Friday, January 11, 2008

mapo tofu

This is one of my favorite tofu recipes from China. It is easily the best known one: soft white cubes of tofu floating in an intense red chili oil sauce, with minced meat, spring onions and garlic and ginger. It has quite a funny name: mapo means pockmarked woman, and this woman with her bad-face-day is said to be the inventor of this Sichuan favorite, more than 200 years ago.

Pockmarked or not, she sure was a kitchen princess! While the Official Dutch Bureau of Food has fried tofu in white wine sauce for their Christmas vegetarian meal (I shudder when I type this), I think you will bring out the best of tofu when its softness and bland flavour clashes with some true spicy stuff.
Without trying to sound fussy, much depends on the kind of tofu you use. The spectacular result I had last time was really tofu-related. I will list the kinds of tofu for this dish in my preferred order. Try to get the top of the list, but don't despair if it can't find tofu number 1.

For this dish I recommend: 1. Fresh soft tofu from the Asian store. I bought mine for a mere 0.39 cents (300 grams, rather small) This serves two people. 2. Japanese silken tofu in a carton. They come in red or blue packaging and have quite a long shelf life, but cost like €2.50. 3.Fresh normal tofu. These cakes are bigger than tofu no.1, but have a more coarse structure. 0.80cents. 4. supermarket tofu, packed in thick plastic packaging. Usually too coarse and its taste is not subtle. When your first bite of tofu ever was tofu no.4, you will probably be put off for life, but please try the better ones on the list, you won't be dissapponted!

For this dish you need: 50 to 100 grams of ground meat (pork or beef or mixed is OK), garlic, ginger, spring onions, Sichuan chili broad bean paste - tobanjiang or doubanjiang, soy, sugar, cornstarch, ground Sichuan pepper, sesame oil, and stock or water.

Cut up the tofu in small cubes and soak in hot scalding water for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, pour a pool of oil in a wok and fry meat. Don't skimp too much on the oil, because if it isn't there, the end result won't turn out so great. When the meat starts to brown, add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 cms of chopped ginger and fry until fragrant. Add two tablespoons of tobanjiang (Sichuan chili broad bean paste. The best brand is from Pixian County, and called Pixian doubanjiang. Ask your shop. And keep asking. I know it's for sale in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague). Stir until fragrant, add water or stock to make a sauce. Carefully, add the tofu cubes and stir to coat the cubes with the sauce. It will smell delicious already!

Simmer for a couple of minutes and add half a teaspoon of sugar. Meanwhile, chop up 2 small spring onions into small rings. Prepare the Sichuan pepper powder: fry two tablespoons of Sichuan pepper (huajiao) in a dry pan until fragrant. Let cool and grind into a powder. You can use your stone mortar for this, it's fun!

In the end of the cooking, dissolve one tablespoon of cornstarch into half a cup of water. Use this water to thicken the sauce, first add half of it and see how thick it gets, add more if needed. If everything is to your liking, put all on a pretty plate, sprinkle on some sesame oil drops, scatter over the spring onions and the finely ground Sichuan pepper and ... enjoy.

For all steps in this recipe, you can view my photoset on Flickr called how to make mapo tofu

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sichuan Sauerkraut


Sichuan Sauerkraut
Originally uploaded by kattebelletje.
I think about food. I think about food a lot. Even when commuting on a train, I think of food, and of ways of getting or cooking food. Sometimes I just think about lists on what to buy in the supermarket. But sometimes flavour combinations pop into my head and I start to map them out. This is one of them!

I thought of how much I like the Sichuan style dry-fried beans. Basically, it uses garlic and ginger and dried shrimp and sugar an sesame oil to flavour string beans, which then take on a whole different flavour. Then I thought of sauerkraut and klary koopmans' recipe on baked sauerkraut. Then this new idea hit me: to fry sauerkraut with the Sichuan string-beans flavour!

For this recipe you will need: 1 packet of sauerkraut [450 grams]; I prefer organic; 2 cms of ginger, chopped; 2 mashed cloves of garlic, some chili oil flakes, a tablespoon of dried shrimp (put to soak in boiling water); soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and cilantro.

