It’s The Year Of The Rat…And All That! – Of course, Burns’ Night and the Chinese New Year coincided last weekend just when I wanted to share with you a fabulous new book by Terry Tan: China A Cookbook. Terry, Singapore-born Chinese, was brought up with a family kitchen perfumed by the scent of intoxicating herbs and other aromatic ingredients. When he came to the UK in the early 1980s to run a restaurant, he found a public that assumed all Chinese food was smothered in sweet-and-sour sauce! Luckily, things have moved on since then, and most of us are aware of the regional differences in Chinese food, be they Cantonese, Sichuan, Beijing or Shanghai schools of cooking. In his fabulous tome, the culmination of his many years of research and culinary experience, Terry explores, uncovers and examines what makes an area’s food unique. And also how it links to the rest of China, in terms of history, tradition and, of course, flavour.
I love the fact that the book has lots of simple, but delicious, recipes, and most of them using ingredients which we can easily obtain today in our supermarkets or online. He lists in detail the various ingredients and utensils used in Chinese cooking. But actually, many of the recipes don’t even call for much more than some soy sauce and a few ingredients that most self-respecting foodies will have to hand anyway!
The book is also a mini travelogue with stunning photography and appetite-inducing food shots. It has just been published by Lorenz and at £25 for a 600+ page hardback, would make a great present.
Here are a couple of recipes from the book that demonstrate how easy and delicious Terry’s dishes are, and with leeks being so good at the moment, the second one makes a lovely meat-free (even Vegan) supper dish:
Chicken with Walnuts (serves 4)
Although they do not appear often in Chinese cooking, walnuts are a particular favourite of the northern regions, as they are farmed widely there. The indentations in walnuts make an attractive contrast to the smoothness of sliced chicken, and they soak up the rich yellow bean sauce beautifully. This Shandong dish has influenced the cuisine of Guangzhou, where chicken is fried with cashew nuts. This is a fairly sweet dish because of the inclusion of Chinese maltose, which is normally used as a rub for Peking Duck. Use clear honey if this is unavailable.
15ml/1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
400g/14oz skinless chicken breast, cut into 1cm/½in cubes
5ml/1 tsp sugar
5ml/1 tsp rice vinegar
15ml/1 tbsp Chinese maltose or clear honey
15ml/1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
shredded lettuce, to serve
1. Wash and drain the walnuts, removing any excess skins. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the garlic for 2 minutes, or until golden brown.
2. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the walnuts and sugar, then stir-fry until the walnuts are slightly caramelized.
3. Add the rice vinegar, maltose or honey, yellow bean sauce and 75ml/5 tbsp water, then stir vigorously until the sauce is fairly thick and the chicken and walnuts are well coated. Serve immediately, on a bed of shredded lettuce.
Variations • You can replace the walnuts with diced carrots, celery or water chestnuts if you like. • You could also use cubed pork or duck in place of chicken.
Fried Leeks with Hot Sauce (serves 4)
In markets all over Beijing, vegetable vendors sell stacked heaps of leeks, many with damp soil still clinging to the roots, amongst other local produce. Leeks are a member of the allium family, with garlic and onions, and share much the same pungency. In southern China, they are eaten for symbolic reasons: in the Cantonese dialect, the word for ‘leeks’ rhymes with the word for ‘count’, so it bodes well for prosperity. In northern China, however, they are popular merely for their delicious taste and texture, both of which are showcased in this dish.