Sichuan Inspired Green Beans with pork mince and Kale – My First Post Of 2013

Firstly, a belated happy new year!  I hope 2013 has been treating you well so far.  For me, it has been a good start although I have been putting off blogging since the holidays; so much to share, but I needed something to kick start me again and that happened earlier this week.

The absence of posts is mostly due to the lack of time to experiment since the holidays.  Although, I do have a couple of noteworthy holiday recipes to share at some point.  Maybe I will save them for later in the year as they aren’t so season appropriate right now!

 There has however been some cooking happening and for the most part it has been with a more health conscious focus in mind.  

Chinese is one of my favourite cuisines to eat out and the recipe I am sharing is inspired by a very popular Chinese Sichuan dish; a dish I had not tried until a couple of years ago.  I was surprised that all these years I had missed this because it is absolutely delicious!  Of course, now I order it almost anywhere new I try just to taste the differences and let me tell you there are many!  My favourite version of this dry fried green bean dish is when it has pork in it too.  What I love about this recipe is that it is delicious to eat on its own if you are omitting carbs in the new year, for example.  As well as having a much higher ratio of vegetables to meat than other dishes, it is healthier too.  If you use lean mince and the oil  a little more sparingly you will still have a dish packed with flavour, texture and lots of deliciousness!

 

My Sichuan Inspired  Gan Bian Si Ji Dou – Fine Green Beans With Pork and Kale

One of my favourite quick weekday dishes.  In the past I have also cooked this with duck breast fillets chopped up to a course mince consistency with excellent results.  I also add a little more 5 spice powder and sugar when cooking the duck version.  This is a delicious alternative to the pork.

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Serves 4-5

Ingredients

1 pack of fine green beans topped and tailed and cut in half (200-300g)

500g lean pork mince (you can also try using duck.  Use skinless breast fillets and chop finely to a course mince)

1 bag of curly kale (200g) chopped and any large stems removed

5 cloves of garlic pressed/grated or chopped finely

1 small white onion chopped finely

2-4 green chilies chopped finely (adjust quantity according to taste)

2-4 tbsp dried shrimp chopped finely (if you cannot find this, you may omit)

1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns crushed well

1 good tsp 5 spice powder (a little extra if cooking duck)

1 tbsp red chili flakes (adjust to taste)

3 tbsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

1- 11/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (I add this because traditionally preserved greens are added to this dish.  The vinegar adds a pleasant balance as a substitute)

3-4 tbsp  dark soy sauce (adjust seasoning at the end)

1 1/2  tbsp sugar (adjust to taste- for duck use a little more)

I spring onion chopped finely for garnishing

Check seasoning at the end- you may add a little more soy or salt.

Groundnut or Rice bran oil (or any other oil you may want to use that has a high burning point)

Method

  1. Heat a large wide based pan.
  2. Drizzle over 1 tsp of oil over the chopped beans and toss before putting into the hot pan. You just want a light coating on the beans as your aim is to dry fry the beans at a high temperature to retain some texture and colour. Some recipes suggest deep frying the beans, but apart from adding a lot of calories, having tried it, I found I much preferred the fresher taste when just a little oil was used. Cook the beans at a high temperature, tossing them regularly for about 5 mins until they have evenly blistered and soften slightly.  When done remove from the pan.
  3. In the same pan add a couple of tbsp of the oil you are using and add the pork.  Fry until you get some colour for a couple of minutes.
  4. Next add the onions and green chilies.  This is something extra I have added in my version. I like the sweetness from the onion and the flavour of the green chili. Fry with the meat until the onions are translucent and have softened.
  5. Now lower the heat and add in the finely pressed garlic and chopped dried shrimp.  If you can’t find the dried shrimp you can just omit it.  There really isn’t a substitute   You could try to find a chili oil that is made with shrimp paste and omit the red chilies and use that instead.  The dried shrimp are usually in the refrigerated section in a Asian supermarket. They come in different sizes, but for this dish any small ones will do.  Fry for a minute or two.
  6. Now you can turn the heat back up and add the liquids and spices- the 5 spice powder, the sugar the Sichuan peppercorns, the red chili flakes, the soy sauce, the rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and the Shaoxing wine. Stir well as the liquid evaporates.  Once it has evaporated check for seasoning.  Remember that the beans and kale have no seasoning so you need to add a little extra.
  7. Finally add the beans back in with the kale leaves (stalks removed) and stir well.  You do not need to cook it much- 1-2 mins.  You just want the beans warmed again and the kale to wilt slightly. Check seasoning.
  8. Take off the heat and garnish with spring onions.  You can serve this with steamed Jasmine rice for a hearty meal.

