Pearl Meatballs

These delightful little meatballs are coated with rice – they will look like they’re studded with pearls if you use short-grain rice, and if you choose to use longer-grain rice, they will look like little hedgehogs. A big hit with kids, and a good school lunch item if packed in a thermos. Can be made ahead and reheated for a last-minute meal.

Glutinous rice (AKA sticky or sweet rice) is a very short-grain type of white rice that is used for dishes where its stickiness is a plus. It forms the base for Japanese mochi and Chinese rice cake, for example. It is also available in brown, but as with all whole grain rices, that will take much longer to cook and the appearance will not be so pearly.

Please note that the rice needs to be soaked for a long time before preparing this recipe, so do that early or overnight.

ingredients:

  • 1 c glutinous rice (you can also use regular, medium-grain rice)
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, preferably not too lean – look for pastured pork if you can find it!
  • 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms: stems reserved for making stock, caps finely minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 large egg, from pastured hens if possible
  • 2 T cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato flour
  • 1 T water (or oil if you’re using very lean meat or poultry)
  • salt and pepper to taste

method:

  1. Rinse the rice well, then soak: you can boil water, then pour it over the rice and allow it to soak for 3 h, or you can use cold water and soak the rice overnight. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Oil a heatproof plate that will fit into your steamer.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to mix thoroughly.
  4. Shape the mixture into 1.5″ balls, then roll in the soaked rice to coat completely.
  5. Place in a single layer on the plate, then steam 10-15 m – when done, there will be no pink left in the center.
  6. You can serve the meatballs on the same plate or pile them in a bowl.

do ahead:

The meatballs can be assembled, steamed, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Resteam 10 m to reheat.

variations:

  • The meatballs can be made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the flavor varying accordingly. Adding a bit of minced ham and/or shrimp makes poultry versions a little more flavorful.
  • In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop jazzes these up by adding minced ham and shiitakes to the rice instead of the filling – this makes for a more interesting presentation and opens the door to even more variations….

Chinese Omelet

Best known as Egg Fooyung, this dish used to be on most Chinese restaurant menus, although I haven’t seen it offered recently. In Mandarin it is called furong dan, or hibiscus or lotus flower eggs. It can be made with egg whites or whole eggs and can contain a variety of ingredients, ranging from ground pork to seafood – I have given a version here that uses the most common Chinese American restaurant ingredients, shrimp and peas – but you can certainly play with what you have on hand, making this a quick what’s-in-the-fridge supper. Be sure to use a well-seasoned skillet or resort to non-stick if you need to.

ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs (do your taste buds, your body, and the environment a favor and look for eggs from pastured chickens)
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/4″ pieces (see Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for which variety is most sustainable)
  • 1/2 c. fresh peas, blanched until almost done and shocked, or frozen green peas, rinsed in cold water
  • 3 scallions, minced
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 T oil

method:

  1. Beat the eggs, then combine with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Depending on how well your skillet is seasoned, add 1-1.5 T oil, and heat on medium high until it shimmers.
  3. Add the egg mixture and immediately turn the heat to medium low.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook for about 5 m, or until the bottom is golden and the top is starting to set.
  5. Carefully turn the omelet over, adding the remaining oil around the edges of the pan if necessary.
  6. Cover and cook until set throughout.
  7. Slide the omelet onto a cutting board, cut into diamonds, and serve.

note:

If you are substituting other ingredients, you may want to first stirfry them lightly, then pour in the beaten eggs – some items may require a longer cooking time.

Mooshu Vegetables (or Pork or Beef or Chicken or Shrimp or…)

“Mooshu” will never be the same after Disney’s character (voiced by the hilarious Eddie Murphy) in Mulan, but Mooshu (also spelled moo shu, moo shi, or mu xu in Mandarin) is probably found in most Chinese restaurants in America. Its name appears to come from the dish’s appearance: the ingredients are basically cut into such small strips that they resemble wood shavings. Traditionally the ingredients include some sort of protein (meat, chicken, shrimp, tofu) plus wood ear, lily flower buds, bamboo shoots, and scrambled eggs. After being stirfried, the mixture is wrapped in a Mandarin pancake with a dab of hoisin or plum sauce and becomes a Chinese wrap of sorts.

You can substitute ingredients based on what’s at hand – the following is simply a suggestion to get you started. I avoid canned food such as bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and tend toward the fresh ingredients. The more exotic vegetables (wood ear, lily flowers) are available in Asian markets, but the recipe works fine without them. We don’t use too much processed/prepared food (in prepared sauces from China you run the risk of ingesting way too much msg and sodium) but I do like to add a bit of fermented black beans to this – you can then omit the hoisin or plum sauce as you will have enough flavor. If you don’t have the black beans, it will still be fine, with or without the added sauce.

ingredients:

  • your choice of protein (optional), approximately 8 oz, shredded:

pressed or baked tofu
shrimp (check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for a list of the most sustainable varieties)
pork, beef, or chicken (visit Local Harvest for sustainably raised products available near you)

  • marinade

for beef/pork: 2 tsp soy sauce + 1 tsp cornstarch
for chicken/shrimp: 1/2 egg white, beaten + 1 tsp cornstarch
for tofu: none

  • your choice of vegetables, enough to make approximately 2 c, shredded:

carrot
celery
bean sprouts
cabbage
shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried (rehydrate 20 m): stems reserved for making broth, soaking liquid reserved for another use
wood ear: rehydrate 30 m, rinse well, remove tough parts
lily flowers (golden needles): rehydrate 30 m, snip off the tough ends
bamboo shoots
water chestnuts

sauce:

  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fermented black beans, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

method:

  1. Finely shred (1/16 x 1/16 x 1″) all ingredients.
  2. Combine the protein (if you’re adding some) with the appropriate marinade and allow to rest for up to 30 m.
  3. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet or omelet pan, then add the beaten eggs. You can either scramble them or allow them to cook over low heat into a thin omelet, which you can turn out and also cut into fine shreds.
  5. Heat 1 T oil in a wok over high heat until it shimmers, explode the scallions until fragrant, add the vegetables, and stirfry quickly until crisp-tender. If your wok is small, you may want to do this in 2 batches, or the vegetables will crowd the pan and steam instead of stirfry. Remove.
  6. Heat 1 T oil in the wok over high heat until it shimmers, then add the protein (if applicable), stirfrying until the meat loses its pink color, approximately 1-2 m.
  7. Add the vegetables back to the wok, add the sauce, stirfry quickly to combine, another 1 m or so.
  8. Adjust seasoning and remove to a serving bowl, serve with the pancakes on the side.
  9. You can let your diners wrap their own “Chinese burritos” or you can make them yourself just before serving: place a pancake flat on a plate; using a slotted spoon, add approximately 1/4 c of the vegetable mixture down the middle of the pancake in a long mound, leaving 1″ between the end of the mound and the rim of the pancake. Fold up the rim where the space remains, fold over 1 side of the pancake perpendicular to the first fold, then roll tightly toward the opposite side. If you prefer to use chopsticks, be sure to roll tightly, then slice the wrap on the diagonal with a sharp knife.