Category Archives: Chinese

Dan Dan Noodles

My British-born foodie friend, Bethia Woolf, sent me a link to an article by noted British Chinese-food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on Classic Dan Dan Noodles. As a Sichuan dish, Dan Dan Noodles is not something I grew up with, but have enjoyed a few times in restaurants. I’ve made versions at home using sauce from jars, so when I saw the recipe, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Photograph: Jean Cazals from The Guardian articleThe recipe provided looked simple enough. I had most of the items in my pantry or freezer. The two of concern, though, were Chinese Alkali Noodles and Sweet Fermented Sauce. I did a little research and headed out to one of my local Asian supermarkets where I managed to find just one example of each.

I scanned the store’s noodle shelves for yellow colored noodles and found one with sodium carbonate – an alkali – as an ingredient. Okay, that was easy.

Then I searched for the sauce. I had cruised the Internet and found it’s called Tian Mian Jiang, also called Sweet Bean Sauce, and is used for Peking Duck (not Hoisin Sauce, as I’ve always believed). It’s made from fermented flour and soybeans. I found this jar with flour and soybeans listed as the only ingredients (hard to read and impossible to photograph, since it’s black type on a clear label against the black sauce).

Missing ingredients in hand, I converted Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to American measures, made a few other adjustments, and tried it. The alkali noodles really do make a difference: They keep their nice chewy texture. It was delicious – and simple! No more need for the sauce from a jar! I’m adding it to my standard repertoire.

Classic Dan Dan Noodles – adapted from a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop
Serves 2

3 T cooking oil
4 oz minced pork
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 t sweet bean sauce
1 t light soy sauce
7 oz Chinese alkali wheat flour noodles

For the sauce:
1 c
 chicken stock (or noodle cooking water)
2 t light soy sauce
¼ t salt
1 t Chinkiang vinegar
2 T chili oil with pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 T scallion greens, sliced across the stalk into small rings
5 T Tianjin preserved vegetables, diced

Stir fry the pork in oil in a skillet or pot until it loses its red color, pressing the meat against the pan with a cooking spatula or spoon to separate out into small, but still juicy pieces. Add the wine, stir a few times, then add the sweet bean sauce and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Pour cooked pork into a plate to hold.

Boil water in a pot to cook the noodles. In a separate pot, heat the stock. Boil the noodles according to suggested time on the package (mine said 3-4 minutes). While they are cooking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the stock in a serving bowl.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander (reserving some of the cooking water if you are not using stock). Add the stock or noodle cooking water to the sauce in the serving bowl. Place the noodles in the bowl, top with the pork and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly distributed.

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Stuffed Bitter Melon

Photo from Felicia Friesema LA Weekly Many have written on the health benefits of Chinese bitter melon. I grew up enjoying them – my father prepared them at home Cantonese-style and we often ordered them in Cantonese restaurants – despite their fairly intense bitter taste. Pop always said eating bitter melon was good because they made everything after that taste sweet.

I was delighted to find them offered in my local farmers market. I bought a couple, but then had to find a recipe for them, having never cooked them myself. I had just prepared a batch of wontons and had some ground pork mixture left over, so I found a recipe for stuffed bitter melon – often offered in dim sum restaurants. I modified it a bit, to use what I had on hand.

Stuffed bitter melon

Braising stuffed bitter melon

The stuffed bitter melon were absolutely delicious! They were, appropriately, a little bitter, but what came through was a sweetness, with light saltiness and umami – everything except sour, beautifully balanced and subtle.

Cooked bitter melonCooked bitter melon

The pieces were quite pretty, and when cut open, showed the mushroom-shaped pork mixture, reflecting the mushrooms in the stuffing and sauce. They tasted far more delicate than those I’ve had in restaurants, perhaps because of the really fresh, locally grown bitter melons I used. Given the delicate taste of the melon, I don’t think it will take much for my friends to acquire a taste for these lovely little gems!

