Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chinese Birthday

Last night, we had dinner for 6 at home to celebrate my wife's cousin's birthday. The cooking was a bit rushed, as I didn't come home from school until about 7 and I had a lot of prep work to do before I could get cooking. The result wasn't half bad for a rush job. Although, for someone who is wants to take time to enjoy the act of cooking, I guess last night was not a success. Nothing's perfect though, and we have to make due with the time that we have sometimes. And the time that I had last night was from 7 to 10 to make a big nice Chinese meal and eat it with friends and family. It seems like a lot of time, but really, no joke, that's a lot of prep work for the number of dishes that I served.

Here was last night's menu:
Smacked Cucumbers
Kim Chee
Ginger Noodles (sans pork)
Sauteed Escarole
General Tso's Chicken
General Tso's Tofu

I've got two things going for me that directly translate to you eating more chinese food. The first is that I love chinese food, but really dislike that horrible bloated, gross feeling that you get from eating chinese food at your typical take out joint. So, while we don't order it very much anymore, I still make it quite a bit or will use chinese ingredients in standard French-American food. The second is that when I like something, I could eat it everyday for about a month. So, you might end up seeing a lot of sauteed escarole on my menu, because I REALLY like that recipe. Anyway, it's not really a bad thing since it might give you ideas about pairing things that you wouldn't otherwise.

For all of these dishes I'd eventually like to give you recipes, but for today, let's start with the smacked cucumbers. I've never actually had smacked cucumbers made by anyone other than me, so I couldn't tell you whether mine are the best or even above average. But I do know that they are delicious and not well known in the United States. The dish is simple to make, tastes familiar yet exotic, and blends major heat with the refreshing sweetness of cucumber water. It is probably one of my favorite recipes in my absolutely favorite cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. Apparently Fuchsia has a blog too.

Smacked Cucumbers
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province by Fuchsia Dunlop

1 cucumber
2 tsps of chopped salted chilies (substitute with fresh chilies, but use fewer)
3 tbsps of rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped or pressed garlic

Using the flat side of a cleaver, smack the cucumber so that the skin breaks and the cucumber is flattened somewhat. No need to overdo it, you are just trying to crack the skin and expose more of the cucumber so that it will soak up more of the flavors. Next, put cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit for about 30 minutes.

Drain the water from the bowl that was expelled by the cucumbers. Add garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, chilies, and soy sauce. Mix it up in a bowl and give it a few minutes to mingle. Serve cool, but not cold.

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