Braised Squash

Well, it’s almost fall, even in Southern California – we’re starting to see more winter-type squashes appearing at the farmer’s market, incluing the Japanese kabochas, which it seems you almost need an axe to open! This recipe can be made with most types of winter squash, kabochas. acorns and butternuts all work really well, as do pumpkins. This recipe is very simple and allows you to work on other dishes as it cooks.

ingredients:

  • 1 winter squash, approximately 2 lbs
  • 1 T oil
  • 5 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 2 c water or broth

method:

  1. Wash and pat the squash dry, then peel, cut in 1/2 and remove the seeds with a spoon.
  2. Cut squash into 1.5″ chunks.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or shallow pan over high heat until it shimmers. Explode the ginger until fragrant, then add the squash chunks and stirfry quickly.
  4. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover and braise 10 m.
  6. Add the salt, then continue to cook, uncovered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the squash it tender.
  7. Adjust seasoning and serve.

nutritional data:

I assume that this recipe serves 4 as part of a larger meal. This recipe, in addition to being very low in calories and having a good ratio of fat calories to total calories (33%) is very high in Vitamin A (54% of DV for a 2000-calorie diet).

  • Total calories 100, calories from fat 33
  • Total fat 4 g, saturated fat 1 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg
  • Sodium 299 mg
  • Total carbs 17 g, dietary fiber 3 g, sugar 4 g
  • Protein 2 g
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More maintenance…and your chance to pipe up!

No new posts tomorrow, August 30, as I will be setting up my new computer (and overseeing a nine-year-old’s birthday bash).

I see from the blog stats that Eggplant in Garlic Sauce is by far the most frequently viewed post so far – instead of me writing for you tomorrow, how about you post a comment listing your favorite Chinese dish(es) – can be homemade, from a restaurant, or from a friend’s home…. In response, I’ll try to find you a version you can make at home and try to make it as healthy as possible.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Stirfried Mixed Vegetables

Originally called “Ten Fragrant Vegetables,” this dish calls for some ingredients that you may not have readily available, such as dried lily flowers, wood-ears, and pickled mustard tubers. If you have access to an Asian market or have a truly superior Asian section in you conventional grocery store, you may find these ingredients – if so, I highly encourage you to try them! You won’t often see lily flowers or mustard root in a Chinese restaurant, but they are used quite frequently in home cooking.

If you don’t find any of the more exotic ingredients, don’t worry: go with what you can find, and after making the recipe a few times you’ll be ready to experiment with adding your own ingredients. It takes some experimentation to find out how long to cook one vegetable as opposed to another, what goes together well, what doesn’t.

The sauce ingredients are a good basic recipe – if you’re used to vegetable stirfries that just don’t taste right, this may be the boost they’re looking for. Remember to keep the total amount of vegetables small, or they will crowd the pan and steam rather than stirfry and release too much liquid, watering down the taste.

Because of the number of ingredients, this recipe is a bit more labor intensive that most, but it’s great practice for your knife skills and in some cases a nice mindless task after a tough day!

ingredients:

  • 2 wood-ears (you can also use the lighter colored “cloud ears” – usually sold dried in plastic bags)
  • 1/4 c dried lily flower buds (called “yellow flower vegetable” – huanghua cai -or “golden needles” – jinzhen – in Mandarin)
  • 2 oz enoki mushrooms (called “golden needles” – jinzhengu – in Mandarin)
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/2 c bean sprouts
  • 1 stalk celery (Chinese if you can find it)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled
  • preserved mustard tuber (zhacai, usually vacuum-sealed or canned, sometimes just labeled “preserved Chinese roots!”)
  • 1/2 cup cooked bamboo shoot (canned) slices or shreds or from 1 small shoot if you can find it (usually vacuum-sealed)
  • 1 square or about 2 oz five-spice flavored pressed (or baked) beancurd
  • 2 T oil

sauce:

  • 1/2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 c water or broth
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • salt to taste

method:

