Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐 – Má pó dòu fu)

IMG_6747Firstly to start with a warning, the authentic version of this recipe is NOT GLUTEN FREE… YET! This is due to a very critical ingredient in Sichuan cuisine called Broadband Paste, Doubanjiang, Toban Djan or even chilli bean paste/sauce (豆瓣酱 – dòu bàn jiàng). Every commercially available version of this paste I can find contains wheat in the form of flour. I’ve used Sriracha hot sauce as an alternative but it’s really no comparison to the real thing. I am also currently in the process of making my own paste, trialling a few recipes and methods. Once I find a recipe which can produce a gluten free version of this paste, then this delicious dish can officially join this blog.

There are many varieties of Broadbean Pastes available, the basic requirement is to look for one made from broadbeans or fava beans which might seem obvious but some use soya beans which can often be the case in southern chinese manufacturers. Next you probably want one which has a dark red colour, this means it has been fermented for a long time giving a greater depth of flavour.

My personal favourite is a spicy version (辣豆瓣酱 – là dòu bàn jiàng where  là means “hot”) shown in the picture below on the left called Hot Broadbean Paste which can be found in Wing Yip chinese supermarket. However, if you don’t live near a large Chinese supermarket, the Chilli Bean Sauce on the right is much more commercially available and I was able to buy it in my local Tesco. The flavour is not as strong but still it’s a recipe which has been improved recently.  For further options, please read the post by one of my favourite Chinese food chef in the UK, Fuchsia Dunlop.

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So I’ve been asked for a vegetarian recipe using primarily tofu. What better recipe than the all time classic Sichuan dish of Mapo Tofu! This iconic dish can be found in any self respecting restaurant claiming to make “chuan cai” along with many restaurants all over China as well as China town.

The legend is the dish was invented by a smallpox scarred old woman  (the mapo part) who served it to local labourers around the Qing Dynasty. Recipes for this dish often over complicate things,  using too many ingredients and making things rather complex. In essence this is a quick dish with few ingredients but never the less producing maximum flavour!

Traditionally and perhaps unusually for China, it is served with minced beef, but I have always found the vegetarian version I describe below is just as good. The traditional method is also list for those gunning for authenticity.

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Ingredients

4 sticks of celery finely sliced (150 g minced beef instead for the traditional method)
300 g silken tofu (other soft to medium tofu is also fine, silken tofu fall apart more easily but I prefer the texture when eating)
4 spring onions, chopped
1 medium red chilli (optional for extra heat and not necessary when using Sriracha), finely chopped
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili sauce (broadbean paste for non gluten free version – far superior)
1 tablespoons fermented black beans (Lao Gan Ma blacked beans in chilli oil)
1 teaspoon white sugar
1½ tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn
3 tablespoon groundnut oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
3 tablespoons cornflour
200 ml vegetable stock (chicken stock if vegetarianism is not your thing)

Utensils

1 small/medium wok
1 small non stick pan
pestle and mortar

Methods  

  1. Start by toasting the Sichuan peppercorn in a small frying pan, dry, until lightly golden. You should get a distinct aroma from the peppercorn. Transfer to a pestle and mortar, grind to a fine powder.
  2. Heat the oil in a small wok on high heat until smoking and making sure the base is covered.IMG_6718
  3. Add the celery and fry for 3 minutes, stir to make sure it doesn’t stick. For mince cook for 5 minutes until browned but still moist.IMG_6724
  4. Meantime chop the spring onion, chilli and prepare the tofu by cutting into 2 cm cubes. I love working with tofu, cutting it is such a pleasure. The saying knife through butter in the west is replaced with knife through tofu in chinese.IMG_6733IMG_6723
  5. Add the Sriracha hot chili sauce (hot broadbean paste) and stir for another 30 seconds until fragrant.Then add the fermented black beans and red chilli, fry for another 30 seconds and mix together.IMG_6728IMG_6731
  6. Add the stock and tofu, mix gently together. Leave to cook on a medium/low heat for 5 minutes. Don’t move the tofu too much as this will cause it to crumble.IMG_6735
  7. Add the spring onion and mix together. Then mix the cornflour with 5 tablespoons of water. Add the mixture slowly to the dish, use as much as needed to achieve a sticky glossy texture. IMG_6741IMG_6742
  8. Plate then sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorn powder finely over the dish and it’s ready!IMG_6745
  9. Enjoy!

