keito potato


Issan street food carts in Thailand
July 2, 2013, 5:41 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , , , , ,

I spent a month in Thailand during my holiday for the Chinese New Year.

I fell in love with Issan street food carts.  Issan is a northeast region of Thailand, bordering Cambodia.  The weather is super-hot, so the cuisine is based on salads and refreshing lime and chile flavor profiles.

green papaya salad

This is one the most famous Issan dishes, the green papaya salad.  It has a lime-chili salad dressing, and is garnished with peanuts.

Issan lunch cart

This Issan lunch cart on Koh Tao island made phenomenal food.  It’s where the locals in the neighborhood came to eat.

green papaya salad

This green papaya salad on Koh Tao had a good dose of shredded carrots.

Molly's green papaya salad

Molly’s green papaya salad was so delicious that she wanted to inhale it.

gaang aom

I read this e-book guide about eating vegetarian food in Thailand, and learned about gaang aom, a phenomenal Issan soup made from pumpkin, mushrooms, baby green eggplants, and leafy greens.  I absolutely fell in love with this refreshing, restorative soup, and ate it for several lunches in Thailand.

baby green eggplants

These are the baby green eggplants that are used for the gaang aom soup, as well as a myriad of other Thai dishes.

gaang aom

Another amazing bowl of gaang aom soup.

 in love with gaang aom

I was in love with gaang aom soup!  It’s served sticky rice, which you can dip into the soup.

mushroom soup

This mushroom soup is similar to the gaang aom soup, but has fewer greens.

fermented bamboo salad

Fermented bamboo salad, garnished with mint leaves.  It has a chili-lime dressing, and a tiny bit of ground toasted rice for texture.

fermented bamboo

Shredded bamboo in the vegetable market.

M + A

Enjoyed Issan lunches with friends Molly and Andrew.

flowers

M + A

Friends Molly and Andrew are tucking into mushroom soup and green papaya salad.

Issan lunch cart

Another Issan lunch cart.

flowers

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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

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

1 egg

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.



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.

MARINATED MUSHROOMS

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

METHOD

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.



May 2012 Nanjing Trip
June 1, 2012, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , , , , , ,

I will be moving to Nanjing, China in the fall to teach at the national seminary there.  I am thrilled because I previously lived in China a few years.  It’s fantastic to have an opportunity to move back to China, and with a very fitting job.  I just spent two weeks in Nanjing for job training at the seminary.  I learned about my new job, and also spent time getting to know students.  They are extremely friendly and welcoming, and I feel good about moving there.

Since this is a food blog, I’m sharing the food photos from the trip.

This little hole-in-the-wall dumpling place is open 24 hours a day.  Good thing to know about.  They have two kinds of vegetarian dumplings, and this plate includes both kinds, half-and-half.  They make the classic leek and egg dumplings, but my favorite was the carrot, mushroom, and egg ones.  A plate of twelve was about a dollar US.  And the lime green chopsticks are cheerful.

Di san xian literally means “the three fresh things” and it’s a classic dish in Northeastern China.  When I did a study abroad term in Dalian in 1998, I ate this dish quite frequently.  It’s a combination of potatoes, eggplant, and green peppers, all cut in roughly the same size and shape, and served in a garlicky brown sauce.  It’s seriously delicious.  I ate this at a restaurant quite close to the Nanjing seminary campus, so I’m happy to know I can walk over and order a plate any time I need it.

Ganbian sijidou, dry-fried green beans.  This is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, and this photo is of a great version at a restaurant near the seminary in Nanjing.  You can see it has plenty of whole hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorns) on top.  I don’t know how to say “addicted” in Mandarin, but I got addicted to the numbing sensation of hua jiao when I lived in Sichuan.

Cabbage stir-fried with chilies, garlic, and ginger.  This is fresh and savory.  I absolutely love simple Chinese stir-fried cabbage — I personally think it’s so much more delicious and interested than American raw cabbage coleslaws.  At home I usually stir-fry cabbage with garlic, ginger, and sherry or white wine.  That reminds me — I should post that recipe for you soon!

Morning glory is a classic in China, stir-fried with garlic.  It’s called “kong xin cai,” literally “hollow-heart vegetable” because the stems are hollow.  It’s a tasty and common side dish.

Homestyle tofu is usually sliced thin, fried until crispy on the edges, and then braised in a spicy sauce.  I ordered homestyle tofu with a friend who can’t eat spicy food, so they put together this mild version with black fungus.

Love hot and sour stir-fried potatoes.  Usually they are tossed with lots of chilies and some vinegar, but this version has chile oil instead.  Tasty and bright red.

Some students took me and another teacher out for lunch, and this watermelon drizzled with cream was the appetizer.

Preserved eggs.  This dish is a bit scary for many foreigners, but it’s mild, a few bites are not bad.

Lotus root stuffed with sticky rice.

“Songren yumi,” corn with pine nuts, is a classic combination in China.  In my experience dish usually also includes green chilies.  Thinking about the pairing of jalapenos in savory cornbread, it seems that corn and chilies are a perfect pairing that separate world cuisines discovered.

