A Craving for “Pig Intestine” Rolls a.k.a. Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) or Rice Noodle Rolls

chee cheong fun
Chee cheong fun or rice noodle rolls–the object of my childhood desire

When I was pregnant with Isaac, I was so ready for them. Like a tennis player light on her feet, ready to lunge and meet the furry, yellow ball head-on, I was expecting the cravings to arrive in rapid succession.

Would it be pickles of every shape, size, and hue? Or my favorite hawker dish, savory carrot cake (it’s actually made with radish)? Perhaps I’d want to smear my mom’s sambal terasi (chili with shrimp paste) on everything in sight from noodles to burgers, to steak. The anticipation, however, was all for naught. Five months in, despite a hearty appetite, I wasn’t craving nada. Heartburn soon set in, I lost my taste for food, and before I knew it, Isaac was born.

As it turns out, cravings are capricious, and like an unexpected guest, they show up as and when they please, and often overstay their welcome. This craving arrived with little fanfare but lingered until it was satisfied.

It all started with a conversation about rice flour. One thing led to another and my mind was soon drifting to a childhood dish I used to have almost every day during recess in the school tuck shop (aka canteen)–chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls). Before I knew it, I just had to have it.

Chee cheong fun (“zhu chang fen” in Mandarin) is a very simple dish, usually eaten for breakfast or a snack. The first two characters in its name, “chee cheong,” means pig intestine, an unfortunate moniker in my opinion, but I can see how the rolls might resemble them in some people’s eyes. And “fun” refers to the rice noodles (sha ho fun) used to make them.

wide rice noodles
These “rice ribbons” are actually wide sheets that can be cut into noodles to make Thai rad nah and Chinese beef or seafood hor fun.

There are many variations of this dish. The version of my childhood comprises plain rice noodle rolls blanketed in a sweet sauce nutty with sesame oil, and topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. In Penang, the sauce is given savory depth with the addition of black shrimp paste (petis or haeko). Fried shallots, dried shrimp, and green onions may make an appearance, sometimes cooked into the rice noodle rolls or showered on top.

tian mian jiang
One version of the sweet sauce drizzled over chee cheong fun has sesame paste (left) and sweet flour sauce (tian mian jiang, right) as ingredients. Both are available at Asian markets

Here in the U.S., you’ll find the Cantonese version called “cheong fun” at dim sum restaurants. They are usually filled with fresh shrimp, barbecued pork, or my favorite, you tiao (fried dough sticks).

In all cases, chili paste is optional.

While the rice sheets are a blank canvas to soak up the sauce, its texture is important. They should be soft and springy, not dry and stiff. In Seattle, they are delivered fresh daily to local Asian market I frequent and I am content to buy them. Should you decide to bring a package home with you, try and eat it the day of, or at the very latest, the next day.

If you can’t find the rice noodle sheets, or if you prefer to be in full control, you can make them yourself using this recipe or this one. Do note that if you are gluten-free, the store-bought version will most likely contain wheat starch.

So why not have a go at it, even if just for the pleasure of boasting to your friends that you ate pig intestines.

~~~

Chee Cheong Fun with Sweet Sauce

Truth be told, the sauce maketh this dish. And no two hawkers make their sauce the same way. I scoured the internet for various recipes for the sauce and after consulting here and here, I came up with two adaptations of the sweet sauce. The first uses sweet flour sauce (tian mian jiang) and Chinese sesame paste, two ingredients you may (try dan dan mian), or may not, ever use again. The other contains hoisin sauce, something you can easily slather onto a rack of ribs and barbecue on the grill. Both taste familiar and I’ve tasted similar versions served by some hawker somewhere in Singapore. The choice is yours.

Makes: 3 to 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

1 (2-pound) package rice sheets (sha ho fun)
Sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Sauce #1
Makes about 2/3 cup

2 tablespoons sweet flour sauce
2 tablespoons sesame paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water

Sauce #2
Makes about 2/3 cup

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water

Gently unfold the rice sheet bundles  (my 2-pound package gave me 3 bundles) until each has only two layers and measures 12×10 inches. The sheets are very fragile so they will inevitably tear somewhere. Don’t worry about it.

Cut each 2-layered sheet into half (there will probably be a line or a tear [!] to guide you) and roll them up into cigars. Cut each roll crosswise into 1/2-inch thick pieces.

To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave on medium for 45 seconds to 1 minute and stir until all the sugar dissolves. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

This dish is usually served at room temperature and you don’t have to do anything if they’re fresh. But if the rice sheets have been in the fridge or if you prefer to warm them up, place a damp paper towel over them and microwave on low for 1 minute. They should be soft and springy. Microwave in 30 second increments till the desired texture is reached.You can also steam them for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the sauce over, drizzle with more sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

