The range of fresh Chinese vegetables available in London is growing all the time, and the best news is that some of them are grown locally. Among the home grown greens I’ve found recently is this Malabar spinach. It’s a favourite vegetable in Sichuan, where it is often served in clear soups or stir-fried with garlic. Its plump, rounded leaves have a delightfully slippery texture after cooking, which is why it is known as ‘cloud ear mushroom vegetable’ (mu’er cai 木耳菜) or ‘tofu vegetable’ (dou fu cai 豆腐菜 ）The flavour of the leaves is reminiscent of spinach.
For the first time, to my delight, I’ve found garlic scapes in one of my local shops. They are thicker than Chinese garlic stems (suan tai 蒜薹 , suan miao 蒜苗 , suan xin 蒜芯 – they have different names in different parts of China), with much larger bulbs, but have a similar flavour. Of course I cooked them in my favourite Sichuanese way, stir-frying them with a little streaky smoked bacon. With wok-scrambled eggs and a beansprout salad, they made a glorious lunch.
These scapes come from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, just off the coast of southern England.
This morning I cooked Twice-cooked Swiss Chards, a recipe from Every Grain of Rice, for Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4. It’s actually one of my favourite recipes from the book, because it transforms a very ordinary vegetable into something magnificent. Like many Sichuanese vegetable recipes, it involves lifting the flavours of cheap ingredients with the punchy flavours of chilli bean paste, ginger, garlic and other aromatics. If you boil the chards and do all your chopping in advance, it takes about five minutes to cook. I like to serve the dish with plain rice (often brown rice for an everyday meal), and perhaps some fried eggs or some leftover chicken dressed in a Sichuanese chilli sauce. You can find the recipe, and hear the interview, here.
Yesterday morning, I was on BBC Radio London, talking to the wonderful Jeni Barnett, who I haven’t seen since she was the presenter of Great Food Live on UK Food TV. It was a pleasure as always, and I would have been happy to go on yakking all morning! You can hear the interview here – it’s about an hour into the podcast (1h 2mins to be more exact).
It’s just a home-made lime-and-lemon jelly with plenty of sliced jellyfish and some gouqi berries for colour.
As you might expect, the jellyfish is transparent and has a jelly-like consistency, although one slightly more taut and elastic than that of the actual jelly. It’s completely tasteless, so please don’t imagine this lovely tea-time jelly has a fishy flavour to it.
Like jelly, jellyfish has a very satisfactory wobble when moved from side to side (hang a strand from the end of your spoon and see).
Has anyone else tried making a jellyfish jelly?
Here’s the recipe, as far as I can remember it:
海蜇冻 Jellyfish jelly
Two packs of ready-to-eat jellyfish (each 150g)
175g white sugar
Six gelatine leaves
One 20g piece of ginger, skin-on, slightly crushed
4 tbsp dried gouqi berries
- Place the jellyfish (which should be already sliced) in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Then soak in cold water until ready to use. (You won’t need any flavouring sachets you find in the pack for this recipe.)
- Cover the gouqi berries in cold water and set aside until ready to use.
- Cover the gelatine leaves in cold water and leave to soften.
- Squeeze all the limes and the lemon. Place their juices in a pan with 450ml water, the ginger and the sugar. Heat gently, stirring from time to time, to dissolve the sugar, and then bring to the boil. Allow to cool for ten minutes.
- Then pour off a little of the hot liquid, add the drained gelatine leaves and allow them to dissolve. Add this mixture to the rest of the juice and mix well. Shake the jelly fish dry and add it to the juice mixture. Allow to cool.
- Wet a one-litre jelly mould. When the liquid is tepid, stir in the drained gouqi berries and pour into the mould. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set. Turn onto a plate to serve.
The theme of this year’s Oxford Food Symposium was ‘Stuffed and Wrapped’ – so we spent the whole weekend discussing dumplings, pasties, stuffed vegetables and the like. We ate stuffed and wrapped foods, like langoustines in filo pastry, saddle of lamb encroute, summer pudding, stuffed vegetables from Gaziantep in Eastern Turkey, baklavas and German sausages, And after dinner on Saturday night, I led a small Chinese dumpling-making session in the bar, teaching people how to pleat jiaozi and baozi, gather up shao mai and make various other pastry shapes.
This was all made possible by the generosity of the lovely Sophie Liu and Chefs Zhou Jianjun and Ren Qiang of My Sichuan restaurant in Oxford, who rustled up large amounts of dumpling dough and lent me a Chinese rolling pin! (Chef Zhou used to work at Barshu.)
Here is a picture of some of our efforts!
My article on the delights of rotted amaranth stalks and other Shaoxing specialities is now on the Financial Times website here – it was originally published in their international edition. It’s one of my favourite pieces, and brings back happy memories of Shaoxing and its many gastronomic surprises. (It’s a kind of sister piece to the article about the cheese-tasting in Shaoxing for which I won my James Beard Award.) The following are a few photographs of the delicacies mentioned in the piece:
My new book, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, is out today. Unlike my other cookery books, it’s not focused on one province, but is a collection of delicious everyday recipes, mainly from southern China. They’re for the kind of dishes I like to make most: simple, healthy and with an emphasis on vegetables. Although the book includes meat and fish dishes, I hope vegetarians will enjoy it too, because many of the recipes are either completely vegetarian, or can be adapted to be so. My favourite chapters are those on green leafy vegetables and noodles, which include some of the recipes I really can’t live without. And my favourite recipes include the twice-cooked Swiss chard, the kohlrabi salad and the sea bream in fish-fragrant sauce. The book also includes some favourites from my earlier books, including Gong Bao chicken from Sichuan, and variations such a vegetarian Mapo Tofu that I think is just as good as the traditional version.
Bloomsbury have done a fantastic job with the production, and the book is lavishly illustrated with photographs by Chris Terry – which I hope will help to encourage people who feel daunted by Chinese cooking to see that it can be as easy as knocking up a salad or a pasta dish for supper!
The book will be published by Norton in the United States next spring.
It’s a lobe of ripe, fresh durian, enclosed in a kind of cage of shredded taro, tied prettily with seaweed and then deep-fried – so your teeth crunch through the outer layer into the bewitching succulence of the fruit. Oh blimey. If you’re a fan of durian, which I have been since a midnight initiation in Singapore a few years ago by the street food guru K.F. Seetoh, you’d adore this incredible titbit, bought at the old seafood market in Taipei, which been converted into an ultra-chic supermarket and ‘stand-and-swallow’ (i.e. no seating) sushi bar. Just the memory of it is driving me slightly wild, and now I’m wishing I’d bought some of those freeze-dried durian chips at Bangkok airport on the way home… And I’m also remembering the taste of durian in flaky pastries from Vietnam, and a divine, incredible shaved durian ice cream in Hong Kong, but that’s about the limit of my durian experiences. Anyone like to share their memories of other interesting durian snacks?
You can read my piece about making cheese in Lunan County, near the Stone Forest in Yunnan Province, on the BBC website, or listen to the podcast of my voice on the same page. As you’ll see/hear, the kind of cheese they make there is a fresh, unsalted goat’s cheese that is somewhat reminiscent of Cypriot Anari. It’s delicious pan-fried and served with a dip of sugar or salt and Sichuan pepper; steamed with Yunnan ham; or stir-fried with other ingredients.
Another kind of Yunnan cheese just mentioned in passing in that piece is a speciality of the Bai people in northwestern Yunnan, especially Dali. I didn’t make it up there on my most recent trip, but came across it on the streets of Kunming. It’s a really unusual form of cheese known as ru shan 乳扇 (‘milk fans’). Continue reading…