Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Chinese Refreshment" & "Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood" - Fried Dumplings and Savory Bean Thread Noodles

Date I made these recipes: August 24, 2008 – The Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics

Chinese Refreshment edited by Li Yung
Published by: Wan Li Book Co., Ltd. Hong Kong
© 1979
Recipe: Fried Dumplings p. 35-39

Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood by Ken Hom
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-58785-8 © 1997
Recipe: Savory Bean Thread Noodles – p. 251-2

So the Olympics are in China, thus the Chinese recipes for today’s blog, but let’s be serious: the entire thing could really be called The Michael Phelps Show.

In case you haven’t been watching (and sadly, I didn’t have time until the first weekend), Michael Phelps is a young man (kid, really) who won eight gold medals in this Olympics. Eight. Whoa. The last event, the 4 x 100-meter medley relay was a heart-stopper and even though I knew the results in advance, I still leapt out of my chair. And sure, part of it was the excitement of number eight, but part of it was my own walk down memory lane when once upon a time, I swam that relay on my high school team.

Despite the fact that my school was tiny (about 120 students per class), once Title IX came out mandating equal sporting opportunities for women, my school got on the bus and never looked back. I was on the tennis team for a couple of years and in 1975, was on the women’s swim team, a team that lasted all of one year for reasons I cannot remember, prompting a fellow swimmer to call the phantom 1976 team “The team that wasn’t.”

But for one, glorious season we swam and people, we did so under interesting conditions…which is to say that we had a pool but it was built in around 1940 and therefore not regulation. This short pool required us to swim double laps to prepare for meets, and the drain was such that every once in a while, it would clog up causing the water to turn from chlorine blue to an emerald green. I kid you not. Of course, the students complained but we were made to swim anyway and at that time, no parent ever spoke up about any adverse conditions. Today, I can about bet the farm that this would be an outrage.

Despite having orange and black as our school colors, we had green and gold swimsuits and while that was fine by me, Packer fan that I am, it seemed a little silly. We didn’t have warm-up jackets (I don’t think anybody ever even thought of that) and often had to take the short buses to meets, the long buses being reserved for men’s sports.

Now I wouldn’t say that our team wasn’t motivated but we were so outnumbered at most meets and so not in tip-top shape (we never worked out and more than a few members were a little on the chubby side), that I think we unconsciously adopted an attitude of “We don’t care because we don’t have to.” Clearly we were not destined for Olympic glory. That’s not to say that we didn’t do okay for ourselves because we did, often surprising the opposing teams, but for the most part we were fish out of water at these competitions. Hahaha.

Since we were a small school, most of the men were engaged in basketball or wrestling and therefore not interested, but we did have one, lone male represent the men’s side of things at a meet. Now, this guy’s name was George but our coach must have abbreviated it for roster purposes to “Geo” and sure enough, when the announcer called the lane assignments, he said “And in Lane 1, Geo Cowell.” Poor Geo, he never lived that down.

As far as competition went, I ended up swimming the backstroke simply because – go figure—not every swimmer could swim the freestyle, our collective favorite stroke. These silly officials seemed to think that some of us should do other strokes and I tried but I never could get the hang of the breaststroke kick and was too wimpy for the butterfly so backstroke it was. But people, I hated that stroke. I swam the 100 backstroke, as well as the backstroke in the 400 medley relay but the 400 meter freestyle relay was more my style and I often anchored the women’s team to a respectable finish. Not quite an Olympic-proportion finish but a decent one at that in pools that seemed endlessly long compared to our kiddie pool back home. Oh well, in my next life, it would have been in China.

And so okay, now back to China (you were wondering, weren’t you). Finding recipes in the Chinese Refreshment book was challenging because the recipes often weren’t clear if the meat should be cooked first or not, plus many of the dumplings required Chinese flour that I didn’t want to buy (and lard, which I also didn’t want to buy!). In the end, my attempt at cooking a recipe from this cookbook turned out to be my own Olympic event!

Let’s start with the Fried Dumplings. I should have known I was in trouble right away because all recipes were printed first in Chinese then translated into English. I about had a headache when I was done. (“What do you think they mean by this?!”)

As an example, the main ingredients for the fried dumplings consisted of 12 oz. of pork and 5 ½ shrimp. The recipe didn’t say what kind of pork or whether to cook the pork first and seriously – 5 ½ shrimp? Seemed odd but that’s what it said. I asked a butcher at my grocery store what he thought I should do and he thought I should cook everything first (as did I) and that I couldn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin. And in fact, I didn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin or any of the other ingredients…at least until we got to the dumpling dough.

