The Year of the Dragon

Happy Chinese New Year!  I don’t feel bad for saying this more than a week after the start of the lunar New Year because if we were in my motherland, we’d be saying it for two weeks after the Lunar New Year. That’s how long people take to celebrate the new year. It’s a very big deal there.

Unfortunately, it’s not that much of a big deal here, but I still like celebrating it with a delicious family dinner.  On the eve of the New Year, my parents put together a bunch of dishes like salted chicken, fish, stewed beef cold cuts, abalone, nian gao, vegetarian chicken and basil, vegetarian kung pao chicken, watercress, abolone, and home-pickled mustard green. Fish is an important New Years Eve dish, but you can’t eat all of it that night because it symbolizes the fortune of one year flowing into the other if you leave some for the next day.

Chinese New Year 2012

For New Years day dinner, most people tend to eat simpler foods and some even go vegetarian.  We made a couple of vegetarian dishes since we still had plenty of leftover chicken and fish from the night before.  Even though I mostly ate vegetarian, that night, I made sure to have a piece of the fish so that my fortune from the year before could continue on to 2012.

Chinese New Year 2012

For New Years Day, Will made Chap Chye (recipe here), a vegetarian New Years Day claypot dish and braised wheat gluten wheels with bamboo.  I made fava beans in scallion oil and rapini.

Vegetarian Twice Cooked Pork

Will wanted to blog about his Twice Cooked Pork recipe and here it is below.

I’ve been wanting to try making a vegetarian adaptation of “Twice Cooked Pork” (回锅肉). I’ve had versions in Buddhist vegetarian restaurants; these are usually a little heavy on the fake meat, and for religious reasons, usually don’t contain garlic shoots or leeks. Of course, since the dish contains no pork, and is not really “twice cooked”, I’ll admit it’s kind of a stretch, but the result is pretty tasty, so, whatever you call it, I think it’s worth sharing.

twice cooked veggie pork

One of the Chinese language recipes I found had you add some broken up dàn pí (蛋皮) which I thought might soak up too much of the seasoning, but decided to try. Vegans can easily omit it. I adapted the cooking method and seasoning from Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe in her excellent book on Sichuan cooking Land of Plenty. I skipped the Sichuan sweet bean paste, which I think will be hard to find.

Recipe for Vegetarian Twice Cooked “Pork” (素回锅肉)

Ingredients:

twice cooked veggie pork

1 square baked 5 spice tofu (xiāng gān; 香干)
2-3 bean curd sticks (fǔ zhú; 腐竹), soaked overnight or frozen and mostly-thawed
1-2 eggs (optional)
2 large leeks or 6 young garlic shoots (suàn miáo; 蒜苗)
1-2 Tbsp Chili bean paste (dòu bàn jiàng; 豆瓣酱)
1 Tbsp Fermented black bean paste (dòu chǐ; 豆豉)
1 tsp dark soy sauce (you can replace a little of it with regular soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
Green pepper or cabbage (optional)
dry chilies (optional)


twice cooked veggie pork

Directions:

  1. Cut baked tofu in slices, so that some soy sauce covered bits are showing in each piece. Cut in half, depending on the size of the block. Cut the bean curd sticks to about the same size.
  2. Beat the egg(s) if used and pan fry into a thin sheet (dan pi), then break up into little pieces, either with the wok spatula or with
    a knife.
  3. If Western leeks are being used, cook them separately ahead of time to make them less green tasting.
  4. Add the appropriate amount of oil, then add the tofu and bean curd sticks, stir-frying until slightly browned, tossing to brown evenly. Remove to a bowl.
  5. Stir-fry green-peppers or cabbage in some more oil.
  6. Add doubanjiang and dou chi, sitr-fry until fragrant, then toss with vegetables, add in egg pieces, and tofu. Add the soy sauce /sugar mixture, and then the leeks, tossing until well combined.

twice cooked veggie pork

Based on http://www.caipucaipu.com/jiachangcaipu/1357.html and the hui
guo rou recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop “Land of Plenty”

Comfort Food at Shaanxi Gourmet

My father told me this story tonight over dinner. When he was visiting Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi, he would go eat at the local restaurants. He would order something that would translate as bread in soup. The server would bring out a couple pieces of round, flat bread to the table. He and his dining companions would sit around chatting amiably why tearing the bread into pieces. Because the bread was usually dense, it would take a while to tear up the entire bread. When they were done tearing, the server would collect each plate of torn bread, and take it back into the kitchen where the chef would stir fry the bread with meat (usually lamb), some cellophane noodles, and then pour broth over it. This bread soup would then be brought back to the table, and each person would get their own bowl, with the bread soaking up the soup. My dad liked it because each person could customize their bowl. If one person liked big, soggy pieces of bread, he could just tear bigger pieces. If another liked smaller pieces, he could do that.

