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Q&A -- Chinese Cooking: Southern home-style dishes

28 posts in this topic

All those dishes look fantastic, especially the clam dish.

The steamer dish looks great -- but what if you don't have a bamboo steamer? Can you use western style steaming methods as well? What's a good source for bamboo steamers if you don't have access to a Chinatown near you?


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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All those dishes look fantastic, especially the clam dish.

The steamer dish looks great -- but what if you don't have a bamboo steamer? Can you use western style steaming methods as well? What's a good source for bamboo steamers if you don't have access to a Chinatown near you?

Yes, the clam dish is the most photogenic. In general the homestyle stuff doesn't look very pretty on the plate, but it does taste good!

It's fine to use the steamer insert in a pasta pot set, or pressure cooker, like I mentioned. I hope lack of a bamboo steamer doesn't prevent anyone from trying a steamed recipe or two. I've seen bamboo steamers in high end kitchen shops under the Joyce Chen line, or you could buy one online at places like Sur La Table or Ethnic Grocer. Just make sure to buy one that fits your biggest pot, larger sizes make it easier to steam things on plates. Even smaller places without large Chinatowns should have an Asian grocery, and bamboo steamers are a pretty common item.

regards,

trillium

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Trillium, thanks for the great class. This is a cuisine that I was entirely unfamiliar with. I'm eager to try a couple of your dishes.

I'm trying to convince my wife that I need new toys -- what's your advice on a rice cooker? Is it necessary? Does a cooker to a better or more consistent job? What brands/models do you recommend?

Thanks!

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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I noticed that the recipe for Claypot casserole of chicken and salted fish includes MSG as an optional ingredient. What's the point of adding MSG?

I'm not trying to elicit a heated debate on MSG -- I'm just curious what it's supposed to add to the dish.

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When steaming with a bamboo steamer and a wok, is it necessary to have the water come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer? I have a 14 inch wok and 12 inch bamboo steamer, so that is a lot of water...

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Trillium, thanks for the great class. This is a cuisine that I was entirely unfamiliar with. I'm eager to try a couple of your dishes.

I'm trying to convince my wife that I need new toys -- what's your advice on a rice cooker? Is it necessary? Does a cooker to a better or more consistent job? What brands/models do you recommend?

Thanks!

Chad

Hi Chad,

I'm glad you enjoyed the class.

The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply. In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient.

I'll try to list why we like them.

It frees up a burner on the stove, which we frequently need, when both of us are trying to get our dishes done at the same time.

It takes the guess work out of cooking rice, you dump in your rice, you fill the water to the line inside the rice cooker (or higher or lesser depending on the rice and your preference), you push the button and come back a half hour later to perfect rice. Since we get home rather late, but still like to cook dinner, the "no brainer" part is appealing. During grad school days, we throw in stuff to cook along with the rice and have a really easy, tasty meal.

The cooker will not do a better job than the stove. Some people find the texture of rice cooked on the stove is slightly better.

Will it be more consistent? It depends on how well you can cook your rice! I was given the rice cooker we have now as a parting gift in college from one of my best friends, who would come over to eat when I made Thai red curry (college style...all from cans, except the chicken, and frozen green beans). She's ethnic Chinese and told me when she gave it to me "this is for all those dinners you cooked for us, the curry was great but you cook rice like a white person". Sometimes it would be soggy and waterlogged; sometimes it would be too crunchy. So back then, it did do a more consistent job than I could. This was about 10 years ago, now I'm much better at doing it on the stove, but I still prefer the ease of the rice cooker. For the other cook in the house, who grew up eating rice 2 or 3 times a day, the rice cooker didn't really do a more consistent job but he likes using it for convenience as well.