Fried Aubergine Pockets (炸茄盒 – zhá Jiā hé)

IMG_3866I’ve had some good feedback for my dumpling recipe and I’m glad to hear so many people have been inspired to make it for themselves. In particular an office competition for the best dumplings. The result ranged from 60 plus dumplings following the recipe to just 2 whole dumplings (very high standards) including ones the size of cornish pasties. The general feedback is making the skin and filling it seems to be the most difficult part.

So here is a simple solution to avoid the pesky dough, and it’s more healthy for you! I still love the classic dumpling but this one comes pretty close and it’s much quicker!

IMG_3835Ingredients

For the ‘dough’:

2 aubergine (Serves 4 people)
200 ml vegetable oil
4 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp water

For the filling:

See the various recipes in the dumplings page;

https://everyonehastoeat.net/2016/02/03/dumplings-饺子-jiao-zi/

For the sauce:

2 crushed garlic
2 spring onions, finely chopped
3 parts balsamic vinegar
3 parts rice wine vinegar
1 part all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
1 part water
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp white sugar
1 chilli finely chopped (optional for extra kick)

Utensils

1 chopping board
1 sharp knife
1 flat based frying pan

Methods

  1. First chop both ends of the aubergine, then cut 5 mm from the end vertically down but don’t cut through. Leave about 5mm at the end. Then move 5 mm horizontally back and down again this time all the way. This creates a pocket to hold the filling. IMG_3837
  2. Fill the aubergine pocket with filling, then press together making sure the filling doesn’t spill out.IMG_3839IMG_3849
  3. Heat the pan on high heat with a thin, 5 mm deep, layer of vegetable oil.IMG_3850
  4. Dunk the aubergine dumpling in the cornflour mix.IMG_3853
  5. Place batches into the pan and fry each side for 3 minutes or until browned and thoroughly cooked.

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  6. Move the cooked aubergine dumplings onto a plate with kitchen towel to drain the excess oil.IMG_3862
  7. In the meantime make the sauce, by finely slicing the chilli, spring onion and garlic mix together with the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, water and sesame oil.
  8. Plate the aubergine dumplings and pour the sauce on top.IMG_3866
  9. Serve and enjoy!

Fast Stir Fry Pork (过油肉 – Guò Yóu Riu)

IMG_3778This is another favourite of my childhood years in China. It originates from the ShanXi region of China and the making of it can vary quite a lot even within the province. This is my take on it and although it doesn’t compare anywhere near some of the best I’ve had, it’s close enough to make me miss them. The key to this dish is plenty of oil and high heat, everything should be done in as little as 5 minutes! In Chinese the name literally means meat passing through oil by oil they mean very hot oil!

There’s two new ingredient introduced in this recipe which might not be familiar with everyone, I certainly don’t see them in the supermarkets of the UK. So you’ll probably have to pay a visit to your nearest Chinese supermarket with a decent vegetable selection.

The first is garlic shoots, it is absolutely delicious! I can just eat it in everything and as the name suggests it tastes kind of garlicky! Take care when taking this on a bus as the smell will make everyone within a 2 meter radius look at you with suspicion. If it doesn’t smell then it might not be the freshest stuff.

The second ingredient is wood ear. It’s a fungi like mushrooms, but unlike mushrooms, I love this stuff! It adds a very interesting taste and texture to a dish. Due to its large surface area, it’s amazing at absorbing a lot of taste. It usually come dehydrates and will require soaking in warm/hot water for 30 minutes before use.

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Ingredients

200 g pork shoulder finely sliced
10-20 fresh garlic shoot shopped in 3 cm chunks (I love it so the more the merrier) if you can’t find it then replace with roughly chopped onion.
1 spring onions roughly chopped
1 large handful of wood-ears soaked and with the slightly hard knobbly bit removed
2 medium tomatos sliced
1 thumb-sized ginger, sliced into strips
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large egg
3 tablespoon corn flour
1 tsp black pepper
3 tablespoon all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
2 tablespoons Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
2 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoon rapeseed oil or groundnut oil/vegetable oil

Utensils

1 medium flat pan

Methods  

  1. Thinly slice the pork shoulder.IMG_4414
  2. Marinate the pork in egg, corn flour, back pepper, rice wine and light soy sauce for at least 30 minutes (ideally longer).IMG_4415
  3. Cover the bottom of the wok with plenty of oil (essential for this dish) then add the pork and fry until browned. whilst frying, prepare the garlic shoot, spring onion, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and woodear. Once the meat is done, set aside for later.IMG_4417IMG_3760IMG_3764
  4. Heat the pan with some oil and add the spring onion, ginger and garlic. Fry for 2 minutes until fragrant.IMG_3766
  5. Add the fresh garlic shoot and fry for another minute.IMG_3770
  6. Add the woodear and stir together.IMG_3771
  7. Add the pork, tomatoes and salt and dark soy sauce to taste. Stir everything together on a high heat very quickly.IMG_3774
  8. When everything is hot and mixed, add the corn flour mixed with 4 tablespoons of water.IMG_3775
  9. Stir fry for another minute and serve!

