Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: China, mushrooms
I recently had two jiaozi-making parties with my students at the seminary here in Nanjing. The first party was on Christmas Day with a group of master’s students, and two weeks later I had another jiaozi-making extravaganza with a group of undergrads. Back home in California, I’d made jiaozi numerous times, but I had always used packages of pre-made dumpling wrappers from the grocery. When I told my students here that I made jiaozi with store-bought wrappers, they were stunned. They always make the dough from scratch, rolling-out each jiaozi wrapper with a special slender rolling pin. I told them I was ready to learn how to make them the real way.
At our gatherings, the favorite filling was the mushrooms-ginger one. It’s a filling that my family has been making for years, picked up from an old Ming Tsai episode on TV (way back in the 90s, I believe). My students and I experimented with several vegetarian fillings at both parties, but Ming Tsai’s mushroom-ginger filling was the clear winner. If you are making vegetarian jiaozi, there are so many options in front of you. Greens, garlic, tofu, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, or anything else you dream of. You could actually choose your favorite Chinese stir-fried dish, chop it fine, and stuff it into your jiaozi. This particular mushroom filling has a nice punch of ginger balanced by the mellow sesame oil. The chopped black mushrooms, chopped cellophane noodles, and scrambled eggs all work to hold everything together (the way pork would hold a non-vegetarian filling together).
At both jiaozi-parties I was more involved in making the filling, and I missed the process of actually making the dough. Good thing I already have another jiaozi-making party scheduled right after Chinese New Year, when all of the students come back to Nanjing after the holiday. I learned how to roll out the dough and shape the jiaozi, but next time I’ll learn how to actually combine the proper proportions of flour and water to make the dough.
In Northern China, folks eat and make jiaozi more often than in Southern China. My students come from all over China, and my northern students are the ones who are more confident in making jiaozi. They were the ones taking charge to mix the dough, and the ones giving me detailed tutorials about making the wrappers. A student from Dalian repeatedly stopped me to give me more precise instructions on using the rolling pin, so my technique kept improving. My wrappers started to look pretty good and round, but she is much, much faster. Good thing I’m open for more jiaozi-parties, and more chances at improvement!
If you can find a slender rolling pin, that will work better than a standard hefty Western rolling pin. The rolling pins here in China are only about 1-inch in diameter.
Here’s what I can tell you about rolling out the dough to make the wrappers. Start by pinching off sections of dough that are about 1-2 tablespoons in size. Roll each one into a ball, and then use the palms of your hands to flatten each one into a semi-flat disc, similar to a UFO shape. Then with plenty of dough on your work surface, hold the top third of the dough-disc in your left hand, while rolling the bottom of the disc with the rolling pin under the bottom of your right palm. Roll from the bottom of the circle into the center of the circle, and then back out to the bottom. Then use your left hand to rotate the circle. You’ll keep rotating and working your way all around the circle, like a clock. When you push the rolling pin from the bottom of the circle in, start with more pressure, and the decrease the pressure as you approach the center of the circle. Use even less pressure as you take the rolling pin from the center back out to the bottom of the circle. This will keep the periphery of the circle thinner, and the center of the circle thicker. This way, the dough will be thick enough in the middle to protect the filling while boiling, and it will be thinner on the edges because that is where you’ll be crimping dough together.
We all worked to make the jiaozi around my little round coffee table in my living room. Looking around at the girls, I noticed that they were all making dumplings in different shapes. I asked them about it, and they explained that there are regional differences in dumpling shapes, and they were all from different provinces in China.
I admired the shape from Ningxia province, and practiced making that shape. The Ningxia dumplings sit upright, with a seam that curves across the top. To make the Ningxia shape, after you put a little filling in the center of the circle, bring the top and bottom of the circle together. When you bring the top and bottom together, the sides will still be open on either side. Bring the center of each side opening up to the top, which will give you 4 diagonal openings, 2 on each side. Mash or crimp the 2 back pleats flat into the top seam. The long seam will now still be open at the front edges, so close the open seam, as you crimp it forward. The seam will curve forward now. You’re then supposed to squeeze the dumpling gently to reinforce the shape. This process is a bit hard to explain, but the result is a dumpling with a curved seam along the top, instead of a flat Cornish-pastie-shape. The girl from Wenzhou made ones that were more football-shaped, with fluted patterns on the top that she delicately scratched with her fingernails.
MUSHROOM-GINGER JIAOZI FILLING RECIPE
A single batch of this filling will make about 2.5 cups. So depending on the size of your party, you might want to double or triple this recipe.
