I was not in the mood of spending too much time on making dinner, so I opened up a can of Thai green curry to go with some rice. I don’t necessarily have a healthy diet(consuming too much sugar if you can tell by the title of my blog), but I do try to maintain a healthy intake of vegetables everyday. Since my Thai curry is an Asian dish, I figured that I needed an Asian salad to go with it. Hum…what do I have to do to asianize my salad?
I went online searching for recipes of “oriental salad dressing”. Many of them are quite similar to the following recipe:
Oriental Cabbage Slaw
1 package (10 ounces) shredded cabbage
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Combine cabbage, scallions, and sesame seeds in a medium-size bowl. Mix vegetable oil, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a cup. Pour enough dressing over slaw to coat; refrigerate, covered, to blend flavors. Add more dressing, if needed.
I didn’t use cabbage, didn’t feel like it coz the color of my salad wouldn’t be as pretty. I just chopped up whatever vegetables that I had in the fridge and made an “Asian dressing” for it.
So, sesame seas and soy sauce(and maybe sugar counts, too) are what made the dressing Asian? It got me thinking about what I know of Asian cooking. A long time ago, when I was about 15, a neighbour of mine came over to hang out with a few friends of mine in our kitchen. I don’t remember what dish we made, but whatever it was, it was Chinese food that we made according to him because we put soy sauce in it. “Making Chinese food is easy. Just add soy sauce to anything and it becomes Chinese food”, he said. I just laughed at the comment when I first heard it. However, as years went by and as my knowledge of cuisines of the world grew, I began to feel that my neighbour’s comment maybe wasn’t actually that far off.
Yes, most of the Chinese food dishes I know do call for soy sauce. He wasn’t wrong there. But just adding soy sauce to your food probably doesn’t mean that it will taste good. The golden rule that I am going to share with you is using the three fundamental ingredients of Chinese cooking, ginger, garlic and green onions to make Chinese food. When I stayed in Stockholm for a couple of months in the summer, a friend of mine said that she wanted to make Chinese food with me. Honoured, I felt. Nevertheless, I love making food, I love being in the kitchen, but making Chinese food was never necessarily my thing. I guess my Chinese/Taiwanese heritage advertised my ability of making Chinese/Taiwanese food without me knowing. Why is making Chinese food not my thing? Allow me explain. I did grow up eating Chinese food. My grandmother made it, my mother made it, my aunts were making it all the time. Coming from a rather traditional Chinese family, my family often emphasized their point of the kitchen being a woman’s place. While each woman in my family(except my mother, she never really liked cooking, cleaning up and that kind of stuff) is proud of her place in the kitchen, everyone of them repeatedly tells me about Chinese cuisine being the world’s number one. Well, I have nothing against Chinese food. I love Chinese food, however, I like French, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Thai and everything else, too! In attempt to show my family that there are just as delicious ‘foreign’ dishes out there, I have invited them over for dinner for quite a few times. I’ve tried making Italian, I’ve tried making Korean, I’ve tried making Japanese. What I got in the end out of my effort? A reputation of ‘taking a long time to make anything’. No appreciation what-so-ever(in fact, I think my grandma choked on all the garlic I put in the Korean food that I made). Chinese food is the best. I rest my case!
Enough ranting, getting back to the point that I want to make in this article. You can tell by my Chinese family’s reaction that making Chinese food is not supposed to require a lengthy preparation. In many cases, Chinese food is almost the opposite of Japanese food: big portion vs. small portion, quick vs. lengthy preparation and hot vs. cold and raw. Fancy restaurant Chinese food such as Peking Duck and Shark Fin Soup requires a lot of work. No one I know makes them at home. However, when it comes to home cooking Chinese food, it is supposed to be quick and simple.
When I stayed in Europe, I figured that since I was often the only oriental-looking person I saw walking down the streets and I had a reputation(being a Asian food guru that is) to live up to, I’d better got to work. As a result, I made fried gyoza, spring rolls and wonton soup for the very first time, all while I was there in Europe. I did end up having a fun Chinese food-making session with the friend from Stockholm. Although, without writing anything down, I kept telling her that making Chinese food’s simple, all you have to do is to “just this, just that”. And I came to realization afterwards that ‘cooking by concepts’ isn’t probably more difficult than it sounds. I didn’t exactly write down those concepts for her, either… So, here, I am writing my “simple” concepts of Chinese cooking down:
Remember the three ingredients that I talked about? Ginger, garlic and green onions.
First, heat up a little bit of oil in your pan. Fry finely chopped(or roughly chopped..doesn’t actually matter) ginger or garlic or both. Stir fry it until you smell them.
Second, add your chopped meat or vegetables or both in, preferably Asian vegetables to make it authentic. (Chinese cabbage, bean spouts, spinach, mushrooms and you name it). Root vegetables will have to thinly sliced, needs water and takes longer.
-> you can add alcohol(something Asian, rice wine or Shaoxing is good…not red wine or white wine, too overpowering) between those two steps to flavour it. not too much though. 1 to 2 table spoons?
Third, add the green parts of the green onions in(chopped in the same length as your vegetables) stir fry till it looks done. Season it with something you like(salt, soy, sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and etc.). Taste it and adjust the seasoning. Garnish it with finely chopped white parts of the green onion if you like.
P.S. Coriander(a.k.a. cilantro or Chinese parsley) are great for garnishing as well. But I tend to use green onions more often because I know a lot of people who do not like the taste of fresh coriander. You don’t have to garnish your food but this very last step makes it look that much more authentic.
Voila! That’s all. You can apply the above to almost all leafy veggies that you can get your hands on I think. If you have an impression of Chinese food being all stir-fry, I don’t think you are wrong. “How do you know what to fry though?” My answer is this, remember the last time you had take-out Chinese? Just do what others do. Certain things just go very well together. Egg and tomatoes? Who would have thought??