Vegatables

TANGY BEAMMUS WITH SPICY EGGPLANT AND MUSHROOM

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BY ANY RELATIVE COMPARISON, IT WASN’T REALLY A BAD DAY IN MY PROGRESS TO MATURITY.

  

OK, last night, was a rough night.

It was at the inconvenient juncture of 3 am, when this garlic-tolerant vampire usually pop herself a good reliable melatonin-jelly bean and wait for it to propel into a semi-decent night of sleep, that she found, Marnie.  Of course, to Marnie’s fluffy highness, it was no big deal with her mighty presence of 1.4 M followers (M, guys, not K anymore.  K apparently is for losers), but for me, for me it was devastating to say the least.  A living hybrid of Forest Gump and Ewok, two most endearing mystical creatures in the world.  Not only she sent me into an unstoppable scrolling with the constant mindless chuckles, but she had led me into the internet-dominating world of sausage-tongue dogs with no returns.  Boom, here was another.  Boom, omg that one’s adorable, too.  Then one after the other, like an avalanche of deadly cuteness, burying me under a blanket of midnight-delights that, despite my best effort, I barely crawled out of in one piece at the wee-morning of 5 am.

Today, I woke up looking just as well as one of them.

But, professionally speaking, I still have to get my shit together to talk my other discovery last night, which happened to be one of those nights when I found myself scraping the bottom of my keyboard looking for potato chips-crumbs to sustain this bunker-style life.  To my surprise as well, foraging through my dark forest laden with seductive canned meat trying to lure me into the dark side, it was also the night where I found my long-lost, inner vegetarian-self.  Did you know, that if you puree a couple cans of buttery white beans with thick Greek yogurt, a dab of tahini and whatnots, then cover it with a company of bits-y browned vegetables in a spicy and garlicky oil, an highlights of fresh herbs and squirts of some good olive oil, then you would have a meal so satisfying that it would almost make you forget that something is missing from this diet?  Tangy, creamy, oily and savoury with just the right amount of pain to keep you going back for more, and needless to say, a completely legitimate weeknight emergency-dinner.  I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing, nor even difficult, to do this once in a week is what I’m saying.  Wait, you mean, everybody knows that?  OK, great, I guess just like Marnie, I’m also just late to this game after the few million others…

But at least, I was comforted by the fact that while one side of my sense of responsibility faltered, and the other side had prevailed.  By any relative comparison, really wasn’t a bad day in my progress to maturity.  Speaking of which, it’s approaching 2 pm as we speak.  And I think, somewhere civilized, what they call… a siesta is it?, is considered a very responsible, if not a must practice of fine living.

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THE BLUSHING BOULE (PURPLE YAM COUNTRY BREAD)

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HOW DARE I BARGING IN WITH MY “ORIENTAL” VEGETABLE, LIKE A BRUTE IMBECILE WAVING A BOX OF STUPID CRAYONS, JUST SO I CAN PAINT AN ALREADY-PERFECT LOAF OF ART, PURPLE?

So lately, if you have been paying attention, you’d notice that I’ve been somewhat, disturbingly obsessed with this color here.  Hey, I swear, I didn’t know I had it in me either.  I mean, com’n, pastel purple?  What am I, Hanna Montana?  But seriously, starting exactly 7 days ago, I swear it came at me like a never-ending nightmare too dazing and beautiful to wake up from, I kept and kept baking things – FOUR loafs of bread as we speak to be exact – obsessively colored in this gigglish hue which I was never that into even when I was 4.  What’s happened to me?

To trace back steps, I must say that it started out innocently enough, as it happens to all of us, by an epidemical mental illness called PGSD – Piggish Grocery Shopping Disorder.  I have been haunted by this persistent disease, which I have no doubt that I’ve gotten from my mother, for much longer than this ever-expanding body of mine can endure.  On my weekly shopping routine, online as I should also point out, any promotion too friendly or a banner too distracting, can trigger a behavioural mechanism that causes me to literally… rob their entire inventory of “Buying In Bulk”.  Ask my house keeper – who comes carefree to clean our apartment, but often leaves burdened with forced souvenirs of over-ripen bananas – and she’d tell you that I need help.

