Saturday, October 20, 2007

Best ever peanut sauce

Peanut sauce can remain elusive to some--there are so many variations, some people claim they've never found exactly the right combination. Well, stop here, my friends. I've been using this peanut sauce recipe for years, and it's just the right combination of salty, sweet and spicy, although it does give you very garlicy breath afterwards. I just recently starting using real sichuan peppercorns in it, which leaves you with a slight tingly feeling in your mouth. If you don't like that feeling, just use your favorite hot chili pepper. This sauce can be used for hot pot (huo guo) or with noodle salad.

Sauce ingredients:
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns or peppers of your choice
3-4 garlic cloves
2 tsp. chopped ginger
4 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp tahini
1/3 cup strong black tea
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
4 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp wine vinegar
2 oz sugar
1 tsp chili oil

"Spring Wind" Noodles Recipe
Mix all sauce ingredients in a blender or with a handheld mixer. Chill.
Boil water, cook wheat, udon or egg noodles al dente. Sprinkle with sesame oil to prevent stickiness.
Add grated carrot, scallions, chopped cilantro, bean sprouts and cucumber. For extra protein, add some deep fried tofu or grilled chicken.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Order in the restaurant!

A 14-dish feast at my relatives' house in Shanghai. No rice necessary, mind you.

Sometimes I think Chinese restaurants are some of the most democratic of restaurants, I know, ironic given the motherland's political leanings. But Chinese restaurants will basically serve you anything you want, as long as you like it and want to pay for it. Unfortunately, this has led to the prevalence of very inauthentic, yet popular food. For example, if you want to pour soy sauce and vinegar all over your baozi, or ask for ice for your tea, they'll do it for you. If you ask the waiter at your French restaurant to serve your pate with ketchup squirted all over it, you can expect a few raised eyebrows.

Although proprietors at American Chinese restaurants may subscribe to the freedom-loving, make money style of doing business, the interests of the diner are more aligned with the socialist ideal. Because meals are eaten family style, the interests of other diners must be taken into account. When sitting down for a Chinese meal, people often instinctively delegate an "orderer," usually the person who has the most standing, and people expect that he/she will take care of their eating interests.

You may think I'm joking, but ordering is an art. I hate it when I eat out with a bunch of people who don't understand this, and end up with two noodle dishes, a rice dish and no soup. Or two chicken dishes (because they both sounded so good) and no seafood. It's not rocket science, but balance is key. The basic idea is you want to balance carbs, red meat, white meat, seafood, vegetables and soup. People who get a bit more nuanced say you should balance yin foods (like mushrooms, seaweed and duck) with yang foods (like chili peppers, ginger and chicken). The idea of taking other people's interests into account may be a new concept for some diners, since it may seem like a foreign concept to forego a favorite dish for the sake of the balance of the entire group. Which brings us back to the eternal debate between valuing the individual or society, or west vs. east.

Next time you're at a Chinese restaurant, try thinking about balancing the universe with your humble dinner, and harmonizing yin and yang in your stomach. You could try something new, just don't get all woo woo about it. ;-)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Who cut the fruit?

Consider me crazy, but I like to cut my fruit. Whenever anyone bites into an apple, pear or plum, I sort of wince because the act seems so barbaric. I'm also imagining all the painful little pieces of apple that get caught in my gums, festering until I can relieve them with a heroic piece of floss, and the juice squirts that often unintentionally end up in your neighbor's eye. Keep in mind that my theory is that Asians by and large cut their fruit into neat little shapes and portion out the pieces to friends and family (or sell in plastic bags and cups on the street), while Americans, with their strong, horse-like teeth, bite into fruit whole, perhaps as a habit of eating food while "on the go," while walking down the street, on the bus and at their desks.

I'd like to start a fruit-cutting movement. Fellow Asian Americans, next time you want to share some fruit with your co-workers, cut it up. Hopefully they'll notice how smoothly the fruit glides off their tongues, and will appreciate that you shared your apple with them at all. And if you're expecting guests from abroad, cut your fruit--I'm sure they'll appreciate the sentiment.