Noodles II: Chap Chae

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Once I presented this Korean dish at a party with many Chinese guests, and was told that it is actually very Chinese. The star is sweet potato noodles - I love their elasticity and affinity for flavours and how their translucence lets the bright vegetables shine through. (I don't love how they like to clump together in a big mass, but manoeuvering them is part of the fun.) Carrot, mushroom, spinach,onion and sesame are the classic flavours here. I added celery because I had some to use; you can easily leave it out or add other vegetables such as green peppers.

Start water boiling for the noodles and set aside . Chop one large carrot, two skinny stalks of celery, and four green onions into matchsticks; chop 2 large fresh or rehydrated shiitake mushrooms into thin slices. Chop half a bunch of spinach, or leave baby leaves whole. Chop 3 cloves of garlic and julienne 3 oz of beef. (Other options - can use thin slices of fried scrambled egg, or dried tofu. Beef works very well in this dish though, the flavour is really right.)

The meat and each vegetable has to be fried separately to start. This may seem like a hassle but the textures are important, and you want things to cook quickly in high heat. It really doesn't take that much more time than doing everything together and you can adjust the heat for each step. Start by frying the beef with the garlic and 1/2 tsp salt in a large frying pan or wok until cooked through; remove to bowl and add carrots to wok. Cook over high heat til carrots are tender but not soft and remove to same bowl. Follow by cooking onions - they will need only a few seconds - and celery. Blanch the spinach (can use the noodle water for this).

Boil 1/2 of a pound potato starch noodles for a couple of minutes until just soft; then drain and add to frying pan with other ingredients. Add2 tbs sesame oil, 2 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs white sesame seeds, and 2 tsp sugar. Stir together til heated through and flavours are blended. Serves 2-3.

Noodles I : Ants Climbing a Tree

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This is the first in a series of noodle themed posts that will appear over the next month. Enjoy!

One of the better known Sichuan dishes is 蚂蚁上树 (ma3yi3 shang4shu4 - ants climbing a tree). Highly seasoned ground pork is cooked with bean thread noodles so that as you lift your chopsticks, bits of meat cling to the noodles like ants climbing up a tree.

My attempts at Chinese cooking often turn out badly for reasons that I don't understand, but I figured that a dish this simple might be within my grasp. The only specialty ingredient here is dou ban jiang - spicy fermented bean paste. The most efficient way is to start your water boiling for the noodles, chop the vegetables, and then begin cooking the noodles just before you start to cook the other ingredients. If you have everything on hand, it is about ten minutes' work.

Bring a litre or so of water to boil and cook 120 g (three single serving bundles) of bean thread noodles for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Chop 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp of ginger, 2 mild red chilies, and four green onions. Save some green onions aside for garnish and start cooking everything else in 2 tbs of oil until fragrant, then add 1/2 cup of finely ground pork and cook together until pork is cooked through. Add 1 tsp of white sugar, 1 tbs sesame oil, 1 1/2 tbs dou ban jiang, 1 tbs ground red pepper (more or less depending on how much of a chili head you are), 1 tbs soy sauce, and 2/3 of a cup or so of water. Cook til you have a uniform, soupy mixture and then add the drained noodles. Mix everything together until noodles absorb the water and then garnish with reserved green onions. Serves 2-3 with rice and another dish.

Rou Jia Mo

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A street food guide I read once recommended patronizing places where more than one family member works - a sign that their little business is popular enough to support a household. This couple works in perfect tandem - he shapes and bakes the bread and she chops up stewed chunks of pork with green pepper and stuffs it inside the round of bread, then moistens the sandwich with a ladle of dark broth before handing it to you. Rou jia mo (肉夹馍) is one of those snacks that can be boring or very, very good if done right. This family's bread is always fresh and crusty on the outside, and the sandwich is always satisfying. Even though they give you a plastic bag to use as a handle, you have to be careful of the juice running over your hands. Rou jia mo is not native to Sichuan (though it resembles the local hot pork guo kui; more on those in the future) but comes from Shaanxi. If you visit Xian you will see it more.

A close up of the sandwich, which costs 2.5 to 3 rmb or 20 to 24 cents. You can add an egg for another half rmb.