Monthly Archives: February 2015

Recipe: Congee and Salmon Congee (三文鱼片粥)

Congee, known as zhou (粥, pronounced “djoh”) in Mandarin, zuk/juk in Cantonese, juk in Hakka, juk in Korean, okayu in Japan, muay or chok in Hokkien, cháo in Vietnamese, bubur in Malay/Indonesian, and has even more names in other places like Thailand, Burma, etc. The English is from India, where a similar food is known as kanji, ganji, kanda, and other names in other languages. In China, congee is a common breakfast food, a baby food, and also a food for sick people (they eat congee instead of regular rice because it is easier to digest) and there are also herbal congees for restorative foods.

The most basic type is white congee (白粥) made by simmering rice and water. Congee in the North is often propared with millet, cornmeal, and other grains too. White congee is very popular at home. It has only rice flavor (white congee is one of the few ways you can taste white rice flavor!), and is served with pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, and preserved eggs, either salted eggs or “century” eggs, or both to make Yin-Yang Congee, named because it is white and black eggs 🙂

Fish congee or 鱼片粥 is a very common breakfast food in China. (You can find it on the Brunch Menu I posted earlier.) It adds thinly sliced marinated fish to the congee and is super easy to make. Living in the USA, salmon is very common. I used frozen salmon fillets to make it. The result was very delicious.

This post contains the recipe for both white congee and salmon congee because you must first make white congee to make other congees (except chicken congee, in which the chicken is usually boiled in the congee, but that’s another post).

This recipe is adapted from My Grandmother’s Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, which is a great resource on traditional Cantonese cooking and also an interesting story to read.

In the book, there is an interesting way to make congee, combining short grain (Japanese) rice with glutinous (sticky) rice (gluten free!). Using this combination, the congee is high in amylopectin, which thickens the soup much faster because it breaks down as soon as it is heated. This makes the congee easier to make, but you have to stir more.

Ingredients for White Congee:
1/2 cup short grain (Japanese) rice, also called sushi rice in the USA, although in Japan, “sushi rice” means rice mixed with sushi vinegar. I use calrose rice because it is cheaper than real Japanese rice like koshihikari.
1/3 cup glutinous rice (sticky rice). Also called sweet rice (usually by Japanese people) even though it isn’t sweet. This is gluten free and “glutinous” derives from a Latin word meaning “sticky”. Most Americans call Japanese non-glutinous rice “sticky rice” (because it is stickier than American rice), totally confusing everything and everyone. This way, just about all Americans are extremely confused about the difference between these two rices. Here is the easy to tell difference just by seeing: Japanese short grain rice is translucent when raw and opaque when cooked. Sticky glutinous rice is opaque when raw and translucent when cooked. To confuse you further though, there are two kinds of sticky glutinous rice. The Japanese variety of sticky glutinous rice is a short grain, the Thai variety is a long grain. The Japanese variety is grown in the USA by Koda Farms (and in Japan of course, but usually not imported here), and the Thai variety is grown in Southeast Asia. Either is fine to use.
8 1/2 cups water

1. Wash the two rices. You don’t need to wash too thoroughly, just rinse.
2. Add to a pot. Add the 8 1/2 cups water. Use a large pot because it overflows easily.
3. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir every couple of minutes to prevent sticking.
4. Be careful when about to boil, as it can overflow, so watch the pot! When boiling, two choices: You can either cover totally and leave on lowest heat, which is possible on my tiny stove since the flame is so small and weak. However, if the flame is too big, it will overflow the pot. The other choice is too leave a little gap in the lid. In this case, use medium-low to medium, as long as it keeps the congee bubbling. This way though, since the flame is larger, it sticks faster.
5. Simmer 1 hour. Stir every 10 minutes with a wooden spatula to prevent sticking. Actually, it will still stick. So, every time, scrape the stuck part off the bottom of the pot with the spatula. But you still have to do every 10 minutes or else too much will stick and it will burn.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the fish marinade (below) if making fish congee.
7. If eating white congee, just serve once it is done simmering. Serve with zha cai, fermented tofu, other pickled vegetables, and maybe with other breakfast foods like you tiao (deep fried dough stick).

Fish marinade:
1/2 lb salmon fillet, sliced thinly (I use a Costco prepackaged frozen salmon fillet, 7 oz)
1 tsp white rice vinegar or distilled vinegar
1 tbsp double distilled white rice wine (shuang jin chiew in Cantonese) or Shaoxing wine
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil or other cooking oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch white pepper powder
3-4 slices ginger, finely julienned
3-4 green onions, finely julienned (split the middle)

1. Mix the fish with marinade, let sit while congee is cooking.
2. Once congee is done, add fish.
3. Turn heat to medium high and immediately stir constantly with chopsticks.
4. Boil one minute. By this time, the fish is all definitely cooked. You can see for yourself.
5. Ladle into bowls and serve! Enjoy!

Because salmon is quite flaky, this becomes more of a salmon flake congee than a salmon slice congee (鱼片粥). But it is still very tasty if you like salmon. For a traditional, more like a fish slice congee, you can also use white fish instead of salmon. 🙂



Recipe: Chicken Soup with American Ginseng(花旗参鸡汤 /西洋参鸡汤)

Chicken Soup with American Ginseng(花旗参鸡汤 hua qi shen ji tang, “hwah tschee shun dzjee tong” literally “flower flag ginseng chicken soup”, “flower flag” means the American flag, also called: 西洋参鸡汤 xi yang shen ji tang, “see yahng shun dzjee tong” literally “west ocean ginseng chicken soup”, which is strange because American is towards the east ocean of China)is a popular restorative soup in China. Chinese people believe it is good for the body. American ginseng is also believed to relieve cold and flu symptoms (I have a cold now!) even though the FDA says there is no evidence for it. Anyways, my version of the soup is quite easy to make.