However, it’s one thing to let my disorder roam free as long as it’s within the premise of A) Preservative-laiden, edible mummies that last forever like 6 stacks of Pringles, or B) Guilt-tripped purchases on healthy fruits and vegetables like a dozen avocados or 4 Hawaiian pineapples (did I mention there are only TWO of us).  But it’s something else entirely when it spills over into the category of perishable, filling, and ass-expanding starchy root-vegetables like… 5 whole pounds of Vietnamese purple yams.

But you guessed it.  That was exactly what happened.  My PGSD had led me into an unending supply of baked purple yams that, before long, I knew I had to put those purple yams somewhere else faster than they could start sprouting and turn my apartment into Molly’s backyard.

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MASHED POTATO BUTTER AIOLI W/ FRIED CAPERS

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IS IT MASHED POTATO, OR IS IT A SAUCE?  IT’S THE BEST OF TWO WORLDS.

In the past few days, I don’t know if you can tell, but my year-long travel-ban situation (recap: sick soupy Dumpling has been losing his juice) has advanced to some sorta voluntary house-arrest, and besides spending all my time migrating him in between the bed and the bathroom, I’m also doing everything I can to not make it too obvious, that I’m trying to live out of a single potato.

And now I’m doing it again.  Guess I gave up.

But really though, am I the only one fascinated?  I mean, what’s the one thing most feared, about an aioli or butter sauce?  No, not that it’ll grow you an extra thigh, which it will and that’s that.  But it’s actually, with radical willingness, that both itself and your heart, it’ll sadly break (so true, Yoda.  so true).  Which is what makes this recipe, a hybrid between mashed potato and butter aioli, so superbly amateur-friendly.  We all know how the line between a “side-dish” and a “condiment” goes increasingly blurry for the most creamy and buttery “mashed potato” of its kind.  So why not smudge the line even further?  A smooth and silky butter aioli infused with Dijon mustard and fried capers, but with finely mashed potato as its solemn foundation.  The starch acts as a buffer, a liaison let’s just say, between the good butter that wants you to be showered with compliment, and the bad butter that just wants your world to separate.  And in the end, you’ll have a rich and indulging swirl that’s all the flavourful, and (sorta) (almost) (don’t tell me otherwise) half the calories.

Be warned that this is the kind of thing, an inconvenient happiness, that plays too well with others.  Before you even realize, it’s already got its paws on all your favourite proteins (meant to be healthy) and veggies (meant to be healthier), which will no long be enough without it.  One miserable night during my lock-down, a pan-fried piece of frozen salmon had never tasted so far far away from reality.

So is it mashed potato?  Or is it a sauce?  Who cares?  It’s the best two worlds.

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POTATO CHIPS AND THAI HERBS SALAD

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MORE REFRESHING THAN THE MORE COMMONLY PRACTICED CRISPY FRIED HERBS,

BUT FAR MORE ADDICTIVE…

MY relationship with dining-out for western cuisines in Beijing has been for the past 5 years, at best, a struggle of love and hate.  The incentive for attempting such silly missions is simple.  If you were living in Beijing, most of the times your best shot at some happiness at least is to make yourself feel like, you weren’t.  And sometimes, you know, the right restaurants can do that.

But unfortunately, for far too many times, I’ve sat on a taxi-ride home fed with the fury of underwhelming meals, overcharged bills, and all together more often than not, a complementary cocktail of clueless and laughable services.  In the end, I guess one could argue that all along, the true idiot had always been, perhaps, me.  Because I was the one who’s been looking for cow’s milk in a rat’s asshole, trying to match the standard of what’s available here with that of New York.

I was the real joke.

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CAULIFLOWER RICE CAKE + POOR MAN’S X.O. SAUCE

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YOUR DESIGNATED DIM-SUM PLACE CAN’T TOUCH THIS

Have you had Chinese turnip cake with X.O. sauce?