Stuffed Bitter Melon (adapted from Yi Reservation’s recipe)

1lb bitter melon (2 melons)
½ lb ground pork mixture (from Wonton recipe)
3 dried large Chinese mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1/2 hour to soften

Braising Sauce

1tsp Chinese black bean sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 cup mushroom soaking water
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the bitter melon cross-wise into 1 inch thick pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.

2. Combine the ground pork with minced Chinese mushroom stems and 1 minced mushroom cap.

3. Use a small spoon to carve out the seeds and some soft flesh in the middle of the melon.

4. Stuff the melon with meat stuffing until it forms a small dome.

5. Over low heat, pan-fry the stuffed bitter melon in some cooking oil until the bottom part is browned – about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

6. In the frypan, mix the black bean sauce, garlic, stock or water, sugar, pepper. Bring the sauce to boil.

7. Add the pan-fried melon and 2 sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Braise it over low heat with lid on until translucent – about 25 minutes. Add sesame oil and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Add salt, if needed.

Wontons

Pan-fried wontonsI’ve enjoyed making homemade wontons with family and friends throughout the years, using my father’s recipe. Here’s the recipe:

Norton Chu’s Wontons

Ingredients:

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 ½ lbs      pork

1 lb            shrimp

4                Chinese sausages

8                fresh water chestnuts, peeled
– or –
2 stalks      Chinese celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation:

  1. Chop/grind pork, sausage, water chestnuts or Chinese celery. (I use the chopping blade in a Cuisinart food processor).
  2. Peel and hand cut each shrimp into 3-5 pieces, depending on size.
  3. Mix all ingredients – except shrimp – together with an egg beater.
  4. Fold in shrimp pieces.
  5. Wrap wontons (I’ll add the wrapping technique after I find my photos of each wrapping step).
  6. Boil wontons in a large pot of salted water until they float; cool cooked wontons in a pot of cold water; strain in a colander.
  7. Put cooked wontons in a large baggie; mix in some olive oil to keep them from  sticking together.
  8. Use in soup
    – or –
    Pan fry until nicely browned on one or two sides over medium heat in hot peanut or olive oil; serve with Worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce
    – or –
    Deep fry
    – or –
    Freeze for later use.

Deep-fried wontonsI modified the recipe to make a pot luck dish for a locavore dinner by using meats from Thurn’s Specialty Meats in Columbus. Of course, I was stuck using wonton skins and condiments from the local Asian stores (I wasn’t going to prepare my own wonton wrappers), but all the other ingredients were from local Ohio providers.

Locavore Wontons

Ingredients: (meats from Thurn’s; produce from local farmers market)

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 3/4 lbs    pork

3                Landjadger sausages (5 oz)

5 oz           double-smoked bacon

2 stalks      celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation, as above.

The taste was intriguingly smoky, as intended. The filling was a little less juicy than the original, but they met the locavore requirements of the dinner.

Malaysian Joong

My grandfather used to make joong – tamale-like packets of glutinous rice, meat, and other goodies wrapped in bamboo leaves – that I loved to eat. They are available in Chinese supermarkets, but they never quite have the wonderful fillings that my grandpa included in his. So I was delighted when Angela Liu’s mother, Wan, offered to teach Katie Chio and me how to make them. Wan’s family came from the same area of China as my grandpa, but her joong were Malaysian style, made in a different shape and with different fillings from the traditional Cantonese joong. Still, I was eager to learn so I could later include the fillings I remembered when I made my own.

The Malaysian joong are tetrahedral in shape – with 4 equal triangular sides – instead of the elongated pillow shape of the Cantonese versions, and they are filled with a mixture of  diced pork belly, shrimp, Chinese mushrooms, and ground coriander. The tricky part about making these joong is the wrapping of the bamboo bundles. Katie was a star student, picking up the technique quickly, but the one lesson wasn’t enough for me to perfect my wrapping technique; it will take more practice for me to replicate the tightly wrapped bundles that Wan created. Still, they turned out quite deliciously and despite the different filling ingredients, brought back fond memories of my grandpa’s joong.