You need a few Chinese herbs to make this soup:

First, you need American ginseng (花旗参/西洋参). You can use fresh or dried. I recommend dried because it lasts longer and you probably can’t use up the entire bag of fresh ginseng. American ginseng has yin qualities in Chinese medicine. Meanwhile, Korean ginseng (高丽参) has yang qualities.
Some people combine Korean and American ginseng, half and half. This way, the yin and yang are balanced in the soup. You can also use only Korean ginseng. In that case, use only 10g instead of 20g because it is more powerful (and a LOT more expensive!).
The most famous brand for American ginseng is Hsu’s. Beware because some companies may sell lower quality ginseng, so most people buy from trusted companies.
Sliced ginseng costs less than whole roots, but they hide low quality ginseng tiny pieces under the beautiful slices! Also, there IS fake ginseng made from cheaper herb roots! And there is also fake Hsu’s Ginseng that is not really from Hsu’s. So I strongly recommend to buy from Hsu’s website (click English in the top right :)) which makes it so easy and guaranteed best quality. Don’t even buy from Amazon since their Hsu Ginseng might not be real! Ginseng has many sizes. Smaller ones are cheaper. My parents don’t like the too small ones so we buy the “Long Medium” size which is $50 for 4 oz. We prefer the long ginseng over short. Also, buy cultivated, not wild, because while the cultivated is $50, the wild is $525!! The wild is also a threatened species so it is best for the environment to buy cultivated too. I send the cultivated ginseng to my grandpa in China every year!
If you do not like bitter ginseng flavor (or if ginseng cost is an issue), you can make “herbal chicken soup” by skipping the ginseng. The rest of the herbs in the soup have a sweet or neutral flavor. It will also make the soup much less expensive. Ginseng is not cheap, so don’t buy it if you don’t like it or cannot afford.

The second herb is Chinese red dates (红枣). These are easy to find in any Chinese supermarket. They can also be found in Korean supermarkets.
The third herb is goji berries (枸杞). These are also easy to find. Don’t buy those fancy organic “raw” ones from health food stores, because they are way too expensive.

The next two are optional:
Dried Nagaimo (淮山) AKA Dried Chinese Yam
Dried Austragalus (北芪)
They can be found in Chinese dried herb stores or some Chinese supermarkets.

My version is adapted from Mom’s Chinese Kitchen

1 cornish hen (for extra restorative power, use the black “silkie” chicken) (prefer a free-range chicken, but I can’t find one small chicken here in USA, they are all 5 lb or more! I also can’t find free range cornish hens.)
(some people add pork. if you want, add 5 oz lean pork.)
2 liters water (Use Chinese chicken broth for more chicken restorative powers, or half broth half water. DO NOT USE WESTERN STYLE CHICKEN BROTH!!!!!!)
54g fresh American ginseng, sliced into rounds, or 20g dried American ginseng, rinsed (you can also use 10g Korean ginseng instead or 10g Korean ginseng plus 10g American ginseng)
8 dried red dates (traditionally, they are soaked and the pit is removed, but this takes too long so I don’t do it), rinsed
1 tbsp goji berries, rinsed
2-3 slices ginger (each slice about 1/2 cm thick)
2 slices dried austragalus (optional), rinsed
4-5 slices dried nagaimo (optional)
2-4 tbsp Shaoxing wine (optional)

1. Traditionally, blanch the chicken: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken (pork if using). Bring back to a boil. Boil a few minutes (some people don’t boil extra). Then drain well and rinse the chicken. Cut off the “tail” part. This part releases a lot of oil. Some people cut off wing tips, but I don’t find any need in this.
2. Put chicken (pork if using) in a pot with 2 liters water. I use an enameled small cocotte. You can also use stainless steel, but metal surface is not preferred by Chinese cooks. Traditionally, it uses a clay sand pot. If using the sand pot, start heating over low heat for 10 minutes, then gradually bring up to medium. Depending on stove power, the highest you can ever go can be medium-high on my super weak stove. If it cracks, the soup and ingredients and pot go all over the stove top and is terrible to clean. As a result, I recommend other pots for beginners.
3. Bring to a boil, removing foam. This is a laborious process. You need a foam remover, which you can buy for a cheap price and is definitely a must for Asian soups. If it reached a rolling boil, then all the foam enteres the soup and it becomes murky. To fix, put over lowest heat or no heat until no more bubbles. You can also add 1/2 cup cold water. Then bring back to a boil over medium high, removing foam. Do not let it reach a rolling boil, so when it boils more you can remove foam on medium. When no more foam comes up, bring to a rolling boil, removing the rest of the foam. The soup should be very clear.
4. Add all of the other ingredients. Some people do not add goji berries yet and wait until the last 15 minutes of cooking. I add at the beginning so I don’t forget them. Sometimes there is more foam that rises. While removing this foam, be careful to not remove any of the ingredients.
5. Finally, cover and simmer over low heat for 3-4 hours (recommended) or at least 1.5 hours (fast version, less restorative but still good and the ginseng should still be soft by then).
6. At the end, try to remove most of the oil with the foam skimmer. This is optional if it is too much work but it is better to have less fat in the soup.
7. Ladle soup into bowls. All of the herbs are edible, but the ginseng is strongly flavored. It is believed to be more effective if eaten. Actually, there is almost no ginseng flavor in the soup itself if you use whole dried roots. So not eating the ginseng is basically a waste. However, I don’t like it. I only like a little ginseng flavor in my soup. After boiling, the ginseng becomes soft so I cut a tiny piece with a spoon and mash it on the bottom of my bowl of soup to release its flavor. So, my parents eat most of the ginseng and I don’t. Definitely the goji berries and red dates should be eaten. Following the Sichuanese tradition, my family drinks soup after eating dinner. In Cantonese households, the soup is drunk during dinnertime. Either is good.