Drain the sauerkraut, you could also give it a rinse in water to get rid of some of the sour flavour, if you think it is too strong. Then heat a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and fry the sauerkraut slowly for a while. Take out. Pour in new oil and on a low fire fry chopped ginger, mashed garlic and your soaked dried shrimp, chopped. When fragrant, add some splashed of soy and add 2 tablespoons of sugar. You can add more to your liking later on. Return the fried sauerkraut to the pan and stir to combine. Fry longer until the sauerkraut takes on the flavours; I like it to be quite dry. Add chili flakes. At the end, add half a teaspoon of sesame oil and taste for flavour. Don't probably don't have to add any vinegar or salt, because it will have plenty of those flavour already! Put on a plate and add some chopped cilantro.
I love this dish. I like the savoury vinegary flavour of the sauerkraut, but making it have a dry, a little charred texture, and adding the Sichuan flavours, bring out a whole new twist.
Have it as a side dish to a Chinese meal, or eat it as a starter. This is my contribution to fusion: sublime Sichuan Sauerkraut !

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dry-fried string beans, Sichuan style

When looking at this picture, you might easily think this is one of my culinary mistakes; and the post is going to be a long lament on the failure of this dish. But no! These are fried string beans Sichuan style, simmered until they reach this crispy and dry texture, with an amazing palette of flavours. First, get yourself some ingredients from the Asian supermarket: dried shrimps; tinned Sichuan preserved vegetable; a piece of ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Start with putting a handful of dried shrimps in a bowl with water that you have just boiled, and soak for about 30 minutes. Take about 300 grams of spring beans and clean them, snap them in two when they are too long. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok on quite a high fire and stir-fry the beans for about 2 minutes until browning in places and shriveling a little bit. Turn down the fire and keep frying and stirring them on a lower heat for 6 minutes or so. Take out. Drain the shrimps and cut them very finely. Take about a ping pong ball of zhacai or Sichuan preserved vegetable and cut as fine as the shrimp. Take 2 cms of ginger and 2 cloves of garlic and mash very fine, too. Then, in some new oil, fry shrimp with ginger, then add preserved vegetable and garlic; then add 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and a splash of sesame oil, add some soy too.

Return the beans to the pan and let dry-cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The fishy sweet gingery flavors will be absorbed in the beans and their texture is very interesting! I truly loved this dish and will make it often! By the way, I tried to cook the twice-cooked pork I blogged about a week ago, and the result was great! This was mainly because I finally just asked the butcher for a different cut of pork then they usually sell, and this turned out the be the key to the right look and feel (and taste!) of the dish.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

cold noodles, Sichuan style

I had these Sichuan style cold noodles for lunch the other day; they make such a perfect simple meal! Their taste improves with time, when all ingredients mix with the noodles, so it is ideal to prepare this the morning before, or even the night before you are eating them. Cheap, filling, easy to prepare, and very tasty, what more could you want from lunch? So why aren't there noodle joints offering these as a quick snack?

Alas, I live in a tasteless country, suffering from the ICDB (I Can Do Better) scenario (meaning everywhere I go and order something simple, I feel I would have been able to make something tastier with the same ingredients - this doesn't mean I can cook so well, but it means eating places here seem to have uninterested, lazy, or even lousy cooks), so I take my own noodles to work.

How to prepare: take 60 or 70 grams cooked noodles, drained, or even soaked in cold water to prevent the noodles from sticking. For each serving, add 1 large tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of sesame paste, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of Chinese dark vinegar, 1 tbsp of white sugar, half a clove of crushed garlic (or leave this out when you are at work), and a large tablespoon of chinese chili sauce (or Yinyin sauce), or more to taste. Mix those ingredients in a bowl together and add to the noodles until all noodles are covered with sauce. Add more hot sauce if you dare, you should eat this as hot as you can handle! Add half a cucumber (or a little less), cut in slices and then in thin strips to go with the noodles and some peanuts (or pine nuts, as I did here). You could add some cold blanched bean sprouts as well...
Put in an airtight container and enjoy this meal with your chopsticks!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

dandan mian (Sichuan noodles)

This three minute YouTube video (ripped from a Chinese cooking dvd), which I stumbled upon, tells you how to prepare dandan mian, the famous Sichuan spicy noodles which I make very often at home - and which my friends and family keep begging me to make for them when they come to dinner. (The other often-begged-for dish, by the way, is jiaozi. Noodles are easier.)