~~~

Hello? Seattle?

Seattle Center as night falls. Français : Le c...
The Space Needle and Seattle Center as night falls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been in a pseudo state of déjà-vu since we returned to Seattle two months ago.

Considering how long I’ve lived here (albeit off and on), I expected to ease into Seattle life as effortlessly as shimmying into a favorite pair of well-worn jeans.

Everything I love about this city still exists. The crisp, cool air that makes believe I’m living and breathing spearmint and wildflowers. Delectable dim sum at Jade Garden, including their pillowy-soft har gao (shrimp dumplings) and sweet and savory char siu sou (bbq pork pastry), for less than $15 per person. A spectacular view of snowcapped mountains in triplicate.

Then, there are the things I don’t love as much. A freeway that is a perpetual parking lot whether or not it’s rush hour. The slate-grey concrete slab that passes for sky and the 50-something temperatures … it’s April for goodness sake! (Although last weekend was fabulously sunshiney!)

Yet somehow, I don’t feel like I’m in my Seattle. My Seattle doesn’t have a toll bridge (paying to cross beautiful Lake Washington is just wrong!). My Seattle doesn’t have a dozen hip restaurants I’ve never been to. Add to that the friends who have moved, or drifted, away.

More likely, I’m feeling the pang of my husband’s absence. He was a huge part of what made Seattle my Seattle.

No sense pining. I figured the only way to remedy the situation was to be like a tourist and reacquaint myself with the city of my past.

A couple of Wednesdays ago, my friend Ivy and I paid a visit to new-to-me Melrose Market. Stepping into the series of conjoined buildings, I was transported to another time and place. What used to be a series of repair and rebuild shops for foreign autos is now a covered shopping arcade housing, among other (mostly food) retailers, Homegrown sustainable sandwiches, Taylor Shellfish Farms, The Calf and the Kid cheese shop, and Rain Shadow Meats.

At the back corner of the market sat a sweet little flower shop called Marigold and Mint. While the blooms were attractive enough, I ended buying a clutch of flowering kale rapini from Oxbow Farms for the one reason that they ping-ponged between being familiar and not. It was my first encounter with these greens but their thick purple stalks and serrated leaves reminded me of purple kale, and the yellow flower clusters, gai lan (Chinese broccoli). I already knew exactly what I was going to do with them. I was going to prepare them the same way I would gai lan.

kale rapini
These gorgeous greens belong as much in a floral bouquet as on your plate!

At home, I gently unraveled the bundle–careful to keep the fragile flowerheads from falling off–to find the inner stalks still glistening. Droplets of morning dew perhaps? I’d like to think so!

I steamed the vegetables in the microwave and plated them. A few lashings of oyster sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, plus a flurry of fried shallots later, lunch was ready.

