Friday, February 22, 2013

Chinese Year Cake - Shanghai Rice Ovalettes

I am way overdue in posting my Chinese New Year's recipes as I have been traveling and teaching my new Certificate Program, which hasn't allowed for much cooking. But, I did cook a lot for Chinese New Year and many of these dishes I actually cook all year long. So, here is one of the dishes that is classic for my family to serve on New Year's Day and we also enjoy it many times the rest of the time and we make it with different kinds of meats and green vegetables. Chinese Year Cake is made with special rice noodles cut in the shape of ovals that is very popular in Shanghai, where my Chinese family is from and it is the same noodle base as in log shapes used in Korean soup or the long noodles used in Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese food. And, they are found in most Asian markets.

These noodles are considered good luck as sticky rice is one of the lucky foods that you are supposed to eat and so is chicken. Many people soak these Rice Ovalettes in water to plump them up and then stir fry them with meat and vegetables. This step is essential when these kind of noodles are found dried, like in Europe.  But here in the US, you can find them fresh and frozen. When fresh, they come in a vacuum sealed bag and keep in the refrigerator for a really long time and if you only use part of a bag, you can freeze the rest. When these noodles are soaked and then cooked in oil, they require a lot of oil or they will stick to the wok and I don't like that much oil in my food. So, I stir fry the meat and vegetables and then add the noodles with some diluted chicken broth and Oyster Sauce and cook until the noodles are soft. Chinese Year Cake is delightfully chewy and oddly comforting. I always think of this dish as a kind of Chinese Chicken and Dumplings and is a favorite of my soon to be daughter-in-law so she's learning how to make it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Chinese Year Cake - Shanghai Rice Ovalettes

1 pound boneless chicken breast or boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into bite size pieces

1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Shaoshing Rice Wine
6 green onions, cut into small pieces (white and green parts separated)
1/2 Napa Cabbage or 6 Baby Bok Choy
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 package (2 lb - 4 cups) Rice Ovalettes in a vacuum sealed package
1 cup diluted chicken broth (1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup water)
2 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce

In a small bowl, marinate the chicken with the Soy Sauce and Shaoshing Rice Wine. In a large frying pan with high sides or a wok, heat the 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil until hot. Add the white part of the green onions along with the Napa Cabbage or Baby Bok Choy. Stir fry until the vegetables wilt. Add in the meat and stir fry until it just turns opaque. Then add in the Rice Ovalettes, the chicken broth and the oyster sauce and boil for 5 - 8 minutes or until Rice Ovalettes are chewy and broth is mostly absorbed - there should still be a good amount of sauce left for serving. Sprinkle the mixture with green onion tops, toss and serve in a large bowl.

Five Element Analysis

Rice belongs to the Metal Element and is enhanced even more by the green onions, whereas the Soy Sauce and Oyster Sauce add in the Water Element.  The chicken and chicken broth contribute the Wood Element and the Napa Cabbage brings in the Earth Element. Only the Rice Wine adds a bit of the Fire Element so be sure to serve this dish with something else that is fiery or pass some chili sauce on the side or serve with tea to create a balanced meal.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stephen's Szechuan Peanuts

My son Stephen is turning into a wonderful cook and I think he spices things even better than me when the dish is spicy because I am a bit timid when food gets hot. For our family's Chinese New Year dinner, I wanted to serve some spicy Szechuan peanuts as an appetizer and he came up with these. They are modeled after the peanuts from Sue's Kitchen, a little take out place in Torrance that my Mom likes. Since we can't get them in Seattle, we decided that we should make them instead. So, we bought some raw Virginia peanuts at Uwajimaya and cooked them with a little oil, some Szechuan Peppercorns, red chilis and chili flakes, salt and sugar. The only caution I want to give is that those Szechuan Peppercorns can numb your lips and tongue as only they can and its an acquired taste. And, these peanuts are hot. But if you like Szechuan food like we do, you will love these peanuts!

Stephen's Szechuan Peanuts

1 16 oz package raw Virginia Peanuts

2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
7 - 8 whole Szechuan Peppercorns
4 - 5 whole dried red chilis
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Crush Szechuan Peppercorns and red chili flakes with the salt and sugar in a mortar and pestle and put aside. Heat oil in the frying pan and add the whole red chilis and peanuts.  Cook until the peanuts are just beginning to brown.  Add the salt, pepper and sugar mixture to the peanuts and toss to coat. Cook until you can smell the chilis heat up (it will make your nose tickle.)  Remove from the pan and place on a plate to cool.  When ready to serve, place in a bowl and toss again.

Five Element Analysis

Peanuts provide some good protein.  They are considered an Earth food as they are grown under ground and are therefore good for the spleen and they improve the appetite, so they make a great appetizer! Therefore, this is primarily an Earthy dish and the sugar adds even more earth, but the red chilis bring in the Fire Element and the Szechuan Peppercorns provide some pungent Metal energy. There's only a little salt, so the Water Element needs to be supported by some other foods or beverages, which you will surely need and be sure to also serve them alongside a Wood food to create balance.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kale Salad with Mexican Flavors

I am currently in love with Kale Salads and I know that some of you remember that I wrote that I didn’t like Kale that much, until I discovered it in a salad. I know that I am a late adopter on the Kale bandwagon and I even read a few days ago that it is not longer an “In Food” for 2013. But I  don’t really care if it is in or not because it is just so good.  In any case, here’s my new favorite Kale Salad with Mexican flavors. I made it with Lacinato Kale simply because it was a special price and I discovered that this is now my favorite Kale for a salad – mostly because it is more tender and also sweeter. I decided to add avocado so I opted for some Mexican flavors in the dressing – red wine vinegar, which is quite popular in Mexico with a little lemon juice to brighten it up.  I also used a little chili powder and Cayenne along with Agave Syrup.  I also used pine nuts and sunflower seeds for a little crunch. It was so delicious that I wanted to make another bowl immediately except I was full. If you love Kale Salad, I think this one is the best one yet!

Mexican Kale, Avocado and Tomato Salad

1 large bunch Lacinato Kale – also called Dinosaur Kale, washed
1 large avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 green onions, washed, stem removed and cut into small pieces
½ small red onion, diced
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon of Agave Syrup or Honey
3 – 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Chili Powder
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or both

Optional:  Pine Nuts, Sunflower Seeds or Pumpkin Seeds in any combination, lightly toasted in a frying pan.

Strip the kale leaves off the stem and discard stem. Cut into bite sized pieces and place in a large bowl with the green and red onions. In a separate bowl, mix together the Red Wine Vinegar, lemon juice, Agave Syrup, Olive Oil and salt.  Add to the Kale and onions and toss. Let the mixture sit for about 15 – 20 minutes before serving. When ready to serve, add in the avocado and tomatoes and toss to coat with the dressing. Sprinkle on seeds and serve.

Five Element Analysis

Kale belongs to the Wood Element, but the dark green color adds a bit of the Water Element as well. The avocado brings in both the Water and Wood Elements too. The vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil contribute even more Wood, so this is primarily a Wood dish. However, the seeds bring in more Water. The tomatoes and Chili Powder add the Fire Element and the green and red onions add the Metal Element. Finally, the Agave syrup represents the Earth Element – so all the elements are present, making this a balanced salad by itself!