Menu: Chinese Thanksgiving

It’s been a while since I posted a menu, and of course with Thanksgiving on everyone’s mind, where else would I go with this thought? So for anyone who is interested in veering far from the traditional turkey day path and still sticking with the usual ingredients….

the recipes:

the strategy:

  1. One day ahead: prepare black pepper edamame, daikon & carrot salad, lotus leaf buns, and almond jello.
  2. Day of: return edamame and daikon & carrot salad to room temperature.
  3. Start the chicken steaming or braising.
  4. Cut the beans and potatoes and prepare the remaining ingredients for those dishes.
  5. Cut the squash and start it braising.
  6. 20 m before the chicken is done, steam the buns, stirfry the potatoes, then cook the beans.
  7. After dinner, cut up and serve the “jello.”

No matter how you’re celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving! Look for recipes for leftover turkey some time over the weekend….

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Chinese Chicken Soup for the (Body and) Soul

This is an unusual Chinese dish to the American palate, a bit on the sweet side (sometimes very sweet!) and often served as a tonic in China, but since it’s close to “turkey day” with its festive bird, it seemed like a logical inclusion. If you omit the browing step, it’s also very easy to put together although it requires about an hour to actually cook. It’s a great winter meal, a sort of Chinese chicken soup for the body and soul. You can use a variety of poultry – duck, chicken, squab, cornish hens, quail all work. Don’t be put off by the ingredients that would require you to go to the Asian market – you can also vary these according to what you have on hand, the logical route to take being dried fruits. The original recipe calls for “5 spheres” – red Chinese dates (hongzao), longan or dragon-eye (longyan), lotus seeds (lianzi), wolfberries (gouqi), and lychees.

ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut up (or approximately 3 lbs of another type of poultry – regardless of what you use, look for humanely, sustainably raised – your body, your taste buds and the environment will all thank you!)
  • 1/2 c Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 2 T oil (optional – only if you prefer to brown the chicken)
  • 2 T brown sugar or honey or to taste
  • 10 slices fresh ginger root, approximately 1/8″ thick
  • 3 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
  • 5 types of dried fruit: you can go with a handful each of red Chinese dates, longan or dragon-eye, lotus seeds, and wolfberries plus 1 small can of lychees (look for those in light syrup, and regardless of the liquid, rinse and drain well) or 12 fresh lychees; or you can look for 5 types of dried fruit, such as apricots, jujubes, raisins, cranberries, cherries – whatever you like or have on hand.
  • chicken broth or water as needed
  • salt and white pepper to taste

method:

  1. You can choose to braise this dish in the oven or steam it. If you are going to use the oven, preheat it to 325 F.
  2. Rinse and pat the chicken pieces dry. If you prefer to brown the chicken, heat the oil in a skillet and brown the pieces on all sides. If you prefer, you can skip this step.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, using enough liquid to cover the chicken pieces at least 1/2 way – you can add more if you prefer more soup.
  4. Bring to a boil, immediately remove from heat, then transfer to a dutch oven (if you’re going to use the oven) or a heatproof bowl (if you’re going to steam).
  5. Braise or steam 45 m – 1 h, turning once, until the chicken is tender and slips easily from the bone.
  6. Adjust seasoning and serve.

nutritional data:

Because the ingredients will vary widely based on the cook, I have not included the calculations for the “5 spheres.” In these figures I have used chicken for the poultry, honey for the sweetener, water for the liquid, 1 tsp salt, and omitted the oil. This dish serves 6 as part of a larger meal, and numbers given are per serving.