 

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When only a bowl of Noodles & Dumplings will do…..

Nothing quite gives you the same warmth than the combination that noodles and dumplings gives you.   Add some chicken to the mix and you have yourself a cure like no other that heals, comforts you and picks you up from the inside whether you have the flu or emotional heartache; It can be quite magical.

There are so many variations of noodles and dumplings and the choice to have them in a soup or a sauce or alone that the combinations could be endless.  This is the case more-so when you realise that noodles and dumplings make an appearance in so very many cultures and cuisines.  Starting with the king of them all in my opinion…the many varieties of Chinese noodles and dumplings- the Jiaozi is one of many kinds, Jewish Matzah balls, Russian Pelmenis, Japanese Gyzoas, Tibeten/Indian Momos, Turkish Mantis, Polish Perogies, Korean Mandus, Indian Muthiya, Italian Ravioli, French Quenelles, German Knödels …and then the noodles,  rice noodles, wheat noodles, mung bean noodles, shirataki noodles, vermicelli, Spätzle,  pasta noodles, soba noodles,  udon,… my lists could go on and on, but I think the picture is clear.

Noodles and dumplings are loved by so many cultures because there simply isn’t anything else that is as comforting as these two humble foods.   And when you eat them together, they make the ultimate comfort food because no matter where you are or who you are with, you will feel like you are being taken care of; that warm, loved feeling you get when you eat whatever food your mother or grandmother prepares for you.

Pork & Coriander Dumplings with Vegetables & Soba Noodles in a Oyster, Chili & Garlic-Ginger sauce

This is a combination that I made up myself so I cannot vouch for any kind of authentic identity it may have as there are both Japanese and Chinese flavours and ingredients in here.  Nevertheless, it turned out delicious.  You should try it!

Ingredients

Serves 5-6

  • 170g Soba noodles
  • 1/2 head of cabbage finely sliced
  • 2 red peppers slices
  • 1 1/2 cups of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 small head of broccoli florets
  • 1 carrot chopped into matchsticks.
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
  • One quantity of Oyster & Chili Garlic-Ginger Sauce (recipe below)
  • Dumplings quantity of your choice.  Allow for at least 4-5 dumplings per person (recipe below)
  • 1-2 spring onions chopped
  • Sesame seeds or glazed bonito topping to sprinkle (recipe available soon!)

To assemble the dish:

  1. Boil the soba noodles in a large pan of boiling slightly salted water, when done, drain and keep to the side.
  2. In the same water add as many dumplings as you require.  Cook on a rolling boil for 4-5 mins.  They are done when they float to the surface  Drain and keep to the side.
  3. In the meantime, heat a large pan to make the sauce, when done remove sauce into a bowl and put pan back on heat without washing.
  4. Add a tbsp of oil to the pan and turn the heat up high.
  5. When hot add the vegetables (the vegetables I listed are what I had available, you can use whatever you like) one at a time stirring well between each addition starting with the carrots, then the mushrooms, the peppers, the cabbage and finally the broccoli florets.
  6. Stir in a tbsp of oyster sauce and cover with a lid for a few minutes to steam while on medium high heat.  You want the veg to still have a bite test to see when the broccoli turns greener and a little tender.
  7. Remove the lid and add the sauce.
  8. Stir well and then add the noodles and stir again.  Make sure the heat is off.
  9. Finally sprinkle the dish with the chopped spring onions, place the dumplings on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds or if you have make the bonito topping use that and enjoy!