Although my version is slightly different, this recipe looks absolutely delicious and very easy to do. Here is how : (don't forget watch the action on the video now!) On a moderate fire, heat a chunk of lard until 60% hot (you can substitue this for oil), add 200 grams of minced (pork) meat, a slug of rice wine, 15 grams of sweet bean paste (tianmianjiang, a dark thick paste), a pinch of salt, and some soy sauce. Fry until the water has evaporated - and as soon as the oil comes floating on top of the meat and it starts smelling delicious, take it out of the pan [1:07]. Take two bowls and put in each one: two or three spoonfuls of soy sauce, 3 grams of MSG, 2 grams of chicken stock powder, 15 grams of shredded xuecai (preserved vegetable, you buy this in tins in the Chinese supermarket), 1 clove of pressed garlic, 3 or 4 spoons of sesame paste, and now watch the cook ladling this huge amount of chili oil in each bowl [1:54] - if you weren't hungry by now, you will be!

Add 25 grams of finely chopped spring onions and stir everything together with a ladle of chicken stock. Take 500 grams of noodles and boil until done (the fresher the noodles, the nicer the end result will be). Drain and lower slowly in the spicy sauce. Add a blanched vegetable leaf, then add a large scoop of meat sauce, and EAT!

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

most favorited dish

This is the dish I ordered most in China: Gongbao jiding or Gongbao Chicken. I have always liked it;Diced chicken, Gongbao style has chicken, lots of peanuts, spring onions and dried chili peppers, and a truly hot and spicy Sichuan (Szechuan) flavour. It is one of the classic Sichuan dishes, hot, spicy and completely irresistible.

Sadly, in the Netherlands there is not one Chinese restaurant I can think of where they make a proper Gongbao jiding. It is always to sweet and sour to my liking, or just plain mild with cashew nuts replacing the peanuts. So, over time, meaning, not having a right tasting dish like they make in China, the true taste of Gongbao jiding can disappear from memory. Therefore, my recent trip to China proved to be vital!

In general, the Chinese Gong bao Chicken was much more sweet, almost caramel-sticky than I remember. Also, there were more peanuts in the dish than I thought would be, and a great amount of tender and juicy spring onion chunks. It invariably had quite a lot of oil, and the chicken and peanuts were very glossy and slippery. The almost blackened peppers gave a sweet and dark spicy flavour. True heaven. One dish costs about 18 yuan, being €1,80... I photographed every gongbao jiding I had on my one week trip (4 dishes), click the link to my Flickr photos to view gongbao jiding in different styles.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

eggplant fritters with huajiao-dip

Chinese snack time: eggplant fritters with huajiao-dip. Huajiao ??, usually called " Sichuan pepper" or "Szechuan pepper", are the fragrant, almost hallucinating husks and berries of the huajiao shrub, which grows in the hills of Sichuan province of China.

Although you can buy several brands here in Europe, I got a bag of the stuff, imported from China by a friend, and they turned out to be very aromatic indeed! I think their intense flavor spoiled all the things in her suitcase, impregnating it with its strong smell. To use Sichuan pepper, roast two tablespoons of huajiao in a dry pan, when they start to give off their flavor, take off the heat and let cool. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and grind them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.


Cut a small eggplant into slices and make a batter of 1 egg and some tablespoons of corn flour. Mix until you have a smooth paste, in the beginning it looks very lumpy, but this will smooth out. Dip the slices of eggplant into the batter and shake off excess batter, then slip into hot oil (a wok is fine). Fry in not so hot oil until brown; drain on kitchen paper. Serve with the Sichuan-pepper-dip, it will be sharp, tingling and numb-making , but oh so good!!!

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