Tea Oil Noodles

Tea oil noodles
Our Lunch (clockwise from top left: Tea Oil Noodles, Tofu on Hotplate, Shrimp in Wine and Tea Leaves, Stir Fried Spinach

My classmate from secondary school came to visit last weekend.  We went up to Maokong, a mountain in Taipei to explore the tea plantations and stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. It was a lovely spring day and we were lucky to get a table on the outside balcony, overlooking the tea plantations. It was really fun catching up with her… and I was amazed to hear that she had recently started a company called HomeFoods (https://homefoodsgroup.com) – a service in Singapore that delivers fresh ingredients in the exact right proportions and easy to follow instructions to the customer’s doorstep .. to make cooking fun and easy plus you get a hot, healthy meal in minutes! It is perfect for busy people or if you wish to make a gourmet meal at home, you won’t have to spend all day hunting down all the right cuts of meats or spices. If you live in Singapore, do give it a try!

Of the dishes we ordered, my visitors loved best the uniquely Taiwan home-style dish called Tea Oil Noodles.

Tea oil noodles is really simple to make.  Very thin noodles called Mian Xian (麵線) or “mee sua” are cooked quickly in boiling water and then tossed lightly in Tea Seed Oil (苦茶油), sesame oil and soy sauce.  The combination of oils makes for a surprisingly fragrant and flavorful dish. Tea oil noodles is actually eaten as a breakfast food in Taiwan. I have re-created it here for my dinner tonight, to go with stir fried beef!

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Stir Fried Beef with Asparagus Tips, Tea Oil Noodles

1 bunch of thin noodles (about a fistful)
1-2 Tbsp Tea oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
Spring onions, chopped
Chili, cut into small pieces (for garnish)

  1. Put the noodles in a pot of boiling water for 3 mins. Remove it while it is al dente.
  2. Drain and toss the noodles with all the ingredients.
  3. Serve hot.

(Note: Tea Oil may be found in Asian grocery stores in Western countries or Amazon. It is usually in a slim bottle and looks like extra premium olive oil)

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Oatmeal in a Jiffy

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I have been making these home-made oatmeal cups for my family for years and I saw that many delis and supermarkets in my neighborhood have started selling them last year.  I missed out on a great business opportunity! It’s really very quick and easy to make and especially if you do several jars at the same time in an assembly-line style on a Sunday night, it saves you a lot of time and you’ll get to enjoy a healthy breakfast for the rest of your week.  You can even bring the jar to the office and eat at your desk. It is that simple!

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Oatmeal, guava, loquat, milk tea
  1. Fill each jar or plastic container with several tablespoons of Instant oatmeal.
  2. Top up with dried fruit – cranberries, blueberries, raisins etc. You may add chia seeds or flax seeds if desired.
  3. Cover each jar tightly.
  4.  In the morning, when you are ready to eat, pour out the contents into a cereal bowl and add hot water or add hot water directly to the jar. Presto! Your breakfast is ready.
  5. Add yogurt, fresh fruit, crunchy granola and nuts if desired.

Steamed Cod with wild peppercorn

Taiwan has a lot of beautiful scenic places with poetic names. One place which I visited recently is Xiangtian (“Facing the Sky”) Lake in Nanzhuang, Maoli County. While we were waiting for the bus, we spied several small shacks next to the bus stop selling “Maqaw Eggs”.  What in the world are Maqaw eggs?  It turns out Maqaw  马 告 (pinyin “Ma Gao”) is a kind of wild peppercorn that is famous in Miaoli’s aboriginal cuisine. Its scientific name is Litsea Cubeba, a plant native to Taiwan, China and Indonesia. Its fruit produces a lemony essential oil which is used in soaps and its seeds are used in cooking. The stall was selling hard boiled Chinese tea eggs specially flavored with Maqaw so we naturally had to try them (they were delicious!) as well as Maqaw peppercorn seeds. The proprietor convinced me that they are very expensive in New York specialty stores but it’s a good price at Xiangtian Lake because they are locally grown. Not one to pass up a deal, I naturally had to buy a bottle of the fragrant wild peppercorn. It is supposed to be great for tea eggs as well as pork and fish dishes. So tonight I sprinkled some Maqaw peppercorn seeds on my cod fish and they certainly added a lovely citrony flavor to the dish.

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1 piece cod fish
1 tbsp black bean and garlic sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
1/2 tbsp hoisin sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand)
1/2 tbsp XO sauce
1 tbsp Maqaw peppercorn seeds

  1. Rinse the cod fish under running water.  Pat dry.
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    Maqaw

    Place it on a dish, add all the ingredients on top of the fish. Steam for 10 mins or until cooked.

  2. Sprinkle spring onions on top for garnish. Serve hot with steamed rice.

 

 

Three-Cup Chicken 三杯雞

This is a simple Taiwanese dish.  It is a folk recipe that calls for one cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine but its name is a bit misleading because in reality you don’t actually cook it that way.  It is my favorite chicken dish in Taiwan.  Its sauce is incredibly aromatic and goes really well with rice.

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Ingredients:

1/8 to 1/4 cup sesame oil *
1/4 cup rice wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
2 lbs chicken – thighs and wings, cut into pieces
One inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced into rounds
12 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 – 2 fresh red chilis, seeds removed and cut into halves
1 bunch of Thai basil leaves (optional)

* I modified the original recipe to use less than 1/4 cup sesame oil and discovered that it didn’t compromise too much on the taste.

