My favorite channel while in the States is undoubtedly the Food Network. I can watch just about any show that they put on and always find some inspiration. Since moving overseas, I have missed food shows and haven’t found a good substitute. However, the other week I. found 30-minute Meals with Jamie Oliver on BBC. We both instantly gave it our attention. Jamie Oliver does a fantastic job of making every dish look both delicious and easy. The idea of the show is to demonstrate that cooks can create healthy, tasty multi-dish meals in under 30 minutes. It quickly motivated me and I tried his Oozy Mushroom Risotto (one of 3 dishes he made during a show). I had always heard that risotto was difficult and time-consuming. However, I found it to be simple, absolutely delicious and a crowd-pleaser. I’m thankful to have a new go-to resource for weeknight meals and inspiration!
- Greek Lemon Meatball Soup, Salad and Bread
- Oozy Mushroom Risotto, Baked Purple Carrots and Salad
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Chicken and Dumpling Soup
- Pad Thai with Green Papaya Salad
- Tuna and Tomato Bruschetta and Steamed Artichoke
Last Friday we called up the babysitter to head out for a meal at a delicious Sichuanese restaurant. With friends David and Liyan leading the way, we feasted on an amazing meal that included old favorites as well as new dishes and twists on traditional ones. One of the most intriguing twists was Hui Guo Rou with the addition of bread. The bread was deep fried, very thin and crispy- almost like chips. It provided a wonderful texture contrast to the chewy twice-cooked pork. As always, the saltiness of the pork and fermented beans with the spicy bite of the leeks was amazing. The dish was the first to be finished, and discussed well into the night. Our complete meal included…
- Hui Guo Rou (Twice-Cooked Pork) with Bread
- Shuizhu Niurou (Boiling Beef Slices)
- Yu Xiang Qiezi Bing (Fish-fragrant Fried Eggplant Fritters Stuffed with Pork)
- Hupi Qing Jiao (Tiger-skin Peppers)
- Fanqie Niu Rou (Meat with Tomato)
- Guoba Rou Pian (Sliced Pork with Crispy Rice)
Last night we invited a few couples over for a Sichuan meal. Thanks to the help to our wonderful ayi, the meal was a success. Our ayi cooked Qing Jiao Rou Si (Pork Shreds with Spicy Peppers), and helped me prep for Suanni Huanggua (Spicy Cucumber with Garlic), Xiangjiao Hei Mu-er (Wood Ear Mushroom with Fresh Pepper), Koushui Ji (Mouthwatering Chicken) and Yuxiang Rousi (Fish-fragrant Pork Shreds).
As 3 of the dishes are cold dishes, I only had to cook the fish-fragrant pork at the last minute. The flavor of the pork turned out quite well. I initially chopped too few pickled chilies and had to add chili paste to get the flavor right. In the end, the pork was a bit overcooked and the sauce was too liquidy. Next time, I will add the pickled peppers, ginger and garlic almost immediately after the pork to speed up the cooking process and keep the pork tender.
While I have been comfortable making simple stir-fries since I was a teenager, discovering the standard processes and ingredients of authentic Sichuan food eluded me. Being familiar with Western style dishes, I often feel I can identify the basic ingredients from sight or flavor. However, Sichuan food is a new language and it took direct instruction to get the basics down. After completing half of the cooking course, I finally feel like I can identify at least the “greetings” of Sichuan cuisine.
A few basics-
- Meat is frequently marinated in salt and cooking wine. Starch is often added to tenderize.
- Spicy peppers or chili paste are stir-fried in oil first to infuse their heat to the oil. The temperature of the oil can be quite low for these first ingredients to make sure they don’t burn.
- When cutting, careful attention is paid to shape. The vegetables and seasonings should mirror the shape of the meat. Vegetables should be cut slightly smaller than meat.
- Soy sauce is used almost exclusively for coloring, not for flavor.
- Whenever starch is added, in a sauce, marinade or on its own, do not stir immediately. Wait 5- 10 seconds.
I have made this dish at home a few times. The first time was for a group of about 12 coworkers. The majority thought it was wonderful, but one complained that the eggplant was a little undercooked. The second time I tried to correct this issue by initially sautéing the eggplant for longer. However, when I added the eggplant to the sauce it released all its water resulting in an overcooked, bland dish. The third time I returned to a shorter sautéing time, and ended up with a flavorful dish that was too chewy. Next time I will try peeling the eggplant before sautéing in hopes of achieving a spicy, sweet dish with melt in your mouth texture.