On brands, the two best makers are probably National and Zojirushi. That being said, the one we've been using at least 4 times a week for the last 10 years is the Aroma brand. Models are a trickier question; it depends on how much of a gadget freak you are. A basic model would be one that has a "cook" and "warm" function. The warm function keeps your rice warm until you turn it off. In some houses, the rice cooker is on all the time. You can go all the way up to the super fancy Zojirushi fuzzy neuro logic models that are supposed to have the ability to figure out what sort of rice you're cooking and change the cooking and steaming times. I think you can program those as well. The gadget freak in the house has been eyeing them for years, but I'm sentimentally attached to my old, beat-up little rice cooker, so we haven't replaced it. We advised my mum to buy the Zoji basic 10-cup model with the stay warm feature and she's been very happy with it for years. Don't buy the smallest one, if you buy one, buy at least the 6 or 10 cup model, they can handle smaller amounts, but you'll probably end up using the larger amounts more often. You can find online deals nearly anywhere (30 - 35% below list), but most Asian grocery stores will have matching prices.

regards,

trillium

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I noticed that the recipe for Claypot casserole of chicken and salted fish includes MSG as an optional ingredient. What's the point of adding MSG?

I'm not trying to elicit a heated debate on MSG -- I'm just curious what it's supposed to add to the dish.

I knew someone would ask! MSG gets put into claypot dishes very often, because it's believed that it heightens the "meaty" and rich taste of the dish. Claypot dishes are supposed to be very mellow and rich tasting, not exciting as much as comforting. It really is an optional ingredient, especially since the dried fish has tons of free glutamate in it anyway. In talking about sapo dishes with friend's mums, one woman insist you can't make claypot dishes without it, but another who thinks MSG is a crutch for lazy cooks. I figured I'd let the reader decide.

regards,

trillium

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When steaming with a bamboo steamer and a wok, is it necessary to have the water come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer?  I have a 14 inch wok and 12 inch bamboo steamer, so that is a lot of water...

No, certainly not! You actually don't want the water to come all the way up to the bottom of the steamer. Usually for quick dishes, 2 - 3 inches is enough. You can always replenish it with more boiling water if it starts to run low. Just remove the steamer with hotpads (don't uncover it), set it aside, and add a little more boiling water if you think you're going to run out.

regards,

trillium

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The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply.  In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient. 

Ah, good old rec.food.equipment! :biggrin:

Great class, Trillium! I have to try some of these now.

As an OT asside, I've "e-known" you for years, and always assumed "Trillium" was your handle. :d'oh!:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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The question about whether or not rice cookers "are worth it" is a relative question and old Usenet threads used to go on for days discussing the pros and cons, so excuse the length of my reply.  In short, it's not at all necessary but it's very convenient. 

Ah, good old rec.food.equipment! :biggrin:

And don't forget rec.food.cooking and alt.food.asian...the length of those threads always astounded me. You'd never see such heated discussion about electric mixers vs. handbeaters like you would about rice cookers.

As an OT asside, I've "e-known" you for years, and always assumed "Trillium" was your handle.  :d'oh!:

Don't worry, you're in the majority, everyone is always surprised. But you get bonus points for 1) knowing it wasn't a chemical, 2) knowing it wasn't a character in a Douglas Adam's novel and 3) that because it was a flower, it was likely I was female.

regards,

trillium

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re: the use of salted fish

Is it traditional to rinse the salted fish before using it, or is it done specifically for claypot-type dishes, or was it a personal preference? We've always used it straight, though we always fry it (nothing better than freshly cooked rice and shredded salted fish, except maybe freshly cooked rice, Chinese sausage, and one egg sunny-side up :biggrin: ).

Great class, and great pictures, too!

(Headbutts to the cat--hope she's doing well :smile: )

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re:  the use of salted fish

Is it traditional to rinse the salted fish before using it, or is it done specifically for claypot-type dishes, or was it a personal preference?  We've always used it straight, though we always fry it (nothing better than freshly cooked rice and shredded salted fish, except maybe freshly cooked rice, Chinese sausage, and one egg sunny-side up  :biggrin: ). 

Great class, and great pictures, too! 

(Headbutts to the cat--hope she's doing well  :smile: )

Hi rona

Hmmm. Traditional. I think it varies from house to house, and even inside of a house. I always rinse anything dried, to get off dust, grit, whatever...you know...processing cooties. In this case I also rinse the fish to remove a little bit of the salt, the same as when I'm using salted choys and turnips and preserved black beans. Sometimes the salt is even crusted onto the outside of the preserved thing, and I don't think it adds anything to the dish. I want to be able to add other salty ingredients that contribute flavors besides salt. I also think a little bit of water on the salted ingredient before you add it to the dish helps spread the flavor and also helps the frying, so the ingredient doesn't stick and burn at such hot temps. The other cook in the house doesn't bother, unless I bug him to do it while we're cooking. I hear you on the rice and fried salted fish bit...good stuff.

regards,

trillium

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Thanks for a great lesson! I just finished cooking and eating the first three dishes and thought I'd offer a bravo for your work.

