A bold and eye-opening new book of magnificent photos, unforgettable stories and exotic home-cooking from the most ethnically diverse, geographically varied and intriguing regions of China.
In the West, when we think about food in China, what usually comes to mind are the signature dishes of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. But beyond the urbanized …
Green Tea Shortbread with Poppy Seeds
Cookies of various kinds have long been available in China, and packages of cookies find their way to remote corners beyond the Great Wall. Our dear friend Dawn-the-baker, an intrepid cook and traveler, came across shortbread with poppy seeds when she was in Yunnan in the spring of 2000. We asked her to figure out a version of it for this chapter, and here it is, delectable and attractive shortbread, flavoured with ingredients local to southern Yunnan: poppy seeds and green tea.
The recipe calls for butter, but in Yunnan lard is the more available and local shortening; substitute lard for the butter if you wish. Use any green tea you like, and grind it to a powder in a food processor or spice grinder, or using a mortar and pestle. The tea gives the rich sweet shortbread an enticing bitter edge.
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, well softened and cut into small chunks
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon rice flour
2 tablespoons finely ground green tea (see headnote)
1/4 cup poppy seeds
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325° F.
Using a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the salt until pale and fluffy. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the all-purpose flour, rice flour, tea, and poppy seeds. The dough should start to come together like moist pie pastry and form into clumps. Alternatively, if using a wooden spoon, cream the butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the flours, tea, and poppy seeds, beating well after each addition, until the dough is well blended and forming clumps.
Press the dough into a 9-inch square baking pan, removing any air pockets. Prick with a fork, pricking right through to the pan, making rows of marks spaced 1/2 inch apart. Then cut into fingers 1 1/2 inches by 1/2 inch or into 1-inch squares.
Bake until the edges of the shortbread pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is touched with brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
Cut the shortbread again while still in the pan. Sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons sugar, then carefully lift the shortbread out and place on a rack to cool.
Makes about 100 shortbread fingers or about 80 small squares
Dai Carrot Salad
There is so much good cooking in the small city of Jinghong in southern Yunnan province that it would take a long time to feel well acquainted with all that is there. Restaurant-hopping in the warm tropical evenings of Jinghong is lots of fun, but even better are the morning and afternoon markets, where there is an incredible variety of prepared foods to choose from. This carrot salad is one such dish: colourful and full of flavour.
1 pound large carrots
About 2 tablespoons Pickled Red Chiles (page 34) or store-bought pickled chiles, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 scallions, smashed and sliced into 1/2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons coriander leaves, coarsely chopped
Peel the carrots. Using a cleaver or chef's knife, slice them very thin (1/8 inch thick if possible) on a 45-degree angle. You should have 3 cups.
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Toss in the carrot slices and stir to separate them. Cook just until slightly softened and no longer raw, about 3 minutes. Drain.
Transfer the carrots to a bowl and let cool slightly, then add the chiles and scallion ribbons and toss to mix.
Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Pour over the salad while the carrots are still warm. Stir or toss gently to distribute the dressing, then turn the salad out onto a serving plate or into a wide shallow bowl.
Serve the salad warm or room temperature. Just before serving, sprinkle on the salt and toss gently, then sprinkle on the coriander and toss again.
Serves 4 as a salad or appetizer
An around-the-world of baking, by the award-winning team that brought us Seductions of Rice and Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
HomeBaking is Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s tribute to the worldwide art of home baking. Already consummate breadmakers, they’ve collected here recipes for any type of bread you can imagine -- soda bread, stollen, naan, banno …
Makes 12 attractive low round rolls, 5 to 6 inches across, studded with olives
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups course semolina (not semolina flour)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Generous 1 cup pitted Mediterranean olives -- green or black or a mixture, coarsely chopped if large
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
Make the biga at least 1 day before you wish to bake: Stir the yeast into the water until well dissolved. Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour until smooth, then add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and knead briefly in the bowl or on a work surface until smooth. Cover with plastic and let rise overnight, or for up to 36 hours; refrigerate after 12 hours.
When ready to proceed, place the 2 1/2 cups water in a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the yeast to dissolve it. Cut the biga into 5 or 6 pieces, add to the bowl, and use your fingers to break it up into the water.
By hand: Stir the semolina into the biga mixture to make a batter. Sprinkle on the salt and stir in. Add the olive oil and olives and stir. Add 2 1/2 to 3 cups of all-purpose flour, a cup at a time, turning and stirring. Flour your work surface with about 1/2 cup flour and turn the dough out. Knead, incorporating the flour, until you have a soft dough about 5 minutes.