Pork & Coriander Jiaozi  Style Dumplings  

Makes 25-30

You can make these in advance and cook them straight from the freezer so I will often double this batch just to have extra in the freezer.  They also make a quick, (4-5 minute boil in water then pan fry the flat side of the dumpling for a couple of minutes to golden) delicious pot-sticker to serve  impromptu guests.  Serve with a dipping sauce in the ratio of 2:1 soy sauce and regular rice vinegar or black vinegar,  a dash of sesame oil and optional chili oil.

The Dough:

Ingredients

You can either use ready made dumpling or wonton skin from the Asian supermarket or make your own which is worth the effort if you have the time.

  • 180g plain strong white flour (and extra for dusting)
  • Approx 75ml hot water  (add a little at a time)

Combine the water and the flour until you get a fairly firm dough and knead until smooth.  Set aside for 1/2hr to rest before making the skins by rolling out the dough to the thickness of a 10p coin/quarter (a couple of mm) and using a cookie cutter- cut out rounds.  Thin out the edges of each round slightly with a rolling pin, leaving the centre thicker, Stack the rounds with a dusting of flour between each layer to ensure they don’t stick together.  Cover with some cling film/saran wrap while you make the filling.

The Filling:

Ingredients

  • 85g good quality lean pork mince  (you can substitute with minced chicken thigh or for a vegetarian version I will be adding a recipe soon)
  • 1 cup coriander chopped finely (stems included)
  • 1-2 spring onions chopped finely (depending on the size)
  • 1 tbps grated  ginger
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • Light soy sauce  to taste (at least 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp Shao Xing wine  (or dry sherry)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 4-5 water chestnuts chopped finely (optional for added texture)

Method

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl ready to fill the dumpling skins.  Can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

Filling the Skins:

Take a good teaspoon of the filling and put it in the centre of one half of a dumpling skin.  Fold the other half over to create a half moon shape squeezing out the air from the filling .  If you find though edges aren’t sticking well, you can moisten one edge very lightly before joining to the half moon shape.  Secure all edges by ensuring there are no air pockets and if you like, gather the edges into little pleats thinning the edges slightly as you go around to ensure the edges are not too thick.  Place wrappers on a lightly floured plate and refrigerate until needed.

Oyster & Chili Garlic-Ginger Sauce

This sauce is very versatile.  It can be made thicker or thinner depending on what you are using it for.  It is great with bok choy, dau miu (snow pea sprouts..my favourite!), choi sum, morning glory or any other vegetables you like as well as a quick sauce for meat, poultry or fish.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil with a high smoke point
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 4-5 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1-2 long thin green chilis chopped finely (to taste)
  • 3-4 tbs good quality oyster sauce (It is possible to get a good quality vegetarian versions of this too)
  • 1 tbsp Mirin
  • 2 tbsp Shao Xing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1- 1 & 1/2 tbsp of corn flour depending on the thickness you prefer.  Start with one and add more if you need.
  • 1 cup of water  (adjust according to preference)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce or to taste
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Method

  1. Put the water in a jug, mix in the cornflour until smooth and keep to the side ready to use.
  2. On high heat, heat a large wok type pan with the oil.
  3. Add the ginger, garlic and chills and fry for a minute or so.
  4. Next add the Shao Xing wine then the Mirin and stir to evaporate some of the alcohol while it boils.
  5. Next add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and bring to a boil.
  6. Lower the heat and add the cornflour and water.
  7. Cook this on a medium high heat until the sauce has thickened. It should be the consistency of pouring yoghurt not too thin and not to thick so as to coat the noodles and vegetables well.
  8. Taste for salt and adjust with soy sauce accordingly.
  9. If you require the sauce a little thicker or thinner add some more cornflour mixed with some water and bring to the boil to thicken or thin out with some water.
  10. Sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed.


