Aztecs and Mayans and had sophisticated dishes with innumerable ingredients and complex preparation techniques that are still evident in present times.

From these three and their corresponding local ingredients, as well as the particular techniques responsible for the dishes they belonged to came our collective food knowledge. Once the travels from legendary explorers took hold, the rest of the world benefited from not only their travels but from the miriad of exotic goods they delivered. This was responsible for many others cuisines which adopted these new foods and made them their own and completely changed the culinary world.

Fortunately for us, now, we don't have to rely on explorers to have ingredients or news from across the globe. Now all we need is to visit our local imported food store and we're all set. For me this means a quick trip (who am I kidding? quick? it takes me hours to get out of there!) to my International Marketplace to obtain everything needed for most cuisines I'm after, so after an afternoon shopping here I arrive home ready to produce some wonderful food I've been dreaming of.

The Yangshuo region of China is located on the southwest bordering Vietnam that gives an interesting mix of Canton, Hunan, and Vietnamese culinary traditions very particular to this very isolated and green valley area protected by amazing mountains, mists, lush vegetation and flowing river. Known to locals as a vacation spot for it's tranquility and healthful food, good weather and outdoor activities, tourists haven't really become aware of this area and that's just how the natives like it. Their food is amazing, let me show you:

Eggplant Yangshuo Style.- This cuisine is definitely slow food cooked fast, a style of eating I am working towards. Full of flavor, nutrients and color, you couldn't ask for more:
1/2 Asia
n eggplant (1 large)
2 tablesp
oons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)

2 teaspoons minced peeled ginger (1 inch piece)
1/2 teaspoon
chile paste (use your favorite)
1/2 teaspoon fermented black beans, rinsed well
1/3 cup w
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 scallions, white/green in 3-in length,sliced thin lengthwise

Cut eggplant crosswise into 3-inch lengths, then halve pieces lengthwise. Cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch-thick slices.

Heat wok over high heat until it smokes. Add oil, swirling pan to heat evenly, then add eggplant and stir-fry, spreading slices around bottom and sides of wok to help brown until eggplant is softened and browned on the
edges, about 2 minute. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add chile paste and fermented black beans and stir-fry 30 seconds more. Add water, oyster sauce, and soy sauce and stir-fry until eggplant is coated with a thickened sauce, 1 to 2 minutes. Add scallions and stir-fry 30 seconds more.
NOTE: As with most Chinese food: Have all ingredients ready to cook as ever
ything happens quickly.

A new take on an old favorite: Sweet and Sour Pork: What a wonderful change to this most favored dish, about time I say!
black fungus

1 oz black fungus (tree ears; ½ cup dried)
1 cup boiling water
For Osmanthus Syrup

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dried osmanthus flowers
For stir fry
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6oz boneless pork thinly sliced across the grain l
ess than 1/8-inch-thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon
rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon osmanthus syrup

Prepare black fungus: Put fungus in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Steep until fungus is softened, about 15 minutes. Drain fungus and thinly slice lengthwise.

Make syrup: Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then add flowers and simmer 1 minute. Let stand 5 minutes. You will need 1 tablespoon.

Stir-fry: Heat a wok over high heat until smoking, then
pour oil down sides of pan. Add pork and stir-fry, spreading pork on bottom and sides of wok to cook quickly, until pork turns white, about 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add fungus and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add vinegar, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon syrup and toss pork to coat with sauce.
Note: Osmanthus flowers are available by mail order from For a different but very pleasant floral flavor, you could substitute dried chamomile flowers for the Osmanthus or Orange Blossoms too. Strain them out of the syrup before using. I've used Orange extract with success.


Squash Blossom and Tofu Dumplings: These can have varied stuffi
ng as you can well imagine. I've used chicken and pork too. Quite nice!
5 oz gro
und pork
1 scallion, white and green parts minced
1 tables
poon oyster sauce
1/4 salt
1 cake fresh firm Tofu (1 to 2 inches thick)
fresh quash blossoms
soy sauce

Stir together pork, scallion, oyster sauce and salt in a small bowl. Quarter Tofu through center to make 4 squares, then quarter each square diagonally into 4 triangles. Turn a triangle long-side down, point up. Cut a 1/2 inch-wide notch lengthwise out of top of triangle with a paring knife leaving a trough for filling. Fill with about 1 teaspoon of stuffing, flattening edges flush with tofu. Stuff remaining 15 large triangles of tofu in same manner and arrange in basket of a steamer.

Break or cut off stem (reserve) and side barbs around base of each squash blossom and remove stamen. Fill each flower with 1/4 of remaining filling, then fold tops of petals over filling and pierce with a piece of reserved stem or a toothpick to secure. Add to steamer basket.

Bring water to a boil in bottom of steamer and steam dumplings until filling is cooked through, 10 to15 minutes. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Taro and Pork Belly: Don't let the title turn you off, this is fabulous!
1 lb boneless pork belly
2 cups peanut oi
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1 lb taro, peeled, halved lengthwise,cut into 1/4inch-thick slices
For preserved tofu sauce
1 (1-inch) piece preserved tofu
1 scallion, white and light green part finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon
rice wine (shaoxing), or dry sherry
1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon five spice powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put about 3 cups water in a wok. Place a small round rack over water and put pork on rack. Bring water to a boil, then cover pork and steam on medium high heat 20 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate, then rinse wok and dry thoroughly.

Fry pork and taro. Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking (about 400°F on a deep-fat thermometer). Meanwhile rub distilled vinegar over skin of pork then pat dry. Carefully slide pork, skin side down, into oil with tongs (it will not be fully submerged) and deep fry, covered until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pork from oil with tongs and t
ransfer to a pot of warm water to soften skin, about 10 minutes. While pork soaks return oil to 400°F and deep fry taro slices, in batches of 6 to 8, until edges are golden, about 1 minute per batch. Transfer as fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain and return oil to 400°F between batches.

Make preserved tofu sauce. Mash preserved tofu together with scallion, garlic, ginger, oyster sauce, rice wine, five-spice powder, sugar, pepper, and salt in a large bowl with the back of a spoon and let stand 10 minutes. Steam pork and taro. Remove pork from warm water and transfer with tongs to a cutting board. Cut pork crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick slices and toss with sauce in bowl.

In a dish
that will fit in wok, arrange alternate slices of pork (skin side down) and taro tightly together, standing up in dish. Put about 5 cups water in wok and put rack in wok. Put dish on rack and bring water to a boil. Steam pork and taro over medium heat, covered, until tender, about 40 minutes.
NOTE: I've made this while doing the laundry or writing my blog since it takes a while, but worth it.

A beautiful area producing healthful food and made wonderfully. The flavor quality ingredients give cannot be overstated nor can their benefits be minimized, you have to eat anyway, right? So why not
make it the very best you can. All recipes shown here are in small batches, usually for 2 servings, but adjust the ingredients if more servings are needed. I like these smaller portions since there will be no leftovers and all the freshly made food will be consumed as soon as it's done, at the peak of flavor and quality. Yum!........

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