Stir fried Bird’s Nest Fern

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The first time I tried this wild vegetable which Taiwanese call Shan Su Cai (山稣菜) was in Hualien’s Taroko National Park.  I was told it is rarely available because people have to climb up hilly slopes to harvest it in the wild.  To my surprise, I found it in the local market this morning, so naturally, I had to buy 2 bundles (ntd 60 which is about usd 2) to try.

Bird's Nest FernOn Googling this vegetable’s Chinese name, I discovered its English name is Bird’s Nest Fern! Imagine that, eating a fern.  I wonder if this is the same Bird’s Nest fern that is ubiquitous in South East Asia.  It can be found growing on the trees by the roadside, or in forested areas in countries like Malaysia and Singapore where I come from…. Well, nobody I know in Singapore has ever bothered to harvest the Bird’s Nest fern to eat. I wonder if this Taiwanese Shan Shu vegetable is the edible kind and the Bird’s Nest Fern of my Singaporean childhood is the inedible kind.

In any case, they don’t know what they are missing – a delightfully crunchy vegetable stir fried with fresh cut chili and small fish, done in the Taiwanese way.

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2 bundles of Bird’s Nest Fern – washed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 chili – cut into slivers
5 Tbsp small fish (anchovies or ikan bilis)
2 cloves garlic – peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp preserved black beans or garlic black bean sauce
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 -2 Tbsp cooking oil

Method:

1. Blanch the Bird’s Nest Fern in boiling water for 5 seconds, drain and keep aside.
2. Rinse and pat dry the small fish. Stir fry the small fish, chili, black beans and garlic in 1 to 2 Tbsp cooking oil, using low heat.
3. Add in the Bird’s Nest Fern. Mix in the oyster sauce. Stir fry quickly using high heat.  Add a few tablespoons of water if it is dry.  Do not overcook the Bird’s Nest Fern as it will turn brown.
4. Dish up and serve with rice.

See stunning pictures of Taroko National Park here:

https://lingmongcha.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/one-day-in-hualien-part-1-incredible-breathtaking-stunning-taroko-gorge-and-taroko-national-park/

https://lingmongcha.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/one-day-in-hualien-part-2-incredible-breathtaking-stunning-taroko-gorge-and-taroko-national-park/

 

 

 

Braised Tofu Skin with Mushrooms

I am in love with tofu skin. It is such a versatile ingredient. I was actually planning to make Tofu Skin with Endamame (see previous post) tonight but when I got ready to cook, I realized that I didn’t have any Endamame in my freezer. Then, I remembered a dish I had eaten, a long time ago, at a vegetarian restaurant – Braised Tofu Skin with Mushrooms and I managed to re-create it here. It was delicious!

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Ingredients
3 fresh or dried tofu skins
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
half a cup of dried black wood ear (also known as black fungus)
1 bunch asparagus tips or any kind of vegetable like sugar peas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small piece of crushed ginger
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp cooking oil

Corn starch mixture – stir together 1 tsp corn starch with 1 Tbsp water and 1 tsp sesame oil

Method
1. Soak the dried tofu skin for 15 mins in boiling water until it is soft. Drain and discard the soaking liquid. Skip this step if you are using fresh tofu skin.
2. Wash the shiitake mushrooms and black wood ear. Then soak them in water for half an hour. Drain and discard the water.
3. Simmer the shiitake mushrooms and black wood ear in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover it, for 10 mins. Drain and save the water which is used to simmer it.
4. Slice the tofu skin into 1 inch pieces. Slice the mushrooms and cut the black wood ear into bite size pieces.
5. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add in the crushed garlic and crushed ginger and stir fry 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add in the tofu skin, mushrooms, black wood ear and asparagus. Stir in the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce and some of the water used to simmer the mushrooms in step 3.
6. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes and add in the rest of the simmering liquid. Cover and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in gently corn starch mixture until the sauce is thickened.
7. Serve hot with rice.

Pork with Black Wood Ear

Black Wood Ear is a specialty product of Puli, Taiwan. Fresh black wood ear is smooth and wonderfully crunchy. It is available in the traditional street markets in Taiwan but you can also find dried ones in Asian supermarkets. IMG_6828

Black wood ear is sometimes called black fungus. If you buy the dried kind, just soak it in water for an hour to reconstitute it.  Then it can be used in a stir fry, add it to soups or even in salads. Its crunchy texture and dark, velvety color adds an unusual element to even the most basic dish. I like to use it in a stir fry with pork or steamed with chicken.  You can also make a vegetarian stir fry with olive oil, garlic, black wood ear, mushrooms and broccoli (or with celery, sweet peas, zucchini, cucumber etc… works with whatever vegetables you have on hand!).  By itself, it does not have any flavor but it takes on the fragrant flavor of garlic or the meat that you are cooking it with.

Black wood ear is actually very nutritious.  According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is especially beneficial for blood, as it can nourish the blood and prevent blood coagulation and frequent consumption of black wood ear prevents coronary heart disease. In addition, black wood ear supposedly counteracts high cholesterol, increases body fluids, and adds moisture to the lung – especially great for autumn when our throats/lungs get very dry.

