Occasionally the urge for green vegetables hits, usually when you are tired, overworked, stressed or anxious. How wonderful a large plate of greens looks, smells and tastes at those times. Don’t worry, we have your back, try this kale dish. It combines the great Asian flavours of garlic, ginger, spring onions (scallions) and a little soy. Quick to make, it is just a few minutes from stove to table.
I have mentioned my ancient Chinese cookbook before, the one direct from the 1970’s, bright orange cover, published by Sunset, and absolutely falling apart now. It is held together with a bulldog clip. It is still available online, I see – leftover copies and second hand ones. It is not surprising, the recipes are great. Mostly non-veg, but with enough veg recipes for me to still want to keep it on my bookshelves – at least until I have cooked every one of the veg dishes.
Today’s dish is simple but delicious. Tofu in a mushroom sauce with either broccoli, beans or carrots. Delicious. I have replaced oyster sauce with miso – you might like to use a mushroom based vegetarian oyster sauce if you prefer.
Green Beans – so fresh, crisp and inviting when fresh. This recipe comes from an old Chinese cooking book – it is probably 40 years old, but the recipes are incredibly good. It is an easy dish to whip up and is fragrant with the garlic and spring onions.
The green beans are first simmered in a vegetable stock, then briskly stir fried with the garlic and spring onions in some butter and oil. Then they are drizzled with Rice Vinegar and Sweet Soy. I like a bit of sesame oil at the end too.
Green Bean recipes include Freekeh with Green Beans, Walnuts and Tahini.
How inventive rice squares are. They are pretty easy to make, then their bland goodness is partnered with some flavoursome soups, broths or sauces. You have to admire cultures that waste little.
If sizzling rice squares are your thing, the rice squares are deep fried before placing in the soup or sauce – they sizzle when they are hot and really sizzle as they hit the liquid. They can also be used in any stir fried dish. We have our Asian brothers and sisters to thank for this easy and filling addition to simple meals.
We love to make these from scratch, but left over cooked rice can be used too. They make such a delicious afternoon snack.
Soy dressings are not something that I grew up with, my family being unadventurous food-wise, and county folk to boot. Integrating different ingredients into the daily routine was something that happened rarely, although I do remember my Mother being obsessed with Peppermint Essence. All our desserts tasted like toothpaste for months.
But soy dressings DO feature in our household, having inherited a foodie adventurous gene from somewhere in my line of ancestors. This salad, definitely Chinese, dresses finely chopped cucumber in soy, sesame, and rice vinegar. Use a white vinegar if you don’t have rice vinegar.
Quick pickles are very fashionable now, and why not! They are both tasty and healthy. This is a Chinese recipe that produces a lovely, sweet-sour quick pickle of cucumber. Leave it to soak and pickle in the vinegar mix while you make the rest of the meal, and it will be ready to serve when you are calling the family to the table.
Having a special clay Chinese cooking pot certainly turns the focus to congee – the pot (in my simple mind) adds something undefinable and delectable to the congee that is not achievable in other pots and pans. Today our congee is cooked with black glutinous rice. I mixed it with a little white rice this time, but it can be made without the white rice.
For more information on making Congee and Chinese Clay Pots, check this article.
Congee, back in the Ming dynasty, was used as a vehicle for medicinal herbs. Even without the herbs, it is such a great vehicle for love, comfort and nourishment. It is comfort food indeed, eaten at any time but especially when one is feeling under the weather, or has stomach trouble. It is also reputed to be suitable for eating when one has a hangover.
Most people think of congee as a rice porridge, but depending on where you lived in Asia, your congee might be made with millet, barley, corn, mung beans or other legumes, mixed with or without rice. Sadly, it is only the South China version made with rice that has become known more universally, probably because it is so creamy and mild. Congee has lots of names across the world too, eg jook (Cantonese, Korean), jok (Thailand), zhou (Mandarin), kanji (Tamil), chao (Vietnamese), canja (Portugese). In Thailand, they mix additional ingredients into the congee, but in China, it is served with toppings and sides.
Congee is a great way to prepare a meal out of nothing. A cup of rice, lentils or grain can be cooked with 8 – 10 cups of water and whatever flavourings are available in the pantry at the time. I prefer to cook congee in a clay pot, easily available from any Chinese store, as it gives a better flavour.
And most of all, congee is a meal that’s all about personal preference. Cook your chosen grain or lentil, for as long as it takes to get your perfect texture, flavour it as you will, and add the toppings that you enjoy. Today’s congee is made with Oats and Quinoa, a delicious combination that is perfect for breakfast or day time snack. Unlike our other congee recipes, it is one that is sweetened with the addition of dried fruit while cooking.
We use Australian measurements: 1 tspn = 5ml; 1 Tblspn = 20ml; 1 cup = 250ml.
I love congee made in a Chinese clay cooking pot in the middle of winter, cooked on a lazy Sunday afternoon. A large batch is sometimes cooked and stored in the fridge. In this way it is available night and day, for late night suppers or early morning breakfast. Congee was once a very popular dish but it has fallen out of fashion. We have been making it since 2003, and thankfully it has not fallen out of fashion in our household.
There are lots of congee recipes around – almost every Asian cookbook you pick up has one in it. I first cooked it at home as I loved the late night congee in Sydney’s China Town. So good. Short grain rice is best. One cup of rice made a huge amount – enough for 4 – 6 bowls of it. So be careful the first time that you make it to ensure that you are not making enough for your whole suburb!!! Congee can be eaten at any time of the day – it has become a popular breakfast food for Southern Chinese and midnight snacks for Singaporeans & Malaysians. So eat it first thing, last thing, or anywhere in between.
Congee Bowls, in our household, are bowls of congee topped with a range of delicious accompaniments – herbs, tofu, bean sprouts, peanuts, crispy onions and garlic, steamed beans, mushrooms, Asian greens – the list is endless and any combination can be used, depending on the season, the weather, your mood, the time of day and the available ingredients. Congee flavour is always up to you!
Congee is eaten throughout Asia, from Japan right down to Indonesia. Each one varies a little from the others, but all are made with boiled rice, lentils or beans. However, the name for this dish originated in India – from the Tamil kanji. Perhaps also from the Telugu and Kannada gañji, the Malayalam kanni and the Urdu ganji. All meaning, more or less, boiling. The earliest reference can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty (circa 1000BC). It is also mentioned in the Chinese Record of Rites (1st century AD) and noted in Pliny’s account of India circa AD77.
This recipe is one of the vegetarian recipes from our first blog which was in existence from 1995 – 2006. You can explore more of the Retro Recipes series, our vegetarian recipes from that first blog.
Steamed tofu is the antithesis of the punchy, in-your-face flavours of my usual Indian cuisine. Almost bland, it is gloriously so, adding creamy texture to its accompaniments. In this case we use bok choi (pak choi) and a soy sauce-seasame-mirin dressing. You do have to be willing to enjoy the subtlety of flavours to appreciate this dish. It is not something that would do well on Master Chef, for example, however we love steamed tofu.
We also have a variation to this dish where shiitake and oyster mushrooms are quickly sauteed and added to the tofu. This is inspired by an incredible dish of steamed tofu and mushrooms at the Whole Earth restaurant in Chiang Mai – Three Flavour Tofu Topped with Shiitake Mushrooms.