Today let’s learn to cook youtiao! Youtiao (said yo-tee-ow) are also called Chinese doughnuts or fried breadsticks. The ingredients are fairly simple—flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and water—but the process is quite time consuming. It can take up to 9 hours. But regardless, the results are priceless.
An appetizing arrangement on a plate is much like a composition on a canvas. Chefs craft with edible ingredients and their creations are far more fleeting than a painter’s, but they, too, strive to express aspects of their own history in their chosen form of art. For the most part, the roots of creatives whose medium is food come through in the dishes they create.
“It’s the taste of my hometown!” exclaimed Crescent Dai, a weather anchor at New Tang Dynasty Television, while consuming the creation I recently concocted for her—Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce.
Crescent is from Northeastern China, and one of the dishes her mother used to cook for her was Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce. Since she hasn’t been back to China in a long time, she now misses this dish dearly. Luckily, I know the dish by heart because it’s also a dish my mother cooks all the time.
Chinese Noodles in Soybean Sauce, “zha jiang mian” in Chinese, or “jajangmyeon” in Korean, originated in Shandong Province, China. When the Joseon opened the port of Incheon, many Chinese immigrated from the Shandong to Incheon. There they opened Chinese restaurants, so zha jiang mian took root in Korea, and evolved into jajangmyeon to suit the Korean palate.
There are many variations of zha jiang mian. In Beijing, yellow soybean paste is used. In Tianjin, sweet soybean paste is used. And in Korea, chunjang—roasted dark soybean paste—is used. Since my family is from the Beijing area, we use yellow soybean paste for zha jiang mian.
One of the keys to cooking the noodles right is to “shock” them by dousing the freshly cooked noodles with cold water, which stills the micro-simmering inside the noodles, keeping them from becoming mushy and giving an al dente, springy quality. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the noodles so they don’t stick together while serving or eating.
For some of us—Crescent among them—the finished dish might conjure up a taste of home. For others, it may just be an exotic getaway. Either way, it’s a great recipe to try this summer. Enjoy!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
20 ounces of Chinese styled fresh wheat noodles
2 ounces chicken breast, chopped
4 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons “doenjang” yellow soybean paste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 cucumber, sliced julienne
2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
In a bowl, add the soybean sauce, water, and dark soy sauce. Mix well. Set aside.
In a pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the chopped chicken and cook over medium high heat until well done. Then add the soybean sauce mixture, and stir fry until the aroma comes out. Boil water in a medium saucepan, and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Then cook the noodles until al dente. Shock the noodles by dousing with cold water. Pour the last 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over the noodles and then mix well. Again, this prevents the noodles from sticking together.
Serve the noodles in a bowl, and top with soybean sauce, cucumber, and scallions.
Don’t have time for breakfast? Try this super quick & easy egg omelet with tomatoes in a mug recipe. You can cook this within 2 minutes in a microwave and eat it on the run. Cool right?! This recipe is inspired by my mother’s home cooking, Chinese Stir Fry Egg with Tomatoes.
1 tablespoon of chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of oil
1 tablespoon of water
Of the sounds etched into the record of childhood, for occasional retrieval from memory and playback for nostalgia, most of us can remember the ice cream truck jingle. Or in my case, growing up in Thailand, the sound of my beloved pedal-powered popsicle bike cart.
Pardon my off-key warble, but I can’t resist intoning it for you, “Di di da, di di da, di di di di da!”
When I was attending elementary school in Bangkok, that was the magical melody that I waited for every day. Usually by the second ‘da’, I was in mid-flight out of the house to handpick my favorite popsicle of the day.
As the last mouthful of the sweet treat would dissolve, I would always end up with a charming little souvenir to keep the fun from fading too quickly: a free makeover on my lips. Sometimes it was a lovely pinkish hue and at other times, a more futuristic look, tinged with blue or green.
Later I learned that these stunning colors are from artificial food coloring, which is apparently not all that healthy. In fact science has had a thing or two to say about that over the course of 30 plus years of research into the relationship between food coloring and hyperactivity in children, though to be fair the results remain rather inconclusive.