1 cup dried black mushrooms
1 cup cellophane noodles
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1/2 cup garlic chives or green onions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
METHOD FOR THE FILLING
Soak the dried black mushrooms in a bowl of hot water. Likewise, soak the cellophane noodles in another bowl of hot water. When they are soft, you can drain them and chop them both fine. In the meantime while they are soaking, chop the garlic, ginger, and green onions. Combine them in a mixing bowl. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Scramble the egg in a way to create a crumbled texture, or alternatively, chop it after scrambling. Add the scrambled egg to the mixing bowl. When the cellophane noodles and dried mushrooms are soft, drain them and chop them fine. Add them to the mixing bowl, and mix everything well.
I live in Nanjing now, where I teach at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. I apologize for not being active on my blog since I moved here in August. I’ve been eating well and cooking well, but I haven’t been writing about it. I promise to do a better job of sharing my meals with you!
One thing I love about eating in Nanjing is the variety of noodle cafes in my neighborhood. I live in the Jiangning university district, which means that many of the restaurants are cheaper because they cater to the thousands and thousands of students who live here. There are several “Lanzhou Lamian” cafes in the neighborhood within walking distance. They have similar menus, featuring hand-pulled noodles and hand-cut noodles. Even though most of the families who manage these places are from Qinghai province near Xinjiang, the cafes are named for Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, which is famous for hand-pulled noodles. I briefly visited Lanzhou in 1998, and now regret that I wasn’t aware that I should have been eating noodles there!
When I want noodle soup, I often order hand-pulled noodles, which are about the thickness of linguine but chewier and slightly irregular because of the pulling. I frequent this Lanzhou Lamian cafe on Qiao Ge Lu, just across the street from the north gate of Jiangsu Maritime Institute. This string of cafes all look scruffy on the outside, but they are clean on the inside. The family who run this cafe is super-sweet, and their food is outstanding. Many of my students also consider it the best noodle place in the neighborhood.
I usually order hand-pulled noodles in a clear broth with greens, and I often order it with a fried egg. They fry the egg and serve it on a separate plate, so you can slide it onto the top of the soup. The trace of grease on the fried egg deliciously dissolves into the broth. I order this when I need something comforting. I also eat this when I miss northern-European style soups, like my Grandma’s noodle soup or my great-grandma’s Danish dumpling soup. It has similar flavors and textures.
Sometimes when I order noodle soup, I get hand-cut noodles instead. Da shou (hand cut) noodles are made by holding a ball of firm dough over a pot of boiling water, and sort of whittling thick noodles from the dough, letting them fall straight into the hot water. The resulting noodles are thick, and incredibly irregular in texture. The chewiness is what Jonathan Gold refers to as “fettuccine on steroids.” This bowl of hand-cut noodle soup has some leafy greens floating in the broth, with a fried egg on top.
This variation has some green chilies added to the broth.
When I’m craving Italian food, I order “chao da shou mian.” In this dish, the previously-mentioned hand-cut noodles are sauteed in a tomato sauce which is built on onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and sweet green peppers. This sort of dish does not taste like typical Chinese food, and gives evidence to the Mediterranean influences of the ethnic minorities in Northwest China. I’ve tried this dish at all of the noodle places in the neighborhood, and prefer it at the Lanzhou Lamian cafe on Longmiandadao, one block north of the NJCI metro station, because their sauce is more delicate and flavorful.
When the noodle guy at that particular cafe cuts his noodles, they are wider, almost reminiscent of wide Italian pappardelle noodles.
I’m so lucky to have a student from Wanzhou (Wanxian), Chongqing, which is where I lived from 2000-2002. She does reconnaissance work to find good Sichuan and Chongqing cafes here in Nanjing. This cafe is in the building connected to the Longmiandadao Metro Station. It’s tiny, with cramped counter seating. They make a limited number of special Sichuan noodle dishes.
This Sichuanese noodle cafe at the Longmiandadao Metro Station makes a wonderful version of suan la fen, (hot and sour noodles). The fen noodles are made from sweet-potato starch, and are sort of clear-grey in color. The soup is an intensely spicy lava of a broth, with a pleasant sour edge. The soup is built on chili-soy paste and preserved vegetables. The rich peanuts floating in the soup are a nice counter-balance to the spiciness. These noodles are so spicy that I cough a little, but it’s worth it — they are so incredibly delicious. I was just there for lunch today with students.
The Sichuan noodle cafe is also where I go for this lamian (or zanmian) dish, which is topped with peanuts, sour preserved vegetables, minced mushrooms, and green onions. There is also a tiny sprinkling of lajiao (red chili) powder. These noodles are simple, but deeply satisfying.