Shannxi Gourmet

Shaanxi Gourmet doesn’t follow this tradition, but their bread in lamb soup was still delicious in that rustic, food-of-the-people kind of way. If you’re one of those people who shy away from gamey pieces of lamb, this is probably not the bowl of soup your’e looking for. Shaanxi Gourmet’s bread (which they list as pita bread on the menu) is neatly and uniformly diced so that each cube of soaked bread has the perfect amount of chew. If I didn’t know beforehand it was bread, I would have taken it for cubes of boiled noodle-like dough. The broth is savory and rich with melted fat from the lamb. The meat falls apart as soon as your spoon touches it.

Shannxi Gourmet1/4 of their lamb ‘burger’

As if the lamb and bread soup wasn’t gamey enough, we also ordered another traditional Shaanxi dish, which the menu translates as a burger. There’s a pork version and a lamb version. I strongly recommend the lamb version for that wonderful, gamey taste. The bread is dense but soft and it soaks up the flavor of the tender, salty filling. The lamb is cooked to a moist and flakey soft consistency. If you’ve ever had really good carnitas, you’ll know what I mean.

Shannxi Gourmetbig plate chicken is indeed a big plate of chicken

Most of the tables had a big plate of brightly colored chili pepper and some type of meat. After asking the server what it was, we ordered the same thing, which they just translate as “Big Plate Chicken.” It really is a big plate of chicken — big enough to feed 3-4 people at least. The chicken is roughly chopped, then stir fried with large chili peppers, small chili peppers, onion, potatoes, and spiced with peppercorn and star anise. If you want to taste the flavor of the sauce, an onion or potato, soaking in the brown liquid is a good way to go. This sauce-loaded stir fry is then dumped over a plate of thick, chewy, round noodles. The noodles themselves have a fantastic texture, but after soaking up the flavor of the stir fry, they were just on another level. Be warned that this is definitely a spicy dish even though the menu makes no indication. As the lao ban niang says, “If you don’t make it spicy enough, then it’s not flavorful enough!”

Shannxi Gourmetdan dan mian’s shaanxian sibling

While Shaanxi isn’t really well known for their vegetarian food, we were able to order two plates of supposedly vegetarian dishes for Will. The first one is by default vegetarian: noodles in sesame paste, like a simpler version of dan dan mian. The noodles were thin and flat and even though they were wheat noodles, they had the smooth chew and springiness of a rice noodle, which was great.

Shannxi Gourmetso good, we doubt it’s vegetarian

The second dish was ordered with modifications. The cat-ear noodle usually comes in a meat broth, but the kitchen offered to make it with a vegetable broth instead. Cat-eared noodles are first stir fried with vegetables like celery, bok choy, and wood-ear mushrooms. Then, the broth is poured on top with cellophane noodles. The extra step of stir frying gives this soup a strong, smokey wok flavor, which made it extra good. It was so good, we’re having doubts on whether this was 100% vegetarian or not. What we are 100% sure of is that the texture of the cat ear noodles were fantastic. You could really tell where the Italians got the idea of orecchiette from after having these noodles.

When one thinks of Shaanxi-style food, one probably doesn’t think of it as gourmet, which is why the restaurant’s name is so funny. In Chinese, the translation works better as “Famous Shaanxi Food.” I think of Shaanxi dishes as comfort or down home food that could be shared with friends while drinking some strong, home-brew liquor that puts hair on your chest. It’s the type of food you want to eat when it’s a brisk day in winter and the type of food that makes you feel all warm and satisfied inside, which is exactly how I felt after my meal here.

Shannxi Gourmetjust in case you forgot, Xi’an is where they excavated the terracotta army

Shaanxi Gourmet
8518 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-9886