As I took a bittersweet, herbaceous bite of my first kale rapini, I decided that even though Seattle this time round feels different, that’s OK. If I can use tried and true techniques to tame novel ingredients, why not approach life in the same way, by weaving the comfort of the familiar into the foreignness of what’s new.

~~~

Steamed Kale Rapini with Oyster Sauce and Sesame Oil

This is more a method than a recipe as I don’t usually bother measuring and eyeball everything, as can you! If you prefer, use an asparagus steamer or simply a pot of boiling water to blanch the vegetables. Just don’t overcook them. Try this with broccolini, kale, or asparagus; the medley of bitter greens, salty-sweet oyster sauce, and nutty sesame oil cannot be beat.

Makes: 1 to 2 servings as part of a multicourse meal
Time: 10 minutes

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
8 ounces flowering kale rapini, trimmed
Sesame oil
Fried shallots

Take your oyster sauce out of the fridge (that’s where I keep mine) and let it stand at room temperature. It will warm up a little, making it easier to drizzle.

Wash the kale rapini and spread the stalks in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of water and cover with a damp paper towel or microwave food cover (I love these!).

Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables turn bright green and are tender to the bite. I like the stems crisp, not soft and floppy. Microwaves vary in power so keep microwaving in 30 second increments until the vegetables are cooked the way you like.

Arrange the vegetables on a large plate. Drizzle with oyster sauce, sesame oil and sprinkle with fried shallots. Serve with freshly steamed rice.

Operation Cook Down My Kitchen (CDMK) Kicks Off With Dan Dan Mian … and a Giveaway

Noodles, noodles, noodles ... what to do with these noodles?

We’re doing it again. Moving that is.

This is the second time in less than a year, the fifth since we married in 2002. And, I’m not counting the periods in-between living out of a suitcase in a hotel or someone’s guest room for weeks at a time.

Five times in nine years isn’t bad for a military family if you think about it. Still, I am tiring of it.

This time though, I’m not focused on the actual, physical act of moving. Yes, there are books to box and clothes to fold into suitcases. There are toys to give away and furniture to sell.

But this time is different.

This time, my husband, my son, and I are moving away from the Washington, D.C. area. But this time, we’re headed for different destinations. Isaac and I are moving to Seattle to spend the next year living with my sister and her husband (and two dogs!). My husband is deploying to Afghanistan. He’s not going overseas till late March but he left this past weekend for four weeks of training.

In his brief–for now–absence, I am also “in training.” I am preparing myself mentally and spiritually for our 12 month separation. I am anticipating Isaac’s reaction to daddy being gone with an aching heart. I am practicing the art of being Zen (absolutely necessary with a toddler).

And, I am strategizing on how to use up all the noodles, canned foods, sauces, condiments, etc., etc., lurking in every corner of my tiny kitchen.

This bottle of tahini dressing has been languishing in my fridge since I bought it several months ago.

Considering we’ve only lived in our current apartment for eight months, I really don’t know how I managed to accumulate enough food to feed a Navy flotilla of starved sailors when I only live with one.

To start Operation CDMK, I inventoried my entire kitchen. I’m sure I’ve missed a can of corn or two hiding out under the sink but here’s what I have:

Dried food
Barley
Couscous
Black rice
Rice noodles
Egg noodles
Red lentils
Rose petals
Rotini
Fettucine
Lasagna noodles
Cornbread mix
Mochiko flour
Panko
Roasted peanuts
Sesame seeds
Palm sugar

Canned food
Coconut milk
Lychees
Longans
Crushed tomatoes
Coconut water
Straw mushrooms
Corn

Frozen
Frozen galangal
Banana leaves
Pandan leaves
Corn
Green beans
Peas
Spinach

Sauces/condiments
Tahini dressing
Tamarind paste
Pickled ginger
Duck sauce
Soy sauce (3 types)
Fish sauce
Molasses
Ketchup
Mayo
Wasabi powder
Balsamic vinegar
Miso

Preserves
Gooseberry preserves
Branston pickle
Nutella
Peanut butter

And of course I have myriad spices: coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika, etc., etc.

With only four weeks till we move, my tactic is to use up as many items as possible in one dish.

Am I in trouble? If someone has a 12-step (or less!) kitchen cleansing program, I obviously need to hear about it.

Or better yet, please leave me suggestions for interesting flavor combinations/recipes using my ingredients above in the comments section. To make it a little more fun, I’ll give away 2 downloads of my “Asian Ingredients 101” iPhone app. I’ll be looking out for recipes that use the most ingredients at one go, and/or the most creative recipe

***This giveaway will remain open until March 1st, so do keep your suggestions coming!***

My husband has been gone almost a week now and I’m surviving. I only suppress the tears whenever Isaac comes home to an empty house crying out, “Dada … dada … dada?” But he’s a tough kid and is easily distracted by choo choos and Elmo.

Looking on the bright side, I’ve checked off a few things from my list. In fact, the first recipe I’m featuring, Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce), used up five items!

So wish me luck and success as I embark on Operation CDMK, and the next phase of my journey.

P/S: Please help spread the word about my giveaway by sharing below!