These tofu noodles are almost like tofu skin, but a little thicker.  They’re paired here bok choi and mushrooms in a satisfying dish.

The students who took us out to lunch also gave us this cake topped with fruit.  The little message on the cake says, “Jesus loves you” which was cute and sweet of them.

Asparagus cut on the diagonal and stir-fried.

Here is another simple and savory version of homestyle tofu.

We were served this vegetable at a special lunch on campus with school administrators.  The vegetable is so rare and special that the cook had to explain it to everyone.  It is similar to a scallion, but is somewhere in between a scallion and a lotus root.  The hue is slightly green, and also slightly grey-lavender.  The cook kept insisting we try it because she said it’s so delicious.  It truly is surprisingly delicious, and extremely flavorful.  I’m sorry that I forgot the name of it !

A simple dish of spongy squash combined with soybeans.

While I ate a few special meals on this trip, most of my meals were with students in the school cafeteria.  The meals were simple and it was great to sit with students and get to know them.  Breakfasts were standard Chinese breakfasts, and it’s a good thing I generally enjoy Chinese breakfasts.  For lunches and dinners, the cafeteria offered about 6 dishes per meal, and usually 2 of the dishes were vegetarian.  The servers behind the counter quickly learned that I am a vegetarian, and would simply put the vegetarian offerings on a metal tray for me.  Since I love cooking, when I move here I will probably prefer cooking for myself in my apartment instead of eating in the cafeteria.  However, because it’s a great place to spend time with students, I will probably still eat there a few meals per week.

Here is a typical breakfast at the student cafeteria.  There were always a few baozi options.  Baozi are the steamed buns that are filled, and then pinched on top.  This one happened to be filled with black sesame, which is delicious and not too sweet.  In my experience, sometimes baozi at breakfast can be dry, but the cafeteria knows how to make them well.  They are fresh and hot.  You can also see a plan steamed mantou bun in the back corner.  There were always hardboiled eggs available, and sometimes they were tea-eggs.  Chinese tea-eggs (cha jidan) are hardboiled eggs steeped in tea, soy sauce, and star anise.  They are richly flavorful and delicious since those strong flavors are infused into the hardboiled egg.  The cafeteria also always offers some sort of porridge.  Sometimes it was plain rice porridge (xifan), but most days on my trip is was this babaozhou, the 8-treasure porridge which includes all sorts of grains including red beans and peanuts.  I think it’s more interesting than plain xifan.

Eating in the cafeteria: here we have morning glory (similar to spinach), a simple and watery cabbage soup, and cold vinegary gluten cubes.  The cold squishy gluten is common in Sichuan, so I learned to enjoy it sometimes.  I once heard that while Americans are usually fond of crispy and crunchy textures, the Chinese are equally passionate about rubbery textures in their food.  So you’ll find lots of rubbery and glutenous items on Chinese menus.

Eating in the cafeteria: fensi noodles with cabbage.  This was tasty.  The dish in the back corner was potatoes with eggplant.

Eating in the cafeteria: simple morning glory in the back corner, and classic leeks with eggs in the front.  They also accidentally gave me “cuipi doufu,” crispy skin tofu, which had pork in it, so I didn’t eat it.

Eating in the cafeteria: stir-fried lettuce in the back corner.  While I’m a person who really enjoys greens, I actually don’t really care for stir-fried lettuce.  It might be too bland?  In the middle we have stir-fried tomatoes and eggs.  I enjoy the egg and tomato soup, but haven’t been a fan of the stir-fried version.  My extended family on my mom’s side all has an aversion to tomatoes, so this dish isn’t my favorite.  The tofu in the front was the star of this meal for me.  Strips of chewy tofu were stir-fried with bean sprouts, green chilies, and lots of ginger.

Eating in the cafeteria: I’m always a sucker for Chinese stir-fried potatoes, so I loved these.  The other vegetarian dish that day was sliced onions with egg.  I felt like this combination has potential, but that the onions were too sharp and overpowering.

Eating in the cafeteria: garlicky cabbage is tasty and enjoyable.  I also enjoyed the cold and vinegary squishy gluten cubes.

I’ll close this post with a photo of students doing late-night eating in a bustling shopping area near the campus.  This shopping area is in between several universities, and is geared toward college students with lots tiny shops selling cheap and cute things.  You can see that the area also has rows of snack places, and many of the stalls had Chinese-Muslim food, which is the unique cuisine from Northwestern China.  This neighborhood also had rows of boba tea and juice places.  In the months to come, you’ll probably find me here snacking.



