From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fins and Food


What is a 5 letter palindrome for a small one- or two-person rowed craft with a completely enclosed topside? 

I was joking with Jen yesterday about the fact that the Bible is chock full of food and fishing references and I got to thinking that everywhere we look, we are seeing some sort of reference in our lives, via billboards, television commercials, or print advertisements about the things we can eat that will either save our lives or contribute to our demise.  As a result, it can be clearly said that religion, among many other forms of media, influences our dietary intake by prescribing particular foods that reinforce key cultural and social values, 
A simple verse that cites food, in a familiar form is from Leviticus: 

'These you may eat of all that are in the water: 
whatever in the water has fins and scales, 
whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat.  
But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, 
all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, 
they are an abomination to you.
-  Leviticus 11:9-10 (NKJV)
Clearly, He is suggesting that consumption of fish such as a catfish, that does not have scales, is a bad idea. Sadly, this mandate includes abandoning shellfish such as shrimp and lobster.

Such infinite wisdom is not to be dismissed, as that is simply one of many references in the Bible to food.  After all, weren’t the Apostles summoned to be fishers of men?

But, again, I digress.  Asians use food as an identifier of religious affiliation as well as a marker of ethnic identity.  In Asian communities where rice growing is the primary form of cultivation, and Buddhism is the primary religion practiced, the food mirrors the ebb and flow of food availability, symbolizing its scarcity or abundance during the year.

Buddhist monks exercise dietary abstinence with the idea that giving up a desirable item, such as food increases spiritual potency.  Most Buddhists, however, do not practice fasting as a general practice; such practice is usually limited to the monastic community as part of their standard discipline and dedication to follow the path to Buddha.

Here in the United States, Buddhism is widely associated with vegetarianism, although it is not strictly canonical to Buddhism.  This practice results from an a desire to disassociate oneself from violence and suffering. 

While I cannot say that I am a practicing Buddhist, because I am not, I do try to honor the Catholic tradition of fasting and abstinence during the season of Lent (which incidentally, starts tomorrow.)  To serve my penance, I, alongside millions of other Catholics, choose to limit myself to one full meal in a day, with no food in-between meals.  This is also a wonderful exercise for those who want to discover a heightened sense of awareness about their body and its desires.

Abstinence is another part of the Lenten season during which Catholics do not eat meat.  Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent are the standard days to observe this ritual.  Eggs and dairy products are not meant to be part of the diet that are omitted. 

Thankfully, abstaining from meat is not too much of a stretch for me, as I am, by nature a vegetable lover.  The rest of the family? Good luck, Colin.  Transitioning to fish, during this season, should not be tough for me.

Having grown up in a Catholic, Chinese American household, I know that my taste in food is shaped by my past exposure to Chinese food.  The years of rice, stir fry dishes and soups that my mother prepared, as well as the numerous visits to Chinatown have created in me a palate more Chinese than that of the typical American.  Unfortunately, for my kids, that exposure has been diluted by the Americanized foods that are available here in Texas. 

A dish that I can recommend for Lent would be one of steamed fish, which I enjoy immensely.   It is simply steamed whole with scallions and ginger, then drizzled lightly with oil and soy sauce.  It is simple and delicious.  I have seen this kind of dish served as “Rolled Fish with Oysters,” fillets of fish rolled into cylinders and stuffed with shredded vegetables and steamed standing in a pool of soy sauce.  Sadly, the latter style seems to be the only way that steamed fish can be served to most of the American clientele.  It is, however, an acceptable way to serve fish, in an attempt to expose a new diner to a new element of Chinese cuisine.

So, for me, giving up meat this season? I should be okay.  Now… to come up with something for the kiddos…

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Steamed Fish Rolls
8 small flounder fillets
1 carrot, finely julienned into two inch lengths
1 pear, finely julienned into two inch lengths
1 green apple, finely julienned into two inch lenghts
1 red pepper, finely julienned into two inch lengths
small nob of ginger, about the size of a quarter, very finely julienned
salt and pepper, to taste
1 and 1/2 cups of light soy sauce
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 Tablespoons of sesame oil
1 scallion, sliced thinly into rings
1. Rinse and dry the flounder and check for any bones. Then place the fillets skin side down and horizontally across a large plate.
2. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
3. To assemble a fish roll: Grab a small pinch of carrots and red pepper, and a very small pinch of ginger. Arrange them neatly in a vertical stack, and put this at one end of a fish fillet so that the vegetables stick out slightly on top. Roll the fish tightly, and repeat for the rest of the fillets.
4. Stand the rolls, vegetables side up, in a casserole dish just large enough to accommodate the fish.
5. Mix the marinade ingredients and pour them into the casserole. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for one hour; then remove and discard the plastic wrap.
6. Put the casserole in a steamer for fifteen minutes or until the fish is cooked through, then serve.

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