~~~

Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce)

I came across a recipe for dan dan noodles (“mian” means noodles in Mandarin) in Bon Appetit magazine the other day and immediately recalled the hand-shaven noodles soaked in a spicy, peanutty broth I used to inhale at Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant in Seattle. The version I adapted isn’t as brothy and uses tahini/sesame paste instead of a peanut base which is just fine with me because I had a bottle of tahini dressing I had absolutely no idea what to do with. Since I was trying to use up what I have on hand, I substituted or left out what some might consider key ingredients (yes, that would include Szechuan peppercorns). Nonetheless, it turned out to be the perfect solo lunch. Double or quadruple the amounts to feed more people.

Makes: 1 generous serving
Time: 30 minutes

4 ounces fresh, fat Chinese egg noodles (or Shanghai cu mian or udon), or 2 to 3 ounces dried noodles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus a little more
6 ounces ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced, peeled ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
1/3 cup chicken stock, or more
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or Chinkiang black vinegar
3 teaspoons tahini dressing (or 2 teaspoons tahini/sesame paste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili flakes or chili oil (more if you like it spicier)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Dash sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 green onion, chopped
Fried shallots and fried garlic (optional)

Cook noodles according to package directions until just tender, taking care not to overcook. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drizzle with a little oil to prevent the strands from sticking and set aside in a large bowl.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to break up the pork and cook until halfway done, about 2 minutes.

Add the ginger and cook until the pork is cooked through and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, tahini, soy sauce, chili flakes, and sugar. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. (Add more stock if you’d like a soupier dish.)

Stir in the sesame oil and pour the pork mixture over the noodles. Garnish with the peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and fried garlic.

Pat’s Notes:

Chinese egg noodles, Shanghai-style noodles, or udon can be found at Asian markets. Substitute with linguine if you must. Tahini is available at specialty markets and at Middle Eastern markets. If you’re already at an Asian market, try looking for Chinese sesame paste.

~~~

New Beginnings Part II: A Chinese New Year Dish Called Yu Sheng (鱼生)

yu sheng ingredients 2
Clockwise from top left: carrots, cucumber, wonton chips, pomelo, daikon, and tea-cured salmon in the middle

As I mentioned in New Beginnings Part I, I’m investing all my New Year mojo in yu sheng (Mandarin for “raw fish”), only my version uses tea-cured salmon which is technically still raw.

Also called yee sang (in Cantonese), this “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish’s make-up varies from place to place and comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced raw fish (salmon, ikan parang [mackerel], or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

yu sheng ingredients
I hand cut all my vegetables so they look a little rustic. If you have a mandoline or box shredder, you'll have thinner, cleaner strips.

Like many dishes served during the New Year, yu sheng is popular because of its name (a homonym for the words for prosperity and longevity) and the “lucky” ingredients that go into it. The ingredients are served neatly laid out on a platter and then pandemonium breaks out as diners start tossing with their chopsticks, and crying out auspicious sayings. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll have for the new year. For more info on the dish read Robyn Eckhardt (of Eating Asia)’s article.

While yu sheng is traditionally eaten on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (the celebration lasts 15 days, the length of a moon cycle), restaurants tend to have it on their menus starting a week before the New Year, up till several weeks after.

I guess it’s never too late to seek good luck!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! GONG XI FA CAI! 恭喜发财!

~~~

Lucky (Cured) Fish Salad (Yu Sheng 鱼生)

yu sheng 2

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did make some deviations. Instead of the traditional ikan parang (mackerel), she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad. This is my riff on her version using tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 large appetizer servings

3 1/2 oz/100 g Tea Cured Salmon (1/2 cup)
3 medium carrots, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cup)
1/2 small daikon radish (1/4 pound), peeled and shredded (1 cup)
1 large cucumber, peeled and shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup /2 oz pickled ginger (the sushi kind), shredded
1/2 cup pomelo sacs (from about 5 wedges)

Dressing:
3 tablespoons plum sauce or duck sauce (Sun Luck and Dynasty are 2 brands you can find at regular supermarkets)
2 teaspoons lime juice (1/2 large lime)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Salt to taste

Garnish:
1 cup Wonton Chips (see below)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

In separate bowls, soak the carrots and daikon in cold water for 30 minutes. Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain over the sink for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the carrots and daikon. Rinse the cucumber first and do the same. Set the vegetables aside.