Still, not being one to tempt fate, nor one to give up on tasty and colorful frozen treats, I decided on an alternative approach–rather than artificial pops, I freeze all kinds of real foodstuffs, from yogurt, chocolate milk, and fruit juice, to fresh fruit. And lived experience has me convinced this is a healthier way of giving in to the compulsion for frosty goodies than chomping on the store-bought kind!
With the summer heat wave knocking at the icebox door, I would like to share with my readers this guilt-free fruit popsicle recipe I concocted. It’s quick, easy, and healthy. Plus, it’s a great way to get in your daily dose of vitamins and dietary fiber.
These homemade popsicles are delightful to eat. Once you bite into one of these edible works of art, you first experience the refreshingly crunchy texture of the fruit and then–a grinning kid once again–you melt away in the yummy sweet abandon of a recollection from youth.
6 ounces cranberry juice
6 ounces coconut water
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
2 kiwis, peeled, sliced
6 popsicle molds
Place 2 blueberries, 2 raspberries, and 2 slices of kiwi into each popsicle mold. Pour cranberry juice into 3 of the Popsicle molds. Then pour coconut water into the other 3 molds. Put them in the freezer for 5 to 6 hours, depending on the size of your molds.
A lot of things in life aren’t fair, but food is—any love and energy that you invest will yield the same return.” So says Hooni Kim, the executive chef of Hanjan restaurant in New York City’s Flatiron District. That’s also one of the reasons why he so loves to cook.
Another is that his passion for the culinary arts was formalized in the throes of a major life crossroads. Kim was studying for a medical degree at the University of California-Berkeley when his fervency for food prep mounted irresistibly. Instead of becoming a doctor, he switched gears and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute.
Kim invited me to his restaurant to savor his sundubu jjigae—a Korean spicy tofu stew. The restaurant’s name, Hanjan, means “one drink” in Korean and is typically used invitingly, as in “let’s have a drink.” It’s inspired by the joomak, Korean taverns from hundreds of years ago that offered travelers scrumptious food, delectable drinks, and a place to rest their bones.
Sundubu jjigae is a stew made with tofu, vegetables, and seafood or meat. A raw egg is added just before serving. It’s typically eaten with a bowl of cooked white rice and several banchan side dishes.
Tofu is a popular ingredient in Korean cuisine that has been served since the Joseon Dynasty in the 14th century. “Tofu is like a blank canvas—you can add any flavor combinations to it,” Kim told me as I gazed into the pot of stew, mesmerized by the cubes of bean curd simmering away.
When at long last I scooped up a spoonful of the stew—delicious!—justice was done to my palate. Indeed the tofu was imbued with flavors—spicy, savory, sweet—yet stayed so delicate. Wonderful!
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did. Bon appétit.
5 ounces pork belly, chopped into bite size pieces
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
2 medium white onions, chopped into bite size pieces
1 medium zucchini, chopped into bite size pieces
20 ounces extra soft tofu
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1 raw egg
To a medium saucepan, add sesame oil, pork, and salt. Stir for 2 minutes over medium high heat. Then add garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for another 1 minute until the aroma emerges. Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and let it boil for 5 minutes. Add onions, zucchini, and tofu, then let it boil for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add scallions and the raw egg to the stew, and serve.
Recipe adapted from the original recipe by executive chef Hooni Kim, Hanjan restaurant
Steamed egg—it’s a dish I couldn’t be more familiar with. My mother has been cooking it for me ever since I was a toddler. Not only is steamed egg simply delicious, it was one of the few dishes I approved of as a child. In fact my mother said I was such a picky eater that if there had been an award for it I would have won it hands down.
Whenever my mother would feed me I just shook my head and disproved of most of what was presented to me. However, there were also a few exceptions—and steamed egg was one dish I approve of. (Whew, it’s tough being a mom, no wonder there is a song dedicated to mothers for Mother’s Day.)
I recently overheard that chef Takashi Yamamoto of Sushi Zen in Midtown West cooks the best chawanmushi steamed egg, so I asked him to teach me his recipe, and he agreed. Yamamoto is in his mid-30s and has been cooking Japanese cuisine for over 16 years. While he may be a little camera shy, he is absolutely confident and in his element working in a kitchen.
In Japanese, “chawan” means tea cup and “mushi” means steamed. It can also be translated to steamed egg or steamed egg custard. The dish consists of an egg mixture flavored with soy sauce, dashi, and mirin.