Papa Liu’s Mixed Stew (刘家大烩菜 – Liú jiā dà huì cài)

IMG_3689In a recent discussion with a friend, who I consider a good authority on all things Chinese having studied it for 5 years at University, she mentioned a lack of good comfort good in chinese cooking. While I would argue red roasted pork with rice is true home comfort, I thought I would throw something new into the mix.

This dish is a northern china classic and every (probably) family makes a version of this. It’s a great everything in one pot recipe and fantastic if you have lots of different vegetable left over. It’s my father’s favourite and he makes it at every opportunity, even if no one asked for it. My grandmother subsequently makes it every time he visits. It also happens to be one of my girlfriends favourites too, and that is after all why this blog exists in the first place.

So here it is, on a freezing winter day, delve into this cozy deliciousness!

IMG_3610Ingredients (Serves 4)

400 g pork diced
400 g Firm Tofu (Beancurd)
2 bundle sweet potato starch noodles (or bean starch noodles)
1 large potato
400 g Butternut Squash
200 g mushroom
200 g fine beans
3 spring onions (4 or more depending on preference), roughly chopped
1 thumb-sized ginger, cut into fine slices
5 large cloves of garlic, finely sliced
6 dried bird eye chillies (optional)
75 ml cooking wine
1 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorn (powder is fine if prefered)
1 star anise (½ tbsp powder is fine if prefered)
3 tablespoon all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
3 tablespoons Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
5 tablespoon rapeseed oil or groundnut oil/vegetable oil
500-700 ml chicken stock (or water)

Utensils

1 medium flat pan

Methods  

  1. Marinate the diced pork with plenty of cooking wine, 1 tsp black peppercorn, 3 tsp soy sauce light and 1 tsp dark. Leave for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  2. Soak the potato starch noodles in warm water for at least 30 minutes.IMG_3619
  3. Roughly break the potato into chunks, this creates a greater liquid to surface area which will make the dish more delicious!IMG_3617
  4. Cut the tofu, butternut squash, mushroom and fine beans into edible chunks, but not too small as it will fall apart when cooked.IMG_3625
  5. Add the oil to a wok, enough to cover the base.IMG_3628
  6. When the oil is hot, add the sugar and allow to dissolve.IMG_3630
  7. Add the pork to the wok, leaving behind the juice from the marinate. Stir fry until browned on all sides.IMG_3632
  8. Add the chillies, spring onion, ginger and garlic and mix well. Fry for 1 minute until fragrant.IMG_3651
  9. Add the potato, fine beans, butternut squash and mushroom to the wok. Season with salt, soy sauce light and dark, then mix together.IMG_3664
  10. Add the stock and turn the heat to high with the lid on. Cook until boiling then turn the heat to medium.IMG_3667IMG_3671
  11. After 30 minutes, add the tofu and potato starch noodles. Stir in carefully and leave to cook for another 30 minutes.IMG_3686
  12. Keep an eye on how much liquid is left, when there’s 100 ml or so left it ready!
  13. Serve and enjoy!IMG_3689

Dumplings (饺子 – Jiǎo zi)

IMG_0439Chinese new year fast approaches, hailing in the year of the Monkey. This was my favourite time of the year, school is out for the winter, there’s lots of snow and fireworks to play around with, people I meet gives me money if I say happy new year and best of all I get to eat lot and lots of dumplings. It wouldn’t be Chinese new year without dumplings, at least not when I was growing up in China.

It just so happens to be my grandad’s favourite too, so we (by which I mean he) makes it all year round. But there’s something special about this time of year. I guess it’s a combination of everyone being home together, each taking on the unspoken but very well define roles in the conveyer belt like process with efficiently produces hundreds of identical pockets of steaming deliciousness. Set that against the freezing winter outside and it’s perfect, there’s is simply nothing in the world better. Can you tell I’m a real serious fan?