These are the herbs I used today. I do not have dried austragulus so I did not use it. The white colored slices are the dried nagaimo.


Languages: Read a Chinese Menu! (Part 1, Introduction)


Taking a look at this brunch menu, most Americans would not be able to read any of it. Even most of my ABC friends cannot read much food related Chinese. However, over the last two years since I started cooking, I have been slowly learning Chinese characters to the point of now reading this entire brunch menu at this Chinese restaurant! Knowing to read this menu is a great ability because it has tons of extremely delicious dishes, all not found on the regular menu (which has English).

On this menu, there are A LOT of characters. And they might make you dizzy. Don’t worry, we’ll start from the basics! We will also learn many “radical” characters that are the building blocks of other characters. Also, if you can read this whole menu, you can read just about every Chinese menu. I like this menu also because there are zero Americanized dishes and there are dishes from many regions of China. (They also recently added Pho to the menu, as you can see it is the one of only things written in Latin characters.) Also, all of the words are in traditional Chinese characters. In Mainland China, simplified characters are used more often. In overseas Chinese communities and Taiwan, traditional characters are more common. In this case, I will teach both so you can read in China as well as in your own country. We’ll start from the easiest characters in the menu.

First, let’s learn a radical character. This is the character for “one”:

See? It’s easy. This character is an “abstract” character formed with 1 horizontal line to represent the number one. In China, they use both the western numerals (1 2 3 4 etc.) and the Chinese characters.
To pronounce it, use the first tone and it’s pronounced “ee” as in “sheep”. In pinyin, it is written yī. I recommend watching a YouTube video to learn how to pronounce the four tones of Mandarin Chinese as well as the Pinyin consonants and vowels (sorry, I don’t want to put my voice recording online).

Now, let’s learn two more characters. These two are both found on the menu.
二 (èr) means “two”
三 (sān) means “three”
These characters are just formed with horizontal lines. If you notice, the top line in 二 is shorter than the bottom line. Also, in 三, the middle line is the shortest and the bottom line is the longest. These are important in writing Chinese.

Now, you can read the three easiest Chinese characters! Yay!

Looking at the menu, you can see it is grouped into sections. If you look closely, in several of the sections, the last character in each dish is the same. This is because each section’s foods are have similar ingredients. In the rest of the series, each post will be about one of those sections. We will dissect each character into radicals, and it will be much easier to learn. By the later part of this series, you will realize that many words contain just the same basic radicals!

I hope you will enjoy this series 🙂

Culture: Chinese Lunar New Year!

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year! I Stir-Fried Pressed Tofu for a very simple Chinese New Year Eve Dinner. What! No fish!? Yes, no fish 😦 I didn’t have time to really cook. But I DID eat dumplings the day before and sticky rice cake. 🙂 These recipes may be posted sometime!

Chinese culture background! On Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve in China, nobody goes to work or school. Most people have 7 days off. Anyways, this day the whole family gets together like in USA Thanksgiving. Unlike USA Thanksgiving, China has more than a billion people so the entire country’s planes, trains, and automobiles are super crowded and overflowing with people and traffic all over the airports, train stations, and roads is found in every village, town, and city of the whole country. Every year, people DIE because of how crowded it is! It is highly recommended to not travel to China during the New Year season, but still it can be a fun experience celebrating the holidays. I haven’t been, though. (I wish we in USA had at least ONE DAY off of work and school!)
So when the whole family is together, they eat a big feast called the 年夜饭 (nian ye fan, “nyehn yeh fun”, literally “year night rice”) containing tons of food. Everyone eats a ton of food, then eats another ton of food, then eats another ton of food, and then they are really full but eat another ton of food. (like USA Thanksgiving again!)
Many dishes are eaten in this feast. One of the most important (throughout China) is a whole fish because 年年有鱼 (every year have fish) sounds identical to 年年有余 (every year have surplus money). There are tons of foods in this feast, but fish is the most famous. In some parts of China, only the one side of the fish is eaten because it is bad luck to flip it over. The other side is eaten the next day. In other parts of China, it is also considered bad luck because if there is no leftover fish, there will be no leftover money. The whole fish could be prepared many ways, including steaming, pan frying, and braising. The most popular is clear-steamed fish (清蒸鱼) which is just a whole fish, cleaned and guts removed, steamed with ginger, green onions to get rid of fishy flavor, then have soy sauce and hot oil poured over. It’s the best with fish killed the same day, and frozen fish are not good for this process. Also, it is not recommended with fillets, just whole fish. The problem is that I am really bad at eating whole fish 😦 because there are ALWAYS tiny sharp bones in the flesh and they get stuck in my throat, so I have to swallow large spoonfuls of rice to push it down and it always still feels like it’s there, ugh. Anyways, my parents always eat most of the fish.
Other dishes that must be eaten are boiled dumplings (饺子) in the North and sticky rice cake (年糕) in the South. Dumplings are made of a flour-water dough surrounding a meat and vegetable filling, then boiled and served with dipping black vinegar. Sticky rice cakes have both stir-fried savory kinds as well as sweet kinds which are popular in Guangdong and Hong Kong. I love all of these so I usually eat both dumplings and sticky rice cake in the Chinese New Year season. There are a lot of other dishes but these are the most famous.
Unlike USA Thanksgiving, the Chinese people watch the Spring Festival Night Gala on TV. Every year, almost the entire population of China watches this show. It has lots of singing and dancing with LOTS of bright colors and outfits especially red (the lucky color in East Asian cultures), and definitely the year’s Chinese zodiac animal (this year is sheep/goat/lamb/ram/ewe/antelope). It also has comedy skits and all sorts of performances. My Chinese isn’t good enough to understand a lot of what people are saying though. Also it airs like during midnight time in USA, so it isn’t easy to watch live. Most Chinese-Americans watch it later through Chinese streaming sites.
So, while the entire family watches the TV, they eat tons of food and chat. Then, once it turns midnight (China has only one time zone, so it’s the exact same for the whole country!), people go out to set lots of firecrackers and fireworks and it’s a super chaotic party! Actually, many cities have outlawed fireworks (but people still use them anyways!) because of danger. I read that sometimes they are misfired and destroy buildings! I don’t like loud exploding things so I would be terrified in China at this time, LOL.
On Chinese New Year’s Day, the adults give children money called 压岁钱 (ya sui qian, pronounced “yah sway tschyehn”). It is put in a red envelope, so it’s often called “red package” (红包) in Mandarin. All of the children look forward to this, hehe.
During the Chinese New Year season, all relatives and friends are visited day by day. People visit others’ houses, drink tea, eat snacks and food, then repeat. It’s a relaxing time of the year.