To make the dressing, mix the plum sauce, lime juice, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water (or more) and mix until you like the consistency. Add salt to taste.

To serve, pile each vegetable and the wonton chips around a round platter (roundness symbolises fullness) with the fish in the middle. Scatter the sesame seeds, peanuts, and 5-spice powder on top. Pour the dressing over the salad.

Stand up and Lo Hei (Cantonese for tossing luck)! Toss the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes.

For a complete list of all the auspicious sayings associated with each step and each ingredient, go here.

Wonton Chips

To make the wonton chips, I cut wonton skins into 12 (about 1-by-½-nch) rectangles and deep fried them until golden. Once the oil is ready, the chips take seconds to cook so don’t dilly-dally, they burn quickly. One cup is equivalent to about 48 chips or 4 wonton skins.

Before:After

~~~

Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck

New Beginnings Part I: A New Blog and Tea-Cured Salmon

Picture of a dragon
Enter the dragon (Image via Wikipedia)

Chinese New Year is a celebration of new beginnings and many Chinese take the saying “out with the old, in with the new” very seriously.

This year, the Year of the Dragon, is drumming up a little more hoo-ha–and will welcome quite a few more babies–than usual. In ancient China, the dragon was a symbol of the emperor’s authority and power, and is still considered the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac. And its arrival on January 23rd is predicted to bring not only great success, but also unpredictability and drama.

If I was superstitious and followed Chinese custom accordingly, by New Year’s Eve I will have, among other things, done the following:

• Spring-cleaned my home from top to bottom to remove any traces of bad luck from the previous year (BTW, you’re not supposed to sweep during the New Year celebrations lest your good luck gets swept away!),
• Paid all my debts (still trying!),
• Resolved differences with family members, friends, neighbors and business associates (really, do I have to?),
• Bought new outfits in flashy shades of red or orange for my entire family (tempting but my husband would protest).

As you can see, I’m not very diligent about chalking up points for luck and prosperity.

Even though it appears I’m not going to rid myself of previously accumulated bad karma or even revamp my wardrobe, I have decided that it’s time to take a long hard look at my blog. Since my cookbook came out, I’ve felt that this blog in its current format doesn’t accurately reflect me or what I write about. Hence, I am planning to refocus and I’d like your input!

Some questions I’m pondering:

-What do you like/don’t like about my blog?
-What features or elements would you like me to add?
-Would you like to see more Cambodian recipes perhaps, or a glossary?
-Do you prefer traditional recipes or modern adaptations?
-Do you like the ingredient spotlight and homemade recipe departments? What other ongoing departments are you interested in?

But really, any and all suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. Please do tell all in the comments section!

That being said, I am not totally averse to having some good fortune in the coming year so I will be making yu sheng (raw fish in Mandarin), a dish popular in Singapore and Malaysia, for our mini New Year dinner.

This “salad” is usually eaten in restaurants and its make-up varies from place to place, but comprises an assortment of ingredients including: sliced fish (salmon, ikan parang (mackerel), or grass carp), carrots, daikon, sweet potato, jellyfish, candied fruit, pomelo, pickled ginger, pok chui (fried flour crisps), etc., all dressed with a sweet and sour plum sauce and spices.

curing mix
Salt, brown sugar, and tea leaves form the basis of my curing mix. You can also add a little sake or Chinese wine to turn it into a paste

When my parents first moved to the U.S., my mom decided to make her own version of yu sheng. While most of the ingredients are familiar, she did deviate a little. Instead of the traditional ikan parang [mackerel], she used fresh salmon. She pickled carrots and daikon to make them sweet, sour and importantly, crunchy, and skipped the pickled ginger altogether. Plus, she added what might make yu sheng purists cringe, iceberg lettuce, to bulk up the salad.

I came up with my own riff on yu sheng by making my own tea-cured salmon which is a nice counter to the sweet and sour flavors that may otherwise overpower this dish, and without the iceberg lettuce.

The tea-cured salmon method is below and the full yu sheng recipe is coming up in New Beginnings II.

In the meantime, I’d love your feedback for my new blog!