Some questions about the rice recipe. Do you believe one should rinse the rice? Also, I was wondering if you had any visual or auditory clues we should use when the rice cooks, because, for me, cooking the rice on the "lowest your burner can go" did not work at all. I have what I guess is a high-end non-commercial stove and it has a "precise simmer" burner that can maintain really low temperatures. When I cooked the rice like you directed there was barely even a wisp of steam, so it clearly wasn't right. I upped it to what for that burner, on that stove, is around medium and then followed your recipe exactly. This turned out I think the best pot of rice of my life. So I'm very pleased to have finally perfected a technique for my unique circumstances, but I'm wandering, as far as general rules go, what should we be looking for? I always thought the rice should steam rather aggressively, or is that wrong?

The stir fried greens were a relevation even though my garlic blackened instantly and I set off the smoke alarm. That extra heat and lack of stirring really does take it to another dimension. The quick cooked, simply seasoned green was the one thing about Chinese cookery I thought I had down, so thanks for opening my eyes.

I loved the steamed beef dish and can see that, with all the untold variations possible (authentic or not) it will become a standard for me (I can already taste the Thai version.) But one question: must I like dried black mushrooms? I've given them a shot, I really have. And I love mushrooms in general. There's something I just can't stomach about that type though. Would I be able to freely substitute, say, fresh cremini? Would they give up too much moisture?

Lastly, I thought I'd share my small equipment breakthrough of this evening - the lobster pot is perfect for steaming. Surprise, right? Okay, maybe not. But what was new to me was the idea of filling the pot with bamboo steamers. I realize that most people don't have or need a lobster pot (I'm talking about the speckle-ware type with two compartments and a spigot), but if you do you'll be happy to know you now have another use for that pot taking up half the guest room. It's great because it will easily hold a stack of the wide steamers shown in your photos.

I'm on to the claypot and black beans recipes. One question re: black beans. What are your feelings on chopping versus leaving whole?


"Tis no man. Tis a remorseless eating machine."

-Captain McAllister of The Frying Dutchmen, on Homer Simpson

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Hmmm.  Traditional.  I think it varies from house to house, and even inside of a house.  I always rinse anything dried, to get off dust, grit, whatever...you know...processing cooties.

Thanks. My mother said she rinses dried salted fish to get off the cooties, too! But we usually use the salted fish that comes in a jar (oil-packed). Another question--how do you feel about the dried stuff vs the oil packed stuff? Do you think there's a difference in quality?

And another question I thought of...Do any of the Chinese ethnic groups steam their rice as Thais do? (You know, water and rice in bowl, steamed in bamboo or other steamer.) Kasma Loha-Unchit says this results in much better rice than the boiling over stove top or rice cooker method. I've never done it, since I'm lazy (when you grow up with a rice cooker, it's difficult to use anything else :smile: ) but I'd be curious to know if other cultures do it, as well, and if there is really a difference in texture between the boiling and steaming methods (guess I'd have to try it myself for the latter question).

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Thanks for a great lesson!  I just finished cooking and eating the first three dishes and thought I'd offer a bravo for your work.

Thanks... it's great to hear from someone who has tried them.

Some questions about the rice recipe. Do you believe one should rinse the rice? Also, I was wondering if you had any visual or auditory clues we should use when the rice cooks, because, for me, cooking the rice on the "lowest your burner can go" did not work at all. I have what I guess is a high-end non-commercial stove and it has a "precise simmer" burner that can maintain really low temperatures. When I cooked the rice like you directed there was barely even a wisp of steam, so it clearly wasn't right. I upped it to what for that burner, on that stove, is around medium and then followed your recipe exactly. This turned out I think the best pot of rice of my life.  So I'm very pleased to have finally perfected a technique for my unique circumstances, but I'm wandering, as far as general rules go, what should we be looking for? I always thought the rice should steam rather aggressively, or is that wrong?