Well, the thing is, you probably have without knowing.  Over the dizzying array of small dishes on a dim-sum table, your friend passed you a plate of square white cakes with browned and crispy exteriors, served with a small oily dollop of brownish condiment.  You ate it, mmmmmmm…., probably even asked for the name of the dish, but let’s be honest, who the hell can remember any names from a feeding-frenzy over a dim-sum table?

Well, that, my friend, you just had Chinese turnip cake and its side-kick, X.O. sauce.

I’ve been long trying to come up with a X.O. sauce recipe.  X.O. sauce, suggested from the name given, is made with a large proportion of expensive ingredient, being soaked and shredded dried scallops, and thus lands as a prestigious condiments on the table of Chinese banquette.  It’s usually served in small spoonfuls, as an intense, savoury and spicy flavour-booster to highlight stir-fry dishes, rices and noodles, or dim-sum classics such as the turnip cake.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?

Well… I mean, dried scallops are great.  Fancy stuff.  One of those things that are pocket-burning to buy, a pain in the ass to prepare, and in the end of course as all fancy stuffs must be, highly fucked-able.  One miss-step in the prepping and cooking procedure, what was supposed to make this sauce supremely “X.O.”, will also easily turn it into a pile of rubbery and teeth-flossing donkey-hide.  In this particular juncture in my life where several “bad apples” are on the brink of collapsing, I’m not going to risk my iphone 6-fund on something that could potentially malfunction, too.  Especially, not when I believe the beauty of X.O. sauce could be replicated with ingredients that are more, literally, down to earth.

Instead of shredded dried scallops, I’m using dried shitake mushrooms.  In combination with dried shrimp which is also a traditional ingredient in X.O. sauce, this poor man’s version came out well beyond my highest expectation.  It’s robust, complex and intense, embodying the sea-essence from the dried shrimps and oyster sauce, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms and ham.  It’s a symphony of notes that cannot be described unless personally experienced.  And it’s my next it-sauce to be slathered on a bowl of rice, a quick slurps of noodle, or if I’m feeling like going the extra mile, this cauliflower rice cake.

Wait, what happened to turnip cake?  Because I’ve also, long been trying to come up with a turnip cake recipe.  Turnip cake, suggested from the name given, is made with a large amount of Chinese turnip aka daikon, along with Cantonese sausage, dried shrimps, and a batter made with white rice flour.  It’s usually steamed inside a rectangular mold, then sliced and browned over a hot skillet right before serving.  A humble, homey and delicious staple that’s as beloved as anything can get if you came from an Asian background.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?


 

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THE INCREDIBLE LAHMACUN AND AYRAN

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THE FOOD-EQUIVALENT OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BRANGELINA OF ICONIC TURKISH EATS

  

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AS some of you may have noticed from this particular announcement, that I am now officially divorced… from the commitment of owning a stand-mixer (easy, gentlemen…).  More accurately, a surprised appliancewidow if you may, still deeply hurt by the concealed unhappiness my stand-mixer had apparently suffered from in the past 4 years, which finally led to his jump off the kitchen counter on a cloudy Oct 24th, decapitating himself in his last, escapist act.  The lumpy splatter of an unfinished pizza-dough over the black pavement, was his first and last, silent yet loudest protest, before declaring eternal freedom… from me.  Looking back, devastated, I don’t think he has ever loved me…

Now, mid 30’s, dumped, and less equipped…

I know at times like this, I’m suppose to resort to less labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen, a pasta-salad perhaps, or a one-bowl-pancake mix with added sparkles, maybe even the unthinkable salad, to hide the scars from this tragic embarrassment, and more importantly, look really hot while doing it.  But no.  In an counter-protest to the irresponsibility of a suicidal stand-mixer, giving up making doughs is admitting defeat.  With bare hands, I’m gonna prove that without him, I’m still highly desirable in the dough-market and totally dough-able.  Not just the same dough down the sad memory lane, but I’m gonna make something awsome-er, something super-er.

I’m gonna make the incredible, lamahcun and ayran.READ MORE

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