180g pork, cut into 1 inch strips
half a cup of black wood ear
2 small Japanese cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2-4 tbsp water

Marinade for pork:
1/2 tsp sugar
1 and 1/2 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp water
pinch of salt

  1. Marinate the pork for at least half an hour, with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, corn starch, salt and water.
  2. Prepare the black wood ear.  If using fresh wood ear, just rinse it, then parboil it for 5 mins, drain the water and set aside.  If using dried black wood ear, you need to soak it in water for an hour, rinse, then parboil for 5 mins, drain and set aside.  (It expands when fully reconstituted, so I often cut it into smaller pieces before stir frying)
  3. Heat the cooking oil, stir fry the garlic for a few seconds, then add in the pork and stir fry until light brown.
  4. Add in the cucumber, black wood ear, oyster sauce and stir fry together with the pork.  Add one or two tablespoons of water if it seems kind of dry. Stir fry for 5 mins or until the cucumber and pork are cooked.  Serve hot with rice. Enjoy!

Chicken in Tofu Cheese

Tofu Cheese? It’s fermented tofu (腐乳 or “fu yu” in Cantonese), sold in little glass bottles in Asian grocery stores. It’s a form of preserved tofu, made from soybeans. The other ingredients on the bottle list salt, rice wine and sesame oil. There’s a regular version and a spicy version which has bits of chili in the brine.

Tofu cheese is commonly used as a condiment for porridge or to stir fry kangkong vegetables (空心菜 “kong xin cai”, water convolvulus) but it makes a delicious savory marinade for chicken.  It is unbelievably easy – just be sure to marinate the chicken with it long enough, so that the flavor gets into the meat.  Deep fried chicken wings marinated with tofu cheese are incredibly tasty too!

Chicken in Tofu Cheese
I don’t deep-fry (too lazy to clean!), so here’s the healthy pan-fried version. I used the regular version of Tofu Cheese. I realized the chicken came out a bit pale in the photo – I should have fried it a bit longer to give it a more golden color.

Ingredients:

Fermentedchilibeancurd
Tofu Cheese

2-3 cubes of Tofu Cheese (regular or spicy), mashed into a paste, using a fork
1 teaspoon of the brine from the Tofu Cheese bottle
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 pieces whole chicken legs
dash of salt (optional – Tofu Cheese is naturally salty)
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste (“belacan”) – optional

2-3 shallots, peeled and chopped, for frying
3 tablespoon cooking oil

1 stalk of spring onion, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces (for garnish)

Method:

1. Cut the chicken legs into smaller pieces, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel.

2. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl.  Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, thoroughly coat the chicken pieces with the marinade and let sit it for a few hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge.

3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan. Fry the shallots for 1-2 minutes, then add in the chicken and stir fry until golden brown.

4. Dish up the chicken and garnish with spring onion. It goes really well with steam rice and vegetables.

(Tofu Cheese on spoon, photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fermentedchilibeancurd.jpg)

Pork and Bitter Gourd

Why would anyone want to eat a bitter vegetable? Bitter gourd is very bitter but someone in my family likes it so I have researched ways to make it less bitter and I think I have finally acquired the taste for this nutritious and unique vegetable. It is very low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fiber. It is even good for getting rid of acne.

Bitter gourd is often used in a stir fry with pork or beef with black beans, steamed with pork spare ribs or cooked in soup. It can even be served as an appetizer – very thinly sliced raw bitter gourd on a bed of shaved ice and eaten with honey as a dipping sauce – the cool, sweet taste makes it very refreshing.

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Here’s a tip to remove the bitter taste:

First, cut the bitter gourd into half (see photo) and slicIMG_6699e each half lengthwise. Then, using a tablespoon scoop out all the seeds and as much of the white pulp as possible. Next, slice it horizontally. Place the slices in a bowl and sprinkle 1 tsp salt over them and mix thoroughly. Let the slices sit for half an hour in the bowl. Lastly, squeeze out and discard as much of the juice as possible. This takes out most of the bitter taste.

1 bitter gourd, sliced and bitter taste removed
200 g (1/2 lb) pork, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp of light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water

1-2 tbsps cooking oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce + 1-2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar (optional)

Method:

1. Marinate the pork slices with light soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, corn starch and water for half an hour.
2. Blanch the bitter gourd in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and put aside.
3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan, stir fry the minced garlic until fragrant (don’t let them turn brown), then add in the pork slices and stir fry until it is almost cooked.
4. Add in the blanched bitter gourd slices and stir fry together with the pork. Add in one tbsp of oyster sauce and 1-2 tbsp of water. If you find the bitter gourd is still too bitter for your taste buds, add in 1 tsp sugar. Stir fry until the water evaporates.
5. Serve with hot rice.

Radish Cake

Chinese New Year is just around the corner! In my family, the Radish Cake  (蘿蔔糕 or  “Luo Bak Go”  in Cantonese) is a vital part of our celebration. It is not only popular among Cantonese families during Chinese New Year, it is also one of the popular items in dim sum restaurants, served either steamed or pan fried throughout the year.