Anyways, just some basic information on Chinese New Year! Hope you enjoyed 🙂

Recipe: Punjabi Aloo Beans Subzi

(Skip this paragraph if you want because it’s unrelated and could possibly remove your appetite, lol)
Have you ever gutted a fish? My mom got a fish for Chinese New Year (“every year have fish” in Chinese sounds the same as “every year have surplus money”, so it is a MUST for Chinese New Year!) from her friend who went fishing.. and while gutting it, in its stomach, there were many little fish that it ate! EWWWWWWWWW… Good thing I didn’t see it XD

Anyways, here’s a nice Indian vegetarian dish… It tastes really really delicious and fragrant. I’ve been making so much Indian food during the Chinese New Year, hehe. Originally, I was going to make green beans poriyal, which I already posted. However, I ran out of coconut cause I made rava ladoos (yum! I could post that recipe if you want) so I decided to make another green beans dish. I found this one which looked amazing! It uses minimal ingredients to produce a super delicious dish. This type of dish is a common Punjabi home cooking made from sauteing vegetables in oil without water for a long time until cooked. As a result, the vegetables are really tasty and umami-filled, but it takes a pretty long time to make! Anyways, this method of cooking is almost identical to the Sichuanese method of 干煸 (gan bian, “gun byehn”)! The difference is that Indian spices are added, of course. The spices are very basic and are the most common Punjabi spices. The only hard to find one is the amchur powder. You can use lemon juice instead.

Adapted from Veg Recipes of India

about 250 grams green beans (AKA French beans, string beans, in India: beans)
about 450 grams potatoes
2-3 tbsp oil or ghee (I used 1/2 oil and 1/2 ghee. The more oil the better.)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder (use regular Indian red chili powder for a spicy dish)
1/2 tsp salt (to taste, use less for low-sodium)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp Amchur powder AKA dry sour green mango powder (to taste) (I don’t have it, so I substitute 2-3 tsp lemon juice or to taste, depending on sourness of lemon)

1. Peel potatoes if necessary (peel russet, don’t peel the smaller red potatoes). Cut in half and slice 1/4 inch thick slices.
Remove the hard end of the green beans. Cut into 2 inch long pieces.
2. Heat a kadai (a type of Indian pan shaped sort of like a wok, you can use a wok) or a pan. Note: A pan that is not nonstick, the potatoes will stick like CRAZY. Even my wonderful STAUB Perfect Pan.
3. Once hot, add oil/ghee.
4. Add potatoes and lay in an even layer. Cook over medium high to high for a couple minutes.
5. Then flip potatoes and mix lightly, cook another couple minutes. Continue to cook 3-4 minutes stirring once in a while. During this time, slowly decrease the heat to medium.
6. Add the green beans and mix well over high heat. Once you think it’s hot, lower to medium high. Cook in the same way as the potatoes for 8-10 minutes. During this time, slowly decrease the heat to medium. TIP: Cover the pan to cook better, but it creates moisture, so the traditional recipe doesn’t cover.
7. The vegetables should be partway cooked by now. Today I used red potatoes which cook faster and easier and the green beans were tender and thin. Sometimes these vegetables take forever to cook. In this case you must cook longer.
8. Add the turmeric, red chili powder, and salt. Stir well and continue to cook in the same way over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until tender. I did not cover the lid during this time because the vegetables were almost cooked.
9. Add garam masala and amchur (or lemon juice). Stir well and cook 1 minute. Taste. If necessary, add more of a spice or salt to taste.
10. Serve preferably with rotis/chapatis and plain yogurt, perhaps with a dal on the side for protein. I never feel like making rotis/chapatis because it takes me too long and mine are not very tasty… So I served with rice, hehe. Sometimes I cheat and use tortillas from the store instead of rotis 🙂


Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

Happy year of the sheep! and the goat! and the ram! and the lamb! and the ewe! and the antelope! and the…
Well, the Chinese character 羊 has ALL of these meanings. Usually they translate it “sheep” or “ram” and sometimes “goat”. The character is pronounced “yang” (not like how Americans say “yay” + ng, but like “yawn” + ng)

Chinese New Year’s Greetings!
新年快乐!(xin nian kuai le, “seen nyehn kwai luh”, “new year fast happy!”) = Happy New Year!
春节快乐!(chun jie kuai le, “chwin dzjyeh kwai luh”, “spring holiday fast happy!”) = Happy Spring Festival!
(In China, the Spring Festival is the official name of the lunar new year. Technically “New Year” means the western calendar, but people still use it anyways.)
恭喜发财!(gong xi fa cai, “gohng see fah tsai”, this is made up of “congratulations” and “to make a fortune”, literally word by word = “respectful to like to send out wealth”)
This phrase congratulates the listener for their wealth and has a meaning of wishing the listener to be prosperous in the new year. It originated in Cantonese as “gung hei faat coi” (pronounced gung hay faht choi) and later spread to general Chinese.

