Within the past few months, I’ve realized that I like to cook more than usual. As the thesis-writing and defense season draws near, I find that I generally prefer to cook at home rather than eat out. True, I get lazy sometimes and I don’t want to cook EVERY day, but I am cooking a lot more than I had anticipated before I entered the “thesis dash”. Even if I get home late, I’d prepare some home-made goodies and enjoy it with a bowl of rice. After all, what’s better than a freshly made Chinese meal served hot on a plate? Sometimes when I’m very tired, I just make something very simple that would be ready within half an hour. No complicated procedures or recipes, simple is the best!
Of course, I am living alone and almost always cooking only for myself, unless I invite friends over. The advantage is that my experiments are allowed to NOT work, and I’ll figure out what’s wrong and make it right when I DO invite my friends over! And I do love doing that. Watching friends enjoy eating food that I’ve prepared is one of the most satisfying feelings ever. Actually, two of my bucket list items involve cooking, one of them being “Cook a full dinner for my family at home” and the other “Invite my university friends to my house and cook a meal for them”. Europe, then, has certainly been my chance to hone my skills and prepare for the big days when I complete these challenges!
Well, without further ado, let’s get onto part 4 of this series. Interested in the previous posts in “The art and science of cooking” series? Check out PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3. And now, à table!
Spicy chicken is one of the typical dishes in Sichuanese cuisine. When they say spicy, they’re not kidding – the chicken should literally be buried in the chili peppers so that you’d have to dig out the meat. One day I spontaneously decided to try making this chicken dish as part of a dinner invitation. I knew my Hunanese friend would appreciate it and might even challenge the spicy tolerance of the Sichuanese, so I decided to give it a try 😉 My recipe involved marinating, deep frying, re-frying, and a final stir frying. Seems complicated, but much less work than I had anticipated. Though I didn’t bury the chicken in chili peppers (although I already put as many chili peppers as I thought I could tolerate without burning my stomach), I gotta say my recipe worked out quite well!
Another Sichuanese delicacy, mapo tofu is one of my favourite Chinese dishes to make at home. Thanks to my mom for teaching me the basics, I developed my own unique recipe in France which I’ve already presented in PART 1 of the series. This is an improved version. I’ve discovered Lee Kum Kee “mapo sauce” at the Chinese grocery store and I was pleasantly surprised by its results. I’m not sure if I prefer the mapo sauce over the combination of hot bean sauce and garlic chili sauce though. In fact, both versions are so delicious!
Continuing along the tofu line, we have stir-fried bak choi with tofu and shiitake. Long name, but that’s exactly what it is – bak choi (Chinese cabbages), tofu, and shiitake (a type of mushrooms) stir-fried together. I decided to make something super healthy one day and this is what came out of the ingredients I found at home. For once I am making a tofu dish that is not spicy. Boy, do I love shiitake! And I gotta say, oyster sauce is the indispensable gem of Cantonese cuisine 😉
Let’s switch over to salmon. For one particular dinner invitation, I was looking up recipes of simple new dishes I could try. I came upon a recipe for smoked salmon asparagus wrap, which is perfect as an appetizer! Mix the asparagus in olive oil, rosemary, black pepper, and salt, and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes. Then wrap smoked salmon around it – DONE! How much easier could it get? The colour contrast of the green and pink look so pretty as well. Love it!
While smoked salmon or even just raw salmon is sufficiently delicious without further preparation (and perfect for lazy people like me), well-cooked salmon is just as tasty. For this dish, I like to marinate the pieces of salmon in a mixture of soy sauce and honey before pan frying them. The sweetness of the honey complements the tenderness of the salmon and the smell is just heavenly.
For something REALLY simple, you have your classic combination of shrimp and eggs. Another creation inspired by throwing together random things I could find in the fridge – shrimp, eggs, garlic, and green peppers. The simplest things are often the best. Perhaps more than anything, I loved the colour combination!
I missed curry rice dishes back home, so I made my own with beef, carrots, and Japanese curry. Every time I make curry, I make a huge pot that lasts me at least three meals. Saves me some effort, ha 😉 I tried a new cut of beef for this one, I regret not noting down the what cut of beef it was that I bought, because it was so tender and tasted so good. This is one to remake!
Alors, finally we get to the soup. People often assume that since I’m Cantonese, I should be an expert at making all types of exotic soup, and I’m ashamed to say that I am NOT. I only started learning how to make very simple soups a few months ago, and I regret not learning from my mom, who indeed is an expert, when I was in Canada (must do that when I return!) This is a very healthy soup that I made the other day, with pork ribs, tofu, and Chinese cabbage. Make one pot and I get two meals out of it, even without rice! Pork ribs are amazing delicious when steamed but I never knew it could be so good in soup as well 😀
Re-reading what I wrote at the end of PART 3, it seems (and I am glad) that I indeed had the time and energy to write part 4. Do you have any suggestion of things I should try to cook? Perhaps a specific ingredient or recipe that I could experiment with? Let me know, and perhaps it will appear in part 5…!