Just writing about it brings back nostalgia, and whilst sadly I have to spend this new year away from family in China, at least I can still have dumplings… it just takes a bit more effort. Of course it will never be as good as my grandad’s, even if I have ‘borrowed’ his recipes.

I should mention there are three variations of dumpling, boiled (水餃 – shuǐ jiǎo), steamed (蒸餃 – zhēng jiǎo) or pan friend (鍋貼 – guō tiē), the making process is essentially the same. Boiled is my favourite, and if there’s any left over (almost never) you can always fry them the next day to change things up a little.

As for the fillings, there come in even more, much more varieties. Actually that’s one of the beauties of dumplings, you can put almost anything as a filling and it works… kind of. Same for the dipping sauce, this various across the country. Here I will describe a couple of my favourite fillings and my personal favourite dipping sauce.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.26.22Ingredients

For the dough:

500 g gluten free plain flour
5 tsp xanthan gum (not necessary for non gluten free flour)
1 tsp salt
250 ml water around 30 C (200 ml for normal plain flour)

For the filling:

500 g pork mince (ideally containing 10% fat or more)
150 ml Sichuan peppercorn soaked water (place a handful of Sichuan peppercorn in hot water, ideally overnight but at least for 30 minutes)
1 large egg
1 thumb-sized ginger, very finely chopped
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
1 tbsp Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
1 tbsp groundnut oil/vegetable oil (only if the mince contain less than 10% fat)
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Chinese five spice

Options

From the basic meat filling you can create a variety of different fillings. Two of my personal favourites are;

Mince and Chives

Equal part mince and chive very finely chopped, for best result you want to buy the Chinese chives leafs from your local Chinese supermarket.

Mince, prawns and spring onion

1 part mince
1 part prawns finely chopped
1 part spring onions finely chopped

For the sauce:

3 parts balsamic vinegar
3 parts rice wine vinegar
1 part all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
1 part water
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 crushed garlic
1 chilli finely slide (optional for extra kick)

For non coeliacs:

6 part Chinese black vinegar
1 part light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 crushed garlic

Utensils

1 chopping board
1 large pot
2 large bowl
1 rolling pin

Methods

  1. Add the xanthan gun, plain flour and salt and slowly add the water whilst kneading. Take care not to add too much water. IMG_3420
  2. The dough should be done after about 10 minutes of kneading, the resultant dough should not stick at all to the touch, light and springy. IMG_3421.jpg
  3. Cover with a lightly damped clothe and leave for 30 minutes.IMG_3422.jpg
  4. In the meantime make the filling by adding the egg to the mince.IMG_3432.jpg
  5. Then add Sichuan peppercorn soaked water, ginger, Chinese five spice, rice wine, sesame oil, light and dark soy sauce. Mix in one direction until the mixture is well blended, then add the sugar and salt to taste. Mix again until everything is uniformly blended, you basic mince is done.IMG_3437.jpg
  6. Chop the desired vegetable as finely as possible.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.24.53
  7. Add the vegetable to the mince and the finely chopped prawn.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.29.26
  8. Leave the filling aside, take the dough and knead it for another minute. IMG_3465
  9. Now roll the dough evenly until it’s about the width of a 2 pound coin or about 3 cm.IMG_3466.jpg
  10. Cut the dough into 1.5 cm slices.IMG_3467.jpg
  11. Mix some flour into the dough chunks.IMG_3468
  12. Use the palm of your hand to squash the dough flat.IMG_3469
  13. Use a rolling pin to further flatten the dough, try to roll out the edges more than the centre. This is important for later when actually making the dumpling.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.45.16.png
  14. Take the filling and place at the centre of the dumpling skin.IMG_0428
  15. Carefully seal the filling inside, take care not to let any filling poke out. This will disrupt the seal and may cause the dumpling to burst when boiling.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.48.34IMG_0430
  16. Once sealed around the edges, place the dumpling in both hand, with the edges held by the index and thumbing squeeze in palm. This further seals the dumpling. If you are experience then you can really skip the last step and do this straight away.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 00.51.22.pngIMG_0435.jpg
  17. Leave the ready dumpling on a surface which will not stick (these look kind of sad but it was hard to get the right consistency with gluten free flour, it’s not as elastic). IMG_3473.jpg
  18. Boil water in a large pot on high heat.IMG_3479
  19. When the water is boiling, add the dumplings which will sink to the bottom. After a minute carefully move them off the bottom so that they don’t stick.  Eventually the dumplings will float to the surface.IMG_3482
  20. In the meantime make the dipping sauce. Crush the garlic and add the vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil together. It ready!IMG_3490
  21. When the water is boiling again, add 100 ml of cold water. Repeat this 3 times and the dumplings are done!IMG_3484
  22. Taken them out carefully with a straining ladle.IMG_3491IMG_3494
  23. Serve and enjoy!