28231619Malaysian Joong

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 packet bamboo leaves

kitchen twine

5 pounds long-grain sweet rice

5 shallots, sliced

1/2 cup oil

5 1/2 teaspoons salt

Filling:

1 3/4 pounds pork belly, with skin removed, diced

8 ounces dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in hot water, and diced

dried shrimp (optional)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

3 teaspoons white pepper

salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

PREPARATION:

Wash and soak the rice for two hours.

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Take about 75 dried bamboo leaves and boil them in a large pot of water for 30 minutes to soften them. Cut off the tough stem ends of the leaves. Wash the leaves. Soak them again in cool water to keep them soft.

Sauté the shallots in oil until brown. Drain the rice. Stir in salt and shallot cooking oil.

Prepare string to tie joong by making a bundle of five strings, each 2 feet long, tied together with a loop at the end. Make 8 bundles. Place the loop of one bundle around a supporting hook, with space below it to place and tie a joong.

Now the tricky part: wrapping. Probably best understood by watching the process in the following videos. I’ve provided 3 videos of Wan making 4 joong to provide different perspectives and clarify points of the wrapping process.



Place two bamboo leaves together, overlapping by about two thirds, with the smooth side of the leaves facing up. Fold the leaves to the side and up, about 1/3 way up, to form a pointed pocket, cradled in your left hand. Put 2 heaping tablespoons rice into the pocket, then 3 heaping tablespoons filling, then top with 2 heaping tablespoons rice, filing the pocket.

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Fold the top down across the rice packet. Tuck down the left, then right edges of the top leaves, cradling the outside of the packet. Bring the sides of the top leaves together and wrap around to the right of the packet.

Take one strand of string and wrap it around the joong twice. Make a square knot, tightening the tie by pulling against the string supported by the hook.

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Continue wrapping joong with the remaining leaves, rice, and filling.

Boil a large kettle of water. Place the joong into the water and return water to a boil. Lower the heat and gently simmer the joong for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size and density of the joong.

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Cut string, unwrap joong, and discard the leaves & string. Serve.

Cooked joong may be refrigerated or frozen. Thaw, steam to reheat and serve.

Warm joong can also be sliced, flattened, coated with a beaten egg, and browned in a fry pan.

May be served drizzled with oyster sauce.

2815101628151106Thank you, Wan, for the wonderful lesson!

Fried Sesame Balls (Jin Deui 煎堆)

Angela Liu’s mom, Wan, came over from her home in Malaysia to help with Angela’s baby delivery and care. As a bonus, Wan instructed Angela and a few friends how to prepare various Cantonese dishes.

DSC09584The first dish was fried sesame balls. I was especially excited to take her lesson on this, as sesame balls straight out of the fryer are a real treat. Like fresh bagels, sesame balls, once cooled, just aren’t the same.

DSC09617FRIED SESAME BALLS / GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS

INGREDIENTS

Red Bean Paste:

1 pound red beans

8 cups water

Glutinous Rice Balls:

1 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup oil

1 pound glutinous rice flour

1 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup white sesame seeds

Peanut oil for frying

PREPARATION

Soak the red beans in cold water for two hours. Drain and discard the water. Add the cups water to the beans and bring the water to a boil. Cook the beans over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, until they are tender.  Purée the cooked beans in a blender. Heat the puréed beans in a hot wok with the sugar and oil to make a paste. Let cool.

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Mix the water slowly until the flour forms a ball, adding water as needed, to create a dough of thick pie dough consistency.

Pull off about a 1/2 inch marble of dough. Flatten into a concave disk about 2 inches in diameter.

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Make a small marble of red bean paste. Place it in the center of the dough disk. Seal the dough to make a ball and roll it between your hands to make it round.

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Roll the ball in the sesame seeds and coat it thoroughly. Roll the ball between your hands to press the seeds lightly into the dough. Place on a plate and continue to make additional balls.

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Heat the oil in a wok to a low frying temperature (about 325°). Lower heat to medium-low (warning: higher heat will cause the sesame seeds to burn). Put a batch of five balls into the hot oil and roll them around in the oil periodically for about the first two minutes of cooking. They will start to brown.

