Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spice

I have been craving some serious Chinese food recently.

Food with wok hai, food that is like mother's milk,
But that is not so sweet as to be mistaken for dessert.

Food that will put hair on you chest (if you are so inclined)

But I have yet to find that kind of Chinese food here in Israel. 1950's and '60's "Canadian-Chinese", or "Kantonese", everything flavoured with Osem Chinese style soy sauce, which is artificially flavoured and coloured as far as I can tell, and has no relation to naturally brewed soy sauce, or even LaChoy's lacklustre version. And everything tasting exactly the same, no matter if it is called Mandarin, Hunanese, Cantonese Szechuan, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Peking style.

And then, to add insult to injury, in order to eat pathetic pseudo-Chinese you have to take out a mortgage and still be careful to not order anything that has seafood in it. That is, of course, if the restaurant isn't Glatt Kosher…

Family legend has it that I first tasted Chinese food aged 6 weeks – when my mother fed me a sip of wonton soup. Ever since then I have been hooked. I remember going to the original Toronto Chinatown on Dundas Street. This was back in the early 70's and Sai Woo was considered to be the epitome of authentic. My father, in a generous mood, let me choose any dish on the menu, and me, aged about 8, and having been influenced by National Geographic articles written by Euell Gibbons, I chose an abalone dish. I don't remember how they cooked it or even the texture, but what I do remember is that it was tinned and that was a big disappointment. I had expected something that would taste special and worthy of National Geographic, but I could have been eating tinned clams, or textured SPAM or Dinty Moore chicken. That's what eating Chinese food here is like... a big disappointment.

Personally, my favourite dim sum treats are chicken's feet and tripe. Fat chance finding either of those here. Instead, I am assaulted by limp ravioli noodles filled with sweetened sweet potato {yes, you read right – sweetened sweet potato} doused in olive oil and spiced with dried coriander and cumin. I really don't think that this could be considered even bastardized dim sum. But then again, this is Israel, and nothing is sacred.

I digress.

I love Chinese food. Really love it. And really miss the real stuff. In desperation, I have managed to achieve almost authentic tasting Chinese food in my own home.

But I still wish I could just wander down the street and have my cravings satisfied...

Spicy Chicken with Cabbage and Noodles
This is flexible and you can play with the quantities to suit your taste and the number of guests {I made enough for 2 and I love spicy food}. Just make sure that you don't overload your wok and make sure it stays very, very hot.

  • Egg noodles, blanched and tossed with oil to keep from sticking then allowed to drip dry
  • Peanut oil or corn oil
  • 1 inch ginger sliced into very thin match sticks
  • 3 cloves garlic smashed and sliced very thin
  • 5 Green onions sliced into 1 inch pieces.
  • 1 star anise
  • 10 tiny dried bird chilis
  • 1 tsp whole Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp dried shrimp
  • Sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp {approx} dark soy
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp hot sriracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch or ricestarch
  • 3 tbsp Xiao Xing wine or sherry
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs, thinly sliced, sprinkled with a generous grind of black pepper
  • 1/4 red cabbage thinly sliced
    You can also add bean sprouts, very thin matchstick carrots, mangetouts, or almost any other vegetable that you like, just so long as they are cut to cook extremely quickly, this was just what I had on hand
  • Fresh hot red pepper – to taste –
    Mine was really hot - I used 1/2 of a 4 inch one that was the size of a medium carrot

Mix the starch, sugar, wine or sherry, soy and sriracha sauces together with a little bit of water.

Heat some peanut oil in a wok until it just starts to smoke, then throw in about 1/3 of the ginger and garlic, swirl it around the wok and then throw in the noodles and give a quick toss. Let the wok regain heat and then toss the noodles again. Basically you want the noodles to start getting a bit browned, and even lightly scorched and crispy in places. Use chopsticks or forks to help separate the noodles. When the noodles have lots of crispy, browned bits, throw in half of the green onions and a small splash of sesame oil, toss around to mix thoroughly and then put onto a warmed serving plate and keep warm in the oven.

Heat some more peanut oil in the wok until it just starts to smoke, then throw in the anise, Szechuan and dried peppers, swirl around until they get toasty. If you like spice leave the chilis and Szechuan peppers in the oil, but if you like your food on the milder side, scoop them out now. Add the dried shrimps and then the rest of the ginger and garlic, swirl around again and then throw in the chicken. DO NOT STIR.

After the chicken starts to turn a bit brown, give it a quick stir and wait until the chicken looks almost cooked. Throw in the starch/soy sauce mixture and stir thoroughly, throw in the cabbage and toss again, then cover for a minute. Toss again, then add some sesame oil, the rest of the green onions and the fresh hot pepper {saving some for decoration}. Toss one final time, and then tip out onto the waiting noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining green onion and fresh hot pepper.

Serve with cold beer and a smile.

6 comments:

Paz said...

I like Chinese food, too. This sounds delicious.

BTW, my mom just returned from a first time time trip to Israel. She had a good time.

Paz

burekaboy — said...

LOL -- cdn chinese. my best friend's parents ran a restaurant (cantonese) and they cracked up cause what they called chinese was definitely NOT was NAers called it.

one of my neighbours were supposedly kosher but they had separate chinese food dishes and cutlery LOL LOL LOL. makes me laugh to this day. p.s., the garlic ribs weren't beef :O

aja said...

Hey Paz,
I'm happy to say it was scrumptious 8^}
I'm glad your mom enjoyed Israel - what was she doing here? work or just play? And when are you coming over? You have a place to stay in Tel Aviv if you need it - really 8^}

Hey BB,
I was taken by kosher friends to a Glatt Kosher Chinese place - omg disgusting. I grew up with Chinese friends and so we would have things like sea cucumber and whole steamed fish... My mom introduced friends to a really great place and they then told Joanne Kates, the food writer for the Globe and Mail about it. She gave it a 5 star review and then about 2 weeks later the health department closed it down - oops. But the food was FANTASTIC.
Another family story about Canadian Chinese food is that my sister's best friend went visiting her grandparents and they went out for dinner. Being a polite young lady she didn't want to spit the bones out from her spare ribs onto her plate so she neatly removed them from her mouth into her napkin. Being a slightly strange child she then put the napkin in her coat pocket {honestly never figured that bit of the story out}. Anyways, she came home and at the end of winter her mom sent the coat out to the cleaners. A day or two later there is a knock at the door and there are 2 detectives standing there. "Did you send a coat out for dry cleaning?" "yes" Was there anything in the pockets?" Don't know, you'll have to ask my daughter" Daughters sheepish response was, "oh yeah, a napkin with bones from dinner with my grandparents, I forgot about that, why?" well, it turns out that one of the bones was from a human finger - true story, honest injun, I didn't make it up and I know the girl who ate the finger... not sure where that is lol, LOL, or just plain gross, but at least we know she can survive in any situation ... Now would that have been kosher?

burekaboy — said...

i sit with my mouth agape reading that. now THAT'S a story! :O holy #$%#@

that'd have put me off chinese food, FOREVER!!! ACK!!!!!!!!

Zipi said...

Wow!!!! What a story!!

aja said...

Hey BB & Zipi,
Strange but true... And they never did find out whose finger it was... But I know a cannibal! How many people can say that (ghoulish laugh here... boo-ah ha ha ha ha)