 

Salt and Pepper Prawns (椒盐虾 – jiāo yán xiā)

IMG_0008The combination of salt and pepper is a popular one in western chinese restaurants. This popularity is only rivaled by its popularity in China. There is something special, magical even, that happens when these ingredients are used together with a few other crucial chinese ingredients that just makes you want to keep on eating, like scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam… or gravy on anything British (minus the scones and jam).

This dish of salt and pepper prawns is a classic demonstration of that morish deliciousness and is the perfect dish for a summers day evening or a winter’s night. In the current case, British autumn with a good helping of gale force wind and a heavy glug of heavy rain.

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Ingredients

350 g raw shell on prawns (can also use peeled prawns, however may not get the same flavour, or cooked prawns (skip step 4 below))
1 fresh red chilli
A bunch of spring onions (4 or more depending on preference), finely chopped
1 thumb-sized ginger, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1½ tsp white sugar
1½ tsp pepper salt (a special mixture of ground pepper and salt and sesame seeds, some might contain MSG so look out if you’re trying to avoid it)
3 tsp Lao Gan Ma chicken chilli sauce (optional)
3 tablespoon all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
3 tablespoon rapeseed oil or groundnut oil/vegetable oil

Utensils

1 medium flat pan

Methods  

  1. De-vein approximately 20 king prawns.IMG_9952
  2. Finely slice the spring onion and fresh chilli then peel and finely chop the ginger and garlic. IMG_9948
  3. Add the oil to a medium sized pan and place on a high heat until the oil is hot.IMG_9956
  4. Add the prawns to the oil on a high heat and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.IMG_9959
  5. When the prawns turn red on both sides add the spring onion, ginger, garlic and red chilli and cook together for 1 minute.IMG_9967.JPGIMG_9972.JPG
  6. To the pan add the sugar, pepper salt and soy sauce and stir together for another minute.IMG_9980
  7. Finally add extra chilli sauce to taste.IMG_9990.JPG
  8. Enjoy!IMG_0001

Spicy Cabbage (辣子白 – là zi bái)

IMG_9933Along with green beans and potatoes, cabbage is another national favorite in China, so much so it’s  called chinese leaf in the UK (this is what is considered cabbage in china). Here’s a popular recipe which I’ve always loved growing up in the Shanxi province, but it can also be found in various surrounding regions. Shanxi is famous for two things one of these being vinegar. Unfortunately the traditional method of vinegar making here requires wheat, but I’ve found cider vinegar to be an adequate alternative.

I’ve also found this recipe to work well with sweetheart cabbage, it’s extra crunchy which gives it an even better texture. I think this is why most chinese people I know in the UK have switched from chinese leaf to sweetheart cabbage also! This is a great dish to fill any dinning table, and it makes everyone a little less guilty for all the meaty dishes which go alongside it. It’s also super quick to make if you’re in a hurry!

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Ingredients

1 medium chinese leaf cut in ~5 cm squares
1 fresh red chilli thinly sliced
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
3 spring onions, green part only finely chopped
1 thumb-sized ginger, finely chopped
1½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn (use powdered peppercorn if you don’t want to accidentally eating them)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
1 tablespoon Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
3 tablespoon groundnut oil or vegetable oil
100 g everyday cooking mince (optional)

Utensils

1 medium wok

Methods  

  1. Prepare the chinese leaf, red chilli, garlic, spring onion and ginger.IMG_9918
  2. Heat the oil in the wok on a high flame and then add the spring onion, ginger, garlic, red chilli and Sichuan peppercorn.IMG_9922
  3. After 2 minutes when the mixture is nicely aromatic add the cabbage.IMG_9924
  4. Cook until the chinese leaf is ~70% cooked (~ 2 minutes until just slightly crispy still) and then add the salt, sugar and cider vinegar.
  5. Mix well on high heat for a final minute and serve.IMG_9928
  6. Enjoy!