I just moved to Nanjing, China a week ago. On my way here, I spent a week in Chengdu for a conference with Mennonite Partners in China. I used to live in that area of China, so I am familiar with (and also smitten with) that spicy Sichuan cuisine. Here are a few photos of the food I enjoyed in Chengdu!
I ate this spicy noodles for a breakfast during a few of my mornings there. I wouldn’t want to eat this every morning, but it’s a fun breakfast for people who like spicy food.
While I ate the spicy noodles, a woman chopped chilies with a cleaver over at the next table.
Hot soymilk is common as a breakfast beverage all over China. I picked this up most of my mornings in Chengdu. It’s hot, nutritious, and restorative. American soymilk has stabilizers so that it will look more like dairy milk. This real soymilk is delicious, but I wouldn’t put it on cereal — it’s for drinking.
This stall had 2 blenders going at all times making the soymilk.
Peanuts were served as an appetizer. Because it was Sichuan, they were covered in huajiao (numbing Sichuan peppercorns). Love that combination.
Mapo doufu is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, and was invented in Chengdu. As a vegetarian, it’s a top-favorite. I love the “mala” flavor, which is the Sichuan flavor profile for the combination of the of the numbing huajiao (Sichuan peppercorns) mingling with the heat of the chilies. I think I ate it five times during my week in Chengdu, but only took photos of it four times.
Jiachang doufu is homestyle-tofu. The tofu is sliced and then panfried. It’s removed from the pan, while you make a quick sauce with garlic, ginger, chilies, spicy bean paste, and green onions. Once the sauce is going on the stove, you slide the fried tofu slices into the sauce, and they simmer a few minutes to absorb the rich flavors. I love this dish.
Ganbian siji dou, dry-fried green beans. One of the most famous Sichuan dishes. I’m glad I can find good versions of this here in Nanjing.
Chao tudou si is the common Chinese dish of stirfried slivered potatoes. It’s a great side dish. This version includes a smattering of green chilies.
This potato dish is ganbian tudou si, which means the slivered potatoes have been dry-fried, in the way that you’d made the classic dry-fried green beans. Flavor-wise, a “gan-bian” or dry-fried dish usually includes a strong presence of garlic, ginger, and chilies. In Sichuan, they “gan-bian” a number of vegetables, including potatoes, lotus root, and doufu gan (tofu leather). Today I heard from some students that in Shanxi province, they make ganbian noodles!
Here’s an extra-spicy version of the dry-fried potatoes.
Ganbian tudou pian. This dish is the same as the one above, except that the potatoes are sliced instead of slivered.
Ganbian ou is dry-fried lotus root, cooked in the same dry-fried style as the green beans and the potatoes. Even though I’m happy I can find good ganbian green beans outside of Sichuan, the ganbian lotus root is really hard to find.
It’s more common across China to find plain stir-fried lotus root like this. Plain lotus root is still good. I love the crunch of it.
Kongxin cai, also called morning glory or water spinach. The Chinese name literally means “hollow heart vegetable” because the stems are hollow. This is one of the most common vegetable side dishes in China, usually stirfried with a heavy hit of garlic. In Sichuan they often also throw in a few chilies.
Yuxiang qiezi is so-called “fish-fragrant eggplant.” It doesn’t smell like fish, but rather it’s prepared in the same method that is often used for serving fish: spicy and slightly sweet.
Tiger skin peppers (hupi qingjiao) is another distinctive Sichuan dish. Green chilies are seared in a dry wok until their skins start to loosen and peel back. Then soy sauce and black vinegar are added to the wok, and the dark liquid collects in the loosened skin, giving the illusion of tiger stripes. It’s cute and spicy.
Tangcu baicai is sweet and sour cabbage. Sweet-and-sour in Southeast China means there will be an orange glaze. In Sichuan, sweet-and-sour means a little sugar, vinegar, garlic, and ginger. I like the Sichuan version of sweet-and-sour better…
A simple egg fried rice, “dan chao fan.”
Fanqie jidan tang, egg and tomato soup. Scrambled eggs are often mixed with tomatoes as a dish, but I usually prefer eggs and tomatoes combined in a soup like this. Think of an egg flower soup, but with a savory tomato soup base instead of a clear soup. In China, soup is usually eating at the end of the meal.
