sichuan Tag

COOKBOOK PRE-ORDER AND PREVIEW: MAPO TOFUMMUS

“IN 2012, IN A FORM OF SELF-ABANDONMENT, I STARTED THIS FOOD BLOG.  SEVEN YEARS LATER, I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A BOOK ABOUT THIS JOURNEY.”

I sat here for hours struggling with how to begin the sentence.  Stranger things have happened in this world I’m sure, I mean I could swear I saw a sea creature that looks like a glowing condom on the internet, but from where I stand, it doesn’t get more inexplicable than what I’m feeling right now.

It began in 2012.  It was just about two years into our miserable six years-long residence in Beijing.  In a form of self-abandonment almost, I started this food blog.

With no enthusiasm or objectives, setting out more to be a concession than a declaration, I did what I thought was throwing the white flag to all my other grander ambitions in life, that I was going to be that person, “a blogger”, a non-job made up by people whom I judged, past tense, to be minimally interesting that they had to put themselves on speaker.  It wasn’t brave.  It wasn’t inspired.  It was never expected to arrive anywhere.  I was standing on the edge of a cliff.  And I took the extra step.

The least of what I saw coming was that seven years later, I am to publish a book about this journey.

So yes, a Lady And Pups Cookbook.  The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story. 

This book is about my time in Beijing, what started it all.  If you are kind of new here, then yeah, no, I didn’t enjoy that.  This book is an self-reflective examination of how I retreated to my kitchen as a place to evade from my unpleasant realities.  What was wrong, what wasn’t, and answers that I am still unsure of today.  It’s honest but also contradictory, opinionated but nonetheless a personal truth.  An internal monologue, despicably self-serving and personal, almost to a fault.  Because for me this is more than a cookbook.  It’s therapy.  It’s closure.  It’s my attempt to draw a conclusion to what was a very difficult time of my life, to put the unsettlement to rest. You may find it funny.  You may find it bitter.  You may even find it obnoxious at times.  But it was what I had to say in the way that I had to say it, screaming and kicking, uncensored, crude, to boil my emotions down to something better than the ingredients of its making, a consommé of the nasty bits of my experience.  If you find that it resonates, I’m glad that you know you are not alone.  But if you don’t, then there are 80+ really fucking good recipes with it.

The book will be officially published in October but pre-order is available now.  Here is a recipe preview, of page 288 if you want to be precise.  I formulated the recipe list when I was still living in Beijing, but most of the book and recipes were written and shot after I left.  It is spoken in retrospect, a memoir if you will, where I am better equipped to find humor in past tense. I know I have been away from this blog for quite awhile, but from now on I will be posting more regularly again and continue to share sneak peeks.

I know I should be beating the drums right now.  But really, I just want to say Thank you.  You’ve made a very strange thing possible in my life.  Now go buy it, too.

 


COOKBOOK RECIPE PREVIEW P.288

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Tofu is bland. Don’t let its supporters, including me, tell you otherwise. Flying solo, it carries a subtle but offbeat taste that comes from soy milk, which, depending on whether you grew up accustomed to it or not, could either be a very good or a very bad thing. Having said that, I love tofu, perhaps in the truest sense because I wholly embrace it for what it is, but more important, what it isn’t.

Tofu is not about taste. Tofu is a texture thing.

Hard, medium, silken like panna cotta–think of tofu as a mere vessel, an empty field of impending dreams. It’s like Mars, if you will, in that any exciting thing about it has to be outsourced, like Matt Damon. This will open up a whole window of promise.

Tofummus, for example, is what happens when you turn the least popular end of the spectrum of tofu, the firm variety, into a silken, creamy, luscious bed of hummus-like substance that begs for company. In this case, its soulmate, if you know what I’m talking about.

This is mapo tofu, the quintessential icon of Sichuan cuisine, one of its most successful exports across the world, numbing with Sichuan peppercorns and fiery with fermented chile bean paste, turned into a dip (an overdue development, if you ask me). The tongue-stinging, blood-red chile oil and deeply savory pork bits are immediately cooled down by the silky smooth touch of the pureed tofu, the most delicious reconciliation on the taste buds. And if you’re feeling kinky, make it a threesome with chewy scallion and garlic naan.