  1. Soak the wood-ears in hot water until soft (approximately 20 m), then remove any remaining tough parts, rinse well, and cut into 1/8″ shreds.
  2. Cut the tough knobs off the ends of the lily buds’ stem ends with scissors, then soak the flowers in hot water until soft (approximately 10 m). If the buds are long, you can cut them into 1/2 crosswise with scissors or tie them into a little knot (Talk about mindless work! – but the result is pretty.)
  3. Cut the tough ends off the enoki mushrooms.
  4. Clean the shiitakes with a mushroom brush or paper towel, cut off the stems and save them for making broth or stock.
  5. Rinse the bean sprouts well and pinch off the stringy root ends.
  6. Cut the celery, carrot, mustard tuber, bamboo, and tofu into 1/8″ shreds approximately 1.5″ long, keeping each ingredient separate.
  7. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  8. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the carrots and celery, stirfrying for approximately 1 m.
  9. Add the remaining shreds in this order, stirfrying about 1/2 m between additions: wood-ears, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, lily flowers, bean sprouts, mustard tuber, bamboo, tofu. Continue to stirfry until everything is heated through, then add sauce.
  10. Stir quickly to combine, adjust seasoning, and serve.

variation:

The variations on this dish are endless – you can leave ingredients out, substitute ingredients, add chopped salted chilies or chili oil…. Remember a few simple rules when trying out your changes:

  1. Don’t crowd the wok – if you’re cooking a lot of veggies, stirfry in batches, then combine at the very end.
  2. Try to keep a balance between fresh and preserved/dried ingredients.
  3. Try to keep a variety of colors.
  4. Part of this dish’s attraction is the similar appearance of all the vegetables – they’re all cut into shreds. If you choose to vary the cuts, you will have to be more careful with cooking times, allowing each vegetable to cook to its desired doneness.

Fish Slices with Tomatoes

This is a tweak of an old recipe for fish slices in a tomato sauce – the original recipe tastes a bit like sweet and sour fish and involves ketchup. With summer tomatoes filling the market stands, though, I thought the recipe deserved an upgrade and an update! I dislike the tendency in Chinese recipes to shallow-fry fish before adding it to a sauce, so I prefer to gently simmer it in the sauce and thereby cut down on a large amount of fat.

The recipe calls for sole or flounder – the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommends we try to find wild-caught Pacific versions of these fish. If you want to substitute tilapia, try to find US-farmed, not Asian-farmed for this variety. You can also substitute shrimp – wild-caught pink shrimp from Oregon is your best choice for sustainability.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz sole, flounder, or tilapia fillets
  • 1/3-1/2 lb tomatoes
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/4 c green peas, fresh or thawed frozen
  • salt to taste

marinade:

sauce:

  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c rice or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 c water or broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 T cornstarch

garnish (optional):

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • chopped cilantro

method:

  1. Gently rinse fish and pat dry, then cut along the midline lengthwise and into 1.5″ sections crosswise.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients and mix gently with fish slices.
  3. If you prefer, you can peel the tomatoes by cutting an X in the non-stem end with a sharp knife, plunging into boiling water for approximately 15 seconds, then allowing them to cool before peeling. This step is optional, and I usually omit it.
  4. Cut the tomato in 1/2 crosswise, gently squeeze or scoop the seeds out with your fingers, then cut into 1/2″ dice.
  5. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  6. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the diced onion and peas, stirfrying for approximately 1 m.
  7. Give the sauce ingredients a stir, then pour into the wok and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 1 m.
  8. Add the fish slices and tomatoes and turn gently until they are coated with sauce. Simmer just until the fish is cooked through – less than 5 m is usually plenty to cook the fish and cook out the starchy taste of the sauce.
  9. Adjust seasoning, garnish and serve.

variations:

  • You can substitute shrimp for the fish – they should be peeled and deveined. If they are large, you can cut them in 1/2 lengthwise or into small sections crosswise.
  • You can add 1 T dried wood ears (a type of fungus) to the onions and peas – the wood ears should be soaked for 10 m in hot water, rinsed well (they tend to be sandy), the tough parts removed, and the fungus cut into small pieces.

“The cost of steak”

Taking a quick detour from recipes to discuss (rant about?) ingredients today! When you choose ingredients for your cooking, are you bent on finding a bargain? Do you take into consideration the hidden costs of the ingredients you are happy to get at “bargain” prices (do those prices even exist any more?)?

In the August 23 issue of the LA Times, Paul Roberts (author of The End of Food) pens a sobering, important reminder to us about why beef (and pork and chicken) is so cheap compared to what it used to cost – there are numerous hidden costs: “rivers of sewage, clouds of contaminated dust and nearly a fifth of all greenhouse gases,” not to mention epidemics of E.coli.