Sexy Spiced ‘n ‘Ginger-ed Veg, Rice Noodles & Cripsy Tofu. Tonight we had ourselves some Hot, Lean & Eastern lovin’…..

That is quite an introduction, if I do say so myself.

I assure you it’s well deserved.  Light and clean, bursting with flavours and textures.  Subtle, sultry, mildly numbing peppery notes from the Schezwan peppercorns, a spicy warmth from the star anise that has been tossing in the pan, the crisp, vibrant barely blanched vegetables, the soft, soft noodles- and as you bite into the tofu- the perfect seasoned crunch encasing that billowing creaminess.  Not to forget that all encompassing ginger…so warming, so lovingly bringing all the flavours to a beautiful crescendo!

OK so I may be getting slightly carried away!

…I’m obviously just trying to fit in with the whole kitsch Valentine’s mood thing….There is no coincedence that I chose to use red bell peppers!

Regardless, It doesn’t matter what day it is.  You should make this.

It’s so easy, so versatile, so light, so nutritious, so sexy. Did I mention how mind blowing-ly tasty it is too???

Those that know me will know that my soft spot when it comes to creating dishes lies in the sweet arena.  This is what I am known for and why I started a business doing  just that.

The truth is, just as I love eating everything and trying new things.  I love cooking them too.

Asian food, Chinese inspired in particular has been a part of my repertoire for as long as I can remember.  I remember the first time I made Chicken and Sweetcorn soup.  My sister never forgets it.

Chinese food, much like most Indian food is very quick to prepare.  Once you get the hang of preparing the ingredients quickly,  the time from stove to table can be super fast making both cuisines great for when you want a delicious flavour packed meal when you’re short on time.

There are 5 larder items that I make sure I am always stocked up on that I use in a lot of my Far East Asian cooking : good soya sauce, toasted sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine, Mirin and good fish sauce.  If you have these things in your cupboard, you’re set.

In the fridge, there are only really 2 ingredients that I make sure I always have on hand: fresh ginger and fresh garlic.  I pretty much feel wrong if I don’t have them in the fridge on so many levels!!

This may or may not surprise you, but I do not use these two ingredients just for cooking purposes!

Apart from being a flavour I use in almost all cuisines, freshly chopped Garlic cloves (in tiny pieces and swallowed like pills with luke warm water) is my go to medicine for any cold, flu, sore throat or infection symptoms.  I kid you not.  It kills whatever alien is inside me EVERY TIME. :)

The same can be said for the mighty Ginger.  With that intensely warm calming flavour, it’s also packed full of zinc.   I regularly use this in my fresh juice concoctions…apple, carrot, ginger and celery is delicious!  It is also great to have grated in hot water if either your stomach or throat is feeling worse for wear.

OK enough of my alternative medical advice.

I will say that fresh tastes best, but if you struggle to keep fresh garlic and ginger in your fridge and my alternative medical uses didn’t entice you!, a lot of ethnic supermarkets and many of the larger supermarkets in the UK sell frozen grated ginger and garlic in ice cube sizes.  You can substitute a couple of cubes of ginger and a couple of cubes of garlic straight from the freezer into the pan for the recipe below.  Alternatively, buy some fresh and make your own freezer cubes!

Sexy Spiced ‘n ‘Ginger-ed Veg, Rice Noodles & Crispy Tofu

Serves 4 with leftovers

The order to cook this in: Prep veg, cook tofu, cook rice noodles, cook veg.  Assemble.