  • Total calories 378, calories from fat 210
  • Total fat 23 g, saturated fat 7 g
  • Cholesterol 115 mg
  • Sodium 620 mg
  • Total carbs 11 g, dieetary fiber 1 g, sugars 7 g
  • Protein 29 g

Mandarin Pancakes

These thin pancakes are most often used for serving mooshu style dishes and Peking duck, but they make a great wrap for just about any stirfry, such as Vegetable Stirfry Wearing a Hat. The simplest way to make this is to use the food processor, in which case you may need less water than indicated.

ingredients:

  • 2 c all-purpose flour or you can use 1/2 AP flour and 1/2 whole wheat
  • 3/4 c boiling water
  • 1-2 T cold water
  • 2 T oil

method:

  1. Sift the flour, then gradually add the boiling water, mixing with chopsticks or a fork. If you’re using the food processor, pulse the flour a few times instead of sifting it, then with the processor running, add the boiling water in a thin stream. The dough should start to come together into a ball.
  2. Add the cold water until you have a soft but not sticky dough. You may not need to add any cold water if you’re using the processor.
  3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth and elastic – it will take about 1-2 m if you’ve used the processor, approximately 4-5 m if you are working by hand.
  4. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 15 m – this will relax the gluten and make the dough stretchier.
  5. Knead the dough gently and then roll it between your palms and the countertop into a “snake” about 18″ long.
  6. Cut the dough into 18 pieces, then flatten each piece with your hand.
  7. Brush the top of 9 cakes with oil, then place the remaining cakes over them like you’re making a sandwich.
  8. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.
  9. In the meantime, roll a pair of pancakes into a 5-6″ circle: the most successful way to achieve a circle is to only roll the rolling pin with your right hand from the center of the cake to the edge, turning it slightly as you go with your left hand (reverse if you’re left-handed). Flip the cake over once you’ve made a complete rotation and roll on this side as well.
  10. Place the sandwiched cakes in the skillet while you roll the next one. It should take less than 1 m for them to turn lightly brown in spots and take on a dry look. Flip and cook until the other side is similarly brown in spots. You may have to adjust the heat to keep the cooking even.
  11. When you remove the cakes, quickly separate each sandwich into single cakes while they are still hot, then fold into a 1/2 circle or into 1/4 circles, pile on a plate, and keep covered with a towel.
  12. Before serving, steam the plate of pancakes for 5 m and serve, keeping covered in between uses.

do ahead:

The pancakes can be made through step 9 a few hours ahead – refrigerate with wax paper layered in between each “sandwich.” Return to room temperature before baking. Or you can complete through step 11, refrigerate (covered with plastic wrap or in a covered container), and briefly steam before serving.

Vegetable Stirfry Wearing a Hat

This is a super quick stirfry using vegetables that are in most cook’s refrigerators – you could also substitute whatever veggies you have on hand. A mandolin is a great gadget to have on hand for all the matchstick-sized strips you’ll need to cut, but you can also do it by hand – aim for 1/8 x 1/8 x 1.5″ pieces.

For the pressed beancurd, we like to use the five-spice flavored, which adds a little depth of flavor, but you could use another variety. Baked tofu is a good substitute and often comes in five-spice flavor – look for it in the refrigerated Asian foods or vegetarian meat substitutes section of conventional grocery stores. The beancurd can also be omitted entirely.

The “hat” is made of an omelet – it can be omitted if you’re in a hurry or are vegan, but it makes a nice presentation and adds some protein to a vegetarian meal.

This can be served with rice or with Mandarin pancakes (used for mooshu dishes and Peking duck), for which I’ll post the recipe another day.

ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 scallion, cut into 1/8″ slices on the diagonal or 1/4 c Chinese chives, cut into 1.5″ lengths
  • 1 square of pressed beancurd or baked tofu, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T fermented black beans, or to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste

“the hat”:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1 pinch white pepper
  • 1 T oil

method:

  1. Whisk the eggs, 1/4 tsp salt, and white pepper in a bowl, set aside.
  2. Heat 1 T oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers. Explode the garlic and scallion until fragrant.
  3. Add the tofu and remaining vegtables – if the pan gets too crowded, they will steam instead of stirfrying, so you might want to do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your wok. Stirfry 2 m or until vegetables are crisp-tender and still retain their bright colors.
  4. Add the fermented black beans to taste, stir to combine well, then adjust seasoning with salt (you may not need any). Mound on a serving plate.
  5. Heat 1 T oil in a saute pan or skillet (well-seasoned cast iron is best, but you can use nonstick instead) over medium high heat.
  6. Add the egg mixture, tipping the pan to make a thin round omelet. Turn down the heat to medium low.
  7. As soon as the eggs are set enough to turn, flip carefully, cook a few seconds, then slide it onto the vegetable mound on the plate. Did your omelet fall apart? No worries – slide it onto a cutting board, slice it thinly, and add to the top of your vegetables anyway!