Using a stand mixer: Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add the semolina to the biga mixture and mix for 2 minutes or so on low speed, until the biga has dissolved into the dough. Add the salt, olive oil, olives, and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and mix, still on low speed, for 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups flour and knead for 3 to 4 minutes on low speed.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic, and let ferment for 3 hours. The dough will not double in volume, because it’s so loaded down with olives and oil, but it will rise a little in the bowl to a dome shape.
About 30 minutes before the dough is ready, place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, on a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
On a floured surface, divide dough in half. Return half to the bowl; keep covered. Divide the other piece of dough into 6 pieces; loosely cover 5 of them with plastic. Shape the remaining piece of dough into a loose mound and place it on the preheated stone or tiles, toward the back and to one side. (We find it easiest to place the breads directly on the stone or tiles, but you can use a semolina-dusted peel to transfer the breads onto the hot surface.) Repeat with the other 5 pieces of dough. If you can’t fit all the breads from this first batch onto your stone or tiles at once, you’ll just be baking the dough in three batches rather than two.
Leave the remaining piece(s) of dough covered until ready to bake the next batch. Bake the breads for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly spotted with brown but still rather pale. Repeat shaping and baking with the remaining dough. They will each bake into a low dome about 5 to 6 inches across. Let cool on a rack.
Eat plain or split in half for sandwiches.
Note: If you have a 1- or 2-day-old biga already, use about 1 cup of it in the recipe.
Recognizing that the wonderful flavours and tastes of Southeast Asia spill over national borders, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid set out to eat their way through the Mekong region's towns and villages, large and small, collecting recipes, cooking techniques, stories and photographs. Hot Sour Salty Sweet is the glorious result of their travels in t …
The fabric of it all: At home, we have an old cherry wood dresser where we keep treasures from the Mekong. In it there are Hmong baby carriers painstakingly embroidered in reverse applique. There are Mien cross-stitch women's pants, and Akha bodices, shoulder bags, and leg wraps, all in the rich earthy colours so distinctive to the Akha. There are indigo children's shirts and vests made by the Tai Dam, hand spun, handwoven, and bleached by wear and many a river washing. There are elegant silk sarongs, Lao phaa nung, as fine in our fingers as a string of seed pearls. Every once in a while we open a drawer of the dresser and simply browse, transported by a wonderful faraway smell of wood fires and kerosene lanterns, of clothing made by hand, of memories of a way of life very different from our own.
Food and textiles are for us equally full of meaning. Both are art disguised as domesticity, personal expression woven into necessity, care and nurturing transformed into colour, taste, and feel. We get the same tingly goose bumps watching an Akha family arrive in the Muang Sing market, dressed for the occasion, as we do being taught a new recipe by Mae in Menghan. There is a sense of a tradition kept alive, and there is also incredible beauty.
When we are out on the road traveling in Laos, or in Yunnan, or in northern Thailand, often at night we'll sit in our hotel room, or out on a porch somewhere, and simply marvel at a piece of embroidery we were able to purchase in a local market. Or we'll work at repairing an old handwoven bag, or a pair of falling-apart indigo pants made from hemp. It's so satisfying to feel the fabric, to decipher how the embroidery is stitched, to study the coarse weave of the cloth.
On several trips, we have taken with us a patchwork quilt in a state of semicompleteness, a quilt we can work on in the evening or when waiting for a bus to come. It covers our bed at night, it gives a simple two-dollar-a-day hotel room a sense of home, and it is fun to have something to share with women who are always curious and appreciative (even though our skills are so crude by comparison).
When we walk into a Mien or Hmong village, someone is always embroidering: a young woman, an old woman, a group of women. A mother will be standing in a doorway, keeping an eye on toddlers playing outside, and in her hands will be a needle and thread, working away at a piece of embroidery. When we look closely at the fineness of the work, a minuscule Mien cross-stitch or Hmong reverse applique that demands the tiniest piece of cloth being turned over and stitched down, it is unimaginable to us how someone simply stands there casually and sews so meticulously.
And if we walk into an Akha village, or a Tai Dam village, or into practically any village in the region and look around, sooner or later we will find someone weaving or spinning. And when we watch Dominic and Tashi watch a woman as she spins or weaves, studying her feet and hands as she manipulates the wonderfully mysterious and complicated process, and out comes cloth, we realize we are just like them. We're in awe.
* * * * *
Coconut Milk Sticky Rice with Mangoes
Many people first encounter sticky rice in this classic Thai-Lao sweet. Most are astonished and delighted and immediately want to know how to make it at home. The recipe is very simple. As with most of the sweets in Southeast Asia, you can eat Coconut Milk Sticky Rice as a snack or serve it as a dessert.
