keito potato

Making Bamboo Rice in Debao, Guangxi
August 7, 2013, 5:50 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: , ,

This summer I spent 3 weeks in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces visiting some of my students.   One of the places I visited in Guangxi was Debao County, a remote mountainous region near the Vietnamese border.

Debao landscape

While in Debao, one of my student’s friends wanted to teach me how to make bamboo rice, which is the method of cooking sticky rice in bamboo poles over an outdoor fire.  Because it is a slow process, this is normally something that children in Debao do for fun.  Adults generally don’t have the time or patience for it.  I guess in this region children learn how to use machetes at a young age.  Making rice in bamboo poles takes time, but the finished steamed rice is incredibly fragrant from being cooked inside the bamboo.  I’m outlining the process for you in case you want to make this at home (and have a machete).

eating bamboo rice


Start by using a machete to chop down some bamboo.  Use strong, dark green poles of bamboo.  Wash it well.  We washed ours in the stream.

washing bamboo in the stream

You will steam the rice in hollow sections of the bamboo.  The sections are marked by the horizontal lines on the outside of the bamboo.  Use a knife to cut a hole in one of the horizontal dividing walls inside the bamboo.  The hole should be a little less than an inch in diameter.

bamboo rice

In a large bowl, combine raw sticky rice with room temperature water, and add a little salt.  My friends didn’t measure any of this.  Use a soup spoon to scoop rice into the bamboo.  Then use a chopstick to push the rice around until it goes through the hole.  If you get ahead of yourself and put several spoonfuls of rice over the hole before pushing it through, it will be harder to push through.  Just be patient and use a spoonful or two at a time.  You might want to have one person spoon the rice and another person using a chopstick to push the rice through the hole.

sticky rice

When you think the rice has filled the section of the bamboo to the halfway point (you can use a chopstick as a dipstick to measure the level of the rice), then stop adding rice, and pour water into the hole to fill the section of bamboo with water.  To close the hole, shove a big carrot into the hole to seal it.  When it’s finished cooking, the roasted carrot is edible.


Repeat this process with as many bamboo poles as you are using.

Make a fire outside using wood, and ideally include bamboo branches and leaves for fuel.  Place the bamboo poles on the fire, only 2 at a time.  Roast over the fire until it is cooked.  My friends did not set a specific time for roasting.  One benefit of cooking bamboo rice is that the rice won’t burn inside the bamboo, as it might in a metal pot.  The bamboo walls will keep the rice moist.  The bamboo pole will char a bit, which is fine.  However if the bamboo gets hot enough after charring to actually catch on fire, then pull it away from the fire.  You don’t want the bamboo rice cooking longer than that.

cooking bamboo rice

cooking bamboo rice

Pull out the roasted carrot with tongs.

finished bamboo rice


Use a machete or large knife to cut open the bamboo, lengthwise.


Scoop out the sticky rice, or eat it straight out of the bamboo as a bowl.

bamboo rice

bamboo rice


Making Mushroom-Ginger Jiaozi with Chinese Seminary Students
January 17, 2013, 2:01 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues, Living in China, recipes | Tags: ,

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.

jiaozi party with students

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).

mushroom-ginger filling

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.

dough for jiaozi wrappers

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!

rolling out dough to make jiaozi wrappers

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.

making jiaozi wrappers

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.

various jiaozi shapes

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.

homemade jiaozi

jiaozi party


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

1 egg


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.

German Beet Salad
September 2, 2012, 6:50 am
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , ,

A simple and refreshing beet salad.  This isn’t much of a recipe, since it’s so easy to pull together.


red beets

sherry vinegar

olive oil

salt and pepper

mustard seeds

caraway seeds


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.

Black Olives with Orange and Fennel
August 14, 2012, 2:26 pm
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: , ,

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.




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
August 14, 2012, 11:03 am
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: , , ,

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.

Roasted Zucchini and Mint Salad
August 5, 2012, 8:30 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , ,

This is a new favorite salad, and a fresh way to handle a profusion of zucchini during summer.  It’s light and refreshing with the crunch of almonds and croutons, and the brightness of mint and lemon.  What’s not to love?

This recipe calls for halving the zucchini lengthwise, and roasting it briefly at a high heat without any oil.  The technique works well to sear the zucchini without burning it, and the interior is perfectly tender.  The amount of lemon juice in the original recipe was a bit excessive (in my mind) because the extra lemon juice sat in a pool in the bottom of the serving bowl.  In the future I will reduce the amount from 3 lemons to 2 lemons.

The recipe comes from the Osteria cookbooks by Rick Tramonto and Mary Goodbody, which features rustic Italian food from Tramonto’s childhood.  This salad can be served as an antipasto, or as a side salad.


8 zucchini, halved lengthwise

4 sprigs fresh mint

about 2/3 cup croutons (homemade, if possible)

about 1/2 cup toasted almonds

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 3 lemons (or 2 lemons)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh mint leaves for garnish


Preheat the oven to 500F.

Lay the zucchini on a baking sheet, skin side up, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until the zucchini are golden brown on the flat, fleshy side.  

Let the zucchini cool slightly and then slice into half-moons.

In a bowl, mix the zucchini, mint sprigs, croutons, and toasted almonds.  Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, toss, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Italian Arugula and Fennel Salad with Basil Dressing
August 4, 2012, 11:12 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , , ,

This salad was one of the show-stoppers at a recent vegetarian cooking group meal.  My friends Nina and Tim planned an Italian menu, and this flavorful salad was phenomenal.  I have become addicted to it in the last two weeks, and have probably made it five times in that period of time.  I normally love the black-pepper-spiciness of arugula salads, and this one is unique with refreshing fennel slices, and the thick basil dressing.  The green opaque basil dressing is as thick as pesto, but with more flavor and less oil.  I would love to use this in other dishes where I used to use pesto.  The lemon, fennel fronds, and touch of honey all lift and brighten the basil flavor.  It tastes like the essence of summer.

You will need a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  I tried making this one time by slicing the fennel, but the slices were too thick and crunchy.  The fennel really needs to be shaved, so that it is fluffy and feathery. Many stores sell vegetarian parmesan (without animal rennet).  Trader Joe’s has a handy guide about various types of rennet in their products, and their vegetarian parmesan is shredded and comes in a bag.


2 bunches of arugula

1-2 fennel bulbs

1/2 bunch fresh basil

1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

5 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon honey parmesan or pecorino cheese


Zest the lemon.  With a sharp knife, remove the white pith.  Put the inner part of the lemon into a food processor.  Add the basil, fennel seeds, the fluffy fennel greens from the stalks, 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Puree.  Gradually add the 5th tablespoon of olive oil, if needed.  Now add the lemon zest, honey, salt, and pepper to the dressing.  Puree again to mix.  You can make this a few hours ahead of time, and chill in the refrigerator, if needed. Grate the parmesan or pecorino cheese.  Arrange the gratings onto a lined baking sheet into little flat 2-inch circles.  Broil these in the oven until they melt and turn into little disks.

Arrange the arugula in a large bowl or a wide platter.  Use a sharp vegetable peeler to shave the fennel bulb.  Add the fennel shavings to the salad.  Top the salad with the dressing and disks of broiled cheese.