Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pork Belly in Master Sauce with Hardboiled Eggs

Pork Belly has been a trendy cut of meat the last few years. It has showed up in all kinds of restaurants and has been cooked in many ways. It's really just uncured bacon and is a very versatile cut of meat. For me, there is really only one way to eat Pork Belly and that is to braise it in a sauce of Soy Sauce, Rice Wine, sugar, ginger and green onions. One of the benefits of cooking this dish is that it also makes an unctuous Master Sauce that can be used to braise other meats in later. And for Chinese New Year celebrations in my family, Pork Belly is a required dish. My favorite way to serve it is with hardboiled eggs that soak up the sauce, but it is also really good with bow-tie tofu cooked in it. Some people object to how fatty the meat is, but in the winter, you need that extra fat to keep yourself warm and there are many studies proving that lard is actually very good for you. I'm a believer as this is something I crave every winter, but I don't eat a lot of it at a time as it is very rich. It's also one of the most popular dishes at my annual Chinese New Year's Lucky Foods party. For that, I serve it with the eggs cut in half. This dish is satisfying in a way that I can't describe and when the chunks of pork belly and a hard boiled egg is ladled over a bowl of rice, I am happy!

Pork Belly in Master Sauce with Hardboiled Eggs

1 lb piece of pork belly

8 cups water

1 cup Soy Sauce or Tamari

1 cup Shaoshing rice wine

1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar (depending on the saltiness of Soy Sauce)
3 - 4 green onions cut in thirds (roots and dry tips cut off)
4 fresh ginger slices (about ¼ inch each – no need to peel)
6 eggs, medium boiled (cook about 7 -8 minutes) cooled and peeled
2 Tablespoons of Cornstarch and enough water to make a slurry

Place Pork Belly in pot with the water and seasonings. Bring to a boil and return to a simmer and cook for 3 hours. Remove pork belly and cut into 1” chunks. Pour off half of the braising liquid and reserve for future use (best if you freeze it). Return the pork belly pieces to the remaining braising liquid and bring back to a boil. Then take the boiled eggs and slice 5 vertical slits around the egg just to the yolk (don’t go too deep!). Add eggs to the braising liquid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cornstarch mixture and stir gently to thicken sauce. Serve with steamed rice.

Note: The Master Sauce that you reserve can be used to braise chicken thighs or you can use chicken in place of the pork, which is then called Red Cooked Chicken or you can use chunks of a leaner pork and then that is called Red Cooked Pork. My favorite though is to take a pound of chicken gizzards and cook them until tender. They end up being like a kind of chewy jerky and I love them! To make any of the Red-Cooked dishes, dilute the sauce with an equal amount of water.

Five Element Analysis

Pork, Eggs and Soy Sauce all belong to the Water Element so this dish is clearly very Watery and therefore good for your kidneys. The Rice Wine brings in a bit of Fire and the sugar adds some Earth. The Metal Element is represented by the ginger and green onions and the white rice. Only the Wood Element is missing so be sure to serve this dish with some green vegetables like sauteed spinach or pea vine leaves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Radish Kimchi Salad

Today is a special day for 5 Element Food - it's the 2 year anniversary and my 3rd Chinese New Year's posting! I still make most of the same lucky foods each year, but this year I made sure to make a Chinese Chicken Salad as lettuce is lucky and also a whole fish along with the Buddha's Delight, the Potstickers and Radish Kimchi Salad that's a brand new recipe that I created. I'm actually celebrating on New Year's Day (tomorrow) instead of New Year's Eve this year because I've been so busy unpacking and needed the extra day to get ready.