Vegetable Dumplings

To repeat the intro to Friday’s post (Pork & Cabbage Dumplings): Homemade dumplings are a great quick supper, particularly if you make more than you need and can freeze some for later. It’s also a great party food – have the guests come ready to help wrap their dumplings! Kids also love this activity – just be sure hands are washed and be able to put up with a wild variety of shapes and sizes. The wrappers are readily available in many conventional stores – look for round “gyoza” wrappers, not the thinner, square “wonton” wrappers for this recipe. You can also make your own wrappers – more on that another day.

Here is a delicious and simple vegan filling you can substitute – the same method of assembly and cooking apply as in the meat version:

 

ingredients:

  • 2 pkg gyoza wrappers (approximately 36 per pkg)

filling:

  • 1 lb fresh spinach (or 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach)
  • 1 oz rice noodles, spaghetti or angel hair
  • 1 leek chopped, or 1 bunch Chinese chives, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

dipping sauce:

  • light soy sauce
  • black or rice wine vinegar
  • sesame oil
  • chili paste, chopped fermented chilies, and/or chili oil
  • minced ginger root
  • minced scallions

making the filling:

  1. Blanch and shock the spinach, reserve the cooking water, then squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop the spinach. If you’re using frozen spinach, simply thaw and squeeze out the water.
  2. In the same pot, cook the noodles according to the package directions, then rinse in cold water and chop into 1″ lengths.
  3. Add the remaining filling ingredients, and mix well to combine thoroughly.
  4. Prepare a large tray and a small bowl of water.
  5. If you plan to boil the dumplings, start heating a large pot of water.

wrapping the dumplings: (video below instructions!) 

  1. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a wrapper (it takes a while to figure out how much it will hold: too much and the filling will pop out during cooking; too little and you’ll end up with too much dough, too little filling).
  2. Dip your finger into the bowl of water and run it around 1/2 of the circle’s edge.
  3. Fold the circle in 1/2 and pinch the middle of the 1/2 circle closed.
  4. With your other hand, pinch part of the outer edge closed so that you have a pucker between the outer edge and the pinched middle, then pleat that closed.
  5. Repeat step 8 on the other side of the pinched middle, squeeze the seam tightly closed, and place the dumpling on the tray.
  6. Repeat until all wrappers are used up.

cooking the dumplings:

  • Boiling: drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling water. When it returns to a boil, add 1 c cold water. Do this 2 more times, so that you’ve added 3 c cold water total. When it returns to a boil the 3rd time, the dumplings should be done.
  • Steaming: Arrange the dumplings close together but not touching on a greased steamer layer. Steam for 15 m.
  • Pan-frying: In a skillet or wok (unless your wok or skillet is reliably seasoned, you may want to use nonstick in this case), heat 1 T oil until it shimmers. Add the dumplings in concentric circles, close together. Fry the bottoms of the dumplings until golden brown, quickly add 1/2 c water, and cover. Steam for 10-15 m, testing for doneness by cutting 1 dumpling open – it should no longer be pink inside. Invert onto a plate to serve.

serving:

Have small bowls for diners to mix dipping sauce to their taste, or simply sprinkle the desired ingredients over the dumplings in each person’s bowl.

do ahead:

  • Wrappers and filling can both be frozen – defrost in the refrigerator before using.
  • Finished, uncooked dumplings can be frozen on a cookie sheet, then put into a container or plastic bag and frozen for up to 6 months. Be sure they’re not getting crushed. Cook from frozen – do not defrost, or they will lump together – adding approximately 5 m to cooking time.