Happy Lunar New Year! Did you do anything for the New Year?

Today, I made stir-fried pressed tofu with mixed vegetables. It was very delicious! I will share the recipe soon, if you liked the other recipes you’ll love it! 🙂

Recipe: Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋)

In traditional Cantonese households, Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋 luo han zhai, pronounced “lwuh hun djai”, rhymes with eye, literally: 罗汉 = Arhat, which means an enlightened being in Buddhism, 斋 = the name of the dish, literally “vegetarian food”) is eaten on the first day of the Lunar New Year. This year, it’s February 19. Many Chinese Buddhists stay vegetarian on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Many Chinese Buddhists, when eating “vegetarian”, are allowed to also eat oysters, mussels, and/or clams. That’s why this dish is called “vegetarian food” in Chinese even though it is not vegetarian in the Western sense. For a totally vegan recipe, skip the dried oysters and replace the oyster sauce with vegetarian “oyster” sauce (made from mushrooms).

By the way, I recommend you to watch Nyonya Cooking’s video recipe here for a version of this recipe with much fewer hard-to-find ingredients 🙂

This recipe uses many hard-to-find ingredients. You can find all the dried ingredients in Wing Hop Fung if you live in the LA area, and Chinatown markets if you live in SF or NY. (I’ve never been there but I know you can find it!) These ingredients are all explained below. If you can’t find some or choose to skip some, it is fine! 🙂 You can use a little bit more of the other ingredients then. I recommend you to use at least half of the ingredients though!

Napa Cabbage (白菜 “white vegetable” in Mandarin, but this means bok choy in Cantonese which is called 青菜 “green vegetable” in Mandarin, so they call napa cabbage 黄牙白 in Cantonese) is very easy to find in Asian stores and now can also be found in non-Asian stores. The ones in Korean supermarkets are better quality, but any is OK.

Dried Oysters (干蚝 “dry oyster”) can be found in the refrigerated dried seafood section of Wing Hop Fung next to dried shrimp. Chinese supermarkets should carry them next to dried shrimp too if they have this. Skip for a vegan dish.

Dried Cloud Ear Mushrooms (云耳 “cloud ear” or 木耳 “wood ear”, but DO NOT buy packages labeled 木耳 because they are a different type of dried mushroom even though most Mandarin speakers call the cloud ears “木耳”. long story short, please buy “云耳”) can be found in any Chinese grocery store but I recommend a dry goods store like Wing Hop Fung because it’s usually better quality and cheaper, also they have GIANT bags for people who cook Chinese food often. They are usually labeled “dry auricularia” which is a ridiculous name in my opinion. Actually auricularia is the scientific genus name for this mushroom but it still sounds funny.

Dried Tiger Lily Flower Buds (黄花菜 “yellow flower vegetable” in Mandarin and usually labeled 金针菜 “gold needle vegetable” which may be the Cantonese name) can also be found at most Chinese supermarkets near the dried cloud ears and dried shiitakes.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (冬菇 “winter mushroom”, but I recommend you to buy them labeled 花菇 “flower mushroom”) can be found in Chinese grocery stores in the dried mushrooms/vegetables section. I recommend 花菇 which have pretty patterns on top and are better quality as well as better presentation. I recommend the smaller kind, but not the super tiny ones (sorry for confusing you!), which I saw at Wing Hop Fung today. So get the medium size kind.

Hair Vegetable AKA “Black Moss” (发菜 “hair vegetable”) sounds like 发财 “to become prosperous”, so it is considered a lucky food to eat. As a result, it costs too much. Seeing it’s very high price ($18.88 when ON SALE from $23 for quite a small package), I decided to not buy it. Besides, it’s made from colonies of bacteria that grow in the desert of Inner Mongolia. Seriously. Usually it is labeled “seaweed” or “black moss”, which most Chinese people think it is. Really, seaweed from the Mongolian deserts!? I call it the literal Chinese translation of “hair vegetable”. Note that “vegetable” in Chinese means something more like “non-animal product used in cooking”, and it doesn’t have to be a plant. Anyways, when dried it looks exactly like Chinese people’s black hair. Exactly like it! I can find it at Wing Hop Fung but it might not be found at many Chinese supermarkets.

Dried Mung Bean Starch Noodles AKA “Cellophane Noodles” (粉丝 “powder thread”) are made from mung bean starch and are transparent. They are found in 3-packs or 6-packs wrapped together in a pink net, in any Chinese supermarket. They are also very inexpensive! They are often labeled and called “vermicelli”, which is actually a kind of Italian pasta XD Actually I didn’t know this until I searched vermicelli on the internet. Most Asian people just think vermicelli means mung bean starch noodles..

Dried Tofu Skin Sticks (腐竹 “curd bamboo”) are made this way: a pot of soymilk is heated, a skin forms on top, and it is removed. This is fresh tofu skin. Then it is folded into rectangular sticks and dried. The sticks look like bamboo, so that’s why they are called curd bamboo in Chinese. They aren’t really tofu but I call it that since the “curd” is short for “bean curd” which is tofu. These have a great texture and taste very delicious. I found them at Wing Hop Fung but are also found in dried food sections of Chinese supermarkets.

Fried Tofu Puffs are shaped like cubes and are found in the refrigerated tofu section of the Chinese grocery store. They are very puffy, like sponges, and absorb the sauce of the dish.

Gingko Nuts (白果 “white fruit”) are found in refrigerated sections of the produce area in Chinese grocery store, and next to the dried shrimp, refrigerated, in Wing Hop Fung. Just measure out about 1/4 cup, not much. Get the ones with shells!

