Last week, I issued an appeal for some Taiwanese guidance, foodwise, for the cinetrix' screening of Yi Yi for her students. Time, ingredients, technique all militated against any even remotely authentic night market feast, but it did give me a chance to work through a few things in a variety of Asian idioms. (And yes, I recognize that it's like serving schnitzel for an Antonioni movie, but what are you gonna do?
As a baseline for any kids who might be vegetarian or skittish, cinetrix wanted some cold sesame noodles. Not fancy, but they seemed to do the job.
For sides, I looked at Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking. This is a big and handsome book from Viking Studio that I have unduly neglected since its arrival last winter. It is definitely on the coffee-table side of the spectrum, with proportions similar to Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, or other Alford/Duguid jawns. The focus is on tight shots of food, with none of the National Geographical stuff that many cookbooks in English treating non-Western foods feel obliged to include. One feature of the design worth emulating is that each receipt is on a single page, with an illustration facing. I can take or leave the illustrations, but it is a treat not to have to flip back and forth. (The Zuni cookbook, for all of its strengths, pulls the ingredients on one page, technique on another trick a lot.) The layout means that there are not that many receipts overall, and some surprising redundancies -- many more receipts for soft-boiled eggs than one might expect, for instance. It's certainly not the only Chinese cookbook an experienced home cook would want, but it would be a good first Chinese cookbook for someone looking to expand their repertoire.
From the Kwong, I made the spicy dry-fried green beans with hoisin sauce and garlic. Basically, she has you fry green beans in peanut oil, discard the peanut oil, and run them back through the pan with hoisin and garlic. These were tasty, if oil-intensive and one of those dishes that puts the lie to the idea that vegetables are good for you. On the plus size, if you do not have, like a Berkeley philosophy professor who grows perfect haricots verts for you, one at a time, this is a forgiving prep for the ornerier green beans one is likely to see this time of year.
I also too a stab at Kwong's celery, cabbage , and carrot salad. In the absence of decent lettuce where I am, I've gotten more interested in salads that are not lettuce-driven. This is one of those receipts that seems needlessly fussy the first time through, but once you get the basic idea, it would not be hard to improvise. The detail of a quick pickle of the carrots was a nice touch, though there was considerable vagueness in the directions about what to do with the pickling solution after removing the carrots. A bit refined to call a slaw, but that's the basic idea.
For the main, I absorbed the helpful suggestions from Emily Upjohn, did a bit of interwebs research, and then made something up. I diced and trimmed some Boston butt, let it marinate overnight in sherry, five spice, garlic, chilies, and molasses. I drained the meat, reserved the marinade, boiled it, and let the drained meat sit in the freezer for a while before I ground it through the bigger setting in the Kitchen-Aid. I browned the meat in a big skillet, added some of the boiled marinade, and the water from the shitakes I had soaking. I removed the meat from the skillet, warmed up some mushrooms and a head of bok choi, sliced horizontally and relatively thinly. I recombined the meat, and then tossed this with some thin Asian wheat noodles. I made a lot, and there was none left, so the kiddies seemed to like it.