In order to recap, here are the lucky foods that you are supposed to serve for a traditional Chinese New Year celebration:

Bamboo Shoots for Wealth and Happiness (in the Buddha's Delight dish)
Chicken for Happiness in Marriage or Relationship (Chicken Salad dish)
Dried Bean Curd for Happiness (in the Buddha's Delight dish)
Eggs for Fertility and Creativity (in the Braised Pork Belly dish)
Greens for Abundance (Steamed and served with a drizzle of Oyster Sauce)
Potstickers and Egg Rolls for Wealth (always make these....)
Lotus Root for Continuing Wealth (in the Buddha's Delight Dish)
Lychees for Close Family Ties (canned, chilled and served for dessert)
Meatballs for Reunions (made steamed Pearl Balls)
Noodles for Long Life (made a noodle salad)
Tangerines for Luck and Wealth (always have these....)
Whole Fish for Wealth (baked a whole one in Terriyaki sauce tonight)
Peanuts for Long Life (in the Chinese Chicken Salad)
Daikon Radish for Good Omens (Radish Kimchi Salad)
Watermelon Seeds for Having lots of Children (skipped them this year)

Over the next several days, I will give you the recipe for some of these foods. But since the Radish Kimchi Salad needed to be done the day before, it is the first recipe I am giving you. My son Stephen and I love Kimchi of every kind whether made with Napa Cabbage, Daikon radish, cucumbers or Bok Choy. My only concern in buying Kimchi is that I have to read the ingredients very carefully as many of them contain dried shrimp or shrimp paste that I cannot eat because of my pretty severe allergy. So, we were craving Kimchi today and we decided to make it ourselves. Now my mother has always made Kimchi as she loved it too. She was also convince that the precursor to the Korean kind was made in Northern China where her father's family is from. She also had a Korean friend who showed her how to make it and I grew up with it as a perfectly normal food and so did my kids.

So I bought a large Daikon Radish last week with the express purpose of making Radish Kimchi but forgot to make it enough days ahead for the more traditional kind that is served in big chunks. So, I improvised today and made a quick Radish Kimchi salad that ended up being so good that I'm sharing the recipe. Now, you can ferment this salad for more days than I am (I just let it sit for one day) and it will become more authentic. Kimchi often gets a bad rap for the strong smell and its' spiciness. But, if you make it yourself, you can control these aspects. And, Kimchi is extremely good for you. It has been shown to kill the Bird Flu as well as increasing immune function! So, make this salad and let it ferment for one or a few days and eat it for your health. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Radish Kimchi Salad

1 large Daikon Radish peeled
2 teaspoons Salt - divided
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
3 Garlic Cloves, minced fine
3 Tablespoons Korean Chili Powder

To garnish: A small handful of Green onion pieces and a few Tablespoons of Sesame Seeds

Cut Daikon Radish into thin shreds (you can use a Mandoline for this or a special shredder) and put into a colander. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, mix and let drain for 15 minutes. Squeeze dry and place in a glass bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together remaining salt, sugar, fish sauce, garlic cloves and Korean Chili Powder. Add to radish and mix thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 1 - 5 days. When ready to serve, drain excess liquid and put on a plate and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds.

Five Element Analysis

Radishes are very pungent and Daikon is also white so they belong to the Metal Element and that element is covered. The garlic adds even more. The Water Element is represented by the Fish Sauce and Salt. The fermentation makes Kimchi a Wood Food as it becomes sour and the Korean Red Chili contributes the Fire Element. The Earth Element only shows up with a little bit of sugar so another Earthy food is needed to supplement this dish to contribute balance. I often eat it with Bulgogi (see previous post) and rice as the sweet beef is very Earthy. And since Kimchi is usually one of several Korean side dishes, it adds many of the elements all by itself.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Red Lentil Coconut Dal Soup

It's snowing here in Seattle - a lot.... We are actually snowed in. And when it's that cold outside, I just naturally start cooking more and more soups as they are so warming. Plus my son just got home from a trip to Bali and he's not feeling well. After chicken soup, his favorite soup is some version of Dal. So, I made this soup for him last night. This particular version is made with red lentils and coconut milk. It is creamy and rich and redolent of Indian spices - cumin, coriander and turmeric. It's so nourishing and so soothing. And, it can be easily doubled if you are serving a crowd. So, if you need some comfort during this cold spell, try this soup!

Red Lentil Coconut Dal Soup

8 ounces red lentils (masoor dal)
2 - 3 cups water
1 large onion roughly chopped - divided in half
2 tomatoes chopped
1 can coconut milk
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 Tablespoons ghee (or butter)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional: 1 Serrano Chili minced

Put lentils in a medium saucepan with the 2 cups water and the coconut milk. Add 1/2 of the onion and chopped tomatoes and turmeric, ground cumin and ground coriander (and Serrano Chili if using). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes (stirring occasionally) until lentils are soft. Add the extra water 1/2 cup at a time if the mixture gets too thick. Heat ghee in a frying pan and add cumin seeds, mustard seeds. Cook for just a few seconds then add in onions. Cook over medium heat until onions are golden brown. Put onions in with the lentils and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with basmati rice.