~~~

Tea-Cured Salmon

IMG_2002

I tweaked this recipe from Chef Arpad Lengyel of Washington D.C.’s Teaism restaurant. I used a heady Ceylon tea my friend had brought back from Sri Lanka and the salmon absorbed the tea’s lovely earthy, smoky flavor. So while you can choose any tea you’d like, do think about how its fragrance and flavor will infuse the salmon. The Ceylon tea I used was almost like a fine dust, but in hindsight a whole leaf tea would’ve been much easier to wash off.

Time: 10 minutes, plus curing time

1 pound fresh skin-on wild salmon fillet, scaled, pin bones removed
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup loose leaf Ceylon tea (use whichever tea you prefer: oolong, sencha, jasmine, etc.)

Mix the salt, sugar, and tea in a small bowl.

Find a non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan that will fit the entire length of fish and line it with plastic wrap, leaving several inches hanging off the sides. Lay half the curing mix on the plastic. Pat the salmon dry and lay it skin-side down on the curing mix. Sprinkle the remaining curing mix over the salmon, coating it evenly. Don’t forget the sides. (It looks like a lot of curing but after scouring numerous recipes, it seems necessary!)

Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon and wrap it tightly, kinda like a present. Weigh the salmon down with something heavy – try a plate, brick, or some canned foods. Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days, draining the liquid that comes out and flipping it once every day (although I was not very diligent). If you can’t wait 3 days, some sources say a minimum of 24 hours would suffice.

IMG_1991

When the salmon is ready, scrape off the curing mix and rinse it thoroughly with cold water. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and place it skin side-down on a cutting board. With your longest, thinnest, sharpest knife, slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. The sliced salmon will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

If the salmon is too salty for your taste, rinse it as many times as necessary.

~~~

Other Chinese/Lunar New Year dishes you might enjoy:

Chinese New Year Cake
Pumpkin Cake
Cantonese Cake
Longlife Noodles
Teochew Duck

Deconstructing Take Out: Make Honey Walnut Shrimp at Home

Honey. Walnut. Shrimp. These three words strung together invoke such delight in me, I should probably be embarrassed.

But seriously … Crispy shrimp coated with a sweet, creamy mayonnaise dressing and studded with candied walnuts, what’s there not to love about this dish?

This dish isn’t your usual Chinese fare the likes of fried rice or chow mein. In fact, with ingredients such as mayonnaise, honey, and candied walnuts, this dish is as far from the Far East as one could imagine. Rumor has it honey walnut shrimp was invented in Hong Kong and was transplanted to the U.S. in the early 1990’s when chefs started immigrating stateside in anticipation of the 1997 handover of the British colony to China.

Whatever its provenance, honey walnut shrimp has come to be a fixture on every Chinese restaurant menu in the U.S. and it’s one dish I’ll always order.

When we dine out with my siblings and their families, it’s a race of dexterity and speed with the chopsticks. Slowpokes get stuck with only bits of candied walnuts, which are yum but I’d much rather have choice morsels of shrimp. You can bet my chopsticks skills are up to par! My husband has to rely on me to snag one or two pieces for him. Most often though, we compromise by placing two orders so there’s enough shrimp to go around, and no hair-pulling or kicks under the table.

Lately, I’ve been on an “I can make that!” kick, attempting to recreate beloved restaurant favorites at home. Fried rice, check! Shrimp and Pineapple Red Curry, no sweat.  Pot stickers? Easy.

Judging from this recent post on Food52 , I’m not alone.

I’ve been told before how easy honey walnut shrimp is to make. However, I’ve never attempted it until I was flipping through Bee’s (of Rasa Malaysia fame) new cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes—Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao.” (Tuttle Publishing, September 2011).

True to the title of her book, honey walnut shrimp is super easy! As are other familiar favorites such as pot stickers, Kung Pao chicken and Mongolian beef. A comprehensive ingredient guide, informative snippets on making shrimp “bouncy” (who knew?) and chili oil, plus, deep-frying and stir-frying tips and tricks round off this must-have book. (Ahem … do I hear Christmas present?)

Here’s to Bee’s new book and easy take out dishes done at home!