Method:

  1. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan. Add ginger, garlic and chili and stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the chicken to the pan and stir fry for about 5 mins until they are cooked.
  3. Add rice wine, soy sauce and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to cook the chicken thoroughly.  Add in Thai basil leaves and serve with rice.

 

Savory Tofu Soup 鹹豆漿

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Savory Tofu Soup is a traditional breakfast which a lot of people in China and Taiwan grew up eating. Most people know of soy milk as a drink but when soy milk is heated up with vinegar, it curdles into chunks of soft delicious tofu swimming in a salty, vinegary broth (tastes kind of like a hot and sour soup).

It is often eaten with scallion pancakes, Chinese egg pancakes (Dan Bing) and crusty buns filled with pork, vegetables or sweet egg cream (Shao Bing).

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Shao Bing

There is a famous market stall in Taipei, called FuHang (阜杭豆漿) in HuaShan Market, across the road from Shandao Temple that sells freshly made soy milk as well as this savory tofu soup and traditional buns made fresh on the premises.   They have an open kitchen where you can watch them knead the dough and bake the buns in huge earthen jars …. it’s great fun to watch the kitchen workers make the Shao Bing while you are in line, inching towards the cashier. It is such a popular place that there are always lines running outside the stall, down the stairs to the first floor, and sometimes snaking around the outside of the building!  The queue starts from the minute the stall opens at 5:30 am to around noon when they sell out.

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Baking Shao Bin at FuHang

The savory tofu soup is actually quite simple to make it yourself at home. The ingredients can be bought ahead of time.  If you live in western countries, you can find ready-made scallion pancakes and Chinese fried dough crullers at the freezer section of most Asian supermarkets. Whether homemade or ready-made, scallion pancakes go really well with this tofu soup, and you are sure to impress your family with this traditional Chinese Sunday breakfast!

 

Ingredients:

Unsweetened soy milk
Chinese black vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Sesame oil
preserved vegetables 榨菜
a few stalks of spring onions, chopped
Chinese fried dough crullers 油条, toasted and cut into slices
chili oil (optional)
dried shrimp or dried Sakura shrimp (optional, may be omitted for a vegetarian option)

Method:

  1. Heat the soy milk in a saucepan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together a few teaspoons vinegar, salt, pepper to taste, a drizzle of sesame oil, a few teaspoons picked vegetables, chili oil and dried shrimp, according to your own taste.
  3. Pour the mixture into the hot soy milk and let stand for a minute, without stirring.
  4.  Ladle out the tofu soup into a serving bowl.
  5. Garnish with chopped spring onions and Chinese fried dough crullers. Serve hot.
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Freshly made fried dough crullers at FuHang

Old cucumber soup

Old Cucumber Soup with Red Dates and Wolfberries

This is a detoxifying soup that is perfect for any day.  It is soothing and nourishing for the body.  It is made with Chinese wolfberries (also known as Goji berries or “kei zi”) that pack a nutritious punch. Wolfberries provide a variety of antioxidants, including plant pigments called phenols, polysaccharides, vitamins A and C, beta carotene, lycopene, riboflavin, thiamine, and selenium.  Traditional Chinese medicine uses wolfberries to treat dry skin and dry cough. It is also supposedly good for the eyes.

1 old cucumber (老黄瓜 “lou wong gua” in Cantonese) IMG_1981
100 g lean pork – cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small dried cuttlefish – rinsed (optional)
5 dried red dates
5 dried figs (无花果 “mo fa guo” in Cantonese) or dried honey dates
2 dried scallops – rinse and soak in fresh water overnight
2 Tbsp wolfberries (构 杞 “kei zi” in Cantonese) – rinsed

Method:

  1.  Peel the old cucumber. Cut it lengthwise into 2 halves, using a spoon scoop out the soft, pulpy center where the seeds are.  Discard the soft pulp and seeds.
  2. Put the pork into the soup pot and add just enough water to cover it.  Blanch for a 1-2 minutes to remove the scum from the blood in the meat. Drain and discard the water that is used to blanch the pork.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.  Do not discard the soaking water for the scallops, add it into the pot too.  Add in 10 cups of water and boil on high for 20 minutes, then simmer for 40 mins.
  4. Add salt to taste
  5. Serve hot.

Note:  I omitted the the dried cuttlefish when I made this soup (in picture) as I didn’t have any in my pantry.


Borsch Soup

 

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Borsch is classic Ukranian soup which my family enjoys. It is perfect for a cold weather day, especially great for surviving this year’s deadly polar vortex in the U.S.  It uses a lot of vegetables and it’s wonderfully satisfying.   Every time I make Borsch I think of my father who used to take the family to Troika, a Russian restaurant in Singapore, when I was a child.  In Hong Kong, it is a staple winter soup and it is called 羅宋湯  (“lor sung tong”) in Cantonese. In the Chinese version, there are no beets and sour cream is omitted.  For a vegatarian option, this soup can be made without any meat.  This is a really easy recipe – no skills required!

1/2 can sliced beets
2 carrots
1 onion
1 potato
1/2 head of cabbage
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tomatoes
180 g beef stew meat or oxtail
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
pepper
chopped dill
sour cream

Method:

  1. Peel carrots and potato. wash then cut into chunks.
  2. Wash the cabbage, tomatoes and onion, then cut into chunks.
  3.  Cut the beef stew meat into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Put all the ingredients into a huge soup pot. Add 10-12 cups of water and boil on high for 20 mins, then simmer for another 40 mins.
  5. Add sugar (if it’s too sour), salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve hot with dill and a dollop of sour cream