NanRu Bean Curd Cubes

NanRu Cubes

“NanRu” is a red fermented bean curd which is often used as a thickener in Chinese food. It also gives the food a distinctive, somewhat spicy aroma. I use it in my Beer Duck recipe, but it can be used as part of a sauce for many other recipes.

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Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Duck, Pork, and Cabbage with Rice = $1.69

Good food on a budget is a specialty not only in China, but across the developing world. In countries which have recently joined the world economy, or only within the past 20-30 years, local food traditions have stayed strong. And although Western food is becoming more popular in these countries, their preference for local traditional dishes is unlikely to change in the near future.

The one common remark that students studying abroad make about their experience is that food doesn’t meet their standards. For example, the pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and salads option that fill cafeterias in the US provoke a homesickness that is unavoidable. Looking at the common dish I had for dinner last night, could you blame them for missing home?

Right outside my apartment is the “Sichuan Room”, a Cantonese-style Sichuan restaurant which serves amazing food at a low price. Continue reading Which would you choose? Dinner for $1.69 or $.79

Traditional Food Choices and Bitter Gourds

Ku Gua
Ku Gua "Bitter Gourd"

Have you tried “Bitter Melon” (苦瓜, Ku Gwa in Chinese)? Probably not. After the first bite you’ll say “What the… How can people eat this stuff on a regular basis??” And I agree, it is bitter and rough to get down. But many vegetables which have rather potent flavors in nature are full of great nutrients for our bodies. Think of it like a bank protecting its vault. The more valuable the contents, the more heavy-duty the lock! An appreciation for such vegetables is often steeped in the food culture of the local people where these mini-banks grow naturally.

Why don’t we make these choices too? Well, somewhere along the way of building our commerce-driven empire, we began allowing business to dictate what we should eat rather than carry forward traditions from the Old World. And after years of recalibration to the new norm, it is not going to be easy to switch back. We believe that healthy food isn’t delicious food because our preferred tastes have led us to diets full of sweet and salty “food-like substances,” a term I’ve borrowed from Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food. If our parents, friends, and coworkers began to redevelop the habit of traditional, ethnic cooking, we would certainly notice a difference in our waistlines and overall health.

Dish made with Ku Gua
A dish made with Ku Gua

My  last thought: If Korean children are stating publicly that their favorite food is Kimchi (a spicy, pickled cabbage dish), and not ice cream, then there is a lot we can learn from the survival of traditional food values in a small but very modernized country.

Pork Rib Chunks with Garlic & Black Bean Sauce

Garlic pork ribs
Ingredients for Garlic pork ribs

I’m finally letting this simple, but amazingly delicious recipe out of the bag! I would eat ribs everyday if I could because they are so freaking delicious. My favorite rib-dish is actually steamed and served more frequently at Zao Cha (早茶) or “morning tea,” which is most common in Southern China.  I have yet to find a more delicious way to cook pork ribs at home, but we will need to take a quick trip to the Asian Market first.

Start by preparing the following ingredients:
MEAT: Obviously, first comes the pork rib chunks. I buy them from a butcher’s market, which sells all cuts of meat in open air. The amount in the serving bowl to the right is about one full rib, which is about 8 inches long. You can get a 12 inch long rib chopped up for 2 people if this option is available. If you are not sure about portions, take a look at this article related to meat portion control.

Chilli powder, Corn starch, and Marinade
Chilli powder, Corn starch, and Marinade

SEASONINGS: We’ll simply take the chopped up pork ribs, rinse them through water, and do a simple 1 minute-marinade. I like 李锦记 (Lee Kum Kee) Brand’s prepared Black Bean and Garlic Sauce” marinade shown in the picture. (buy online) I also mix in some 玉米生粉 (Corn Starch), which is that bag with the ear of corn on it. Any corn starch will do. Notice that I don’t cake this onto the ribs; just put a shallow amount in your palm, with the marinade, and mix by hand a few minutes before cooking. I also put in Chilli powder according to taste. A spicy edge can enhance the flavor.

PLANTS: I’ve chosen to separate the shelved Seasonings from the fresh ones. As in the picture above, just cut a few slices of raw ginger, long segments of scallions, and loosely chopped up garlic. This should only take 1 minute.

1 ~ Warm up a frying pan/wok with corn oil (or whatever is available in the house). Throw in some of the garlic you chopped up with 1 or two slices of ginger. Shortly after you can throw in the scallions.