I learned to make this cake from my mother. It does require a lot of hard work – grating by hand of 3 or 4 large radishes and lots of chopping and stirring so I only make it once a year.  The radishes are most juicy and sweet during winter and the other ingredients are very simple. Once I get started on this task, I usually make 2 or 3 pans of it.  I prepare them in advance of Chinese New Year and store them in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks, serving them sliced, to guests or for breakfast.

So, here’s the recipe for homemade Radish Cake for those of you who miss waking up to the smell of steaming, hot, pan-fried Luo Bak Go. Kung Hei Fat Choi!

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3 or 4 white radish (also called daikon or turnip, about 2 kg)
500 g finely ground rice flour (look for “粘米粉” on the label for the correct type of rice flour)
4 Chinese sausages (chopped)
1/2 cup dried shrimp (soaked for half an hour)
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight and chopped)
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 small pot of boiling water (about 3-4 cups)
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Method:

1. Grate the radish and put aside.

2. Stir fry together the chopped Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms and baby shrimp and put aside.

3. Fry the radish over slow heat.  Add salt and sugar to taste. The radish will cook in its own juice.  (If your radish is not very juicy, you may add a little bit of water). Cook for about half an hour or until the radish is soft and moist.

4. Mix the flour into the radish slowly.  Add a bit of flour at a time, stirring to make sure it is well mixed in. Add a bit of boiling water each time the mixture gets too dry and difficult to stir. The mixture will be lumpy.

5. Stir into the mixture, the corn starch and 3/4 of the fried ingredients from step 2.

6.  Grease the bottom and sides of a shallow pan with vegetable oil.

7.  Pour the mixture into the pan.  Smooth the top with the back of a spoon and garnish the top with the remaining fried ingredients.

8.  Steam for about 1 hour or until a chopstick, stuck in the middle of the pan, comes out clean.

 

Winter Melon Soup

Happy New Year!  I had started writing this post last week but didn’t get the chance to finish it.   My kids came back for Christmas this year.  It was so wonderful to have everyone home again!  So much catching up to do,  making excursions to various places all over the city to indulge in their favorite local foods – hainanese chicken rice, satay, roti prata, xiao long bao dumplings, la mian noodles, dim sum, butter chicken with naan bread,  hokkien fried noodles, teppanyaki, laksa, kueh tutu, muah chee, ice kacang and tea tarik etc, making childhood treats that they missed and baking for Christmas.

As if that wasn’t enough to cause food coma, we took time off to celebrate Dongzhi Festival … by another round of eating! To people from Hong Kong or China, Dongzhi or the Winter Solstice Festival (冬至 which means the Arrival of Winter) is one of the most important festivals in the year.  It is almost as important as Chinese New Year which is a very big deal. Dongzhi is sort of like Thanksgiving.   Traditionally, family members would travel for miles to get together for a reunion dinner.  When we lived in Hong Kong where we have a large extended family, everybody from uncles, aunts, cousins and their children – would gather in my in-laws’ home for dinner.  Imagine a table heaving with dishes like steamed fish, giant tiger prawns, chicken with fragrant ginger and spring onion dipping sauce, roast pork with golden, crispy skin, braised mushrooms in oyster sauce and jade green pea shoots (dou miao) stir fried with garlic.    There were so many people in the tiny apartment that sometimes we had to eat in shifts!

For our own Dongzhi celebration that just passed,  I made a much simpler meal and a classic Chinese soup – Winter Melon Soup. Winter melon itself is quite mild in taste, so to make this soup flavorful, I added ingredients like dried scallops and ham. I like to use Yunnan ham (available in some Chinese groceries) and renowned for its rich flavor and the taste is truly outstanding.  If you don’t have any Yunnam ham, you may omit it or substitute it with ordinary ham.

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1 and 1/2 lbs winter melon
4 oz lean pork (cut into thick slices)
2 oz ham (cut into cubes, optional)
4 black shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight and cut into small cubes)
2 dried scallops (soaked overnight)
2 honey dates
3 red dates
2 slices ginger
2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 oz small shelled shrimp or crab meat (optional)

1.  Wash the dried shiitake mushrooms.  Soak them overnight, then cut into small cubes.

2.  Wash the dried scallops and soak them overnight.  Save the liquid they are soaked in. This liquid can be added to the soup.

3.  Remove and discard the skin from the winter melon.  Remove and discard the center part (soft pulp with seeds).  Then cut the rest of the winter melon into small cubes

4.  Place the pork in a pot with just enough water to cover it. Parboil the pork for a few minutes to remove the blood and scum.  Pour away the water that is used for parboiling.

5.  Put all the ingredients in the pot.  Fill the pot with 8 cups of water and boil on high for 20 minutes until it comes to a rolling boil.  Then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. If too much liquid had evaporated during the boiling process, add in an extra cup of water and bring it to a boil again.

6.  Remove the ginger slices before serving.