Monthly Archives: February 2008

Bloomin’ Chinese Chives

Stir-fry Chinese Chive Blossoms and Tofu
Photography by Ron Boszko

When I was growing up I hated the smell and taste of chives, specifically Chinese chives. I remembered encountering Chinese chives in stir-fries with ground pork or shrimp, or sprinkled on top of steamed rice cake. I would always pick the chives off carefully before eating. I do not recall when it was that my palate changed and I began to enjoy Chinese chives. Now I don’t just enjoy them; I adore them.

First Full Moon and Tangyuan

Sesame Tangyuan in Peanut Broth

We braved the subzero temperatures last Wednesday night to view the lunar eclipse. It was too cold to spend much time outside, but we managed to witness the beautiful red moon at its peak. This beautiful sight made me ponder the moon’s place in Chinese traditions and lore. The moon’s round shape is very appealing to the Chinese and variously symbolizes harmony, fulfillment and reunion. And the Yuanxiao (元宵節) festival, which marks the end of The Chinese New Year’s festivities and celebrates the first full moon of the new year, would be celebrated the very next day.

Red Bean Paste and Meringue?

Gao Li Dou Sha

I worked on a stir-fry technique post just before Chinese New Year, and was hoping to post it right after the banquet post. But the response to my red bean paste meringue dumpling, or Gao Li Dou Sha (高力豆沙), was so overwhelming that I decided to replace that post with a recipe for the dumpling instead.

I was rather surprised by the response to this sweet dish. My prior experience with serving red bean paste was not always very successful. Perhaps the manner it was served had something to do with it. The concept of fried dough is very familiar to the American palate. However, there is a surprise when one bites into it. The hot steamy center with earthy bean fragrance, plus the crisp elastic dough together create a completely new sensation.

The State of Chinese Food in America

Braised Pork Ham Seller

Last Saturday Fred Ferretti wrote in a New York Times editorial about the poor state of Chinese food in America. Similarly last June Tim and Nina Zagat wrote an editorial, also in the New York Times, regarding the sorry state of Chinese restaurant food in America. These editorials highlight my biggest Chinese cooking complaints in America: 1) American public does not have good understanding of authentic Chinese food. 2) American food writers are not familiar enough with Chinese ingredients and techniques to write about them. 3) We always end up with writings about Chinese cooking with a fusion twist. How can you appreciate the play on fusion cooking if you do not even understand the bases?

Pretty Pink for Valentine’s Day

Watermelon Radishes

Valentine’s Day is not a Chinese tradition, but young Chinese are taking in droves to emulate Western culture by celebrating love every year on the 14th of February. Yet the divorce rate in China is also rising precariously. Is there a correlation here? I will let the sociologist research this problem to their hearts content. I am however more interested in what are the options for a Chinese cook to celebrate this bourgeois decadent Western festival. Read what I’d serve for this Valentine’s Day.

Chinese New Year Banquet

Fragrant Flower Tea
Photography by Ron Boszko

We did it! We had a blast on Saturday night. I managed to serve the full ten-course dinner without any mishap. We even photographed each course of the meal. My friend Ron, who is a great photographer, helped me with the photography. We set up a small “studio” area in our bedroom. Each course was carefully transferred to the “studio” prior to serving. And what great guests we had, they were so patient with the entire process. I love my neighbors!

So, I am now ready to share the dinner with all of you!

Anatomy of a Chinese Banquet Menu

Chinese New Year Tangerine

It was Chinese New Year’s Eve and I was in Chinatown buying last minute supplies for the family gathering. Although I had already braved throngs of holiday shoppers in Chinatown last weekend, I decided I would return to buy fresh seafood and produce on New Year’s Eve. I was pleasantly surprised that the shops were not overly crowded. I was expecting to claw my way through the fishmonger and fight for the last fresh DongGu mushroom in the produce markets. Instead I found aisles wide open at the dry goods stores and plenty of supplies at the fishmonger and produce markets. This rather leisurely pace of shopping gave me time to ponder what I had decided to do this year for Chinese New Year celebration: two TEN-COURSE dinners within the span of four days.

A chill ran up my spine. What have I done?

Chinese Cooking Starter Kit

Starter Kit Sauce Samples

A few of my friends from downtown visited me in my kitchen on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. It was a rather unusual gathering. I was sharing with them some basic Chinese cooking techniques by way of demonstration. More often then not I would simply be cooking to entertain these friends. But on this occasion I had specifically been requested to show them stir-frying technique before we sat down to dinner. As I collected the ingredients and was explaining the different sauces and cooking wine, my neighbor Kim dropped in unannounced to borrow some fresh cilantro for her guacamole. (She is now officially a family member!) In her normal inquisitive manner she proceeded to ask me if there was a basic set of Chinese sauces and ingredients one should assemble as a “starter kit” for Chinese cooking?