Red Fermented Tofu (红腐乳 “red curd milk” or 南乳 “south milk”, not sure why they are called “milk” though. FYI the “milk” is an archaic character still used in Japan but not modern Chinese. In modern Chinese, milk is called 奶) are found in the sauce section of Chinese grocery stores. I recommend Wang Zhi He brand, either Traditional or Rose is good. My mom prefers the rose kind.

Oyster Sauce (蚝油 “oyster oil”) is very easy to find! I recommend the Lee Kum Kee brand’s Premium version. It has real oyster in it, while the cheaper Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand doesn’t. If you want a vegan dish, use vegetarian “oyster” sauce which is made from mushrooms.

Yay! We are finally done explaining the ingredients. The only other ones you need are ginger and oil, which you should be familiar with. Time to start cooking! This dish is labor intensive because it requires LOTS of preparation prior to cooking. Let’s go!

Recipe Adapted from: Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young. This book contains lots of delicious and traditional Cantonese recipes.


4 large napa cabbage leaves (8 oz)

1 carrot, peeled (optional to peel), and julienned (Using the carrot is optional but it adds a colorful ingredient and more textures.)

8 dried oysters

1/4 cup or about 1 small handful dried cloud ear mushrooms (they expand a lot so don’t worry if it looks like too little)

1/4 cup packed dried tiger lily flower buds

8 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/4 cup packed dried hair vegetable

1 tsp + 3 tbsp cooking oil

3 1/2 oz dried mung bean starch noodles

2 sticks dried tofu skin (about 1 1/2 oz)

6 fried tofu puffs, cut in half

1/4 cup gingko nuts (with shell)

3 slices ginger (each slice 1/4 inch thick), finely julienned

3 cubes red fermented tofu, mashed with some of the juice (about a tbsp or so) in the container*

3 tbsp oyster sauce*

*Decrease these for a less sodium version. I would use maybe half or 2/3 of both amounts 🙂


“cold” water = about room temperature

1. Rinse and dry napa cabbage leaves.
2. Wash oysters in cold water. Soak in 1 1/2 cups cold water for 3 to 4 hours. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving the soaking liquid.
3. Put cloud ears, lily buds, and shiitake in 3 separate bowls, and soak the first two in 1/2 cup cold water each, and the shiitake in 1 cup hot water, for 30 minutes. Longer for shiitake if necessary. Or soak shiitake in cold water overnight. Put a plate over the shiitake to cover and press down. After soaking, drain and discard the cloud ear and lily bud liquid, but reserve the shiitake liquid.
4. Remove hard parts of cloud ears if any. You can cut into smaller pieces like halves if necessary. Remove hard end of lily buds (I forgot to do this and had to pick through while eating 😦 ), and tie each one into a knot (optional because it takes forever and I don’t see the purpose). Squeeze dry the shiitake (reserve the liquid with the drained liquid!), then cut off the stem and halve the caps. The stems could be minced to add to recipes like tofu fritters or a stock. You could also keep them on if you don’t mind. They are more chewy than the rest of the mushroom. Or add the stems sliced thinly to this dish.
5. Put the hair vegetable in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 tsp oil and soak 15 minutes, drain and discard liquid.
6. Put the starch noodles in a bowl, cover with cold water, soak 15 minutes, drain and discard liquid. (Don’t oversoak or else they could overcook easier! Also make sure you drain well so they don’t absorb too much water!)
7. In a pot, bring 3 cups water to a boil.
The rest of this step is edited from the original: The original says to break tofu skin sticks into 2 inch pieces. This is not really possible because the tofu sticks are too brittle and easily shatter into millions of pieces. So, just add them to the boiling water one side at a time. Or break in half if it doesn’t fit. Then boil for 2 minutes. Then boil the other side. Make sure they are soft. It may take a while because part of the tofu sticks (the part where they are bent!) are very hard and do not soften easily after a while! If these hard parts are still a little hard, it’s okay because we will boil them later. Once mostly soft, take out the whole sticks into a bowl and cover with cold water to cool down. Then cut into 2-inch long pieces.
8. Add fried tofu to the boiling water (same water that was used to boil the tofu sticks) and boil 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then squeeze with hands. Discard the water.
9. Crack the shells of ginkgo with a hammer or pestle (or rolling pin, just do it hard). Then remove the shells. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot. Blanch 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Remove skins.
10. Trim the ends of the napa cabbage leaves 1/4 inch and discard. Stack and cut into 1/4 inch strips.
11. Heat a wok or pan, add 2 tbsp oil and ginger. Stir-fry 30 seconds.
12. Add napa cabbage and carrot if using and stir-fry 2-3 minutes until just cooked. Transfer to a plate.
13. Add 1 tbsp oil to the wok or pan and add dried oysters, fermented tofu, and shiitake. Stir-fry 30 seconds. The fermented tofu splatters though, so you could also add in the next step.
14. Add tofu skin sticks, fried tofu, ginkgo, and hair vegetable. Stir-fry 1 minute.
15. Add mushroom and oyster soaking liquids. (If making a vegetarian version, add 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or just water instead of the oyster soaking liquid.) Bring to a boil.
16. Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Check from time to time and add up to 1 cup water if it is dry.
17. Add starch noodles, cloud ears, lily buds, napa cabbage, and oyster sauce, as well as all the accumulated liquids. Return to a boil over high heat.
*Tip! I actually added everything except the starch noodles and boiled first to cook more. This way, it makes sure everything is cooked because the starch noodles could be overcooked easily.*
18. Cover, and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. The starch noodles should be cooked through.
*Tip! Check often. The starch noodles may be cooked faster and overcooking makes them not nearly as tasty. Also, they absorb lots of water so make sure there is water. Add extra water if the wok gets dry. We want the dish to have a little sauce. Since so much water is soaked up, the wok easily dries so add more water when this is about to happen, or else it will burn!*
19. Serve immediately, with cooked rice and other dishes if desired. Enjoy! It’s really good!

