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/

 

 

 

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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!

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.

Beef with Oyster Sauce

We have been trying to eat more healthy for the past year, so we have been cutting down on red meat.  However, once in a while, I get this irresistible craving for a good steak or anything beef.  I would feel hungry all the time and that hunger would not be satisfied unless I ate meat. Sound familiar?  This is a very common Chinese dish and it doesn’t require a lot of beef but it hits the spot for me.  It is also quick and easy to cook and goes so well with rice.

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1 lb beef (flank steak or sirloin steak)
2 slices ginger

Marinade for beef:
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp water

Seasoning sauce:
2 Tbsp oyster sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee brand Premium Oyster Sauce)
1 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 lb green vegetable eg lettuce or baby bok choy

Method:
1. Slice the beef thinly into 1 inch squares. (I use pre-sliced sukiyaki beef from the Japanese supermarket because I am lazy!)
2. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl. Marinate the beef for at least 1 hour. Add in 1 tsp cooking oil and mix well.
3. Wash and boil the green vegetables in boiling water for 2 mins. Drain and arrange the vegetables on a serving dish.
4. Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning sauce in a small bowl and put aside.
5. Heat up 1-2 Tbsp cooking oil and ginger in a frying pan and quickly saute the beef on high heat until it turns light brown, about 10 to 20 seconds. Turn off the heat and stir in the seasoning sauce immediately. It is ok to turn off the heat even when the beef slices are still slightly pink in the center part (95% cooked) because the residual heat from the frying pan will continue to cook it.
6. Pour the beef over the green vegetables and serve with rice.

Long Beans and Minced Pork

Chinese long beans come in long bundles, each string is about 1 – 2 feet long.  You can also use string beans for this recipe. I like to add a small portion of “zar choi” (Cantonese pronunciation) or “zha cai” (Mandarin pronunciation) to this recipe.  Zha Cai can be bought at the Chinese market.  It is actually some sort of pressed mustard that has been salted and preserved with chili paste, hence it can be kept refrigerated for up to a year or longer.  You cut off a small piece whenever a recipe calls for it, wash off the chili paste and chop it up.  It adds a nice zing of sweet, spicy, salty or sour to your dish.

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1 bundle of long beans – cut into 2 inch pieces
4 oz or 120 g minced pork
1-2 Tbsp chopped pickled mustard “zha cai” (榨菜) – optional
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 – 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp cooking oil

Marinate for minced pork
1 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp water

Method
1. Marinate the minced pork with soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, corn starch, sesame oil and water for at least half an hour before cooking. Stir in the zha cai.
2. Wash and cut up the long beans into 1 inch long pieces. Discard the pieces with black spots.
3. Blanch the long beans in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. This step cuts down on the amount of oil and cooking time you would need to cook the long beans during the stir fry step.
4. Drain the long beans.
5. Heat up 2 Tbsp cooking oil in a pan. Add the minced garlic and fry for 10 seconds, then add the blanched and drained long beans. Add 1/2 tsp salt to the long beans and stir fry for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the marinated minced pork mixture to the pan and fry together with the long beans. Add 1-2 Tbsp oyster sauce. Stir fry until the pork is done. If it looks a bit dry, add a bit of water so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.
7. Dish up and serve with rice.

Where it all started – my tiny Hong Kong kitchen

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To be honest, initially I didn’t think I could do much with my broom closet of a kitchen.  Can anyone really prepare a regular meal of rice, soup and stir fry on a single hob?  So, if you are like me or crave a simple Chinese meal at the end of a long day, I hope you will enjoy reading about what I managed to do on my stove and be inspired to cook too.  And I’d love to hear from you!