Category Archives: Asian cooking

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

 

 

 

Chinese cooking: Bring on the high heat

When Chinese stir fry looks as good as it tastes, you’ve arrived. And when it comes to experts, let them take over your kitchen. Follow Dr. Martha’s easy steps to prepare Chinese stir fry.

Quick Cook

Quick Cook

1. Make it uniform: if you’re going to slice the beef, slice the onions. If you’re dicing the chicken, dice the peppers to match.

2. Fire it up: Use your high heat.

3. Stir and fry: Cook quickly, especially vegetables. Bright green broccoli makes a dish.

 

Falling slowly with pho

Have some pho

Have some pho

It’s easy to fall into a hurried pace, rushing through meals and caving in to the grab-and-go culture of eating on the run which adds up for all of us. I’m doubling up on soup efforts as the season begins to change. This pho recipe (a variation by C.V. along with the powerful story of her escape from Vietnam) turns out bowls of perfection to prompt even the most hurried among us to sit back and slurp slowly.

star anise
star anise

Keep basic ingredients and spices stocked to minimize shopping and kitchen prep. No star anise on hand? Pick up a few pods the next time you’re out and prepare for the slow slurp of pho.

Pho

2-3 pounds country style pork ribs

8-10 cups water (make sure pot is at least half full)

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon fish sauce

5-6 shallots

1 gingerroot

3 star anise

1 cinnamon stick (optional)

1 16-oz package Oriental style flat (pho) rice noodles

2 pounds beef sirloin, sliced paper thin

3 scallions, finely chopped

Fresh cilantro leaves

Fresh Thai basil leaves

Fresh bean sprouts

Lemon

Hoisin sauce (for dipping)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the pork ribs in the stockpot and cover with water. Cook as you prepare other ingredients. Keep an eye on the pot and skim impurities and fat with a large spoon during the cooking process. The marrow of the bone will start flavoring the broth, but you don’t want to see anything floating on the surface.

Peel the shallots and slice the gingerroot in half and place in oven for roasting, 30 minutes. Add salt, sugar and fish sauce to broth. Stir and skim surface.  Add star anise and cinnamon to broth. Add roasted shallots and gingerroot. Continue to stir and cook uncovered for two hours.

Remove pork from broth. Cool and cut meat away from bone. Set aside.

Prepare rice noodles in boiling water. While noodles are cooking, strain all solids from pho broth. Rinse cooked noodles in hot water.

Once the pho ingredients are ready, C.V. dishes them assembly-line style around her kitchen counter.

Recipe relaxed – make your own pho

Good take-out pho deserves praise, but after reviewing this recipe, you may want to make your own. My story about  C.V. LeCarrell follows her childhood escape from Vietnam to the heart of her home in a bowl of traditional steamy soup.

C.V.’s Pho Recipe

Dumplings on my doorstep

We’re guilty of polishing off heaping servings of potstickers and Chinese dumplings. Can you guess where these beautiful potstickers came from?

potstickers

potstickers

Neighbors, yes, and they were made from scratch (no pre-made wraps in their household) and delivered to our Austin doorstep. Beyond delicious!  If you want to create Chinese dumplings or potstickers, drop by Metrocurean with resident food temptress Amanda. She linked back this week to one of her earlier “Steal This” postings . . . a dumpling demo with Wolfgang Puck. D.C. friends . . . check out this site for great tastings in and around the city.

Thanks, neighbors!

Bento Box filled with healthy fun for one

Yum-Yum Bento Box

How long does it take to fix a school lunch? For the experienced parent, good at keeping chips or the equivalent, fruit and veggies, a sandwich and a treat, maybe two minutes. That’s unless the peanut butter has separated or the jelly cowers at the unreachable bottom of the jar. It’s a daily task, done with a kind of slapdash love. But other folk have other ideas. The Yum-Yum Bento Box, a delectable little cookbook is a case in point. Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa introduce the art of designing lunch in a bento, a box-for-one popularly known in Japan.

The colorful pages display elegant or humorous lunch ideas that are sure to be the envy of everyone else in the cafeteria.

Full-color photographs show folktale and fairytale characters, holiday symbols and creatures created almost wholly with snippets of fresh vegetables, molded rice, and nori (dried seaweed). The ingredients are mostly at your regular supermarket though it might be tricky to find quail eggs if you are dedicated to copying the bumblebee creation!

Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches, By Crystal Watanabe, Maki Ogawa, Quirk Books, 2010

© 2010 Jane Manaster. All Rights Reserved.

While you’re gathering ideas for young palates, consider Silly Snacks by Favorite Brand Name. Silly is the key ingredient in this snack helper filled with clever creations. I received a copy of this cookbook several years ago from the queen of kid pleasers, our “90-something” great-grandma to my kids. She sent copies around to many of her loved ones and we keep ours at the ready when meal time calls for fun. We love the Tic-Tac-Toe Tuna Pizza.

Potluck pleasure is . . .

 . . . finding nothing but crumbs when you return to the potluck food table to retrieve your platter/bowl/basket. When anything goes, share a platter of crab rangoon. Celebrate the benefits:  this pot promises to be a sure thing, you don’t waste a mountain of ingredients, and you avoid spilling leftovers all over your favorite World Cup t-shirt. Bring home an empty platter with The Cookery’s crab rangoon. 

crab rangoon

crab rangoon

Crab Rangoon

8 ounces cream cheese

2 cups lump crab meat

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fresh ground pepper to your liking

50 wonton wrappers

1 egg, beaten

canola oil

Mix softened cream cheese, crab meat, soy sauce, lime juice, cilantro and pepper in mixing bowl. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon cream cheese filling into center of each wonton. Gently fold wonton corners together and seal with beaten egg. Fry small batches of sealed wonton wrappers in canola oil. These taste best when served hot, but they don’t have to maintain steam heat to please your crowd. Serve solo or with sweet and sour sauce.