Recently I went all the way to China … The impetus for the trip was the news that my last book Grow Cook Nourish had been shortlisted for a World Gourmand Cookbook award. It was up against stiff competition including Stephanie Alexander’s ‘Kitchen Garden Companion’ and Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Food, Health and Happiness’… I reckoned that my tome urging people to take back control over their food, grow some of their own and cook it, wouldn’t have a chance. Nonetheless it was an excuse to spend a few days doing some edible research in China and surprise, surprise, Grow Cook Nourish WON a special award and my publisher Kyle Cathie received the Publisher of the Year Award so that was definitely the ‘icing on the cake’ …..
On this trip we took in Beijing, Datong, Pingyao and Yantai where the awards were hosted.
Yes, I walked on the Great Wall of China, visited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, The Summer Garden and the totally awesome Hanging Temples near Mount Hengshan in the Shanxi Province but in this piece, I’ll concentrate on the food and the many good things we tasted.
The pace of change, in virtually all Chinese cities is just jaw dropping, most of the traditional single or double storey houses have been demolished to make way for gigantic skyscrapers 28-30 stories tall, the horizon is dotted with the tallest cranes I’ve ever seen.
Peking duck is the great speciality of Beijing. Of course there are a myriad of restaurants who serve it, Mongolian hot pot too, but if you have a craving for McDonald’s or KFC they are there aplenty, however I’m always on a mission to taste the local street foods and so far, they are still a part of everyday life, even in Beijing where it seems there is a huge push towards all things Western. A wander through a local vegetable market is also an illuminating window into local culture and eating habits. One of Beijing’s most fascinating is the Sanyvanli Market, opens at 6am and has stall after stall of beautiful super fresh vegetables and exotic fruit, mangosteen, durian, lychees, pomelo, also ripe mangoes and huge hard scary grapes, some round, others pointy. All the fruit and vegetables were beautifully presented and packed including, boxes of spanking fresh waxberries (myrica rubra) also called Chinese bayberry, all juicy and delicious.
Stalls were piled high with fish and shellfish, scallops, sea urchins, crabs, lobsters, crayfish, much of it still alive.
Butcher shops selling freshly slaughtered meat, black and white skinned poultry and tons of offal. A wild mushroom stall with a mind-blowing selection of fungi including cauliflower mushrooms the size of a baby’s head. Two little bakeries, making Chinese flat breads, were nestled among the stalls. I loved watching them rolling huge rounds of dough – 2 feet in diameter and cooking it on a hot griddle, sometimes plain but often with chopped scallions or garlic chives incorporated. I took a little video so I can experiment, it was so delicious, I hope I can manage to recreate this popular breakfast bread at home.
The night markets are also a must, there are many but we visited the one just off Wangfujing Street, Beijing’s posh shopping street where all the luxury brand shops cluster. This area really comes to life after sun down.
Here I ate scorpion kebabs and crispy silk worms, surprisingly delicious once you grit your teeth and decide to be adventurous. Lots of offal, squid and dumplings, chicken feet and gizzards and tiny toffee apples- a Beijing speciality. Lamb kebabs were also delicious but a roast goat (kid) leg with cumin and chilli was the best of all. This market was fun but a bit touristy.
Street food vendors are still a vital part of everyday life in China. Dough stacks, youtiao, snacks like scallion pancakes, Jianbing . Sweet potatoes roasted in old cooking oil drums are also delectable.
Don’t leave China without attending a tea ceremony, a wonderful ritual after which tea will never be the same again. We tasted ginseng, jasmine and gunpowder tea and puer, exquisite but sadly the teas I bought having been assured that they were identical quality were anything but – sadly a frequent occurrence in China, from taxis to restaurants. Follow the guidebooks advice, insist on using the taxi meter and check your bill meticulously…..otherwise a brilliant and delicious experience.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fisherman’s Prawns with Chinese Chives
This is based in a dish I enjoyed eating in Yueyang, where it is made with small river shrimp, cooked in their shells. I’ve adapted the recipe to be made with shelled prawns, which have a different texture, but are still delicious (prawns and Chinese chives are a particularly happy combination). If you want a glossy, restaurant – style sauce, add a little stock at the end of cooking and thicken with a mixture of potato flour and water.
500g (1lb 2oz) fresh or frozen raw prawns, thawed if frozen
100g (3½ oz) Chinese chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon shopped salted chillies or 1 teaspoon dries chilli flakes
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar
1 fresh red chilli de-seeded and thinly sliced.
1 teaspoon sesame oil
200ml (7fl oz) groundnut oil for cooking
For the marinade:
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon potato flour
1 small egg white
Shell and de-vein the prawns, removing and discarding the heads and legs, if necessary, then rinse and shake dry. Put them in a bowl; add the marinade an ingredients and mix well; set aside.
Trim the chives, discarding any tougher or wilted leaves (they should be pert and fresh) and cut into 3cm / 1¼ pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok over a high flame until it reaches 150°C/300°F. Discard any excess egg white from the prawns, then add them to the wok and fry briefly until pinkish but not fully cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and chopped salted chillies and stir fry briefly until fragrant. Add the prawns, stirring well, followed by the vinegar.
