Friday, 15 May 2009

(Garlic+Spring onions)+(Soy sauce+Sesame oil) = A Magic Formula for Stir-Frying Vegetables

Although it's been quite a while since I studied Mathematics (and even then was not, to be honest, ever any good at it), nonetheless I've recently been feeling like a modern-day Archimedes. Why, you ask? Because I've discovered a culinary formula equal in brilliance to e=mc2!

OK, so maybe that's exaggerating it a little, but really, this is quite a discovery.

First, take a vegetable; any plain, not very flavorsome vegetable – courgette perhaps, or better still, bamboo – you know, the kind of vegetable that lies around for ages after you've bought it, the kind of vegetable you see and think “Ooo, that'll be nice”, and now you're wondering what to do with it. Take said vegetable, and cut into thinish slivers (about half a cm thick).

Now, finely chop perhaps 3 cloves of garlic, and cut up a few spring onions into 5cm long chunks.

Next, the cooking part. Heat up a couple of tablespoons of vegetable/groundnut/canola oil in your wok, add the garlic, and almost immediately afterwards add the vegetable slices. Stir-fry on a high heat until pretty much almost cooked, leaving it for a minute or so every now and then so the veggies get nicely golden. Add the spring onions, and a minute or so later add 1-2 tablespoon of soy sauce. Fry the whole lot for another 30 seconds, season with salt, turn off the heat, add about half a tablespoon of sesame oil and.......

TAA DAA! A rather boring, somewhat tasteless vegetable is transformed into a delicious, mouthwatering piece of edible art. Served with freshly steamed white rice this dish is a brilliant quick, healthy and ridiculously easy dinner for one; or, of course, it can be served alongside other dishes as part of a larger meal. Feel free to improvise; my current favourite is bamboo shoots (竹笋 zhu2sun3), and also green pepper slices, but as long as you stick to the magic formula (garlic+spring onions)+(soy sauce+sesame oil) you really can't go wrong. Bon appetite!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Sesame-Stuffed Chillies

In famously spicy Sichuan food, chillies are everywhere, and appear in one's meals in many different forms - from fresh to dried, pickled to fermented. These sesame-stuffed chillies though, until I picked them up in the supermarket last week, I'd never seen before, although I had heard of them. On the website of my friend Taylor's company, Lotus Culinary Travel, there is a photograph of a beef dish that uses homemade ones, and recently my friend Fran raved about a Ganbian Sijiedou (Four Seasons Green Beans) she'd eaten that had also used them.

Though many years ago I once witnessed a chili eating competition between two friends (inevitably culminating in a fight for the tap), eating the chillies themselves is actually not really done in China - their presence in a dish is usually just for flavour. These though, can be eaten - on the packet it says 'hao chi bu shang huo' (好吃不上火), roughly translated as 'delicious and won't start a fire in your mouth'!

The packaging also, oddly, features both English and Russian ingredients lists - do Russians like to eat chillies I wonder?...

Anyway, I first used them the other night in a dish I actually created myself – deep-fried, battered aubergine pieces, served with stir-fried red and green peppers, red onions, Sichuan pepper and dried chillies. This time, I just replaced the dried chillies for these ones – they gave the dish pretty much the same kick as the ordinary chillies, but also added a nice crunchy element too. Nonetheless, as Cam pointed out, they're really more of snack than a cooking ingredient – though certainly not a snack for the faint hearted...

P.S. I just did a little Googling to find out if the plural of chilli is spelt -is or -ies (I'm still not sure), and came across this lovely quotation from William Makepeace Thackeray (work not specified):

'A chilli,' said Rebecca, gasping, 'Oh, yes!' She thought a chilli was something cool, as it's name imported, and was served with some. 'How fresh and green they look,' she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. 'Water, for Heaven's sake, water!' she cried.