First the rice rinsing question. For most processed rice these days, they don't require rinsing at all, but whether you do it or not depends on personal preference. To tell you the truth, I've rinsed and not rinsed and I'm hard pressed to discern a difference in the rice we eat (jasmine from Thailand, short grain rice might be a different story). My partner, who is ethnic Chinese, grew up not rinsing rice, his father had strong opinions about not rinsing it, and he thought it made the rice less nutritious. Since I can't tell a difference and not rinsing it removes an extra step, I don't bother, with one exception. When we're doing a more Peranakan/Straits Chinese rice dish where you fry the rice before adding liquid (coconut rice or chicken rice), I always rinse it because you need that extra bit of starch rinsed off so you can fry the rice without it sticking immediately when it hits the pan.

On the heat question. I gave an initial method that works on my stove, which is the cheapest one our landlord could buy, but it's not too surprising that it didn't work so well on a higher quality stove. The initial method was just a starting point, when it comes to rice, you should tweak it to your preference (and stove). I have to cook rice in a Le Creuset on the smallest burner, turned down as low as it can go, and use a diffuser, or the bottom of my rice will burn before the top is cooked. It sounds like your stove has much more precise controls, so go with what works...best pot of rice of your life sounds like a pretty good pot of rice! For the steam, you shouldn't see a ton of steam escaping from the pot, you want the liquid in your pot to be at a very low simmer, some small bubbles on the surface, but not a boil.

The stir fried greens were a relevation even though my garlic blackened instantly and I set off the smoke alarm.  That extra heat and lack of stirring really does take it to another dimension.  The quick cooked, simply seasoned green was the one thing about Chinese cookery I thought I had down, so thanks for opening my eyes.

Since your stove is more powerful, you probably can cut back a little on the preheat time for your pan...sorry about the smoke alarm! The greens taste the nicest to us when the garlic is mostly dark brown with only a few blackened spots, mostly because the garlic has enough time to flavor all of the oil before you add the greens.

I loved the steamed beef dish and can see that, with all the untold variations possible (authentic or not) it will become a standard for me (I can already taste the Thai version.)  But one question: must I like dried black mushrooms? I've given them a shot,  I really have. And I love mushrooms in general. There's something I just can't stomach about that type though. Would I be able to freely substitute, say, fresh cremini? Would they give up too much moisture? 

Of course you don't have to like black mushrooms! Don't eat something you hate. Have you tried the better grade varieties and not just the cheapie ones? If you have, and you still don't like them, leave them out entirely or substitute away. The texture of a steamed fresh mushroom will be very different, but if you don't have a problem with it, go right ahead. They'll give out more moisture, but you can easily accommodate them by adding a little more thickener (potato or cornstarch). You might like the mushrooms better fresh, as shitake, or if you live in an area that has fresh straw mushrooms you could try those too.

I'm on to the claypot and black beans recipes. One question re: black beans. What are your feelings on chopping versus leaving whole?

That's a matter of personal preference and even mood. For clams, I really love how the whole black beans look stuck on the shells, and I enjoy getting a variety of bites that taste more of clams or more of black beans. When we make bitter melon and beef chow fun, I smash the beans along with the garlic because I like them more evenly distributed throughout the dish. I hardly ever chop them, I'm a lazy cook and they make a huge mess on the cutting board. I usually just use a fork to smash them in the container that I've rinsed them in.

I look forward to hearing your feedback on the next dishes...happy cooking...

regards,

trillium

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Thanks.  My mother said she rinses dried salted fish to get off the cooties, too!  But we usually use the salted fish that comes in a jar (oil-packed).  Another question--how do you feel about the dried stuff vs the oil packed stuff?  Do you think there's a difference in quality? 

None that I can tell, but they're two very different beasts. The oil-packed salted fish is usually mackerel, right? I love that stuff too, but it has a different taste. More fishy, less aged, and more salty is the only way I can think to describe it. The dried fish we use is red snapper, which is a milder fish to start with, I think. You could totally use them interchangably, but you'll have a slightly different dish.