While in Chengdu, I ate at the Lanzhou lamian place a few times. Lanzhou is in Northwestern China, where the cuisine is different, and influenced by Central Asian cuisines. One of the things they’re famous for is the noodles. These ones were as wide as Italian paparadelle, and were hand cut right after I ordered. Here the noodles are combined with hot and sour cabbage for a vegetarian meal.
The next time I went to Lanzhou lamian, I ordered the same kind of wide noodles, but this time with hot and sour potatoes. It was a starch bomb, but so tasty.
These noodles are hand cut, but you don’t roll out the dough and slice them. Rather, you hold the ball of cold dough in your hand, and then sort of whittle strands of noodles off the the ball of dough, using a sharp little knife. I know a few places in LA that make this kind of noodle. The noodles end up being irregular and chewy. ”Like fettuccini on steroids” as the food critic Jonathan Gold once put it. Here they’re sauteed with a tomato and bell pepper sauce, with some scrambled egg thrown in. As I mentioned before, Northwestern Chinese cuisine has some interesting influences outside of China, and this dish with the simmered tomatoes and peppers seams quite Mediterranean.
I actually didn’t have regular lamian at this place, the thin pulled noodles. Here one of the guys is pulling the noodles by stretching the dough, doubling it over, then stretching it and hitting it on the table. This is the difficult cooking skill that I really want to learn while living in China. Actually tonight as I watched Chinese TV, a game show came on in which the contestants took turns trying to pull noodles.
These mango smoothies were wonderful. They were topped with white tapioca, sweetened condensed milk, and some fresh cubes of mango.
Here are the smoothie toppings, including fresh fruit, but also things like white fungus and red beans.
This is the maze of cafes outside the school gate, the area where I ate many of my meals that week in Chengdu. Let’s go back!
I visited Pennsylvania this summer, and spent a day in West Philly. I was with my sister who used to live there, so we ate our way across the neighborhood, her old stomping grounds. It was imperative that we eat a tofu hoagie while in town. When she used to live in Philly, I visited her there several times, and I always insisted on getting a Vietnamese tofu hoagie (tofu bahn mi) at the Fu Wah Deli on Baltimore Ave. The tofu hoagie is kind of a big deal.
A regular bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich on a french roll, flavored with fresh green chili slices, shredded carrots and daikon, and some hot sauce. The tofu bahn mi is stuffed with delicious marinated tofu (instead of meat). It’s completely satisfying. West Philly is a fun neighborhood, and is a great place for eating. When you’re in town, you should eat this sandwich.
A simple and refreshing beet salad. This isn’t much of a recipe, since it’s so easy to pull together.
GERMAN BEET SALAD
salt and pepper
Leave the skins on the beets, and place in a heavy roasting pan. Roast at 400F for about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the beets, until cooked. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets, and roughly quarter them. Toss with sherry vinegar, then toss in some olive oil. Add some mustard seeds and caraway seeds, to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve it in a pretty bowl that shows off the gorgeous color of the beets.
These marinated olives are mysterious and heavenly. The fennel and orange peel complement the olives perfectly. The flavor is soft and subtle, and the marinade seems to erase some of the saltiness of the olives.
BLACK OLIVES WITH ORANGE AND FENNEL
2 cups black olives — oil-cured, Nicoise, Kalamata, or a mixture
6 small bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
zest of 1/2 small orange, in large strips
extra virgin olive oil to moisten
Combine everything in a bowl. Let stand for 1 hour or more for the flavors to develop. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 weeks.
Marinated mushrooms are a breeze to make and taste much better than store bought. You can spice the marinade with a pinch of hot red pepper flakes and some balsamic vinegar, and sent it with just about any herbs growing in the garden. The mushrooms are ready to eat when they have soaked up enough marinade to flavor them fully. An hour is sufficient, but overnight is best. This recipe comes from Viana La Place’s cookbook Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini: Sandwiches, Italian Style. These marinated mushrooms can be used as an appetizer or side dish, and sliced marinated mushrooms can be tucked into panini sandwiches.
1 pound button mushrooms, all about the same size, if possible
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
1/3 cup water
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh sage leaves
1 bay leaf
small pinch hot red pepper flakes, about 1/8 teaspoon
a few black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, optional
Wipe the mushrooms clean with damp paper towels. Trim stems if necessary. Cut any very large mushrooms in half.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and saute over lower heat until just tender. Transfer to a bowl.
Place the remaining olive oil, lemon, water, garlic, herbs, hot red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, and salt in saute pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over the mushrooms in the bowl. Stir in the optional balsamic vinegar. Let mushrooms cool in marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. To serve, lift out of marinade with a slotted spoon.
Makes 2 cups marinated mushrooms.