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.

 

 

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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

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:

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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)