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Love and Respect for the Pro, Martin Yan

by Susan Asanovic

People

Fall Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(3) page(s): 15, 16, and 18


What better way to show and share my fondness for and my respect of this PBS cook than to offer thoughts about a duo of new items by one of my heroes. Martin Yan is a pro and I hope that you will enjoy his books and recipes as much as I do; but I must be frank, as a vegetarian, I've not tried them all.

In Simple Guide to Chinese Ingredients and Other Asian Specialties by Martin Yan. Foster City CA: Yan Can Cook Inc., 1995. is a guide and indispensable resource and reference for anyone interested in preparing or just learning about Chinese food. This is simply the most convenient shopping guide in print. Incredibly useful and chock full of almost everything you need to know for successful shopping sprees; especially for those who don''t speak or read Chinese! It's worth ten times the $4.95 price, which is what I paid, since it came as a bonus with Martin Yan's Ultimate Chef's Knife. The latter is an excellent, lightweight all-purpose cleaver, very comfortable to use and razor sharp.

Chapters cover seasonings, grains, produce, and miscellany; there is even an overview of other Asian specialties. In addition, Martin explains basic cooking tools and techniques, Chinese medicinal herbs, and more with every entry including both the Mandarin and Cantonese transliterated names and the Chinese ideograph. Each is accompanied by a color photograph, as well. The text that accompanies explains what each item is, how to use it, store it, etc. If you've given up preparing dim sum, there is short guide so you can just point and purchase at any hole-in-the-wall tea house.

This guide is exceptionally well-referenced and organized; total beginners as well as experienced Chinese cooking aficionados will be delighted to have so much useful information at a chopstick tip. Hardcore Chinese cooking enthusiasts may wish for an expanded version, with the more arcane ingredients, more vegetables and soy products, too. Hopefully there will be a guide Number Two. But for general use, this is a solid beginning. I recommend one copy of this invaluable little paperback in the kitchen, another in the car for shopping trips.

In Yan's Culinary Journey published in San Francisco by KQED Books, 1995, the effervescent Martin Yan proves that you can go home. In this Culinary Journey Through China, the reader/cook is invited to share his recent travel adventures and discoveries through China. Really, however, only the tourist favorites of Beijing, Sichuan, Shanghai, and Canton. This companion book to the Yan Can Cook PBS series excels with stunning full-color photos of food and place that tempt the cook to reach for wok and cleaver post haste.

This well-edited volume is presented in a most user-friendly fashion. Arranged by region with the Sichuan province called 'the spice box of China,' then by food category one truly grasps the local style and flavors. As on the show, the recipes are quite simple to execute. Explicit instructions practically guarantee success. The ingredient lists are minimal, nothing to exotic; no bird's nests, shark's fins, or 1,000-year-old eggs. Generally, the recipes are lighter, healthier interpretations of old and new; and many avoid deep frying. Yan does not hesitate to deviate from the classics; for example, using wheat tortillas as Spring Roll wrappers. The Asian Pizza sounds too horrid to try; not sure I appreciate cheese with both Asian flavors and ingredients; that does not seem to be a happy marriage! Braised Bean Curd with Walnuts is not braised, but it is still a quick, delicious yin-yang dish.

Sidebars on the recipe pages are packed with travel anecdotes; Yanesque trivia such as that the Chinese invented the clock, and helpful ingredient information and techniques, such as professional pepper prepping, or making tapioca 101. Other excellent features include a review of wok and cleavers, and the Chinese pantry page with everything necessary for the book's recipes. Classics and newly discovered innovations feature Duck Soup, Cantonese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Peking Cabbage Pillows (wonderful), Steamed Fish with Fiery Black Bean Sauce, a Cantonese Mango Pudding, and Tofu Custard with Tapioca Fruit.

Try to overlook the annoying plugs for the TV series and its commercial underwriters; but we do owe them this fine cooking and travel volume. Martin is a real pro and recipe interpreter. However, there is too much ham and too many bad puns. Save the clowning for television Martin, you are terrific without the 'shtick' as are your recipes. We can delight in those Green Onion Cakes you enjoyed while filming in Beijing, and the Braised Tofu and Mushrooms; that hint about briefly parboiling the tofu before using it was terrific. So were those Walnut Cookies from Sichuan.

Next follows three recipes from these books. They are modified ever so slightly to meet the style criteria of Flavor and Fortune. Try them and many other wonderful ones Martin Yan garnered and wrote about in this culinary journey. May they be great tasting trips for you!
Green Onion Cakes II
Ingredients:
3 and 1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening or cooking oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili sauce
About 1/2 cup corn oil for frying
Preparation:
1. Put flour, one and one-quarter cups of warm water and oil in a bowl and stir with chop sticks or a fork until the dough holds together. Knead on a floured board until smooth and satiny, about five minutes. Cover and allow to rest for half an hour.
2. Combine dipping sauce ingredients and set aside.
3. Roll dough into cylinder and cut into twelve pieces. Keep covered when working with the individual pieces. Roll each piece into and eight-inch circle. Brush with some shortening.
4. Sprinkle dough with sesame oil, green onions, salt and pepper, then roll into a cylinder and make it into a coiled round cake tucking end of the dough underneath it. Roll this out to be an eight-inch circle; it will be about an eighth of an inch thick.
5. Heat a large fry pan then add two tablespoons oil and the rolled onion cake. Fry two to three minutes over medium heat on each side until both are lightly browned.
6. Add more oil as needed, and fry the rest of the cakes, one by one.
7. Cut cakes into wedges and serve with dipping sauce on the side.
Braised Tofu and Mushrooms
Ingredients:
1 package (about 14 ounces) firm tofu
2/3 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 pound small white mushrooms
1/4 pound oyster mushrooms
6 fresh medium-size shiitake mushrooms
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon of water
Preparation:
1. Cut the tofu in half horizontally, then using a biscuit cutter, make 2 inch circles from each half; should yield twelve circles (squares are fine, too, but not as pretty).
2. Combine broth, black bean and oyster sauces and sesame oil and sugar. Set this sauce mixture aside.
3. Place a large fry pan on medium heat until hot. Add 1 Tablespoon oil and add the tofu and cook until brown, about two minutes per side. Remove tofu and set aside.
4. Add remaining one tablespoon oil and all the mushrooms; stir-fry them one minute then add sauce, reduce heat to low and simmer until the mushrooms are tender (about five minutes).
5. Add cornstarch mixture and cook until sauce boils, thickens and clears.
6. Arrange tofu in a circle around the edge of a serving plate. Place mushroom mixture in center and serve.
Makes four to six servings.
_____
Walnut Cookies
Ingredients:
1 and 3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup soft butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
40 walnut halves
Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350 dregrres F.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
3. Beat butter and both sugars until fluffy then add egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.
4. Next add the flour mixture and mix well, and then stir in the chopped walnuts.
5. Divide dough into four parts, then each part into ten portions. Then roll each into a ball and place two to three inches apart on a baking sheet. Press a walnut half onto top of each ball.
6. Bake 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the baking sheet for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Note: Store in an airtight container.
Makes 40 cookies.
_____
Approximate nutrient analysis per person when each has two cookies.
_____
Calories 153 Kc
Carbohydrate 21 g
Protein 3 g
Sodium 98 mg
Total fat 7 g
Saturated fat 3 g
Cholesterol 30 mg
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