 

 

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Ingredients

    MAPO SAUCE:
  • 3.2 oz (90 grams) ground pork or beef
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp potato starch or cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sichuan douban/chili bean paste (see pantry)
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (see pantry)
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced fermented black bean, or 1 tsp the darkest miso you can find
  • 1/2~3/4 tsp Korean chili flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns, plus more to dust
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp shoaxing wine or sherry wine
  • 1/4 cup store-bought chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp apricot jam
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 5 drops rice vinegar
  • finely diced scallion to serve
  • TOFUMMUS:
  • 14 oz (450 grams) firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp garlic confit puree (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. MAKE GARLIC CONFIT PUREE: Smash 35 cloves (about 2 1/2 heads) of garlic with a knife and remove the skins. Set inside a non-stick pot along with 4 fresh bay leaves, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of canola oil, 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1/4 tsp ground white pepper. Cook over medium-low~low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlics are evenly golden browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and transfer the rest into a blender (or you can do this with hand-held immersion blender), and blend until the mixture is smooth. Keep in an air-tight jar inside the fridge for up to 2 week. Stir before use.
  2. MAKE MAPO SAUCE: Mix ground pork (or beef) with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and potato starch (or cornstarch) until even.
  3. In a small pot, heat canola oil and toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat, breaking it up as finely as you can with a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned. Add douban paste, mushroom powder, fermented black bean (or dark miso) and chili flakes, store and cook for 1~2 minutes until the chili flakes have turned dark maroon in color. Add grated garlic, grated ginger, ground sichuan peppercorn and ground cumin, and cook until just fragrant. Add shaoxing wine, scraping any caramelization that is sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add chicken stock, apricot jam, ground white pepper and rice vinegar.
  4. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened. Can be made a couple days ahead of time. Reheat until warm before serving.
  5. MAKE TOFUMMUS: Tofu is made from boiled soy milk which makes it technically “cooked”. But if you’re not a fan of the taste of soy bean, boiling the tofu again will make it taste more well-rounded. But it may also make the puree slightly grittier. If you decided to boil it, cut the tofu into marshmallow-size chunks and cook them in boiling water for 5 min. Drain well, and let cool on top of a clean towel, then transfer into a food-processor.
  6. If not boiling, simply pat the tofu dry with a clean towel, then set inside a food-processor. Run the processor for 1~2 minutes until the tofu is smoothly pureed. Add garlic confit puree, toasted sesame oil and salt, and run again until incorporated. The tofummus should still be quite tasteless at this point.
  7. Serve the tofummus covered in warmed mapo sauce, topped with finely minced scallions and dustings of more ground sichuan peppercorns. Serve with chewy scallion garlic naan (recipe in the book).
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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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THE INCREDIBLE CHICKEN TOFU – FROM THE MIND OF A CHEF

TENDER EDIBLE CLOUDS MADE WITH CHICKEN BREASTS?!!  WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY, DANNY?!

Holy shit, did you watch Season Six of Mind of a Chef with Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food?

Did you see where his mentor Yu Bo, in episode two, turned a puddle of pink chicken-slush into pillows of fluffy-looking curds, something they call, chicken tofu?!

Did you gush outloud, tender edible clouds made with chicken breasts?!!  No special curd-forming acid or salt required, virtually fat-free, and answers the prayers of millions of suffering souls of how to triple the volume of two pieces of chicken breasts without adding much more calories, but more importantly, transforming its woodsy nature into custardy, melt-in-your-mouth, weightless pillows of savory delights?!!!

Did you close your eyes and imagine exhaustively of what it’s like to cuddle the impossibly light and quilted bodies in between your tongues, a dream that feels unreal but known to be true?!!

Did you marvel?!

Did you cry?!

Did you say oh please baby Jesus dear Lordy, can someone please tell me how this wizardry is performed?!!

Well, guess what, you’re welcome.

And the spicy version drenched in chili oil, you’re double welcome.

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Sichuan/Chongqing Little Slurp w meat sauce and chickpeas

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COULD THIS WORK?

THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.

Sorry I have been absent.

Boy, do I have a good reason.

Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life.  I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix.  Am I going to be unplugged and wake up?  Or am I trapped here forever?  For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States.  And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.

Actually, unexpected may sound understated.  Unfathomable, comes to mind.

I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak.  I want to share everything with you.  But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet.  Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point.  It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray.  In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything.  But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.

This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile.  In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles.  It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan).  It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time.  The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect.  It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil.  Could this work?  That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.

Believe me.  I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy.  Imagine what it could do to you.

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SICHUAN MALA BUTTER CRAYFISH

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DO NOT MISTAKE THE LIKINGS OF LOUISIANA-STYLE CRAYFISH-BOIL TO THIS,

WHICH ONLY SHARES AS MUCH SIMILARITIES AS COFFEE HAS TO A FLAMING LAMBOURGINI

Just a small note for the weekend as you’ll need it.  OK, maybe it’s not small.  In fact, it’s a huge… epic… cardinally sinful and despicably addictive note that will forever change your summers, and you’ll probably regret it, hate me for it, really hate yourself for it, while being lost in a summer-long trance somewhere in between nuclear pains and unbearable pleasures.

Did you know, that Chinese loves crayfish?