3 cups sticky rice, soaked overnight in water or thin coconut milk and drained.
2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk
3/4 cup palm sugar, or substitute brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ripe mangoes, or substitute ripe peaches or papayas
OPTIONAL GARNISH: Mint or Asian basil sprigs
Steam the sticky rice until tender [Soak sticky rice for 12 hours beforehand, or follow instructions on package].
Meanwhile, place the coconut milk in a heavy pot and heat over medium heat until hot. Do not boil. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve completely.
When the sticky rice is tender, turn it out into a bowl and pour 1 cup of the hot coconut milk over; reserve the rest. Stir to mix the liquid into the rice, then let stand for 20 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to blend.
Meanwhile, peel the mangoes. The mango pit is flat and you want to slice the mango flesh off the pit as cleanly as possible. One at a time, lay the mangoes on a narrow side on a cutting board and slice lengthwise about 1/2 inch from the center--your knife should cut just along the flat side of the pit; if it strikes the pit, shift over a fraction of an inch more until you can slice downward. Repeat on the other side of the pit, giving you two hemispherical pieces of mango. (The cook gets to snack on the stray bits of mango still clinging to the pit.) Lay each mango half flat and slice thinly crosswise.
To serve individually, place an oval mound of sticky rice on each dessert plate and place a sliced half-mango decoratively beside it. top with a sprig of mint or basil if you wish. Or, place the mango slices on a platter and pass it around, together with a serving bowl containing the rice, allowing guests to serve themselves. Stir the remaining sweetened coconut milk thoroughly, transfer to a small serving bowl or crute, and pass it separately, with a spoon, so guests can spoon on extra as they wish.
NOTES: You can substitute black Thai sticky rice for half the white rice. Soak the two rices together; the white rice will turn a beautiful purple as it takes on color from the black rice. Cooking will take 10 minutes longer.
Unlike plain sticky rice, Coconut Milk Sticky Rice has enough moisture and oils in it that it keeps well for 24 hours, in a covered container in the refrigerator, without drying it out. Rewarm it the next day by steaming or in a microwave.
Quick and Tasty Yunnanese Potatoes
This is slightly chile-hot and very, very good, either hot from the wok or at room temperature. Serve as part of a rice meal with grilled or stir-fried meat, some lightly flavoured Chinese greens, and a soup. It also makes great leftovers, cold or reheated. We like the leftovers topped by lightly stir-fried greens and a fried egg. No extra seasoning needed.
2 pounds potatoes (see Note)
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 Thai dried red chiles
1 cup finely chopped scallions or a mixture of scallions and chives or garlic shoots
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the potatoes well but do not peel unless the skins are very old and tough. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until just cooked. Drain and put back in the hot pot to dry. When cool enough to handle, slide off the skins if you wish. Coarsely chop the potatoes or break them into large bite-sized pieces.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan, then toss in the chiles. Stir-fry briefly until they puff, about 30 seconds, then add the potatoes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, pressing the potatoes against the hot sides of the wok to sear them. Add the chopped scallions or greens and salt and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a rice meal.
Note: You can use leftover boiled potatoes for this dish. The proportions above are for about 6 cups cut-up potatoes. If you begin with less, reduce the amount of greens and chiles proportionately. And your potatoes may already be salted, so be cautious as you add salt to taste.
A roadmap, for cooks and armchair travellers alike, to one of the world’s richest and most diverse culinary regions, by the authors of Seductions of Rice and Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
From Sri Lanka to Pakistan, from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal and northern India to the lushness of Bangladesh and southern India, the Subcontinent has always been a …
There's a shared sensibility in the Subcontinent when it comes to matters of eating. People almost always eat using one hand (the right hand), and they very seldom use utensils. This may not sound like a big deal, but we think it is. Time after time we watch foreigners come to the Subcontinent and have a very difficult time at first, eating without utensils and using only one hand. But interestingly, almost everyone breaks through, and when they do, they are entirely converted. Eating by hand influences how food tastes and how we relate to it. It's so sensual, so direct. But when we go back home, no matter how hard we try to resist, out come the utensils. Eating is a very culture-bound tradition.
One of the great pleasures of eating in the Subcontinent is that styles of eating by hand differ from place to place. When northerners eat rice, they pick it up with the tips of their fingers and then use their thumb to push the small amount of rice into their mouth. In southern regions, people eat rice using the entire hand, forming a ball of rice (approximately the size of a golf ball) by gathering the rice into their palm, flicking the wrist sideways to shape it into a mass, and finally tossing the entire ball into their mouth.
