Probiotic food is all the rage at the moment. In food and health magazines, blogs and newspapers, everywhere you turn there are articles singing the praises of tempeh, or extolling the benefit of kombucha in keeping our digestive systems healthy. Television commercials advertise the miraculous power of yogurt whose live cultures keep us all regular. Even sauerkraut and kimchi have been enlisted to manage the balance of bio functions in our gastrointestinal tracts. So are there probiotic foods in Chinese cooking?
It may surprise many people to learn that China has been the world’s largest producer of potatoes since 1993. But it should not be entirely unexpected. The Chinese diet has changed drastically since the economic reforms of the 1980’s. Introduction of French fries by Western fast food establishments popularized potatoes. The Chinese government has been enhancing food security by encouraging diversification of staple crops to include high-yield potatoes. And the Chinese are adapting new and exciting ways to cook the mighty spud.
A Chinese children fable called “Spring Bamboo Shoot and the Pebbles” (春筍與亂石) tells a story of a spring bamboo shoot aspiring to burst through the soil, but is halted by a group of pebbles above him. He politely asks the pebbles to let him through but to no avail. With shear determination he pushes through between the pebbles and grows out of the soil. The pebbles are so impressed that they start celebrating him as a superstar. I’m actually not quite sure what the moral of the story is. But “success through determination” is so typically Chinese and very tiger-mom like. Regardless of the moral though, the story does tell of how bamboo shoots surge forth every spring to produce one of the most delicately delicious ingredients in Chinese cooking.
What happens when the cooking of China collides with that of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam? The result is a fresh cuisine full of bold and explosive flavors. This is precisely what you’ll find in the cooking of Yunnan province of southwestern China. I’ve been researching and developing recipes from this region during the last three months. Indeed I took a trip to Yunnan in November last year to get a better understanding of the region’s foodways. Why the sudden interest in this cuisine? I’m glad you asked. I have great news to tell you about my involvement in the imminent opening of a Yunnan restaurant in Tribeca.
Now that farmers’ market season is in full swing we are spoiled by an abundance of fresh produce. Lettuces, summer squashes and radishes cram the stalls of just about every green market. Sold in a variety of rainbow colors, radishes are especially plentiful, and they’re almost always sold with their greens attached. Most Americans, however, routinely ask the vendors to cut off the greens or they discard them at home. It’s unfortunate because these greens are delicious and nutritious. In northeastern China the slightly peppery leaves are used in many different ways, including in stir-fries, salads and steamed buns.
Think of sweet potatoes and you probably think of starchy roots candied or French-fried as side dishes. Or may be a dessert such as sweet potato pie to end a hearty meal. For many Chinese, however, sweet potato greens would also come to mind. These leaves are commonly used as a vegetable in Chinese home cooking. Sweet potato greens are just one out of multitude of Asian produce you can get in many Asian markets throughout New York City. On Labor Day (September 6th) you can learn how to identify and to cook this and other Asian vegetables at the first Asian Feastival in Flushing.
A good friend took us to an elegant Buddhist vegetarian restaurant for dinner in Hong Kong last summer. It was a spectacular meal. Not only was every dish distinctive and delicious, but innovative and sophisticated as well. There was winter melon soup with mixed vegetables, vegetarian soup dumplings, stir-fried tofu skins with seaweed and multigrain steamed rice. But the most memorable dish of all was the salt and pepper crisp-fried enoki mushrooms. When Mel from Gourmet Fury once again asked me to enter the mushrooms challenge of Beet ‘n Squash YOU! I decided to recreate this dish with a twist.
As a newly arrived foreign student from Singapore during my university years in Boston, I had to learn the customs and traditions of American holidays. Although I was already familiar with Christmas and New Year celebrations, Thanksgiving was totally unknown to me. For my first Thanksgiving in America my roommate invited me to spend the holiday with his family in New Hampshire. Unbeknownst to me I was to experience a classic yet quaint practice of American holiday celebration: an enormous turkey dinner and a football game.
I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since my last post! I’d just completed a major system development project for a client at work. The delivery of this system had taken over my entire attention. Perhaps some of the technologist readers out there might sympathize with me and I ask for your apology. As soon as the project was over I went to Chinatown and was excited to find edible lily bulbs (百合) in season. I was itching to get back to my kitchen.
It all started with a cheery comment on my very first Chinese food and wine pairing post back in July. Kirstin, who lives in California and writes the blog Vin de la Table, wrote that she would be interested in attempting a long distance wine pairing joint-post with me. I was fascinated by her suggestion. Pairing European style wine with Chinese food, or Asian food for that matter, has always been a contentious subject among Asian food connoisseurs. Many feel that Chinese food is best paired with traditional Chinese rice wine or liquor, but many others have successfully paired grape wine. So it is with this expectation that Kirstin and I embarked on an adventure to pair wine with a few of my recipes. As part of our joint effort Kirstin created a Chinese food and wine pairing guide to accompany our posts. I hope you’ll find her guide and our posts useful.