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Fruit in Chinese Cooking

by Irving Beilin Chang

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Winter Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(4) page(s): 7 and 18

Chinese chefs are very creative and imaginative. Perhaps it is because they realize that in life a tasty new creation is so enjoyable and exciting. Imperial rulers probably taught this, rewarding those chefs who made them new and delicious dishes. Wise common folk look forward to good food, too, and delight in their quest for more interesting dishes.

One way chefs create new dishes is to make use of fruits in season. Doing so produces dishes with new color, texture, and flavor. When fruits are not in season they need not despair, but use them dehydrated. They can and do use fruits such as raisons, dried apricots, sugared preserved fruits such as jams, and even canned and frozen fruits.

In southern cooking, such as that around Guangzhou, chefs make use of local fresh fruits frequently using peaches, lychees and longans. Perhaps because of influences from neighboring south sea islands, they also find and use pineapples, bananas, coconuts, and rambutans. In the mid-Yangtze valley in and around Shanghai, Hwaiyang and Yangzhou, chefs use fresh apples, dates, and pears and their preserved relatives. In the north, around Beijing and Shandung, apples, apricots, pears, persimmons, and dates are popular fresh and dried. And in the west, chefs from the Hunan and Sichuan provinces add fruits to their spicy dishes including oranges, longans, and lychees to satisfy their yen for sweet in their dishes. Occasionally sweet dishes without spiciness are even used departing from the routine flavorings in this region.

Since Chinese do not make clear demarcations between medicinal herbs and fruits or vegetables, in their cooking they also use herbs such as dried san tza which are crab apples or go ji better known as Lyceum chinense. Both of these herb-fruits have a slight sweet and an acidic taste; people like them because they are good for you and highly nutritious.

Nuts, along with their fruited cousins, are also used in Chinese cooking. Beloved and used often are peanuts, cashews, pine nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, and sesame seeds. In vegetarian cooking, because nuts have higher protein content than do most vegetables, they are used frequently in dishes and thought of as the "protein" in these dishes.

Overall, there are two types of Chinese recipes that incorporate fruit. One are the sweet, often dessert-type recipes that use fruit as the main ingredient. Here, fruits are used to give flavor, color, fragrance, too. The other are when fruits are used to create new flavors and textures combined with meat and vegetables. For example, Eight Precious Rice and Mango Tapioca Gel belong to the former group; whereas, Mango Shrimp, Pork Stuffed with Date Jam. Lychee Duck, and Sesame Chicken with Red Dates and Lychees belong to the latter.

What follows are three recipes as illustration and opportunity to try fruits in Chinese food. For others, read about the use of Buddha's Hand in this issue and consult the index in this and December issues in preceding years. A five year index will soon be available for speedier success in searching for fruit recipes. In the meantime, consult books Wonona and I have written and those of other authors. And, if you're lucky, you may even locate Chinese cookbooks specializing in fruit cookery. The editor advises me there are quite a few of this genre.
Eight Precious Rice Pudding
1 and 1/2 cups of glutinous rice
1/2 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons candied fruit
2 Tablespoons raisons
2 Tablespoons pitted dates, cut into pieces
12 maraschino or other pitted cherries
1 cup sweet bean paste filling (do sa)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon butter
1. Cover the rice with water and soak it overnight, then drain it. Put it in a glass dish, preferably on cheesecloth, and steam it over boiling water for ten minutes.
2. Grease a bowl with the butter and place the candied fruits and raisons in a decorative pattern on the bottom of the bowl; floral shapes are common.
3. Cover with half the rice. sprinkle the sugar atop this and then cover that with the rest of the rice.
4. Steam for forty-five minutes then turn the bowl and its contents over onto a serving dish.
5. Mix the milk, cornstarch and almond extract with a cup of water. Bring to the boil and stir until it thickens, then add the last amount of butter. Pour over the hot pudding and serve.
Lychee Duck
1/2 Cantonese roast duck
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons catsup
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup lychee juice (reserved from canned lychees)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoon light soy sauce
20 ounce can of lychees, drained
2 sprigs cilantro
1. Bone the duck and cut it into small serving-size pieces.
2. Put the sugar, catsup, vinegar, lychee juice, cornstarch, and soy sauce in a small pot, bring to the boil and stir until thickened, then turn off the heat and add the duck pieces and the drained lychees and mix well.
3. Put the duck on a platter or in a bowl and serve.

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