Butter and Black Vinegar

Friday, June 15, 2007

These made-in-China butter tarts gain a bit in translation – a sharpening shot of black vinegar. A passage from Nellie McClung I was reading a few months ago reminded me that people used to make pies out of not much more than vinegar, sugar, and eggs. I do love a tart element in pastry, though often this comes from fruit – lemon, lime, apples, or raspberries. I made these on a day when I was feeling some angst about my approaching return to Canada. The bitter walnuts and coarse deep brown sugar (here called hong tang, or red sugar) complete a dark twist on the sweet, basic, and quintessentially Canadian butter tart recipe.

The tarts were very well received when I served them, though the pastry I used was much too rich. You can use your own or bought tart shells. These work best as mini tarts and go great with coffee or a glass of milk.

Beat together two eggs, 1 cup dark brown sugar, ½ cup corn syrup, 1 tbs black vinegar, ¼ cup melted butter, 1 tsp vanilla. Put a walnut half (about 30 total) in each of about two and a half dozen mini tart shells and spoon filling into the shells. Bake in a 400 degree oven til pastry is browned and filling is just set, about eight minutes.

San Da Pao (Three Big Cannons)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

This sweet snack usually turns up during local events or near attractions like Wen Shu Yuan (a temple just to the north east of downtown Chengdu). They are three balls of sweetened sticky rice thrown against a metal tray filled with ground sesame and toasted soy. Each ball makes a loud boom against the tray, hence the name. The vendor then douses them in a sweet syrup and hands you your treat.

You can find them on Jinli Street, which has an area where you can buy traditional snacks. There are English signs with at times alarmingly literal translations, and I think these are called Three Big Guns.

Vendor throwing the rice balls against the tray:


Sunday, June 03, 2007

This combination of rice and vegetables cooked in chicken stock is comforting, full flavoured, and perfect for when you are under the weather. I have no idea how authentic this version is; I made it from memory after watching someone else. The secret is to use a really good chicken stock.

Saute 1 cup of rice in a little oil or butter in a thick bottomed pot until rice is toasty. Add one chopped tomato and one cup of diced zucchini or other summer squash. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables are warmed through and then add one and a half cups of chicken or vegetable stock and a teaspoon of salt, depending on how salty your broth is. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for a few minutes until liquid is absorbed. I like it pretty dry, but you could add more broth or water if you prefer a soupier mixture.