Press each ball down with a flat spatula against the bottom of the wok for about 10 seconds until it begins to puff, then release it and move on to the next ball. When done with all the balls, return to the first one and press it down against its edge, shaping it back into a ball, for another 10 seconds until it begins to puff again. Release and proceed with the other balls. Continue this pressing for about eight minutes, until the balls have become golden brown. drain on paper towels.

Here’s a secret: The more you press them, the larger the ball will puff and the thinner the shell of the ball will become! So if you like the balls thin and delicate, press away!

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Serve and eat while warm and crispy.

Makes about 4 dozen sesame balls.

NOTE: Glutinous rice flour can be found in any Asian market. Here is a photo of the brand we used.

Homemade Soy Milk

I was elated that a new local Chinese restaurant had freshly made Chinese crullers – “fried devils” (You Zha Gui or You Tiao) and salty soy milk soup (Xian Dou Jiang). The You Tiao were wonderful, but the Xian Dou Jiang was curdled; it tasted fine, but I like it in a creamy/custardy style. I looked up recipes for Xian Dou Jiang online and tried making it with supermarket plain soy milk, but was dismayed with the flavor. The recipes warned of the need to use unflavored soy milk, but even the boxed soy milks I tried labeled “plain” has been sweetened, completely ruining the taste of the Dou Jiang.

So I looked up how to make soy milk. I found various recipes (for example, the one from Chowhound) and many recommendations for a $100 machine to make it. Not wanting to wait or spend the money until I could find if I could make Dou Jiang as I remembered it, I experimented with a few of the recipes and have come down to this one that works for me.

Dried Soy Beans

Dried Soy Beans

First the soybeans. I went to my local Asian supermarkets and looked for dried soybeans in the dried beans section. No luck. I found they’re so popular that they’re kept with the fresh produce. A manageable sized bag of about 3 pounds of beans sold for under $3. Note that dried soybeans are round; they don’t look like edamame.

I also needed a way to squeeze the milk from the blended soybeans. I didn’t think that regular cheesecloth would be fine or strong enough to stand up to the pressure of being squeezed hard, so I tried “Ultra Fine Cheesecloth” that I found at Sur La Table.

Here’s the recipe I ended up with. It produces about 10 cups (1/2 gallon and 1 pint) of soy milk, which works out to about 80₵ per half gallon.

2 c dried soybeans (about 13 oz)
1 slice ginger

Dried and soaked soybeans

Dried and soaked soybeans

Soak 2 cups dried soybeans overnight – at least 12 hours. Drain, rinse, and pick over the beans to remove any pebbles or other debris (I’ve never found any, but you wouldn’t want to put rocks into your blender!) The beans will have swelled to about 5 cups and regained their bean shape.

Blend the beans in batches: 1 cup of beans with 2 cups of fresh cold water. I run my blender on Chop for 30 seconds and then Puree for about 1 minute, to make a smooth paste. It comes out with a layer of foam.

DSC02624Pour the pureed beans into a strainer lined with 4 thicknesses of the cheesecloth, set over a pot to catch the milk. Let it drain while preparing the next batch in the blender.

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Take up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist, squeezing out at much of the remaining milk from the beans as you can. Dump the dregs into a bowl; reserve for use in other cooking (it’s a good protein source – I stir fry mine with leftover rice and vegetables to make fried rice). Repeat with the remaining beans, producing about 10 cups of raw soy milk.

DSC02641Put the soy milk and ginger slice into a large pot and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring periodically, scraping the bottom of the pot with a flat nylon turner and watching it to ensure it doesn’t boil over. As it starts to steam, watch very closely since it will quickly foam up and boil over! As the foam rises, quickly remove the pot from the hot burner and stir, letting the soy milk cool in the pot. Strain the milk to remove the ginger and store in containers.

Refrigerate and use as soy milk, for Dou Jiang or Dou Fu Fa. It should keep for about 3 days. Freeze the soy dregs in a freezer bag for later use.

There will be a skin stuck firmly on the bottom and sides of the pot – scrape off as much as you can with a nylon turner. Soak and wash the pot with a nylon scrub pad to remove the remaining soy coating.