And another question I thought of...Do any of the Chinese ethnic groups steam their rice as Thais do?  (You know, water and rice in bowl, steamed in bamboo or other steamer.)  Kasma Loha-Unchit says this results in much better rice than the boiling over stove top or rice cooker method.  I've never done it, since I'm lazy (when you grow up with a rice cooker, it's difficult to use anything else  :smile: ) but I'd be curious to know if other cultures do it, as well, and if there is really a difference in texture between the boiling and steaming methods (guess I'd have to try it myself for the latter question).

I haven't run into any but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen...for not plain rice the Nonyas usually fry and season the rice (like lemak fan or gai fan) and then boil it. Nonya cooking is known to be some of the most time consuming, but I've never seen the rice steamed (except for "sweet" rice). I'm curious to know how different it is steamed too. I've read what Kasma says but I've been to lazy to try it out myself, the lure of the rice cooker is too strong most nights.

regards,

trillium

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None that I can tell, but they're two very different beasts.  The oil-packed salted fish is usually mackerel, right?  I love that stuff too, but it has a different taste.  More fishy, less aged, and more salty is the only way I can think to describe it.  The dried fish we use is red snapper, which is a milder fish to start with, I think.  You could totally use them interchangably, but you'll have a slightly different dish.

The one we used most often was yellow grouper (or was it yellow croaker?) but it has become very difficult, if not impossible, to find. Most of the jarred ones on the market today are mackerel, as you said, but sometimes we can find others. Today I found red snapper in a jar but did not buy any. The last dried fish we bought was in Thailand, so I don't know which fish it was. We brought some back but can't find it now. Oops!

One of these days I'll try steaming rice, too. I can't see it happening anytime before our rice cooker dies, though. Rice cooker=good :smile: .

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Question 1: Are you in Sac or SF? (referring to a previous post on buying orange bitters, I believe... Conti Bros. vs. Tower Market?)

I happen to live in both places, on a rotating basis.

Q2: Do you know any good sites or references on asian seafood ID, especially including flavors, chinese names, general usage? (i.e. what it is similar to, etc.) Pictures seem easy enough to come by, but not English-Chinese translations and salted fish ID and such. You find both names in your typical asian market, but never on the same fishes, it seems.

Beef, bitter melon, and black beans is really good, but funny, I just kinda made it up (fridge-raiding style) and never had it with noodles (only rice), care to give your recipe for that?

Also, the steamed rice is the *ONLY* way I make it anymore. straight off Kasma's website. Trust me. It rocks. Even though I originally did it just to get away from the same bottom-burning problem you described. Also second the Golden Phoenix recommendation.

Anyway, great lesson.

--Paul

Jus' a po' ign'ant white boy :raz:

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Question 1: Are you in Sac or SF? (referring to a previous post on buying orange bitters, I believe... Conti Bros. vs. Tower Market?)

I happen to live in both places, on a rotating basis.

Neither actually. Right now Portland, OR is home base, but I visit friends and family in SF and Sacto often.

Q2: Do you know any good sites or references on asian seafood ID, especially including flavors, chinese names, general usage? (i.e. what it is similar to, etc.) Pictures seem easy enough to come by, but not English-Chinese translations and salted fish ID and such. You find both names in your typical asian market, but never on the same fishes, it seems.

I don't, sorry. The best guides I've found have been for vegetables, not seafoods.

Beef, bitter melon, and black beans is really good, but funny, I just kinda made it up (fridge-raiding style) and never had it with noodles (only rice), care to give your recipe for that?

Beef, bitter melon and black beans are a classic combination. I think it's more much more common to eat it on rice than with noodles. You can get beef and black bean chow fun all over the place in SF, but you have to ask for fu gwa (bitter melon) to be added. You'll only get it about 50% of the time. I don't have an exact recipe for it like I did for the dishes in the lesson, but I can tell you briefly what we do and if you have specific questions I'd be happy to answer them.

