keito potato


Mashi = Chinese rolled shell pasta
January 1, 2018, 6:08 am
Filed under: Living in China, soups | Tags: , , , ,

Today on New Year’s Day, a group of my students from Sha’anxi province came over to cook mashi. Mashi are the small shell-shaped rolled pasta from Sha’anxi.  I had visited all of these students last summer on my travels, and since then we sometimes get together to cook northwestern Chinese dishes.

Mashi come from Sha’anxi province in northwest China, where the cuisine revolves around wheat dough.  Most Chinese noodles are long and either pulled or cut. Mashi are the Chinese equivalent of short Italian pasta shapes like capunti or orecchiette.  I’ve only seen mashi offered in restaurants in Sha’anxi and neighboring Ningxia. When I visit Sha’anxi-style restaurants in Nanjing and ask for mashi, they always laugh at me because they don’t make it. It’s not a famous food, and it’s usually considered homecooking.  In fact, my students today said they felt like they were home.

To make mashi, start by making a stiff dough of flour and water.  It should be a little stiffer than noodle dough.  If the dough is too soft, the mashi will fall apart or lose their shape when boiled.

After kneading for several minutes, let the dough rest.  My students covered the dough with a bowl and let it rest about 30 minutes.

After resting, the dough should be smooth and glossy.

Mashi are traditionally rolled on baskets to create texture.  My sorghum stalk boards from Shandong province are intended for holding dumplings without letting them stick, but today these boards also worked perfectly for rolling mashi.

Rolling mashi is easy.  Take a marble-sized piece of dough.  Use your thumb to roll it across the board.  This will create a lined pattern.  You can roll along or against the line of board.  I soon decided I preferred rolling them along the diagonal to create diagonal stripes.

Boil the mashi in a large pot of water for about 10 minutes.  You can either enjoy them in soup or stir-fried.  Today my students made a soup for them.

To make the soup, my students started by stir-frying several vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, and shitake mushrooms, along with a good deal of ginger, garlic, leeks, and Sichuan peppercorns.  They stir-fried the veg before we boiled the mashi.  Once the mashi were finished boiling, they ladled the stir-fried vegetables into the pot of mashi and water.  They also added handfuls of raw bok choy, soybean sprouts, and woodear mushrooms to quickly blanch into the soup.  Because the liquid of the soup is the cooking water from the mashi, the soup is a little thick and starchy, which is supposed to be good for digestion.  In fact, Chinese people often drink noodle-cooking water and dumpling-cooking water after meals to aid digestion.

Once all of the vegetables were combined with the mashi as a soup, my students added splashes of soy sauce and black vinegar.  They also adjusted for salt.

We had seven around my tiny table today.  There was extra black vinegar and chili sauce on the table.

Because mashi is made with a stiff dough, the end result has a pleasing dense, chewy texture.  It makes a substantial vegetable soup for winter.  Happy new year!

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Vegetarian Shaomai
December 21, 2017, 4:44 am
Filed under: Living in China, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve grown to love shaomai, the little folded bulbs filled with sticky rice, mushrooms, and soy sauce. However, it’s almost impossible finding them vegetarian because they traditionally have a bit of minced meat in the filling. The only place I can get meatless ones in Nanjing is at a Buddhist Temple, Jimingsi.  I have to travel about an hour and a half across town, and then climb to the top of a hill to arrive at the temple’s café which overlooks the city wall and Xuanxu Lake. It’s a lovely setting to enjoy a few shaomai, but this trek doesn’t make it an easy snack for me.

Jiming Temple Shaomai

Jiming Temple Shaomai

I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to make them on my own. My student’s mom in Shanghai has taught me how to cook a number of dishes, and her vegetarian shaomai are fabulous.  She is almost a vegetarian herself – a flexitarian – because of observing the treatment of animals when she was “sent down” to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

I had enjoyed her shaomai a few years ago made with an alternative wrapping of cellophane-thin soy paper, but this time cooking together a week and a half ago, we made them with the traditional dough wrappers.

This recipe has no fixed amounts, like typical Chinese home cooking.  I’ve never seen measuring cups or measuring spoons in a Chinese home.  If you want to try these yourself, just follow along with the method, and adjust the amounts as needed.  This time my friend added too much soy sauce, so she then scrambled a few more eggs for the filling to dilute the flavor.  Problem solved.

sticky rice, mushrooms, and carrots

 

Start by making sticky rice.  She made this before I arrived.  Sticky rice requires a good deal less water than regular steamed rice.

Mince several mushrooms and woodear mushrooms, AKA black fungus. That day she also added minced carrots and a local Shanghai wild green called “jicai.” You could substitute a little minced spinach other another green if you want to add a little green nutrition.

Next, scramble several eggs and add them to the mixture. To make Chinese scrambled eggs, heat oil in a very hot wok. Beat the eggs with a little salt and a splash of shaoxing wine. When the oil is almost smoking, pour in the eggs. They will make a loud whoosh sound because of the high heat. Stir gently until cooked. Add the scrambled eggs to the rice and mushroom mixture and stir well.

Next comes the soy sauce. Shanghai’s cuisine is known for dishes braised with soy sauce, and Shanghai folks have several types of soy sauce in their kitchens for different uses. She used a heavier variety of soy sauce used for braising, and boiled it a bit in a wok before adding it to the rice mixture. Nothing was measured, but I would guess it was about a cup of soy sauce.

Once it was all mixed, as I mentioned before, she tasted it and determined it was too salty, so she scrambled 4-5 more eggs to dilute the flavor.

Now it’s time to fill them. Because shaomai come from Shanghai, which is considered southern China, there isn’t a “flour” tradition like northern China. This means that folks in southern China don’t make dough from scratch at home. Shaomai wrappers are all purchased at the market. Same thing goes for wontons, which are also from Shanghai.  Shaomai wrappers are circular, and are slightly larger than dumpling wrappers.

The sticky rice filling is quite sticky so it’s easy to use chopsticks to fill the shaomai.  Use about 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture per shaomai.  Gather the edges up and make uniform pleats.  Then press the top of the filling down into the center.  You want the bottom to bulge, “like a fat tummy, ” she told me.  After pressing the filling down and encouraging the lower belly of the shaomai to swell, you might add another teaspoon of filling on top.  Rotate the shaomai in your hands almost like you are working on a pottery wheel to shape it.

She repeatedly told me they are easier to make than wontons, but hers were consistently prettier than mine. I need more practice with the muscle memory of rotating and the art of getting the perfect shaomai shape.  Our tops were also wider than the ones sold outside.

Arrange all of the shaomai on a board.

Steam the shaomai in a steamer. If you don’t have a nice steamer, you might have a simple vegetable steamer that could work. They steam about 20 minutes, or until the wrappers have changed in color, and are a bit translucent.

Because shaomai have soy sauce in the filling, they have enough flavor to be enjoyed plain. They’re also often eaten with a splash of good dark vinegar. They can be served as a snack, or as the starch component of a larger meal, paired with a few simple vegetable dishes. That day at lunch we also had stirfried bamboo with water chestnuts, and a simple soup of vermicelli noodles and slivered taro root.