For Yamamoto’s recipe, the preparation time takes longer than the actual cooking time. “Every step is crucial,” he said. He also told me that in order to make smooth chawanmushi, you must chill the dashi broth, strain the egg mixture, and turn the heat to low after the first minute of steaming.
I tasted his chawanmushi recipe. It’s different than the one my mother likes to cook. His is very smooth, delicate, and with no remaining air in it. The topping sauce adds an extra shiny gloss to it. Yamamoto makes the dish an art. I must say “yes” to this recipe!
Well … so is it better than my mother’s cooking? I can’t exactly say that, because she might be reading this right now.
This recipe requires a steamer to complete the chawanmushi base.
1 piece kombu seaweed, about 4inches wide and 4 inches long
4 cups water
2 ounces bonito flakes
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon salt
4 ginkgo nuts, boiled
4 pieces sea urchin
4 shrimp, boiled
1/2 cup dashi broth
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon of kuzu arrowroot
To make the dashi broth: In a medium stock pot, add water and kombu seaweed and bring to a boil. Then add bonito flakes and turn off the heat.
Wait 10 minutes until bonito flakes have settled and strain. Let it cool and then chill. Set aside a 1/2 cup of dashi broth to make the topping sauce.
To make the chawanmushi base: Beat the eggs, pour the mixed eggs into the chilled dashi broth, and combine well. Add soy sauce, mirin, and salt into the mixture and strain.
Add a piece of ginkgo nut and a shrimp into each of the four bowls. Then scoop the chawanmushi base into each bowl. Place the bowls into your steamer and steam for 1 minute on a high heat, and then another 9 minutes over low heat.
To make the topping sauce: In a small saucepan, add the dashi broth, soy sauce, mirin, salt, and kuzu arrowfoot, and bring to a boil until you get a syrup consistency.
Lastly, add 1 tablespoon of the topping sauce on top of the chawanmushi and garnish with sea urchin.
This recipe was adapted from the original by chef Takashi Yamamoto.
“I cook Thai food like a mother would,” said Thongphoon Pandher, the executive chef of Viv Bar & Restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. “With love.” And the league of loyal customers—Thongphoon’s extended family of Thai food aficionados—agree.
“So many of your daughters and sons work here?!” I asked, with a pinch of curiosity and two of incredulity (I understand Thai, you see, and every restaurant staff member I came across called her mae, meaning ‘mother’ in Thai).
Smirks and giggles answered my question. They call her mother because she cooks for everyone like how she would for her own children, with love.
Thongphoon then took me into the kitchen and, like the matronly mentor that she is, patiently instructed me on how to cook Thai red curry since she understood that I dearly miss authentic Thai food.
Red curry, or kaeng phet, is a popular Thai dish consisting of red curry paste, coconut milk, vegetables, and a meat-based protein like chicken, beef, pork, or duck.
The red curry paste is made with dried red chili peppers, garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, salt, kaffir lime peel, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and lemongrass. Today, prepared Thai red curry pastes are available in Asian markets in bottled jars.
Traditionally, all types of Thai curry pastes were made with the same ingredients. The only thing that would change was the type of chili pepper. Red curry paste is made with red chilies, green curry paste with green chilies, and yellow curry paste is made with—you guessed it – yellow chilies.
Although Chef Pandher’s red curry recipe is simple and quick, it went a long way toward curing my nostalgia for Thailand. If not entirely, then at least while I was delectably consuming the dish.
As I ladled the curry over steamed jasmine rice, the rice quickly absorbed the sauce into each grain. Then, I scooped up a big spoonful of rice, chicken, and veggies. It was a perfect balance of the sweetness and creaminess of coconut milk, the spiciness of chilies, and the aroma of herbs. Yum. It’s the type of food my mother would cook for me, if only she were Thai too, cooking with love!
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 cups coconut milk
8 ounces chicken breast, sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
1/2 cup green and red bell peppers, sliced
1/4 cup Thai basil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add curry paste, and stir until the aroma is released. Pour in the coconut milk, mix well, and bring to a boil. Then add the kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, sugar, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and chicken. Bring it to a boil, making sure the chicken is well done, about 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and add Thai basil.
Recipe adapted from the original recipe of Viv Bar & Restaurant