French Mushroom Soup
January 24, 2012, 12:10 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday’s rainy weather inspired me to make a pot of soup to warm up.  My mom has been making my Aunt Marty’s French Mushroom Soup for as long as I can remember.  Aunt Marty and her branch of the family have lived on communes over the decades, including the Hutterite variety, so it’s possible that this is a Hutterite soup.  Hutterites make fruit and grape wines, so I imagine they must cook with it as well.  This soup is quite similar to a French onion soup, except that it centers around mushrooms instead of onions.  Since I am a vegetarian, I have substituted vegetable broth for the other, and I like to make the vegetable broth from scratch when I have time, as I did today.  Yes, it’s indeed possible to make rich, dark, French-style soups totally vegetarian.   How could a soup made from white wine, meltingly-soft onions, mushrooms, parmesan, and herbs not be delicious?

I have improved on my aunt’s recipe by adding fresh herbs from my garden, as well as increasing the amount of white wine and garlic.  Aunt Marty’s recipe calls for white button mushrooms.  That’s what I used today, but I often substitute crimini mushroom instead, or use half-and-half.  It’s really quite easy to pull together, as long as you have an hour for simmering.

FRENCH MUSHROOM SOUP

2 lbs. (4 blue boxes) fresh mushrooms (button or crimini, or a combination)

1 large onion

3 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth (here is my recipe, but you can use broth from the store)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

croutons are optional for garnish

METHOD

Slice the mushrooms thinly.  Cut the onion in half, then slice it thinly.  Mince the garlic.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic.  Saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

During this time, chop the parsley and remove the thyme leaves from the stems.  When the mushrooms are tender, add the herbs and tomato paste.  Simmer about 1 minute.  Add the white wine, broth, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer 1 hour, then serve with more parmesan as garnish, plus croutons if you like.



Basic Vegetable Broth
December 28, 2011, 12:00 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , ,

I’m sharing this recipe because it’s so difficult to find a good vegetarian broth recipe.  Many believe the myth that good soups have to be built on a foundation of meat or meat broth.  It’s possible to build a fantastic soup on vegetarian aromatics, but you might need some guidance to do it well.  I’ve tried several vegetarian broth recipes over the years, but they were usually too bland or too garlicky.  This trustworthy, balanced, and rich broth comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry.  Of course you can used boxed broth from the grocery, but homemade broths take soups (and risottos) to the next level.

These vegetables in the photo create the broth, displayed in their cut form.  The onions cook quartered with skins on, the garlic cloves are smashed but have their skins intact, and the celery, carrots, and mushrooms are sliced.

You may want to add an additional herb or vegetable, depending on what you plan to do with the broth, or use leftover scraps and stems of vegetables.  For instance, this week I added the dark green sections of several leeks to prepare the broth to make leek and potato soup.  Warning: I added a few brussels sprout leaves once, and the broth was good that day, but tasted too cabbage-y the next day as leftovers.

BASIC VEGETABLE BROTH

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large onions, quartered (include the skin)

1 large carrot, sliced

4 celery ribs, sliced

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

1 whole garlic bulb, unpeeled, broken up, and smashed with the back of a knife

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

9 cups water

METHOD:

In a stockpot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil.  Add all of the ingredients except for the water.  Saute, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are meltingly tender, about 1 hour.  If you have extra time, you can turn off the heat and let the broth sit for another hour or two to enrich the flavor further.

Strain the vegetables, pressing down on them to extract all their liquids.  Discard (and compost) the cooked vegetables.



Sweet Potato Cakes with Mushroom Sauce
November 28, 2009, 10:35 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , ,

As a vegetarian, I’m perfectly content with the wealth and variety of side dishes at the Thanksgiving table. No need to experiment with silly fake-meat. Last Thanksgiving I tried this seasonal dish from the LA Times. It was so compelling and satisfying that it was easily the first dish to make it onto this year’s menu. Even the non-vegetarians admitted that it surpassed the turkey hands-down.

The baked sweet potatoes are smashed with walnuts and mace to form the patties. A cinch to assemble. The mushroom sauce comes together in just a few minutes on the stove. Sage in the sauce makes it a perfect fit for Thanksgiving, but I plan on continuing to make this all winter, using different herbs I happen to have on hand. I also won’t use chanterelles all season, but will probably whip up a weeknight version of the sauce with white buttons and cremini.

FOR THE CAKES:
2 pounds sweet potatoes, pricked all over with a fork
1 1/3 Cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 Cup toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 Cup flour

FOR THE SAUCE:
3 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used half chanterelle and half cremini)
2 tablespoons chopped sage, divided
3/4 Cup heavy cream or half-and-half
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

METHOD:
Bake sweet potatoes in a 425F oven until soft, about 45 minutes. You can toast the walnuts simultaneously while the oven is hot.

When cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins. Roughly mash in a large bowl until chunky. Stir in bread crumbs, walnuts, brown sugar, mace, egg, salt and pepper.

Place the flour in a wide, shallow dish. Form the mixture into patties. You can decide on the size. Coat each in flour, and set on a baking sheet. Heat oil in a skillet over medium hear. Fry in batches on both sides until golden.

Mince the shallots. Chop the sage. Slice or quarter the mushrooms.

Melt butter in a skillet over med-high heat. Add the shallots with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir often until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of the sage. Saute 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the cream and simmer until just thickened, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the sauce over the croquettes. Garnish with the remaining sage.