For whatever reason, this cold and dark month we having been craving Asian flavours. Perhaps it is the weather, or more likely, inspired by our Christmas present to ourselves; the new Fuchsia Dunlop book called “Invitation to a Banquet“.
The book is fascinating and we are working through it very slowly, savouring each chapter. One aspect that Fuchsia makes clear is that Chinese food is very misunderstood; for example most meals will have a balance of flavours, textures and ingredients, and when people feel unwell it is usually because they haven’t thought about this balance when ordering.
We are trying to bring this theme into our cooking, and also trying not to destroy the flavours of the underlying food but enhance them with Chinese flavours.
Experiment number 1: tea-cured eggs and tofu
We made a broth with a combination of black tea and various aromatics; star anise, soy sauce, sugar, cinnamon, bay leaves, and szechuan pepper. We marinated a block of tofu in one half of the broth, and marinated boiled eggs in the other half (after cracking the shells of the boiled eggs).
After 24 hours we were very curious to see the result, and prepared a dinner of rice, pak choi and peppers lightly fried in ginger and a touch of mushroom sauce, and then lightly warmed through the tofu and added the tofu and eggs to our bowl. The result was a light and tasty dinner!
The tofu took more of the flavour than the eggs but both had a delicious hint of tea broth slightly tickling our tongues! Beautiful – and not heavy either!
Experiment number 2: Szechuan-spiced fried tofu, broccoli in a ginger and mushroom sauce served with a chilli and soy dressing
We really enjoyed the subtlety of the ginger fried pak choi and wanted to apply the same method to other greens. So we steamed some long-stemmed broccoli in the microwave and then gently stir fried it with lots of fresh ginger and a touch of mushroom sauce.
We wanted some protein, so out came the tofu. First, we lightly dry-fried and ground about a teaspoon of Szechuan pepper. Next, we added the ground pepper to a couple of tablespoons of cornflour and a teaspoon of sugar. Then we diced the tofu, lightly patted it with a kitchen towel to absorb a bit of surface liquid and coated the tofu in the cornflour mixture. The tofu was then fried in a very shallow amount of oil, until it started to become slightly golden and crusty.
For the dressing, we mixed a bit of spicy chilli oil with soy and just a pinch of sugar.
Then we served it all together with some brown rice – delicious!
Experiment number 3: cheese and kimchi okonomiyaki
Now, this one is not particularly balanced! So not really following the principles mentioned by Fuchsia…but tasty anyway! And a Japanese comfort food classic!
We are still working through our beautiful kimchi, and had a brainwave one night when trying to think what we could make with whatever we had in the cupboards and fridge. We have okonomiyaki sauces from a prior experiment, so then it became quite easy to prepare!
We made a batter with eggs, flour, dashi and a bit of seasoning, thinly sliced up some cabbage and fried it, added grated cheese, kimchi and the batter to the pan, and let it cook through. Once cooked we added our various okonomiyaki toppings and then we were done!
It was pretty filling so someone had part of theirs for leftovers the next day…!