~~~

Honey Walnut Shrimp (核桃虾)

Adapted from Easy Chinese Recipes—Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao (Tuttle Publishing, September 2011) by Bee Yinn Low

Time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time
Makes: 4 servings

8 ounces shelled and deveined medium raw shrimp (I used 41-50 count. Go here for a guide to shrimp sizes)
1 tablespoon egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
Oil for frying

Dressing:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon condensed milk
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Glazed walnuts:
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and marinate with the egg white and salt for about 30 minutes.

To make the walnut glaze, rinse the walnut halves with cold water and drain.

In a small pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat and add in the sugar. Keep stirring until the syrup thickens. Lower the heat to medium and add the walnut halves. Keep stirring until the mixture turns golden brown or caramel in color, about 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully as you don’t want to burn the walnuts. Transfer the walnut halves onto parchment or wax paper to dry.

To make the dressing, mix the mayonnaise, condensed milk, honey and lemon juice in a bowl that is big enough to accommodate the shrimp. Set aside.

Dust the marinated shrimp evenly with the cornstarch. Shake off any excess.

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a wok or stockpot to 350 degrees F. Drop the shrimp one by one into the oil and deep-fry in batches until the shrimp turns light  golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Combine the shrimp with the dressing and toss well.

Transfer the shrimp to a serving plate and garnish with the candied walnuts and serve immediately.

~~~

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 What are your favorite restaurant/take out dishes you like to make at home?

A New Take On A Dim Sum Favorite: Chinese-Style Savory Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin savory cake
Chinese-style savory cake--think turnip cake (aka luo bo gao)--updated with canned pumpkin

When I was gathering recipes for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, I spent a day with Cathy Chun and her sister, Carol, cooking, chatting and sharing.

Shrimp with black bean sauce and taro cake were on the menu. While both were delicious, only the shrimp dish made it into the cookbook. However, I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to highlight the taro cake recipe.

So the other day, as I was thinking about all the wonderful things I could make with the season’s bounty of pumpkin, I decided, why not make a Chinese-style savory cake with pumpkin instead of taro or turnip?

Pumpkin savory cake
The stirfried ingredients in a Chinese savory cake (from top right): Chinese sausage, shrimp, Tianjin preserved vegetables, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions

Taro or turnip cake is a staple at dim sum restaurants and surprisingly easy to make at home. Cathy learned to make this recipe from her dad but it is based on a recipe from Rhoda Yee’s seminal cookbook Dim Sum: The Delicious Secrets of Home-Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch (1977).

The recipe calls for some ingredients you can’t find at your local Safeway or Giant so let’s talk about them for a little bit and discuss substitutions.

Chinese Sausage (lap cheong, lop cheung)

Pumpkin savory cake
Sweet, salty, and slightly smoky, Chinese sausage adds so much flavor to just about any dish from fried rice to an omelet. It is is smoked, preserved, dried and sold in packages of 10 to 12 links. Unopened, it will last 3 months refrigerated. After opening, wrap it in a sealed bag or container and refrigerate for a month.

The brand I buy is Kam Yen Jan.

If you cut the sausage crosswise and look closely, you’ll see bits of white. This is pure fat! Cathy showed me how to steam the sausages on the stove for about 8 to 10 minutes to render the fat so that it becomes a little healthier. For simplicity’s sake, I microwave them. You can also sauté slices in a dry wok or skillet for about 7 to 8 minutes. Use the rendered fat to fry the rest of the ingredients but this defeats the purpose of rendering the fat :).

In this recipe, you can substitute ham, pork loin or Chinese barbecued pork (char siu).  To make a meat-free version, use Chinese dried mushrooms or fresh portabellos or shitakes. Or mix and match.

Shrimp
Pumpkin savory cake
The original recipe uses dried shrimp but I prefer my shrimp sans coloring and preservatives so I bought cooked pink shrimp instead.

Preserved vegetables
Pumpkin savory cake
Rhoda Yee’s recipe calls for chung choy, pickled turnip. I haven’t been able to find it at the Asian market but according to Cathy it comes rolled up like a ball of twine. I used Tianjin preserved vegetables (also called tong cai or winter vegetables) instead, which is pickled cabbage. A preserved vegetable is a preserved vegetable right?

Sometimes Tianjin preserved vegetables are sold in a cute little clay crock.

If you are wary of preserved vegetables, leave them out but add a little salt or soy sauce to the batter because the vegetables add saltiness.

Pumpkin
Pumpkin savory cake
To make taro cake, you’d have to buy fresh or frozen taro and cook it with broth to soften. While I’m a from-scratch cook at heart, ever since Isaac was born, all my good intentions have gone out the window. Thus, I am thankful for the convenience of canned pumpkin puree. I used Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin puree. For some inexplicable reason, the word “organic” always reassures me.

Flour
Pumpkin savory cake
Traditionally, taro cake is made from rice flour and wheat starch. However, rice flour has only become more available in recent years. So when Rhoda Yee was developing her recipe for taro cake in the mid-1970’s, she probably discovered that cake flour (Swans Down brand, she says, has no substitute!) produced a cake with a texture closest to traditional taro cake. Made from soft wheat flour, cake flour gives a delicate, velvety texture, which is what taro cake is all about.

I used King Arthur cake flour which has fewer additives than Swans Down. To make your own, put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, then fill the cup with sifted, bleached, all-purpose flour (3/4 cup).

I hope you’ve gained an understanding of the ingredients that go into a Chinese savory cake. Now, let’s get cooking!