The beef (usually flank or tip sirloin roasts I've cut along the muscle lengths and then thinly cut along the grain) is marinated in dark and light soya, shaoxing wine and a little potato flour. The bitter melon is cut in half, the seeds and pith scooped out and cut crosswise (a little thicker than the beef) and very briefly blanched in boiling water. You could skip this step if you're a diehard bitter melon fan, the blanching removes some of the bitterness. I think we use about 1 large or 2 small melons per lb of beef. We basically want equal weight from each thing, but that's personal preference. Prepare the black beans as mentioned in the lesson for the clams, except I like to smash them up with garlic and a little minced ginger instead of leaving them whole. I think for 1 lb each of melon and beef I would use around 3 - 4 tablespoons of dau see (black beans) because it will end up on 1 lb of rice noodle, but again, it's to taste. I like to have two pans going to cook the noodles and the stuff that goes into them in seperate pans at the same time. My stove sucks and I don't have enough fire power to do it all together and get that nice smoky wok hay going. Frying fresh rice noodles at home can be a little tricky, there are good tips in this thread. The noodles hit a really hot cast iron or steel pan/wok with some hot peanut oil, get stired around a little and some dark and light soya added. The bean/garlic/ginger gets stir-fried in another pan (very hot, again) and then the beef is added, tossed around, and little more shaoxing splashed into the pan, more tossing, and the the bitter melon. This happens really quickly, and before you start the noodles, your aim is to have the noodles slightly fried and softened at the time the beef is done, then you toss 'em together in one of your hot pans to let the noodles finish cooking.

Also, the steamed rice is the *ONLY* way I make it anymore. straight off Kasma's website. Trust me. It rocks. Even though I originally did it just to get away from the same bottom-burning problem you described. Also second the Golden Phoenix recommendation.

Hmmm. I guess I better try this one of these days.

regards,

trillium

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Hi Trillium - That was a nice class. I am thinking of doing the winter melon soup and I have a question about the melon. Is this normally available all year round or - just in winter? Thanks for the wonderful class.

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Hi Trillium - That was a nice class. I am thinking of doing the winter melon soup and I have a question about the melon. Is this normally available all year round or - just in winter? Thanks for the wonderful class.

Sorry for the late reply, I don't check for questions that often anymore.

Winter melons get called winter melons for the same reason winter squash do in a western setting. It's not so much that they're only available in winter, but more that you harvest them in late summer/early fall and can store them all winter long. Whether or not you can find it all year kind of depends on your location, but I think they disappear most places in the height of summer. You can easily use another gwa (melon/squash) in place of dong gwa or winter melon. Loofas, smooth or angled (sui or see gwa), or fuzzy melons (cheet or mao gwa) make fine substitutes. Bitter melon (fu gwa) doesn't, unless you are accustomed to eating really bitter stuff. Avoid a winter melon that is mushy or yellow in the rind, and look for the smallest, furriest fuzzy melons if you go that route. You can peel the skin off, or just scrap off the fuzz. For angled loofa, I just scrape off the sharp ridges but leave on the rest of the skin.

regards,

trillium

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Hi,

Loved the course. I do have two questions regarding the bamboo steamers:

- How do you clean them? I've been wanting the 3-level bamboo monsters from Chinatown for awhile, but have always worried about getting them squeaky clean.

- I have a huge wok (14" I think). Am I right in assuming that I won't have to get a cover for it, if I leave the cover for my bamboo steamer on?

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you can boil the steamers or run boiling water over them, then air dry them.

don't worry about food bits as you're sterilising them with the boiling water.


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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you can boil the steamers or run boiling water over them, then air dry them.

don't worry about food bits as you're sterilising them with the boiling water.

Thanks for the reply. I guess it's just another hangup that I'll have to get over (it took me over a year to get myself to trust the cleanup process :smile:)

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      I arrived at my local station around 00:20 in order to catch the 1:00 train northwards travelling overnight to Hunan, with an advertised arrival time of 9:15 am. Shu Jing was to meet me.
       
      When I arrived at the station, armed with my sleeper ticket, I found that the train was running 5 hours late! Station staff advised that I change my ticket for a different train, which I did. The problem was that there were no sleeper tickets available on the new train. All I could get was a seat. I had no choice, really. They refunded the difference and gave me my new ticket.
       
