Country #8: China

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I apologize for the delay in posting; this post was many weeks in the making, and the past three weeks have been insanely busy. What am I talking about; who isn’t busy these days?
Other than a new post, I am also using a new computer! Super exciting. I have finally gone over to the Dark Side and gotten a Mac, which was partially in response to my Facebook post of “I am getting a new PC laptop and using it for mostly music and graphics, which should I get?” and 50% of the responses said to get a Mac. It is so pretty and shiny.
But you’re not here to read about technology! You are here to read about food. Delicious, flavorful Chinese food that makes you feel at home and on an adventure at the same time. To properly do a post for China, I decided to have a Chinese New Year party, that was slightly belated due to conflicted schedules. But the kitchen gods won’t smite me; I gave them too much of a feast for that! It took me three weeks to prepare, but I ended up making:
100 dumplings
50 spring rolls
Tea eggs
Beef noodle soup
Sauteed yu choy
New Years spiral moon cakes

Yikes! This was quite an operation. Unfortunately I don’t have great quality pictures of all of it, because once the cooking began I was pretty much chained to the stove, but I will link you to my recipe sites so you can see for yourself. Also unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try the tea eggs or yu choy (and only a spoonful of soup!) before they had disappeared into 25 hungry mouths, but I have it on good authority that they were both delicious.
This was my first cooking experience where I had a “disaster.” I have screwed food up many times (who hasn’t?!), but I have always been able to salvage something from it - a crumbled cake gets held together by frosting and chopsticks, an undercooked pork roast gets thrown back in the oven - but this was the first (and second) time that I really had to throw out ingredients.
I tried making hand-pulled noodles, because long, un-cut noodles are a Chinese New Year symbol of a long life, but they were a complete failure. My loyal friends/cooking assistants and I kneaded the noodle dough for over 45 minutes to break down all the gluten, and when we tried to pull them, what happened? They broke. Into little pieces. I added water, I added flour, I tried this and that, but I could not rescue these noodles. Eventually we gave up and hand rolled a few of them into noodles and put them into some Top Ramen (truly a foodie cuisine), but they were.... not a success. Not salvageable. And, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t stop eating them, even though they made us feel kind of sick. Whoops. Anyway, I would not recommend trying these noodles. My hero at Tiny Urban Kitchen made them and was successful, but she a) had a bread machine, and b) had... I don’t know, luck? Persistence? Skill? Practice? These things happen. You can try it if you want, but I can’t help you.
The other thing that failed initially were my spiral moon cakes. I just could not get the doughs to be have similar enough consistencies to meld together and make layers. After I threw out the dough from one recipe, I ended up trying another, which a) totally worked, even though it was sort of cheating, and b) was totally delicious! So, without further ado: the recipes!

Adapted from
(quantities are approximate; I added extra mushrooms because I looove mushrooms, and you can do the same with pretty much any ingredient)
2 cups flour
½ cup water
Mix the flour and water with chopsticks or a spoon (I hear you can do this in a food processor but I don’t have one). Keep mixing until a dough is formed. Knead dough for about five minutes until it holds together, then form into a ball and let sit, wrapped in a damp cloth, for ten minutes.
Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each one into a thick rope. Slice the rope into five or six pieces (about 1 inch in diameter) and roll each piece into a ball. Roll each ball into a round disc about 5 inches in diameter. Try to keep it as round as possible! Important: while you are working with one piece of dough, be sure to keep the rest of the dough covered with the damp cloth so it doesn’t dry out. To store them, stack them on a plate between layers of aluminum foil and plenty of flour so they don’t stick.
1 lb ground pork (or turkey, or crumbled tofu)
⅓ cup shiitaki mushrooms (I used dehydrated and rehydrated them - makes a great mushroom broth)
⅓ cup enoki mushrooms
1 grated carrot
3 green onions
¼ cup minced ginger
4 large napa cabbage leaves, chopped finely
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons corn starch
When chopping the ingredients, try to keep them all the same size, so they mix more evenly. You can theoretically do this in a food processor, but they will not be uniform. Mix all the veggies together with whichever protein you chose. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and corn starch. I mixed with my hands, to really get the ingredients incorporated together. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
To assemble the dumplings, use chopsticks to plop a bit of filling into one of the dumpling skins. Pinch opposite sides of the skin together and begin crimping on one side. Once that side is pleated, move on to the other side. Push the end into itself so that the filling doesn’t leak out. If you want to freeze them, place them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for about an hour. Once they’ve mostly frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag and store them for quite a while. When you’re cooking them, just add a few minutes on to the cooking time.
To cook dumplings:
Put them in a pan (I prefer nonstick) with enough vegetable/canola oil to cover the bottom. Cook on high until the bottoms are golden brown, 3-7 minutes (more if they’re frozen). Add ½ cup of water all at once to the pan -- stand back because it will splatter, and keep in mind that the more batches of dumplings you’ve made, the more likely it is that the water itself will catch on fire -- and immediately cover the pan with a lid, lower the temperature to medium high, and cook until the water boils away. Remove the lid, reduce the head a little more, and cook another minute or two, then serve!