Here’s my version! I skipped ginkgo, hair vegetable and oysters. I also added a julienned carrot with the napa cabbage 🙂


Fusion Recipe: Ravioli Makhanwala

This is one of the most delicious foods I’ve ever had!!! If you LOVE makhanwala AKA “butter” chicken/paneer, and you LOVE ravioli, you’ll LOVE this! Read on to see the recipe! 😀

Last weekend, I found these extremely cute heart-shaped red and white organic ravioli filled with cheese, at Costco. I immediately bought them.

Anyways, the back has a recipe for a pink alfredo sauce. I was thinking, hmm.. what other sauce could I make? Alfredo sauce is not my favorite (too much calories LOL)

So I was looking through Veg Recipes of India’s recipes and found a wonderful paneer makhanwala recipe that I really wanted to try. Then I thought, why not replace the paneer with cheese ravioli? How brilliant!

And so this wonderful fusion dish was made! Yum, Yum, Yummy! Here comes the recipe!

Adapted from Veg Recipes of India, Paneer Makhanwala

Ingredients (A):
1 onion, roughly chopped
3-4 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used 1 can organic California diced tomatoes from Costco)
1/2 inch ginger, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
10-12 whole cashews (I used both cashews and almonds)
2 strands mace or 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (the original uses 1 inch cinnamon stick, but my blender can’t grind cinnamon. I learned the hard way 😦 )
2-3 cloves
2-3 green cardamoms, lightly crushed (I recommend 2 because 3 was a little overpowering, but still tasty)
1 cup water

1. Add all of the A ingredients to a pan.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes.
3. Blend until very smooth in a blender.

Ingredients (B):
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp butter
1 Indian bay leaf (tej patta) (If you don’t have it, just skip it.)
1 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder (don’t worry, it won’t make the dish spicy) (If you don’t have, use paprika.)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (optional) (I included, but it does make the dish more yellow and less red.)
1 tsp honey
3/4 tsp crushed kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) (take 1 1/2 tsp kasuri methi and put in a small bowl. crush between your fingers until fine.)
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup cream (I used 1/2 cup evaporated milk, hehe it’s slightly healthier. You can also use yogurt but it’s much more challenging to use. See the directions.)
salt to taste
1/2 cup water

Use the heart shaped cheese ravioli from Costco if you have. Each package has 2 sections, you know. Use one of those sections to serve 3 (or 2 quite hungry eaters).

Ingredients (C): (all optional)
1 tbsp cream
finely shredded ginger
chopped cilantro leaves (recommended to use)

4. Heat a pan with the butter and tej patta.
5. When melted, add the blended ingredients and stir well.
6. Add the Kashmiri red chili powder and turmeric if using, stir well.
7. Time for the VERY HARD part… Evaporate over medium heat until the oil separates (it becomes very dry) and this takes about one hour. You must stir once a while. It will also splatter everywhere… Ugh so challenging!
Shortcut version! It’s not as good, but just evaporate until the desired consistency (remember to make more dry than desired for the cream/milk).
*At this point, start to bring water to a boil to cook ravioli!*
8. Once the sauteed paste is finally ready, add honey, garam masala, kasuri methi, and salt. Stir well.
9. Now, over lowest heat, add the cream, milk, or yogurt slowly while stirring constantly. This is to prevent curdling. Yogurt curdles by far the easiest. If it curdles, the sauce that you spent so much time on is ruined because it gives a very unpleasant grainy texture.
10. Keep stirring! Add water until desired consistency (I used 1/2 cup).
Keep stirring until it boils. Then turn off the heat and stir for about a minute.
11. Now cook ravioli in the pot of water. When done, drain really well and arrange on plates in a ring.
12. Put some sauce (I use 2 ladles) in the center. Garnish with C Ingredients if wanted.
Enjoy ravioli with the makhanwala sauce!! 🙂

Leftover sauce! Transfer to a small glass container. Then I use a little water to rinse the pan well and also add to the container and mix well to desired consistency. (You want thinner than the ravioli sauce of course.) Refrigerate and the next day add some cubed paneer/tofu to your own liking and microwave until hot. Enjoy shortcut paneer makhanwala!! 🙂

Recipe: Coconut Chutney

Coconut chutney is the most common type of chutney in South India. It is served with dosas and idlis along with sambar. There is not just one recipe because there are so many variations. In fact, Veg Recipes of India has around 10 variations as of now. I recommend you to visit their website and look through the other variations. This recipe is adapted from one of them (linked below).

If you have read my “beans poriyal” post, then you should know almost all of the ingredients used in this recipe! There is one not-so-common in America ingredient I must explain that I did not do in the previous post.

Roasted chana dal is simply chana dal that have been roasted (duh). Chana dal is a type of dal (legume) in India. It is produced from the black chickpea, which is peeled and split. In India, you can buy them either roasted or unroasted. Unroasted dals are used in dals and for seasoning like urad dal. The roasted dal is ground up into chutney. The process of roasting is described in the ingredients section. Chana dal are easily found in Indian supermarkets.

Adapted from Veg Recipes of India

You can also half the recipe to make less or double it to make more.