But as the downsides of factory farming have grown too large to ignore, we’ve had to admit that our meat is cheap only because we don’t count all the costs: Taxpayers spend $4.1 billion cleaning up livestock sewage leaks and $2.5 billion treating salmonella. All told, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs may be costing taxpayers $38 billion a year — costs that aren’t reflected in the retail price of meat.

Roberts goes on to say that indeed, sustainably farmed meat is not cheap, but there are ways to encourage its production:

Some of that price difference will narrow in the future as meat producers refine a post-CAFO production model; even now, a small hog farm, if efficiently managed, can boast lower per-pig costs than the average mega-farm 10 times its size. The Pew commission argues that if taxpayers are willing to support small and medium producers with incentives such as accelerated tax depreciation and tax credits, the cost to consumers might be further reduced.

In a time of rising consumer prices, everyone wants to save money, but we also need to remember that it was this urge to get the most for the very least that got us into this mess to begin with (don’t even get me started on shoppers who sing WalMart’s praises out of one side of their mouth and out of the other complain that China is sending us shoddy goods)!

Some good news, according to Roberts, is that even the meat companies are beginning to say that there must be a change, a reversion to non-CAFO meat raising methods. (CAFOs are Confined – or Concentrated – Animal Feeding Operations, those huge feed lots where most of our nation’s meat is fattened before slaughter.) Roberts cites a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts – I assume he means the report titled “Putting Meat on the Table” from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. It’s not an easy read, but full of great information. If you’re interested in the conclusions and recommendations of the commission, those begin on p. 61. I for one will watch this reversion or conversion to a “post-CAFO production model” with interest.

Cooking for and nourishing ourselves and our loved ones requires us to start with the highest quality ingredients we can find – remember that each time you pay for an ingredient, you are voting with your pocketbook: when you buy produce from a conventional store, 7-25 cents of that dollar go to the farmer who raised that produce; when you buy direct from a farmer, whether at a market or via a Community Supported Agriculture program, all 100 pennies of that dollar go to that producer and tell him or her: I value YOU and what you do for my family, and I think you should be properly compensated for that work.

In conclusion (rant almost over), I think finding our way back to the pre-CAFO, pre-agribusiness models of eating will be the path to keeping human life sustainable on this planet. Alice Waters, local/slow food maven, says it beautifully and succinctly:

I believe that the destiny of humankind in the 21st century will depend most of all on how people choose to nourish themselves. And if we can educate the senses, and break down the wall of ignorance between farmers and eaters, I am convinced … people will inevitably chooose the sustainable way, which is always the most delicious alternative.

ETA: On the SparkPeople boards this morning I found a link to this video from the Wall Street Journal digital network. So now industrially raised cows are eating potato chips and M&Ms?! Besides that weird little tidbit of information, the video gives a nice intro to the issue of industrial cattle vs. grassfed – worth a look!

Lotus Leaf Buns

A nice variation on the plain Steamed Buns – the result looks a little like a Chinese croissant! You can take this recipe a step further and add a filling to the bun when you fold it over (sweet or savory would work) – just be sure not to add too much, or it will ooze out all over! Another great recipe to make with the kids.

ingredients:

equipment:

  • 24 squares of wax or parchment paper, 2×2″
  • steamer: for this recipe, if you have been rigging up a steamer as I discussed in the Steamers post, you will need to add some sort of rack to the pot over the plate – if you steam the buns on a plate, the bottoms will get too soggy.

method:

  1. Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping one half in a bowl under a damp cloth.
  2. Roll or pat the first 1/2 into a rough circle, being sure to press out any air bubbles as you go. If your dough is the right texture, you shouldn’t need to add extra flour, but it’s okay if you need to flour the counter a bit.
  3. Poke your thumbs through the middle to make a doughnut shape, then cut that on one side to achieve a cylinder. (figs. 1 & 2 below)
  4. Roll the cylinder between your hands and the counter until it is approximately 1 foot long. (fig. 3)
  5. With a bench scraper or very sharp knife, cut the cylinder into 12 sections. (fig. 4)
  6. Roll the dough pieces one at a time into a ball, then flatten each into a small circle.
  7. Brush the top 1/2 of the circle with a bit of oil. (fig. 5)
  8. Fold the circle in 1/2 from bottom edge toward top edge. (fig. 6)
  9. Slash the dough down the center, then 2 more times on each side of the first slash. Your cuts should be deep enough to break the surface “skin” of the dough but not go through to the fold. (fig. 7)
  10. Pull the corners slightly down toward you. (figs. 8&9)
  11. Place each roll on a square of paper and transfer to the steamer rack. (fig. 10)
  12. Repeat steps 2-9 with the second 1/2 of the dough, then stack and cover the steamer racks.
  13. Allow the buns to rise 20 m.
  14. Steam for 8-10 m. Be careful when removing the steamer cover to catch the condensation on the lid with a towel – don’t let it pour onto the buns. (fig. 11 below)