2 ~ Quickly throw in your marinaded pork ribs. Move them around in the pan to give them equal heat. If you find the frying pan is drying out, just add small amounts of water periodically. You’ll slowly develop a nice coating of sauce this way.

3 ~ Cover and let them cook for a few minutes, mixing them up with the sauce in the pan. Add water if needed. (The meat cooks rather quickly because it is not frozen and its rather thin on the bone. Cooking times may vary according to the thickness of your meat.)

4 ~ I usually pull them off after 4-5 minutes. If you want, choose a thick piece and pull it out. Slice it and check the middle.

Garlic Bean Pork Ribs
Garlic Bean Pork Ribs with Rice

I eat this dish with white rice, as you can see from the picture of the final product. Also, it goes well with stir-fried green beans.  Notice that the vegetables and the rice portions are about 50% of the meal. (Try your best to make a habit of this!)


Full Meal with Green Beans
Full Meal with Green Beans

Stir-Fried Udon Noodles

Pronounced “Wu Dong Mian” in Chinese, this stir-fried version of U-Don Noodle soup is awesome. The vegetables can be substituted by any other vege that’s in the house. The dish is about 40% noodles, 15% meat, and 45% vegetables. I don’t really use measurements in cooking, so please don’t worry about being specific.

Stir Fry U-Don Preparation
Stir-Fried Udon Ingredients

Here is a picture of all the ingredients basically prepared. You’ll need to do some shopping at the asian market for 1 or 2 things. (All of the Cooking recipes on Asian Living require a trip to the Asian Market.)

* Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, Shitake Mushrooms (See the bag  of dried 香菇, let them sit in water first), Chicken Broth (granulated is fine), a pinch of sugar, and bag of prepared Udon noodles (乌冬面, usually its a Japanese food); VEGES: Broccoli (cut up), Scallions (cut in 1 inch segments, not too short), garlic (1 or 2 cloves), green pepper (sliced), and an egg (for good measure). MEAT: Choose any meat you want, but don’t cut up a huge steak or anything… I sliced up some pork, as you can see.

1~ Boil U-Don noodles for a few minutes and set them aside.

2~ Put Sesame oil, or vegetable/peanut oil, in a wok. Heat it up and start cooking the meat, garlic, and scallions. (I like going rogue.) Continue reading Stir-Fried Udon Noodles

Ramen (La Mian) as a Meal

Nong Xin Ramen- 5 pack

My favorite “fast food” in all of Asia is actually a Korean Ramen called “Shin Ramyun” or 辛拉面 in Chinese. It’s basically a brick of ramen, some dried veges, and a packet of seasoning. This is not a meal in itself, nor is a Cup Noodles. Asian teenagers often eat this as a snack, but I’ll show you how college students often turn it into a proper meal.

1~ Boil water in a pot, add chopped onions, sliced mushrooms (shitake are nice), and let them cook for a minute or two.

2~ Add the ramen brick. Move it around with chopsticks or a fork. Loosen it up. Add the seasoning packet.

3~ Then, crack a couple eggs into the pot. Don’t move it too much while they cook.

4~ Test a noodle to make sure it’s soft. When its ready, turn off heat and pour a serving off into your bowl.

5~ Add water if its too spicy. You don’t need ice cubes.

Simple Chinese Cabbage Dish

Example of Fried Cabbage, but I don't use bacon...
Example of Fried Cabbage, but I don’t use bacon…

Ingredients– In order of use: Sesame Oil (Lee Kum Kee), Garlic, Ginger, Head (or half head) of cabbage, Soy Sauce (Lee Kum Kee), Water (if needed)

1~ Warm up a wok or pan with sesame oil.

2~ Throw in a few slices of garlic (don’t waste your time by mincing), also add 1 or 2 slices of skinned ginger. Let them brown slightly.

3~ Throw in chopped up, or ripped apart, pieces of cabbage. Half a head for 1-2 people. Full head for 2+ people. Cover pan while you get Soy Sauce ready.

4~ Pour in soy sauce. Just enough to give each leaf a coating. Cover and cook a few minutes. Shovel around in the pan so that everything gets attention from your ingredients.

5~ When leaves are smaller and stalks are looking browner (from soy sauce), turn off heat. Use spatula to shovel out the cabbage from the sauce into a serving dish. Put it on the table and get the next dish started!

* If the dish is too salty, add some water to smooth out the impact of the soy sauce.