       

       

       
      The second train was only 1½ hours late, then I had a miserable night, unable to sleep and very uncomfortable. Somehow the train managed to make up for the late start and we arrived on time. I was met as planned and we hopped into a taxi to the hotel where I was to stay and where the reunion was to take place.
       
      They had set up a reception desk in the hotel lobby and around half of the people I had come to see were there. When I walked in there was this moment of confusion, stunned silence, then the friend I had lied to about not coming ran towards me and threw herself into my arms with tears running down her face and across her smile. It was the best welcome I’ve ever had. Then the others also welcomed me less physically, but no less warmly. They were around 20 years old when I met them; now they are verging on, or already are, 40, though few of them look it. Long Lihua is the one on the far right.
       

       
      Throughout the morning people arrived in trickles as their trains or buses got in from all over China. One woman had come all the way from the USA. We sat around chatting, reminiscing and eating water melon until finally it was time for lunch.
       

       
      Lunch we had in the hotel dining room. By that time, the group had swelled to enough to require three banqueting tables.
       
      Western Hunan, known as 湘西 xiāng xī, where I was and where I lived for two years - twenty years ago, is a wild mountainous area full of rivers. It was one of the last areas “liberated” by Mao’s communists and was largely lawless until relatively recently. It has spectacular scenery.
       
      Hunan is known for its spicy food, but Xiangxi is the hottest. I always know when I am back in Hunan. I just look out the train window and see every flat surface covered in chilis drying in the sun. Station platforms, school playgrounds, the main road from the village to the nearest town are all strewn with chillis.
       

       

       
      The people there consider Sichuan to be full of chilli wimps. I love it. When I left Hunan I missed the food so much. So I was looking forward to this. It did not disappoint.
       
      So Saturday lunch in next post.
    • By liuzhou
      I was recently asked by a friend to give a talk to a group of around 30 first-year students in a local college - all girls. The students were allowed to present me with a range of topics to choose from. To my joy, No. 1 was food! They wanted to know what is different between western and Chinese food. Big topic!
       
      Anyway I did my best to explain, illustrate etc. I even gave each student a home made Scotch egg! Which amused them immensely.

      Later, my friend asked each of them to write out (in English) a recipe for their favourite Chinese dish. She has passed these on to me with permission to use them as I wish. I will post a few of the better / more interesting ones over the next few days.

      I have not edited their language, so please be tolerant and remember that for many of these students, English is their third or fourth language. Chinese isn't even their first!

      I have obscured some personal details.

      First up:

      Tomato, egg noodles.

      Time: 10 minutes
       
      Yield: 1 serving

      For the noodle:

      1 tomato
      2 egg
      5 spring onions

      For the sauce:
       
      1 teaspoon sesame oil
      1 tablespoon sugar
      ½ teaspoon salt

      Method:

      1. The pot boil water. At that same time you can do something else.

      2. Diced tomato. Egg into the bowl. add salt and sugar mixed. Onion cut section.

      3. Boiled noodles with water and cook for about 5 minutes.

      4. Heat wok put oil, add eggs, stir fry until cooked. Another pot, garlic stir fry the tomato.

      5. add some water to boil, add salt, soy sauce, add egg
       
      6. The tomato and egg sauce over noodle, spring onion sprinkled even better.
       


      More soon.
    • By zend
      I just bought these greens from the neighborhood Asian grocery. Had them once in China as a salad, and they tasted exceptional - a bit peppery like arugula, yet much more subtle and fresh, with hints of lemon.
      Store lady (non-Chinese) could not name them for me other than "Chinese greens".
      Any help identifying them is greatly appreciated
       

    • By liuzhou
      China's plan to cut meat consumption by 50%
       
      I wish them well, but can't see it happening. Meat eating is very much seen as a status symbol and, although most Chinese still follow a largely vegetable diet out of economic necessity, meat is still highly desirable among the new middle classes. The chances of them willingly giving it up, even by 50%, seems remote to me.
    • By JohnT
      I have been asked to make Chinese Bow Tie desserts for a function. However, I have never made them, but using Mr Google, there are a number of different recipes out there. Does anybody have a decent recipe which is tried and tested? - these are for deep-fried pastry which are then soaked in sugar syrup.
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