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TOPICS INCLUDE: Flavored alcoholic beverages;Tofu; Color in tea and teapots; Fusion in foods

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(2) page(s): 6 and 22

The next two letter sets began as a column on CHANNELA (see Newman's News and Notes in this issue). They are edited somewhat and included herewith:

Two questions came together from: TONY in FLORIDA; and SUZANNE in TEXAS ask:
In ancient China, did they ever make flavored alcoholic beverages? And, do you know the Chinese culinary expression: 'Do not fill it because fullness makes mischief?'
TONY and SUZANNE Thank you both for your queries: Response to the second one can be found in Strange Newes from China by Townly Searle (NY: Dutton, 1932) who uses that proverb discussing alcoholic begerages, as it was intended. He also advises "never speak ill of wine because it does not intoxicate men, men intoxicate themselves with Chinese distillations of rice, flavored sometimes with cherries and peaches." That comes full circle to the first question because thousands of years ago, Chinese flavored their wines with more than just these two fruits. They used ingredients such as fagara pepper (Sichuian peppercorns), ginger, bamboo leaves, flowers of chrysanthemum and pomegranate, and other medicinal ingredients.

Reader from NEW YORK CITY (who asks her name withheld) inquires:
I am in love with tofu and enjoy stir-frying it. Do you know other ways to use this wonderful food?
NEW YORK CITY reader: Tofu is delightful. It is also high in protein and low in fat, calories, and sodium; more so than any meat I can think of. Have you diced amd dried your beancurd? Doing so is easy, and it is great in soups and long-cooked dishes. Also try tofu as a thickener, beat it first (soft varieties work best, silken needs to stay in a strainer for about an hour before using). Try tofu as an extender mixed with ground beef, pork, chicken, turkey, even venison or vegetables. You can use tofu instead of heavy cream or sour cream and in place of eggs and chesses in most recipes. Two Chinese exchange students I knew practiced with it on pizza. So successful were they, that a major newspaper devoted two pages to their product. For other ideas, look in CHANNELA bookstore for a Shirley Fong-Torres cookbook. It has almost a dozen great tofu recipes; try them all!

What is red tea?
ELLEN: This question opens doors to interesting differences. The way things are color-named is fascinating. For example, Westerners call their tea by leaf color while Chinese think of it as seen when liquid. The former sees black as in the leaves, the latter the lovely reddish colored liquid. So black and red tea are one and the same. Jack Houng, in an April food feature on CHANNELA, describes differences in tea colors and fermentation (correctly called oxidation) and he talks about purple stoneware teapots. That is another interesting color difference. The wet clay for these teapots is indeed purple. However, do not look for a pot that color because the pot is only purple when made. After it dries, the clay changes to reddish-brown.

There is a lot of talk about fusion food. What is it, and can you provide a recipe or two as an example of fusion cooking?
MIRIAM: October 1996's Pacific Influences on the 21st Century Table symposium, held in Seattle and sponsored by the American Insitute of Wine and Food discussed that very topic. They also substituted Pan PAcific and Melting Pot as words that conjur up blends of cultures. At this conference and almost everywhere, fusion is used and misused to mean the marriage of food and/or culinaery techniques. It is interesting to note that the above conference had excellent examples of such food but they never really defined the term fusion. For centuries, dishes made marriages iof ingredients and technique with those of their neighbors, none were called fusion. Perhaps the largest of all Chinese food marriages came shortly after the building of the Grand Canal. Was it fusion to mix China's rice-eater foods of the south with their wheat and other grain cousins in the north?

Let me share a recipe recently received from a subscriber. He lived and worked in Shanghai, China as a French translater to a travel agency. Seven years after retiring, he came to a suburb of Chicago. He reports learning western cooking on TV and mixing that with native Chinese fare. The recipe that follows is his invention. He won first place and had it published in the Chicago Tribune in 1996. A few months ago, he was quoted as saying that he "appreciates the merits of fusion cuisine using such diverse condiments as Italian pasta, American peanut butter, and Japanese...soy including tofu and miso." Here is Dapeng Ren's winning recipe rewritten in this magazine's style.
Vegetarian Pasta with Two Sauces
2 pounds spaghetti
2 Tablespoons Chinese Sesame oil
For the Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
2 Tablespoons Japanese miso paste
1 small clove garlic, minced
For the Red Chili Sauce:
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons minced scallions
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon red chili oil
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground
For the Topping:
1/2 pound mung bean sprouts
2 medium cucumbers, seeded and shredded
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 medium red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
4 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped cilantro
1. Cook noodles according to package directios, Drain well, transfer to a a large bowl and toss with sesame oil, then set aside.
2. For the peanut sauce: Blend oilve oil with the peanut butter in a small bowl then stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and set aside.
3. Mix all the chili sauce ingredients in small bowl and set aside.
4. Blanch bean spouts in boiling water for fifteen seconds, then rinse with cold water and drain.
5. Toss pasta with vegetables in the topping mix, then in two parts.
6. Toss half the pasta with the peanut sauce and half with the Chili sauce. Serve the two batches of pasta on opposite ends of a platter; sprinkle both with cilantro.
Note: Balsamic vinegar may be substituted for the black vinegar. To roast peppercorns, place them in a small skillet over medium heat and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until aromatic, about two minutes. Cool, then finely grind in an electirc spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

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