Our Valentine’s Day Chinese Feast

Bill Lee’s Bamboo Chopsticks, Bakersfield, California, the early 1970s: my first experience with Chinese food and also the first time I ever had rice that didn’t come out of a box or a boiling bag. That meal was a revelation and the beginning of my lifelong love of Chinese 10982472_1544562569145642_7033656787876584065_nfood. From the Americanized Cantonese food of Bill Lee’s, I moved on to the more “exotic” Mandarin cuisine at Yen Ching, where I went out with my first serious girlfriend Lisa before prom, and discovered pot stickers, sizzling rice soup and mu shu pork. I’ve never looked back or stopped finding new Chinese dishes and regional cuisines to enjoy.

10989209_1544562592478973_2500696092370550640_nI first cooked my own Chinese food in college from an encyclopedic Chinese cookbook that I picked up at the half-price bookstore. Since then, I’ve read and cooked from a bunch of Chinese cookbooks and stir fries and take out classics like broccoli beef and fried rice have been go-to favorites for weeknight dinners. In recent years, some of my favorite resources have been Barbara Tropp’s classic The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking and China Moon Cookbook, which Kate introduced me to, and Jaden Hair’s delightful Steamy Kitchen Cookbook and website. My newest culinary love affair, though, is with Fuchsia Dunlop via her fantastic new book Every Grain of Rice. Don’t worry, Kate, I still love you, too. Every Grain of Rice

Every Grain of Rice is the first cookbook in a long time that I have literally been unable to put down. From the minute I got it home from the library, I’ve been reading it cover to cover. Fuchsia Dunlop draws on her years of travel and study in China and employs her clear and engaging writing style to explain what Chinese people actually eat at home. While most of the recipes are simple enough to make, the layers of flavor in the dishes that we have cooked so far have been stunning. Some of the recipes we’ve made, General Tso’s Chicken, for example, which Fuchsia learned to cook in the Taipei kitchen of Peng Chang-Kuei, the Hunanese exile chef who created it, have been so memorable that we’re unlikely to order them in a restaurant again. I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough.

10959368_1544562549145644_5641378934035202710_nWith this influence permeating our house, what else could Kate and I choose to do for a romantic Valentine’s Day but to cook an amazing Chinese dinner together? To make sure that all five of the dishes we were cooking came together without undue craziness, I made a chart of all the ingredients that needed to be chopped, soaked, sliced and marinated for each of the dishes and Kate organized all of the prepared ingredients by dish so that they would all come together without a hitch. And, with our signature teamwork, they did.

We started with Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce, a simple but delicious cold dish of radishes IMG_0558dressed with soy, chilli oil and sesame oil and which has quickly become a regular in our go-to appetizer collection. We followed up with Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitakes, Chinese Broccoli with Sizzling Oil, Twice-Cooked Pork and Gong Bao Chicken accompanied by Tsingtao beer. Every single dish was treat, and, at the risk of being immodest, the Gong Bao IMG_0556Chicken (often written as Kung Pao) was the best that either of us has ever had.

The recipe that we’re going to share is for the Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce, which, if you like them as much as we do, you’ll make over and over.

 

 

 

 

Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce (Qiang Luo Bo)
(From Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches small red radishes10959744_1544543512480881_5774613897607201305_n
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli oil with sediment
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Wash and trim the radishes and smack them lightly with the side of a cleaver or chef’s knife to crack them open.
  2. Salt the radishes and set them aside for approximately 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a small serving bowl.
  4. After 30 minutes, or so, drain the liquid from the radishes, pat them dry with a paper towel and add them to the bowl of sauce. Mix well and serve.

Corn Pudding

Corn Pudding

Corn Pudding

Continuing the summer corn theme, today’s recipe is corn pudding made with the extra corn and jalapeños that I bought when I was shopping for the corn chowder the other day. I made this last night as a side dish to go with grilled sirloin tip steaks and pan fried shishito peppers. I shouldn’t really call it a side dish, though, because corn pudding is always the star of the meal when we make it.

Kate and I discovered corn pudding years ago at Doña Tomás in Oakland where it’s served as a regular summer specialty. It was definitely love at first bite for both of us, though we didn’t try making it at home until earlier this summer. At Doña Tomás, they make it with corn and diced zucchini, which is delicious, but, after experimenting with a number of variations, I really like the combination of corn and fire-roasted jalapeño and tend to make it that way at home. By all means, feel free to experiment with the ingredients. Last night, I crumbled a couple of strips of crispy bacon in which the vegetables, but I strongly suspect that I’ll keep coming back to the vegetarian version that I’ve written up in the recipe below. It’s just that good.

This recipe makes about six side dish servings or four main course servings. Once again, you wouldn’t go wrong with a glass of cold sauvignon blanc with this, or maybe a cold bottle of Negra Modelo to celebrate the Mexican inspiration for the dish. If serving as a main course, a crisp green salad is just the thing to round out your plate.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • 2 large jalapeño peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and diced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ cups whipping cream or half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  2. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
  3. IMG_0257Shuck the corn, removing the silk as well as you can, and cut the kernels off of the cobs into a bowl with a knife (you should end up with approximately 1½ to 2 cups of kernels).
  4. IMG_0256Roast the jalapeño. I usually just turn on one of the burners of my gas stove, hold the pepper with a pair of metal tongs and fire roast it in the gas flame until it’s blistered all over. If you don’t have a gas stove, or want to be more cautious, roast the pepper in a small skillet over medium heat, turning it with tongs every so often, until it’s blistered all over. Either way, let the pepper cool a bit then peel off the blistered skin, which should come away easily. Split the pepper in half, scrape out the seeds and dice the flesh of the pepper.
  5. Add the diced roasted jalapeño and ¼ cup of all-purpose flour to the bowl with the corn and mix with a fork, or your fingers like I do, until the vegetables are evenly coated with flour. Spread the corn and jalapeño evenly in the buttered baking pan.
  6. In another bowl, or large glass measuring cup, beat the two whole eggs and additional yolk briefly then whisk in the whipping cream or half-and-half and salt until the mixture is smooth. The pudding will be richer if you use whipping cream, but it’s still delicious with half-and-half (and we usually have a quart of that in the house).
  7. Pour the cream and egg mixture over the vegetables and bake, uncovered, on the IMG_3359middle rack of the preheated oven for about an hour, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 30 minutes. When it’s done, the pudding will be golden brown on top and slightly resilient to the touch. Let the pudding cool for about 15 minutes before serving.
  8. Leftover corn pudding, if there is any, is delicious either reheated or at room temperature. This recipe also doubles well for a crowd. Just use a 13x9x2 baking dish instead of the square one and double all of the ingredients, though I recommend using three whole eggs and three yolks instead of four whole eggs and two yolks and ⅓ cup of all-purpose flour is probably enough to coat the vegetables.