Ingredients (A):
1 cup freshly grated coconut, frozen grated coconut, or dried shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tbsp roasted chana dal (roast 2 tbsp chana dal with 1/2 tsp oil in a pan over a small flame until browned, like roasting nuts)
1 green chili (optional, deseed for less spicy, skip for non-spicy)
1/2 inch ginger
salt to taste
enough water to grind (use more water with dried coconut than fresh/frozen)

Ingredients (B):
1 tbsp cooking oil (coconut oil is good but you can also use untoasted sesame, peanut, canola, soybean, sunflower, avocado, etc.)
3/4 tsp black mustard seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 pinch hing
1 spring curry leaves
1 dried red chili

1. Grind A in a blender. Tip: if blender is not powerful enough to grind the chana dal, you can first grind the dal in a spice/coffee grinder. Actually, I ground everything in a coffee grinder and then mixed with water at the end! Transfer to bowl.
2. Heat a small pan. Add oil.
3. Add mustard seeds. Once they pop, add cumin and urad dal. Cook until urad dal are lightly browned.
4. Add hing, chili, and curry leaves. Saute for a minute.
5. Pour everything over the bowl containing ground ingredients. Sizzle!
6. Stir well. You can let sit for 5 minutes or longer to blend flavors or serve right away. Enjoy with dosa and/or idli! (or vada, pakora, etc.) 🙂

The recipes for dosa, idli, sambar, rasam are coming soon!

Recipe: Beans Poriyal (பொரியல்)

This easy and super delicious side dish is so amazing that you should totally make it! Seriously! Read this recipe now!

If you don’t know much about South Indian cuisine, poriyal (பொரியல்) is a Tamil dish made from sauteeing spices and a diced vegetable, then (usually) finishing the dish with shredded coconut. This is commonly made with green beans, potato, carrot, etc. (In Indian English terminology, “beans” or sometimes “French beans” = green beans and “dal” = dried beans, also “curd” = yogurt, “capsicum” = bell pepper, and more.) There are also versions of this dish in other areas of South India that go by different names. Poriyals are usually served with rice, sambar and/or rasam, and yogurt. It is super easy to make compared with many other Indian dishes. It is also extremely healthy (vegetables prevent cancer! turmeric prevents cancer! coconut is a heathy fat!). My recipe is also a no onion no garlic recipe 🙂
This dish is also great at introducing people to South Indian cuisine. It uses many basic South Indian ingredients. These are explained below!

South Indians use untoasted sesame oil (VERY DIFFERENT from Chinese/Korean/Japanese sesame oil!!!) and coconut oil for cooking. You can also use other oils (the above two are expensive!) like avocado (also expensive..), canola, peanut, corn, sunflower, etc. but not extra virgin olive as it has a low smoke point.

Black mustard seeds are very small round seeds. They are also called “rai”. These are used in just about every South Indian dish and can easily be found in Indian grocery stores. Added to hot oil, they will splutter all over your kitchen! This is supposed to happen. Be careful and use the mesh guard over your pot if necessary.

Split and peeled urad dal is added to hot oil in many South Indian dishes. Urad dal is a type of bean. This bean is peeled (the black skin is removed) and split in half for this usage. Urad dal is also simmered whole in curries such as the North Indian “maa ki dal”. They are also ground up to make the batters for idli, dosa, uttapam, and vada (South Indian breads).

Curry leaves grow on the curry tree. They do NOT make curry powder. They are used in just about every South Indian dish. If you cannot get them, they are optional (except in curry leaf chutney, duh.). If you CAN get them, they are strongly recommended to be used because they have a unique fragrance. They go bad quickly in the fridge, so store in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, not the refrigerator. One sprig means one stem, and remove the leaves from the stem before adding to the pot. Don’t add the stem. Added to hot oil, they will sound like firecrackers, but don’t worry. After cooking, unlike bay leaves, you CAN chew the leaves to eat them. They have a great fragrance.

Turmeric powder is used throughout India, and can be found anywhere. They make everything bright yellow!

Hing, also called asafoetida, smells quite bad to non-Indian people like me. However, because of its wonderful flavor, it is used in just about every South Indian dish. If you are brave enough, it is sold in Indian grocery stores inside medicine bottles (in the spice section, not the medicine section!). If you are not brave enough (like me 😦 ) then you can omit it.

Dried chilies are optional and they make the dish very spicy unless you use a very mild chili. I use chile japones. When boiled, this chili makes dishes very spicy. You can decrease the amount or omit the chilies in any recipe for a non-spicy version. Be careful to not add too much! (I actually did that many times!!)

Grated coconut is used in many South Indian dishes. In India and Southeast Asia, it is easy to get freshly grated coconut. In the USA and Europe, you can use frozen grated coconut or dried shredded coconut. I use dried.

I hope this introduction is helpful!
More ingredients will be introduced in the rasam recipe, coming next! The final ingredients will be introduced in the sambar recipe! Both of these recipes also use all of the ingredients above. 🙂

Adapted from: Veg Recipes of India (this blog is AMAZING and full of delicious Indian recipes from both north and south!)

225-250 grams green beans, washed, drained, tough ends removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp oil
3/4 tsp split peeled urad dal
3/4 tsp black mustard seeds
2 dried red chilies (optional for non-spicy)
1 pinch hing (optional if you don’t have)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves (optional if you don’t have)
1/2 cup water
about 1/4 tsp salt (to your taste)
2-3 tbsp grated coconut (fresh or dried)

1. Heat a pan, add oil.
2. Add mustard seeds and urad dal, fry until urad dal are golden brown. Be careful! The mustard seeds will fly all over the kitchen!
3. Add hing, turmeric, chilies, and curry leaves, and fry for 10 seconds. (if using, the chilies will darken a bit)
4. Add chopped green beans and saute for a minute.
5. Add water and salt, stir. Cover, bring to a boil. Cook until the beans are soft or to your liking.
6. Uncover, evaporate most of the water. If using dried coconut, leave a few tbsp of water. Add coconut and stir to combine.
7. Turn off the heat. Enjoy with cooked rice! For a traditional South Indian meal, also include rasam and sambar, and some plain yogurt. The recipes are coming up next!