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Homemade dumplings are a great quick supper, particularly if you make more than you need and can freeze some for later. It’s also a great party food – have the guests come ready to help wrap their dumplings! Kids also love this activity – just be sure hands are washed and be able to put up with a wild variety of shapes and sizes. The wrappers are readily available in many conventional stores – look for round “gyoza” wrappers, not the thinner, square “wonton” wrappers for this recipe. You can also make your own wrappers – more on that another day.

ingredients:

  • 2 pkg gyoza wrappers (approximately 36 per pkg)

filling:

  • 1 lb napa cabbage, cut into large chunks
  • 1 lb ground pork (or turkey or chicken), preferably pastured
  • 1. 5 tsp salt
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 3 scallions, minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 2 T cooking oil
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1 large egg

dipping sauce:

  • light soy sauce
  • black or rice wine vinegar
  • sesame oil
  • chili paste, chopped fermented chilies, and/or chili oil
  • minced ginger root
  • minced scallions

making the filling:

  1. In a food processor, pulse the cabbage until it is finely chopped – don’t overprocess to a paste!
  2. Add 1/2 tsp salt, mix well, and allow to rest for 10-15 m. Strain, then with your hands, squeeze out the juices that accumulate – you’ll have just under 2 c of cabbage left in the bowl.
  3. Add the remaining filling ingredients, and mix well to combine thoroughly.
  4. Prepare a large tray and a small bowl of water.
  5. If you plan to boil them, start heating a large pot of water.

wrapping the dumplings: (video below instructions!) 

  1. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a wrapper (it takes a while to figure out how much it will hold: too much and the filling will pop out during cooking; too little and you’ll end up with too much dough, too little filling).
  2. Dip your finger into the bowl of water and run it around 1/2 of the circle’s edge.
  3. Fold the circle in 1/2 and pinch the middle of the 1/2 circle closed.
  4. With your other hand, pinch part of the outer edge closed so that you have a pucker between the outer edge and the pinched middle, then pleat that closed.
  5. Repeat step 8 on the other side of the pinched middle, squeeze the seam tightly closed, and place the dumpling on the tray.
  6. Repeat until all wrappers are used up.

cooking the dumplings:

  • Boiling: drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling water. When it returns to a boil, add 1 c cold water. Do this 2 more times, so that you’ve added 3 c cold water total. When it returns to a boil the 3rd time, the dumplings should be done.
  • Steaming: Arrange the dumplings close together but not touching on a greased steamer layer. Steam for 15 m.
  • Pan-frying: In a skillet or wok (unless your wok or skillet is reliably seasoned, you may want to use nonstick in this case), heat 1 T oil until it shimmers. Add the dumplings in concentric circles, close together. Fry the bottoms of the dumplings until golden brown, quickly add 1/2 c water, and cover. Steam for 10-15 m, testing for doneness by cutting 1 dumpling open – it should no longer be pink inside. Invert onto a plate to serve.

serving:

Have small bowls for diners to mix dipping sauce to their taste, or simply sprinkle the desired ingredients over the dumplings in each person’s bowl.

do ahead:

  • Wrappers and filling can both be frozen – defrost in the refrigerator before using.
  • Finished, uncooked dumplings can be frozen on a cookie sheet, then put into a container or plastic bag and frozen for up to 6 months. Be sure they’re not getting crushed. Cook from frozen – do not defrost, or they will lump together – adding approximately 5 m to cooking time.

Asian vegetables: resource sites

Came across two interesting sites about Asian vegetables – definitely worth checking out (oddly, both claim to be a “thesaurus”). Although neither give cooking tips, there are very useful photos and a list of “also known as” given in many different languages.

From ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations): Vegetable Thesaurus

From Australia’s Deparment of Primary Industries: Access to Asian Vegetables Thesaurus