Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Chinese Feast

As a thank you to Son and Pat for always taking me out for fabulous dinners and never letting me pay, I cooked them up a Chinese feast last week. I decided to prepare some of my favorites: dumplings, spicy green beans, fish-flavored eggplant, and pork belly.

First up were the dumplings. I do more a Tibetan-style beef momo than the crescent shaped Chinese pork dumpling. The filling is a mixture of ground beef, minced garlic, minced ginger, and chopped scallions. To form the dumpling take a small amount and place it in the center of a dumpling wrapper (I usually get them from the store but they can be made from just flour and water). Then rub the edges of the wrapper with some water and fold the sides up over the meat filling and pinch together to form a little packet. Next place the dumplings in a steamer basket over boiling water. They only need to cook for a few minutes. I usually just grab one from the basket when they look done and cut it open to see if it's cooked all the way through. 

These dumplings are serious.

The dipping sauce for the dumplings is easy. Just mix together soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil with some garlic, ginger, and scallions. 

Fish-flavored eggplant and spicy green beans were two of my favorite dishes when I lived in Chengdu. I served up these classic dishes with some white rice.

Fish-flavored eggplant got its name because the same seasonings used to cook fish were used to cook the eggplant. So it's not that the eggplant actually tastes like fish--just that it was prepared similarly. The version I made had eggplant, ground pork, Sichuan numbing pepper, dried red chili, garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce, MSG, chili bean paste, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. Delicious.

For the spicy green beans I went a little bit heavier on the numbing pepper and dried red chili peppers. 

So what exactly is numbing pepper? These little peppers abound in many Sichuan dishes, offering an interesting cooling and numbing aspect to the otherwise intense chili heat of the food. It is called huājiāo, which literally translates to flower pepper—an apt name as the outer husks of the shells used in cooking resemble opened flower petals. The flavor of the numbing pepper adds the quality of mala to any dish—that of numbing spiciness. When eating a Sichuan dish, the first moment is usually marked by the heat of the chili. But when it subsides the numbing pepper takes over. The fires in the mouth are cooled by the strange sensation of the numbing pepper, and truly, the tongue will go numb.This spicy green bean dish was always one of my favorites for riding the hot and numbing wave of Sichuan food.

For the final dish we had braised pork belly. Sonya and Pat had missed out on the pork belly I made for one of our holiday dinners, so I used the same recipe and cooked up the rest of the food while the pork belly simmered away on the stove for a couple of hours.

Since I needed sake to cook the pork belly we also sipped on sake throughout the meal. We had a large bottle of classic, cheap Gekkeikan sake, as well as a bottle of unfiltered, cloudy sake that Sonya likes. The rice wine was definitely a great accompaniment to our delicious Chinese feast.

There's nothing like a home-cooked meal to say thanks. It was my honor to cook dinner for two of my favorite people as they prepare to bid adieu to the island of Manhattan. And the best part? Watching a new episode of Jersey Shore as we devoured our meal. Classic.

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