Ingredients

For crispy tofu with the perfect crunch:

  • I pack of firm tofu, such a Cauldron in the UK available in almost all supermarkets
  • 3-4 tbs of rice flour
  • 1 tsp of red chilli flakes (adjust to taste)
  • enough salt and pepper to season the flour which will coat the tofu
  • enough groundnut/canola/rapeseed oil or other vegetable oil to shallow fry the tofu pieces

Method

  1. To make sure these stay warm and super crunchy, I recommend cooking these after you have prepared the veg for the noodles, below.
  2. Wash and gently squeeze the tofu and cut into good sized chunks- you don’t want the pieces too small.
  3. Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan.
  4. Mix the flour and chilli and seasoning and coat each chunk well.
  5. When the oil is hot enough lower the tofu pieces gently into the oil.  Cook on a medium/high heat, turning once.
  6. Cook until golden brown on all sides, drain on some paper towels and keep ready for serving.

For the sexiest noodles ever:  :)

Ingredients

  • 1 Pack of rice noodle sticks (about 200 g)
  • 1/2 a head of cabbage finely shredded. I used savoy because it looks pretty, but sweetheart would work too (also I know in the picture my shredding doesn’t look very fine, but I corrected that!)
  • 2 medium sized red bell peppers sliced length ways
  • 1 good handful of dried mushroom rehydrated in hot water.  I have a large jar of Belazu Finest Dried Woodland Mushrooms (cepes, yellow boletes oyster, shiitake) that always comes in handy for many dishes.
  • 1 tennis ball sized white onion sliced finely length ways
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic sliced finely
  • 2 inches of ginger sliced into fine matchsticks
  • 1 tsp of red chili flakes
  • 4-6 tbsp of Shao Xing rice wine
  • 2 tsp of toasted sesame oil
  • 2-3 tbsp of good quality soy sauce (or to taste)
  • 1 star anise
  • 6-8 Schezwan peppercorns
  • 2 tbs of groundnut/canola/rapeseed/flavourless coconut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 tbsp of black and/or white sesame seeds
  • Seasoning to taste

Method

  1. Wash and prepare all the veg as instructed above and have it ready to use.  This is going to all happen quick and you need everything to hand!
  2. Cook the rice noodles with salt according to the pack instructions or until the are soft, but still have a slight bite.  You don’t want over done noodles!  If you want when they are draining, you can add a couple tsps of oil to stop them sticking, but I don’t do this if I’m working quickly…it’s unnecessary extra fat if you’re keeping this healthy. Save some of the cooking liquid- 1/4 cup or so.
  3. Heat a large wide based pan/or wok with the flavourless oil you are using until smoking.
  4. Add the ginger, star anise, and peppercorns quickly.
  5. Then add the onions and stir well for 20 seconds.
  6. Now add the garlic.  As the heat is very hot it is vital to stir quick so you don’t get that burnt bitter garlic flavour.  A little colour is ok though :)
  7. Next add the mushrooms and stir.  It will seem like things are starting to stick in the pan, but it’s ok!
  8. Next add the rice wine and soy and red chilli flakes.  Stir well.
  9. Finally toss the cabbage and red pepper with the other veg and put a lid on for 1 1/2 mins.
  10. Switch off the heat and take the lid off and check for seasoning and toss in the rice noodles with a bit of the cooking  liquid from the noodle pan.  Mix well and remove the star anise.
  11. Place the crispy tofu on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds!

And Voilà!

A delicious, sexy nutritious noodle dish in minutes!

Of course with most of my recipes, you can change up the vegetable selection to your desire.  Use whatever you have on hand!  I have done this with tender-stem broccoli, fresh mushrooms and spinach before and it was just as delicious!  Also, this dish is pretty healthy on most fronts, but if you want to cut down on the cooking time even more and omit some of the calories, you can skip crispy tofu and instead chunk it and marinate it in a little soy, rice wine, chilli flakes and pepper while you’re cooking the noodles!  Make sure you do make it again with the crispy tofu though; that super rice flour crunch is worth the calories as a treat!