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Swallowing Clouds

Swallowing Clouds

A Playful Journey through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine
tagged : chinese
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Eating Chinese

Eating Chinese

Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada
also available: Paperback
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Beyond the Great Wall

Beyond the Great Wall

Recipes and Travels in the Other China
also available: Hardcover
tagged : chinese
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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

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Sweet Sour Spicy Salty
tagged : chinese
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