figure 1

figure 2

figure 3

figure 4

figure 5

figure 5

figure 6

figure 8

figure 7

figure 8

figure 8

figure 9

figure 9

fig.10

fig.10

do ahead:

Unless you get up insanely early (like I do!), you won’t want to be making these for breakfast the day you plan to consume them. The buns can be steamed and either refrigerated or frozen for another day – just pop them back in the steamer to heat through – from frozen it will take about 10 minutes. I don’t recommend microwaving them, although some people swear by wrapping an individual bun in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwaving it.

nutritional data:

These figures assume 24 buns per recipe, 2 per serving. I used the numbers for white unbleached enriched all-purpose wheat flour (but the pictures above are of buns made with white whole wheat flour).

  • Total calories 142, calories from fat 26
  • Total fat 3 g, saturated fat 0 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg
  • Sodium 21 mg
  • Total carbs 25 g, dietary fiber 1 g, sugars 1 g
  • Protein 3 g

Steamed Buns with Sugar

This is simple recipe for buns that you can make ahead and freeze, then quickly steam to reheat – served with a little warm soy milk, it’s a great quick breakfast for kids (of all ages) on cold mornings. The kids can also get involved in the making of the buns – no intricate coordination required!

ingredients:

  • 1 recipe yeast dough
  • brown sugar, approximately 1/2 c

equipment:

  • 24 squares of wax or parchment paper, 2×2″
  • steamer: for this recipe, if you have been rigging up a steamer as I discussed in the Steamers post, you will need to add some sort of rack to the pot over the plate – if you steam the buns on a plate, the bottoms will get too soggy.

method:

  1. Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping one half in a bowl under a damp cloth.
  2. Roll or pat the first 1/2 into a rough circle, being sure to press out any air bubbles as you go. If your dough is the right texture, you shouldn’t need to add extra flour, but it’s okay if you need to flour the counter a bit.
  3. Poke your thumbs through the middle to make a doughnut shape, then cut that on one side to achieve a cylinder. (figs. 1 & 2 below)
  4. Roll the cylinder between your hands and the counter until it is approximately 1 foot long. (fig. 3)
  5. With a bench scraper or very sharp knife, cut the cylinder into 12 sections. (fig. 4)
  6. Roll the dough pieces one at a time into a ball, then flatten each into a small circle.
  7. Place 1 tsp brown sugar (unpacked) in the center, then fold the sides of the circle up to make a triangle: your thumbs will make the bottom edge, and each hand makes a side edge. (fig. 5)
  8. Pinch the edges VERY tightly, or your filling will leak as it melts. (fig. 6)
  9. Place each roll on a square of paper and transfer to the steamer rack. (fig. 7)
  10. Repeat steps 2-9 with the second 1/2 of the dough, then stack and cover the steamer racks.
  11. Allow the buns to rise 20 m.
  12. Steam for 8-10 m. Be careful when removing the steamer cover to catch the condensation on the lid with a towel – don’t let it pour onto the buns. (fig. 8 below)

figure 1

figure 2

figure 3

figure 4

figure 5

figure 6

figure 7

figure 8

do ahead:

Unless you get up insanely early (like I do!), you won’t want to be making these for breakfast the day you plan to consume them. The buns can be steamed and either refrigerated or frozen for another day – just pop them back in the steamer to heat through – from frozen it will take about 10 minutes. I don’t recommend microwaving them, although some people swear by wrapping an individual bun in a damp cloth or paper towel and microwaving it.

nutritional data:

These figures assume 24 buns per recipe, 2 per serving. I used the numbers for white unbleached enriched all-purpose wheat flour (but the pictures above are of buns made with white whole wheat flour) and light brown sugar.

  • Total calories 157, calories from fat 6
  • Total fat 1 g, saturated fat 0 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg
  • Sodium 24 mg
  • Total carbs 34 g, dietary fiber 1 g, sugars 10 g
  • Protein 3 g