Five Element Analysis

Soups are always considered a part of the Water Element style of cooking, but this one is thick and creamy and that makes it a little more Earthy. Lentils belong to the Earth Element too so that element is covered. Coconut milk and the spices contribute the Metal Element and the rice adds even more. The Cayenne Pepper brings in just a bit of fire, so if you want more, use the Serrano Chili or go heavier with the Black Pepper. The Wood Element is missing, so consider serving this soup with a green vegetable to create a Five Element balance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Duck Breast with Balsamic Cherry Sauce

I love duck, but I have to admit that I never made it at home before. It's a rather newly acquired taste as I never even tried it as a child. My mother didn't like it at all and I wasn't allowed to eat it at Chinese banquets. But, here in Seattle, there used to be a great Thai restaurant that had Duck noodles and that got me loving duck. Since then, I have Peking Duck whenever I can and I've discovered that they serve great duck in Europe, particularly in Germany. I was at a restaurant there last year and had a wonderful duck breast with a sour cherry sauce that I decided to recreate. And, on my first try, I was so delighted with the results that I am sharing the recipe with you! I seared a large duck breast (cut in half) skin side first to crisp it up and then a bit longer on the other side so it came out mediumish. I don't like duck too rare. Then for the sauce, I cooked some shallots in butter and I used some sour cherry preserves from Germany (there are several good US brands - like Stonewall Kitchen - even Smuckers has one) and then mixed the preserves with a little balsamic vinegar. I thought it was divine. The only downside is that the sauce looks a bit like blood, but one taste and I think you will be hooked too. I served it with smashed potatoes and some steamed green beans. I was very happy with this recipe and so was my son who loves duck more than me. And it cooks fast. I hope you will try it soon!

Duck Breast with Balsamic Cherry Sauce

1 large duck breast - about 16 ounces, cut in half
Salt and Pepper
1 shallot, chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter
1/3 cup Sour Cherry Preserves
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup chicken broth

Score the skin of the duck into a diamond pattern and be careful not to cut too deeply. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on the skin side. Heat a large skillet to medium high. Add in duck breasts skin side down and cook until the skin is browned and crisped. This will take 5 - 6 minutes. Salt and pepper the fleshy side and turn over. Cook for about 8 - 10 minutes longer on medium heat. Take the duck breast pieces out of the pan and let them sit while you make the sauce.

Pour off all of the fat and add 2 Tablespoons of butter into the pan. Add in shallots and cook until they become translucent. Mix together the Preserves, vinegar and chicken broth - taste and adjust for sweet and sour mix and add to the pan. Cook until the sauce reduces slightly - up to 5 minutes. Slice the duck and pour sauce over to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Duck belongs to the Water Element so that element is covered. Balsamic Vinegar add the Wood Element. Sour cherries contribute the Fire Element and the shallots bring in the Metal Element. Only the Earth Element is missing for balance, which is why this dish is so good with potatoes and/or green beans.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Curried Kurbis Soup

I've been moving and that has been very stressful, especially considering I am finally consolidating all of my stuff that was in storage units and my son's apartment for the last year. And it's cold outside - really cold. So, I need soup and I have been making it every night. Some of the soup recipes I have already posted, but here's one I made last night that I think you will really like. Now, there are many versions of Squash or Pumpkin Soup - Kurbis is the German name for pumpkin and I was inspired by a carrot soup that one of my friends made there. Thai versions of pumpkin soup are really good too. But, this one is my favorite. The pumpkin gets roasted first to make it more flavorful and then it is added to chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you want to make it vegetarian) and some celery and carrots. That's pureed all together, but not too much as the bits of carrot and celery are so pretty and then the onions are cooked in butter until caramelized with curry powder then added in. It's important to cook the curry powder a bit to bring out the depth of flavor. The onions give the soup a wonderful texture that makes you not miss having any meat. And the curry powder lifts up the flavor of the pumpkin and makes it taste exciting. This soup is really fast to make as long as you cook the pumpkin ahead of time. it's creamy and soothing and delicious!