When all is sizzling and delicious, add the chives and fresh chilli and stir-fry until they are barely cooked. Season with salt to taste, then remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.
A similar recipe uses finely chopped garlic stems instead of Chinese chives; the method is the same except that you stir fry the garlic stems with the ginger and chopped salted chillies until fragrant before adding the prawns.
From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop
Scrambled Eggs with Shrimps and Coriander
In Beijing this was served with rice but I enjoy it with hot buttered toast or fresh soda bread.
8 organic eggs
175g to 225g (6oz to 8oz) cooked small shrimps
good pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
a knob of lard or butter
2 tablespoons full cream milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh coriander, coarsely chopped or Chinese (garlic) chives
Break the eggs into a bowl, add the milk and season with salt and pepper. Whisk well until the whites and yolks are mixed well. Over a low heat, put a blob of lard or butter into a cold saucepan, add the chilli flakes (if using), pour in the egg mixture and stir continuously, preferably with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, until the eggs have scrambled into soft creamy curds. Add in the cooked shrimp, coriander or chopped Chinese (garlic) chives.
Serve immediately on warm plates with lots of hot buttered toast or fresh soda bread.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Quick Fried Lamb
The city of Liuyang lies on the banks of the Liuyang River, amid gentle, wooded hills to the east of the Hunanese capital. There ‘the mountains are beautiful, the water is beautiful and the people are even more beautiful’ (shan mei, shui mei, ren geng mei), so they say. Although the two cities are no more than 50 miles apart, Liuyang has its own distinctive character and its people speak a dialect that is incomprehensible to the inhabitants of Changsha. Liuyang is a world centre of firework production, and is known poetically in Chinese as ‘the home of smoke-flowers’ (yan hua zhi xiang)
A meal in Liuyang, like its most famous product, is an explosion of glittering colours; the lovely green of fresh soybeans, the brilliant red of fresh or pickled chilies, the warm sunset of a pumpkin soup. I remember one day, when grey mist had reclaimed the hills, sitting around a table laden with dishes as torrential rain rattled on the rooftops outside and thunder cracked the sky. This is one of the dishes we ate, a colourful stir-fry traditionally make with one of Liuyang’s famous products, the black goat (hei shan yang), but which works equally well with lamb.
300g (10½ oz) lamb, lean and boneless
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon 0light soy sauce
½ teaspoon dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
2 fresh red chilies or ½ red pepper
75g (2 ½ oz) fresh coriander or Chinese celery
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped Chinese Angelica Root (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons groundnut oil for cooking
Cut the lamb across the grain into thin slices. Place the slices in a bowl; add the Shaoxing wine, soy sauces and salt and mix well; set aside.
Cut the red chilies into thins slices (if using red pepper, cut into small squares.) Cut the coriander stalks or celery into 5cm (2 in) sections. Reserve some leaves for a garnish and set the other leaves for other uses.
Heat the wok over a high flame until smokes rises, then add the ground nut oil and swirl around. Add the ginger, garlic, fresh chilli or pepper, chilli flakes and angelica root, if using and stir fry briefly until fragrant.
Add the lamb and continue to stir fry adding salt to taste, if necessary. When the lamb is almost cooked, add the coriander or celery and stir a few times until barely cooked. Turn off the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve with coriander leaf garnish if desired.
The same method can also be used to cook beef.
From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop
Kei Lum’s and Diora Fong Chan’s Pork with Beijing Scallions a quick dish from China: The Cookbook.
This one comes from the Shanding region
300g (11oz) pork belly, sliced into lardons
1 tablespoon cornflour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Beijing scallions or 6 scallions (Spring onions) cut into 3cm (1/4 inch) lengths
1 tablespoons Tianmianjiang (sweet bean sauce)
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
Combine the pork with cornflour in a bowl, and then stir in 1 tablespoon oil.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large skillet/frying pan. Add the pork and stir-fry over a medium-low heat for 4-6 minutes until cooked and crisp. Transfer the pork to a plate and set aside.
Put the scallions into the wok and stir-fry over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the Tianmianjiang, soy sauce, wine, salt and the pork, stir-fry over high heat for another minute. Season with salt and taste. Serve with steamed rice.
From China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan published by Phaidon
Congee with Chicken, Shrimps, Mushroom and lots of Coriander
Congee is a rice porridge – a staple breakfast food often eaten with dough sticks to dunk, in China and Hong Kong. I also love it as a soup – vary the additions or add some extra tasty titbits at the table.
250g jasmine rice (well-washed and drained)
2 litres water
100g raw or cooked shrimps
100g shredded raw chicken breast
1 teaspoon ginger
1 chilli, thinly sliced, optional
100g thinly sliced mushrooms (cooked)
Vegetable oil for frying
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons spring onion, sliced thinly at an angle
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put the rice into a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the rice is cooked and slightly soupy. Add the finely shredded chicken and shrimps, ginger and chilli to the rice, cook for 4-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms on a hot pan in a very little vegetable oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add to the soup, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with spring onion and coriander leaves. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Serve this comforting nourishing soup as soon as possible.
From Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books.