Steamed Zucchini

Like beets, zucchini is another vegetable I’ve never seen in China or in a Chinese restaurant. But occasionally I come across a recipe for it (as in Jack Santa Maria’s Chinese Vegetarian Cookery). I’ve used zucchini in a pinch (when I’d planned to make an eggplant dish and realized I didn’t have eggplant!) and found it to be a great substitute for both eggplant and cucumbers – it’s spongy in nature, like eggplant, so it will readily absorb any flavors you add to the dish. Beware though – this means it will also readily absorb a lot of oil.

The following dish can be served hot or cold.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 2″ strips

dressing:

  • 1 tsp ginger root, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 T rice wine vinegar or black vinegar

garnish:

  • 1 ea scallion, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 T chopped cilantro

method:

  1. Arrange the zucchini on a heatproof plate, then steam until just tender. Drain off any accumulated liquid. If you will be serving the dish cold, allow zucchini to come to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  2. Combine the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, pour dressing over the zucchini and mix gently to combine.
  3. Garnish with scallion and cilantro.

do ahead:

To serve this dish cold, you can steam the zucchini up to several hours in advance. Pour off any accumulated liquid and add the sauce just before serving. The dressing can be made several hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

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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….

Steamed Pork with Five-Spice Rice Powder

This is a delicious dish that can be quickly assembled if you use Cream of Rice cereal or the rice powder sold in Asian markets. Or you can make the rice powder from scratch – it’s not difficult, but will take an extra step (see note below). You can then let the dish steam while you prepare some other dishes to accompany it.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle. If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the ready-made mixture, you can substitute ground anise seed.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz pork, sliced 1/8″ thick across the grain: You can use pork butt, belly, or shoulder, but stay away from the overly lean cuts or the meat will be tough when steamed.
  • 1/2 c Cream of Rice cereal
  • 1/4 tsp five-spice powder

marinade:

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the meat slices and marinate for 30 m.
  2. In a dry wok or skillet, toast the rice cereal and spice powder until light brown and fragrant, then set it aside to cool.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, then coat each slice with the rice mixture and arrange, overlapping, on a heatproof plate.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining powder over the top of the dish, drizzle with the reserved marinade, and steam ove medium heat for an hour or until the meat is meltingly tender.
  5. Garnish with scallion and a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

note:

To make the rice powder from scratch, toast a mixture of 1/4 c glutinous rice and 1/4 c medium-grain rice in a dry skillet until lightly browned, adding the five-spice toward the end of the toasting. Use a food processor, spice grinder, or coffee grinder to grind it finely. This mixture can be made in larger batches and kept in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

variations:

You can substitute other meats for the pork:

  • spare ribs – across the bone or left whole;
  • beef slices – you may want to add 1-2 T of oil to the marinade if the beef is lean;
  • chicken – traditionally, the pieces of chicken are cut into pieces, bones and all, but you could use whole pieces or cut them off the bone and cut into large (2×1″) chunks. Reduce steaming time to 30 m.

You can also make the dish spicy by adding ground red pepper (cayenne) to taste.

do ahead:

This dish can be steamed ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days or frozen, tightly covered for 2-3 months. To serve, steam it until heated through – no thawing required, although you should be sure your plate can withstand the temperature change.