Curried Kurbis Soup

1 small pumpkin or squash - cooked flesh to equal 1 - 1 1/2 cups
1 onion minced finely
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 cups of chicken broth
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds. Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. Remove and scoop out cooked flesh when cool. In a medium saucepan, heat chicken broth and add in carrots, celery and squash. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile cook onions in a frying pan with the butter until light browned. Add in the curry powder and cook for a minute until the powder darkens. Remove from heat and reserve. Using a stick blender, puree the soup until the carrots and celery are only little fragments. Add in the onion and curry powder, season with salt and pepper and cook for an additional five minutes.

Five Element Analysis

Soup is always part of the Water Element so that element is covered, whereas pumpkin and all squashes belong to the Earth Element and the caramelized onion adds even ore. Chicken broth contributes the Wood Element and the curry powder makes sure that the Metal Element is present. Only the Fire Element needs some support, so to round out the meal, make a salad to serve with it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lion's Head Meatballs

One of my mother's favorite foods is Lion's Head Meatballs and while I was down in Los Angeles visiting her, I made it for her. This is actually her recipe, but she hasn't cooked for years and luckily she taught me how to make what she likes best before she retired from cooking. I've been meaning to post this recipe for days, but I've been moving so I got delayed. Lion's Head Meatballs is a fancy term for pork meatballs pan fried and then simmered in chicken broth with bean thread noodles, Napa Cabbage and some green onions. When this dish is served in China, the meatballs are usually enormous, but my mother likes them smaller, so that's the way I make them. 

Lion's Head Meatballs are very subtly flavored with just a bit of Soy Sauce (or Tamari if going gluten free) and Sesame Oil. For those of you who haven't tried bean thread noodles, they are translucent and a bit slippery and are made from Mung Bean flour. They are also featured in Ants on a Tree, which I will post another day. Anyway, it's a lovely dish for a cold night (although it was actually only cool outside when I made it). It's kind of a cross between a soup and a stew as there isn't that much broth so feel free to make it soupier if you like. I cooked it in a Chinese clay pot although a Wok works just fine too. We eat it with a combination of chopsticks and a Chinese spoon and it's a dish just meant for slurping, which is perfectly acceptable to the Chinese. They are often served for Chinese New Year as the round shape of the meatball means families reunite.  I hope you enjoy this dish too!

Lion's Head Meatballs

1 pound ground pork
1 Tablespoon Tamari
1 Tablespoon Shaoshing Rice Wine
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 egg white
8 large leaves of Napa Cabbage, ends trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
3 green onions, white part minced and green parts cut into small pieces
3 small packages of Bean Thread Noodles (2 oz each)
4 - 5 cups diluted chicken broth (3/4 cup broth and 1/4 cup water)
2 Tablespoons Tamari
1 teaspoon Sesame Oil
Fresh Ground Pepper
Optional: Chili Oil, Sriracha or Chili Garlic Sauce

Soak bean thread noodles in a large bowl with warm water to cover for 10 minutes. In a wok or a pot, heat the Chicken Broth and keep at a simmer. In a large bowl, mix together Pork, white part of the Green Onions, Tamari, Rice Wine and Cornstarch. Shape into 2" balls and place in a large frying pan. Cook over Medium High heat until browned. Remove meatballs from the pan and place in the simmering Chicken Broth. Add oil to the frying pan and put in the Napa Cabbage. Stir fry until wilted and just beginning to brown. Add to the Chicken Broth with the Bean Thread Noodles, Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in green onion tops and top with ground pepper.

Five Element Analysis

Pork belongs to the Water Element and since this is a bit soupy too and is seasoned with Tamari and Sesame Oil - all Watery seasonings, that Element is covered. The Chicken broth contributes the Wood Element, the Napa Cabbage adds the Earth Element and the Mung Bean Noodles and the green onions bring in the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element needs some help, so using some Chili Oil or other Chili Sauce would balance out this dish and makes it a wonderful on-dish meal.