Yeah, in fact, fanatical, is the more appropriate word.  So much so that in Beijing, they have an entire street called Gui, a whole freaking parade lined by jam-packed and neon-lighted restaurants that dedicates almost solely to the cult of this practice.  Now, do not… and I mean, do not mistake the likings of the southern Louisiana-style boil to this sichuan-style mala (numb and spicy) crayfish bloodbath, which only shares as much similarities as coffee has to a Flaming Lambourgini.  Underestimate these mean little fuckers, and you’ll be punished.  This is a dish that transcends the crayfishes through a condensed and ferocious red bath made by extracting every last bit of flavour molecules from a intense mixture of spice-blend, aromatics and sichuan fermented chili paste into the thick gravy of lava and glisteningly red butter.  Just a couple of bug-crushing and head-sucking into the whole thing, and your every taste-buds and every sensual nerves that link to the pleasure and plain receptors in your brain, will be spanked and whiplashed ecstatically by the unbelievable amount of flavours, happiness really, trafficked to you on high speed with an ill intention. You can’t eat just one.  No one can eat just one.  Even when every pores on your forehead and dripping sweats is begging, howling for you to show mercy.  You just can’t stop.  And after the irreversible damages done, you’ll want to robotically mop up the death-gravy with any carbs lying within an arm’s length.  There’s just no other ways for this to happen.  So think long, and think hard, before taking the plunge.

This summer, are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?

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HOW TO MAKE SICHUAN MA-LA HOT POT ON THANKSGIVING

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WE, THE POT-HEADS, NOW ALL DO THIS…

THIS IS HOW, THROUGH NUMBING PAIN, THAT WE GIVE THANKS.

Do you know that the Chinese applies an ancient wisdom originated along the Yellow River, to an age-old question that has long plagued the minds of all mankind?  It’s the monthly family gathering next weekend…  It’s the awkward dinner with newly-made friends/colleagues…  It’s the unavoidable meal with the in-laws…  Hell, It’s the freaking birthday of Confucious!  No matter what the occasions really, we all found ourselves asking:  What should we eat for that?  True, it’s no easy question but the ancient wisdom has answers.  Yes.  Yes, we have an answer to that.  All of that.  As a matter of fact, it’s a one single answer, a last minute answer if need be, a one-pot-fix-all solution to any gatherings large or small, where no one, truly, wants to bear the responsibility of putting the foods on the table.  To that we say…

Let’s do hot pot!

It’s not overstating to call it a wisdom.  Hot pot is the perfect answer to any large dinner parties, especially where there’s equal importance to being well-fed, as well as simultaneously, feeling well-entertained.  First of all, instead of conjuring a meal of a dozen courses, there’s only one cooking to be done.  Then instead of being splattered into small groups, every guests gravitates from a feasting table with a dramatic pot of boiling stock in the center, and everyone cooks what they like -from an array of offerings such paper-thinly sliced meats, dumplings, meatballs, vegetables, even starches like noodles and fried doughs (yes!) – and how they like it, all from and in the mothership of a pot that just gets better and better throughout the meal.  Perhaps there’s something to the theatrics, or to having a “center piece” so lively and fluid… but what I can tell you is this, that strangely, the conversations around a hot pot table, is never cold.

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SICHUAN DRESSING & BOUQUET OF FIRE

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THIS IS WHAT I CALL, STUFFED ARTICHOKE”

I’ve never understood salad.

And by “salad”, I mean it in the most traditional sense of plant-based lifeforms being tossed in vinegar-based dressings.  I’ve never understood the idea of it, or the taste of it.  It seems that all salads are ever “dressed” with, are the nonstop BS campaign and PR efforts, the pretence of hippie-wholeness and “feel-good” sentiments designed to talk us into laying down our appetites and picking up that cucumber.  Excluding vegetarianism which is a whole other subject, the only peace I find in salad, is if we could all just admit to the blunt and clear motives of why anybody eats it.

We only eat salad because we have to.  Period.

We eat salad because we don’t want to be fat.  We eat salad because we don’t want to die prematurely.  We eat salad because what, you think you have a choice?   Underneath whatever self-hypnosis, there’s only strictly medical purposes.  And I think that if everyone could just quit dancing around it and just say that.  People would actually eat more salad, because truth, is the most powerful persuasion.

However, after moving back to Asia, that view is slightly, or at least in the progress of, changing.

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SERIOUSLY, MAPO TOFU

“Missing only one of these ingredients…?
THEN DON’T EVEN BOTHER!”

I probably talk about myself too much.

Yeah, people don’t like girls who talk about themselves too much, who can’t discuss Life of Pi without bringing up their ex-boyfriends.  I… can’t be that girl, right?  But oh look I have a blog, about my dinner, moreover it has dawned on me that very little space in this personal blog is even food-talk, but more like me-talk.  Where I should’ve dedicated an elaborate, mouth-watering and core-deep description about why you should eat this immediately, whatever this may be, I’d say “Oh look there’s a huge mole on my ass!”.

Oh my God… I am her.  But not today… not today.

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