~~~

Savory Pumpkin Cake
Pumpkin savory cake

I’ve updated Cathy’s recipe using canned pumpkin and baked the cake in a water bath in the oven instead of steaming on the stovetop. The cake will turn out softer than the traditional rice recipe but it tastes pretty authentic with a touch of sweetness from the pumpkin. The only difference is the pieces won’t hold up to pan-frying. Savory pumpkin cake is delicious for breakfast or as a snack, or serve it as an unusual seasonal appetizer for your holiday party!

Time: 1-1/2 hours
Makes: 1 9-inch round cake

2/3 cup sliced Chinese sausage (2, 7-inch sausages) or a combination of ham, char siu or mushrooms
2 teaspoons
1/4 cup cooked pink shrimp
2 tablespoons Tianjin preserved vegetables or chung choy (pickled turnip)
1/3 cup green onions, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup cake flour
1/3 cup chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the sausage in a wide bowl and pour in 1/3 cup water. Cover to avoid splattering and microwave on medium-high for 2 minutes to render the fat. Drain the fat and mince the sausage into confetti-sized pieces.

In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil and stir-fry the sausage, shrimp, and preserved vegetables. Add the green onions and fry for 2 minutes before adding the cilantro. Sprinkle the five-spice powder and white pepper and mix well. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the cake flour with the stock and pumpkin until smooth. The mixture will be a little lumpy. Add the meat mixture and stir to mix well. The batter’s consistency will resemble thick oatmeal.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9-inch metal cake pan (disposable is fine). Cover with foil and set the pan in a roasting pan. Pour water into the roasting pan until it reaches to about an inch up the cake pan to create a water bath.

Place the batter in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the center is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. The cake will still be soft.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight, so that the cake will firm up. Or make ahead and freeze. Defrost in the fridge or microwave on low to defrost.

Let the cake sit out until it reaches room temperature. When ready to serve, run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen sides. Cut the cake into 2-inch-wide strips and then on the diagonal into diamond-shaped pieces. Garnish with fried shallots, green onions and cilantro, and serve with hoisin sauce and chili sauce.

~~~

For those who would like a more traditional turnip or taro cake recipe:
Rhoda Yee’s original Taro Pudding Cake recipe

Grace Young’s Turnip Cake Recipe 

Daikon Radish Cake (Luo Bo Gao) recipe from Foodmayhem.com