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

Friday, April 2, 2010

Going Green, in Chinese

I sense some overindulgence coming on, this weekend, and excessively so the following week…
After having to balance out my Lenten sacrifice with my need to eat, I can say that the time to end the sacrificing will be met with the ritual gorging for Easter. Yet, amusingly, there are still going to be plenty of opportunities to make the right choices. It is simply a matter of whether or not I choose to exercise that choice.

I probably won’t get a real Chinese feast for Easter, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to enjoy my meal. I will just have to make sure that, whatever the main course, I include a fair portion of vegetables, to go with the ham, turkey, or whatever other protein will be served.

While Western nutritionists and doctors, and more recently, the First Lady of the United States have been expounding on the need to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, the Chinese have been doing that for thousands of years. Medical professionals never had to remind them of that.

The simple reason? When cooked the right “Chinese” way, vegetables cooked rapidly preserve their natural flavor and are just too tasty to resist. From the basic bean sprout to the crunchy cabbage, or the mild mushroom to the odorous onion, there are millions of ways and reasons and recipes to incorporate vegetables into the diet.

Typical restaurants offer a big juicy steak with a measly scoop of mashed potatoes and a handful of over-steamed broccoli. Higher class joints make you pick the side of asparagus or cauliflower, then charge you $11.00 for the side, served on its own plate. Such practice discourages most diners from selecting a green side.

A typical Chinese meal, however, features the variety of crisp, fresh vegetables, from brightly colored peppers, to exotic mushrooms and fungi that may look strange, but taste wonderful. Meats, when included, play a supporting role in the dish, usually to provide a basis for the sauce.

Thankfully, the vegetable influence is starting to show itself in Western supermarkets. While a few years ago, finding such vegetables as bean sprouts and bok choy, and even ginger root were almost unheard of, the emphasis on healthy dining has brought with it a higher demand for (and an increased availability of) Chinese vegetables.

(I remember the days at the restaurant in San Carlos, when I was just a kid, my Dad would order a vegetable plate, and while I was ALWAYS initially disappointed that there was no meat in the dish, I enjoyed eating the entrée, with its crunchy water chestnuts, crisp sugar snap peas, and tiny baby corn. The flavor was always a more subtle one, which allowed me to taste the freshness of the vegetables.)

One of the really cool things about being able to cook for the family is that everyone is generally willing to try almost any food once, and even if they don’t like it the first time, they will try it a few more times just to be sure. As I have gotten to know their tastes better, it has become easier to cook for the girls, as one of their most favorite kinds of foods is Chinese food, which thankfully I have some success at cooking.

In recent years, my family has become familiar with the joys of Chinese American restaurants like P.F. Chang and Pei Wei, with their wide variety of flavors. We have, however, found an exceptional restaurant in Golden Wok that adheres to the true authenticity of Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine.  However, exposure to restaurants that cook an Americanized version of the food pales in comparison to actually being able to cook it. Experimenting with a book is the best way to start, and generally, most cook books will teach new techniques like blanching vegetables and incorporating them in corn starch thickened sauces to avoid blandness. One great lesson that I learned was how to season oil with scallions or a fresh garlic clove. Through these lessons, we can all learn just how healthful and delicious Chinese vegetarian dishes can be as well. Of course, there will be some failures. (I can’t help but think of my first broccoli beef, with broccoli so over cooked that it was practilly brown, and the beef so overcooked that the gelatinous mess of a sauce almost started to grow on its own.)

However, after working through the recipes, and dredging through Mom’s cooking experiences, I mastered each recipe, then I had another regular favorite for Chinese meals at home. (I only wish I had captured some of those moments on film…)

To continue the journey through culinary delights, I will simply continue deconstructing the wonderful dishes that I encounter, and spread the wealth of information with everyone else. Some secrets, after all, should not remain secrets.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

A tasty dessert offering…

Strawberries and Melon in Plum Wine


2 pints ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled

2 Tablespoons sugar, or to taste (optional)

3 cups ripe honeydew or cantaloupe melon cut into balls or one-inch diamonds

1 cup plum wine


1. If strawberries are large, cut them in half lengthwise. If they are not very sweet, add the sugar tossing them lightly to coat them and then allow them to macerate an hour at room temperature.

2. Place the strawberries in a serving bowl, add the melon and the plum wine. Mix gently, then cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

3.Spoon the fruit and sauce into bowls and serve.

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