Oy, the dumpling dough! What.a.mess. I have a sneaky feeling that we should have used Chinese flour because regular flour combined with all the water the recipe required created one gloppy mess such that we ran to a local market for wanton wrappers!

And then there was the cooking thereof of the dumplings. The recipe said to use pork fat but didn’t say how one obtained the pork fat so I used peanut oil. The directions also said to fry with a “bright fire” until golden brown (are they kidding me??) and I did but the frypan was very hot and a few of them were scorched. Yikes.

And let me just say a word about working with wanton wrappers; they tell you to use a triangle method to fold the wrapper over the filling but don’t do it. Instead, do what my husband did—instead of fighting with that design (which proved hard to do), he worked with it instead and so we produced very lovely wanton rectangles! You’ll thank me later.

By comparison, the other recipe for Savory Bean Thread Noodles was a piece of cake. No fuss, no muss and more importantly, no guessing as to the method of preparation.

As for taste, the dumplings scored about a 7 (I’m not a big fan of salt and they were slightly salty) and the savory noodles about a 9. Neither hit the perfect score, but that’s okay because we had athletes like Michael Phelps to do it for us with his big eight win.

Enjoy this small taste of the Orient. As for me, I’m already gathering my British Isles cookbooks to get ready for London four years from now. Kidding! That’s a little early even for me but the 2010 Winter Games, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, aren’t. Let’s see, what do I have in the way of Canadian cooking?

Fried Dumplings (good luck!!)

For the filling:
12 oz pork (I used pork tenderloin, then browned it on all sides and then finished it off in the microwave)
5 ½ shrimps (yes, that’s what it said. Buy cooked)
1 lb. cabbage (the recipe says use Tientsin but unless you live in a very Asian part of the country, substitute Napa).
6 mushrooms, soaked (not to be confused with 5 mushrooms or possibly 4!)

For the seasonings:
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons soy sauce
Dash of monosodium glutamate (I didn’t use this)
Ground pepper, a pinch

For the dumpling wrappers, the recipe said you’ll need 2 ½ cup flour, 2 ½ cup boiling water and 1 ½ cup cold water. As I mentioned, we used wanton wrappers and they were okay but not quite what we were looking for. But definitely use them versus the flour mixture.

Rinse cabbage and then cut into very thin slices. Cook in boiling water for 10 minutes. Take out from pot and dry. Then add salt and monosodium glutamate. (I highly recommend using very little salt; 2 teaspoons was too much).

Cut pork, shrimps and mushrooms into tiny bits. (I diced the hell out of these ingredients and you should, too!). Add the sauce mixture. Now let’s pause here a minute: the recipe lists ingredients for the filling and then “seasonings” and the outer layer but no where did it mention “sauce.” Since I used the salt for the cabbage, as directed, I didn’t add it to the sauce I made, composed of the sesame oil, soy sauce and a pinch of pepper. And still the recipe was salty!! (And so the quest for the perfect instructions continues…)

Once you add the “sauce” mixture, stir the filling and sauce mixture in a big bowl until the ingredients thicken, then add cabbage and mix well. Put in refrigerator for about half an hour.

I’m going to skip the directions for the outer layer and just go right to the end! Place about a ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wanton wrapper, fold, seal and then fry in about two teaspoons of fat (and if you have pork fat, go for it!) with a “bright fire until dumplings get golden brown colour (Note: the author used the British spelling of color).” Spray a little water and sesame oil and vinegar on the dumplings, then cover the pan until the moisture is rather evaporated.

This is supposed to make about 40 dumplings but we made about a dozen or so and called it a day.

Savory Bean Thread Noodles
2 2-ounce packages dried bean thread (cellophane) noodles (look for the words “Vermicelli Green Bean Thread” on the wrapper)
1 teaspoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
½ pound ground pork
1 cup homemade chicken stock or reduced-salt canned broth
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Asian sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped scallions (for garnish. Optional)

Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. When they are soft, drain them and discard the water. Cut the noodles into 3-inch lengths, using scissors or a knife.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the peanut oil and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry quickly for 15 seconds. Then chuck in the meat and stir-fry, breaking up the meat, for 3 minutes. Then pour in the stock, rice wine oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Cook the mixture over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Now toss in the drained noodles and the sesame oil and cook for a further 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Ladle onto a platter, sprinkle scallions on top and serve at once with rice.


mbe said...

Nice post. I'll definitely try the noodle recipe as I love bean thread noodles!

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