As a foreigner, it's fun to watch and learn, to try to imitate (though a style doesn't come quickly). After a while, when you think you've got it down, the style itself feels somehow crucial to the food, as if that particular food has to be eaten in that particular way. And if you eat by hand, when you're finished with your meal, you still have tasty little bits on your fingers, and then later, even after you've washed your hands, there's a delicious aroma that lingers. As foreigners we find all this wonderfully addictive, and so we can only imagine how important it would feel if we'd been eating this same food in this same way all our lives, and how unsatisfying it would feel to eat with utensils.
Recipe: Sweet Yogurt Sundae with Saffron and Pistachios
Yogurt makes a simple and attractive sweet course or cooling snack-treat. This version of sweetened yogurt from Bengal is called mishti doi, doi being Bengali for "yogurt." The yogurt drains for an hour to lose its bitter whey and to thicken a little, then it is blended with jaggery (palm or crude sugar) and flavorings. Use good whole-milk yogurt, preferably organic. Serve in small bowls or tall sundae glasses and top with pistachios, or with pomegranate seeds or chopped toasted almonds.
• Line a large sieve or colander with cheesecloth or coarse cotton.
• Wet the cloth with water, then place the sieve or colander over a bowl. Place the yogurt in the sieve to drain for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
• Turn the yogurt into a bowl and set aside. Use the whey for another purpose (it makes a refreshing drink and can also be used in place of lemon juice to curdle milk for making chhana and paneer), or discard.
• If using the saffron, lightly toast the strands in a small dry skillet over medium heat, until brittle. Add the milk and cardamom or nutmeg, or if not using saffron, heat the milk and cardamom in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer, and simmer briefly, until the cardamom releases its scent (and the optional saffron gives off its color). Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar or honey until dissolved.
• Whisk the mixture into the yogurt. Use a ladle to pour the yogurt into glasses or bowls. Top with a sprinkling of nuts or pomegranate seeds, and with a little more sugar if you wish.
• Serves 8
From the bestselling authors of Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a paperback edition of their critically acclaimed cookbook about the humble grain of rice.
In this essential book about the world’s most essential food, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid travelled to the world’s major rice-eating regions and experienced first-hand dozens of varieties of rice, a …
Thai Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
For conoisseurs of grilled chicken, Thailand is paradise. Grilled chicken, called gai yang, is a common street food and restaurant specialty, and though it is most closely associated with the regional cuisine of the northeast, each region has its own distinctive ways of marinating and grilling chicken. This recipe is our new favourite version, one we learned while staying in south Thailand near the town of Tap Sa Kae. Coconut milk is added to the marinade, giving the chicken even more succulence and depth of flavour.
2 cloves garlic
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons chopped coriander root, minced
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 cup canned coconut milk
3 pounds chicken breasts and/or legs, chopped into 10 to 12 pieces
Accompaniment: Hot-and-Sweet Dipping Sauce (recipe below)
Prepare the marinade using a large mortar and pestle or a small food processor: Combine the garlic, salt, and pepper and pound or process to a smooth paste. Add the coriander root and pound or process to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the fish sauce and coconut milk. Place the chicken pieces in marinade and turn to coat well. Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.
Preheat a charcoal or gas-fired grill, then place the chicken 4 to 5 inches from the flame, bone side down. Once the bottom side is starting to brown, brush the pieces with some marinade, turn over, and cook on the other side until golden brown and the juices run clear.
Alternatively, the chicken can be cooked under a broiler. Preheat the broiler. Lightly oil a broiling pan, add the chicken pieces bone side up, and place 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element. cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or, until the chicken is starting to brown. Turn pieces over and lightly brush with a little of the marinade. Broil for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the juices run clear.
Transfer to a platter and serve with the dipping sauce and plenty of sticky rice.
Serves 6 as part of a sticky rice meal.
Hot-and-Sweet Dipping Sauce (Nam Jeem Gai Yang)
Whenever you stop at a Thai street stall to buy gai yang (grilled chicken), you will be handed with your chicken a small back of sticky rice and and even smaller plastic bag of dipping sauce, bright reddish orange with chile peppers and sticky with sugar. The sauce is very easy to make at home and adds a wonderful final touch to grilled chicken, pork, or lamb. Serve in small individual condiment bowls so guests can dip their meat and their sticky rice in it as they eat.
1/2 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chile pepper flakes or minced dried red chiles
Place the vinegar in a small nonreactive saucepan and heat to a boil over high heat. Stir in the sugar, lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle or a bowl and the back of a spoon, pound or mash the garlic and salt to a paste, then stir in the pepper flakes and blend well.
Remove the vinegar from the heat and stir in the garlic paste until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature; store in a sealed glass jar. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks, but it is best used within 5 days.
Makes about 1/2 cup sauce