Spring Rolls
adapted from
1 pound ground turkey (or crumbled tofu)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Black pepper
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
8 leaves of napa cabbage
3 carrots, shredded
½ bunch enoki mushrooms, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
20 shiitake mushrooms, minced (again, I used dehydrated mushrooms)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Black pepper
Egg/spring roll wrappers (use the ones in the refrigerated section of the Asian grocery store; there are Vietnamese spring/summer roll wrappers that are dry but these are the wrong kind)
Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mince/chop/grate the ingredients, as evenly as possible. Stir fry the turkey (or tofu, or whichever protein you’d like to use) mixture in canola oil until it is cooked through, then add the veggies. Sautee for a couple of minutes until the veggies are soft, then add the last six ingredients. Stir fry for another minute or so, then remove from heat. Drain the filling -- this is very important, otherwise the spring rolls will be soggy. You can do this by spooning the filling into a sheet pan and propping it up on a corner so the liquid drains out, then pat it dry with some paper towels.
To fill:
Place a wrapper on the table, oriented to that the corner is pointed towards you. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the wrapper, about an inch and a half from the bottom of the wrapper. Being to roll, tightly, until you get to the longest part of the diamond. Fold the left hand corner in, then the right hand corner. Continue rolling, and when you reach the end, put a little bit of water on the edge and press down so that it sticks to the roll. (For excellent photo instructions, see the Steamy Kitchen recipe.)
You can freeze these the same was you freeze dumplings: place them on a cookie sheet, put in freezer for an hour or so, then throw in a plastic bag.

To cook, heat two inches of vegetable oil in a pot or wok to 350 degrees. (I am wedded to my electric thermometer that beeps when it reaches a certain temperature; great for cooking meat, using for candy, everything that an instant read thermometer but better. And you can leave it in the oven or whatever type of food you are cooking. Incredible.) Fry the egg rolls in the oil for about five minutes a side, until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and eat while they’re hot! Serve these and the dumplings with the following dipping sauces:

Ginger Dipping Sauce
adapted from
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 minced green onion
2 teaspoons grated peeled ginger root
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Honey Soy Dipping Sauce
adapted from
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
(this was our least favorite dipping sauce - it was kind of boring)

Hoisin Dipping Sauce
adapted from
½ cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons hot chili sauce
2 teaspoons white vinegar
¼ cup water
(this was our favorite dipping sauce)

Beef Noodle Soup
adapted from
2 lbs beef shank
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch chunk of ginger, chopped
2 star anise
2 green onions, chopped
½ cup soy sauce
2 carrots, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sugar
fresh noodles (from the grocery store :-( )
hot sauce
Soak the beef shank in hot water for several minutes. Discard the water and rinse the beef. Saute the garlic, ginger, anise, and onions with the vegetable oil until fragrant. Add the beef and saute until brown on all sides. Add the soy sauce and cook for a few more minutes. Put into a crock pot with the carrots, tomato, rice vinegar, and sugar. Cover with water, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until beef is extremely tender. Cook the noodles according to the package, then serve the soup with noodles and several dashes of hot sauce (you can use Sriracha or the spicy hoisin dipping sauce from above).

Spiral Moon Cakes
adapted from and
3 sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
⅓ cup milk
sugar, to taste
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Cook the sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water until you can easily slide a fork in. Drain them into a colander and rinse with cold water so you can touch them. Peel off the skin and mash the potatoes in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Water dough
1 ½ cups flour
6 tablepoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup cold water
Place flour, butter, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers (or a pastry blender if you’re lucky enough to have one) until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add the water, and stir to form a soft dough. Add more flour or water as needed to form a smooth but nonsticky dough. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 20 minutes.
Oil dough
1 cup flour
Pinch of salt
7 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
Stir flour and salt together in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the oil and mix with a spoon or your hands to form a dough. Try to make the dough the same consistency of the water dough. Add flour if necessary. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 20 minutes.
Roll the water dough into a large circle. Place the ball of oil dough in the center and wrap the water dough around it. Roll both doughs together to a form a flat, large rectangle. Fold the dough in three like a letter, and roll it out again. Start rolling it up starting on the long side. Cut off the ends, then slice the roll into 16 pieces. Put the pieces in the fridge covered with a damp cloth until you are ready to use them so they don’t get too warm. Roll out each slice into about a 4-5 inch diameter circle. Form the filling into balls about ¾” in diameter, and place in the middle of each dough circle. Wrap the dough around the filling and pinch to close. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until golden (start watching them after 30 minutes; my oven takes a long time). (Mine ended up cracking, but they were super delicious.)

Tea Eggs
adapted from
1 dozen eggs
2 black tea bags
1 star anise
2 tsp salt
Hard boil the eggs (a trick: when hardboiling eggs, spin them in the water so the yolk stays in the middle). Once the eggs have cooled (I recommend putting them in a bowl with cold water to speed up the process), tap them lightly on the counter and then roll them around to create small cracks all around the egg. Put the eggs in a pot of cold water (enough to cover them), and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on medium for about half an hour, turning the eggs periodically so they get all covered with tea, then cover with a lid and let sit overnight. Yum!

Yu Choy
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
½ pound yu choy
Roughly chop the yu choy into approximately three inch segments. Heat the sesame oil, garlic, and ginger in a pan until it starts to smoke a little, then add the vinegar and soy sauce. Toss in the yo choy and stir fry for just about four minutes, until it is bright green but soft. Delicious!
1.5 oz vodka
1.5 oz lychee syrup from canned lychee
Splash of ginger vodka
Splash of ginger ale
1 lychee
Shake the vodka and lychee syrup in a martini shaker with ice. Strain into a glass, then add a splash of ginger vodka* and a splash of ginger ale. Garnish with a lychee and enjoy!
*I store my fresh ginger peeled in jars of vodka in the fridge. This keeps the ginger fresh for months, and when I’m finished with the ginger, I have a nice jar of ginger vodka!
Yahoo! Chinese New Year a success!


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