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TOPICS: Steaming, Sweet potato flour; Ma huang; Recommended reading; Chop Suey Chow Mein

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Spring Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(1) page(s): 25 and 26

STEAMING is a quintessential Chinese culinary technique. Rachel Laudan and others, myself included, have been trying to track down when this method of cooking begin in China. Logic says very early on, but written records that can confirm this are not as early as some believe. The earliest known date, 629 CE is the oldest printed item located. Readers: do you have a reference about steaming of foods in China before this date?

SWEET POTATO FLOUR is available in some Chinese markets either called by this name or called 'yam flour.' We are not sure if the names are being used interchangeably, but do know that availability of either is inconsistent. Sometimes one can locate sweet potato flour, sometimes yam four, and sometimes neither. There may be major or minor differences, but we can not always tell them apart. Favorite usage is to coat meats when making Fujianese dishes or to use them to make Steamed Yam Balls, also from the province of Fujian. Frustrated when unavailable, we have discovered an American product that is a fine substitute. There is an illustration in the hard copy of this issue. It is called: Bruce’s Sweet Potato Pancake Mix, and manufactured in New Iberia, Louisiana. The Bruce Foods Corporation snail mail address is: PO Drawer 1030, their zip is 70562; and they do sell mail-order. For additional information and prices write to them or call them at: 318 365-8101. Use either on of the Chinese flours or the American mix in the recipes at the end of this article, or in any others you may locate.

ANOTHER HERBAL WARNING with serious side effects is given for ma huang also known as 'ephedra.' A new study published by the New England Journal of Medicine suggests serious health risks including high blood pressure, stroke, even death; some fifty-four were reported in the 1990's. The issue of this magazine, released on December 21st, should be read by all who take this herbal or are considering doing so.

HELP NEEDED:. Is there someone out there who knows anything about the Tom Wone Cook Book: A Selection of Dishes Chef’s Reminder? Its cover is reproduced in the hard copy of this issue. To the best of our knowledge, it was written in Canada, circa 1927.

RECOMMENDED READING: This is an oldie we once again devoured. Called A Real Literary Feast by David R. Knechtges, actually we had forgotten reading this golden oldie in 1986. It appeared in the Journal of the American Oriental Society in Volume 106 on pages 49 - 63. If you missed it, rush to a library and sample translations and explanations, par excellence. If they do not have it, ask for a copy via interlibrary loan and learn that Confucius was a combination Chou Dynasty Escoffier and a modern-day food critic. Learn that ancient pre-occupations with food began at least during the Rites of Chou and royal households circa the 3rd or 4th century BCE.

Discover that about two dozen turtle catchers were employed while there were only two court doctors. Find out about other early Chinese classics and learn more about where and why China’s ancient emphasis on food. Those turtle catchers, incidentally were part of the fifty-five percent of folks involved in one Emperor's household with responsibility for food and drink. That very household had food tasks tended by two thousand two hundred and sixty-three people servicing less than fifteen hundred folk. Also learn that those quoting K.C. Cheng’s Food in Chinese Culture published by Yale University Press in 1977 (and I have been one of them), may be repeating inaccurate descriptions of food personnel.

Find out that food doctors had different functions in early days, one of which was to combine appropriate meats with appropriate cereals. They recommended six combinations: beef and rice, mutton and glutinous broom-corn millet, pork and non-glutinous broom-corn millet, dog and foxtail millet, goose and barley and wheat, and fish and wild rice.

Learn that harmony and metaphors were common political discourse and Taoist writings had cooking analogies as did The Annals of Master Lu. Discover that sugar cane juice was translated as yam sauce and that it was recommended to offset too much wine. Savor fictional feasts discussed and gain understandings while you enjoy every verbal morsel!

CHOP SUEY/CHOW MEIN, was found in a Woolworth lunch counter recipe circa 1950. It has appeared on the web and thanks to Cara in New York City, we have a copy. If you want your own of this no-relation-to-Chinese-food item for historical or other purposes, visit that website. It is: http:/soar.Berkeley.edu/recipes/meat/pork/chop-suey2.rec and catually was exported from MasterCook. At Woolworth's, they used pork, lard or Crisco, and huge amounts of celery, canned mushrooms, sprouts, and what htey called: Oriental vegetables. All were cooked in a pressure cooker. The recipe advises to 'add the vegetables later' and suggests putting the chow mein noodles on bottom with no amount given, then two scoops of rice, one ladle of chop suey, and extra soy sauce. You may recall Imogene Lim's article on the Chow Mein Sandwich in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 6(2) on page 5. The ingredients are rather similar, but with one large omission; the location and usage are not.
Deep-fried Oyster Cakes
10 to 12 fresh oysters, rinsed once to remove sand, then minced
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup shredded cabbage or stems of bai cai 1 scallion, minced fine
1 Tablespoon corn oil
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 slices fresh ginger, minced fine
1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/2 cup sweet potato or yam flour
1/4 cup corn oil
1. Mix oysters, carrots, cabbage, and the scallions.
2. Heat the Tablespoon of oil and fry this mixture for one minute, then remove from the pan and cool slightly.
3. Fry garlic and ginger then add it to the oyster mixture along with the soy sauce, five-spice powder, and half of the sweet potato flour and shape into four patties called Oyster Cakes.
4. Heat the rest of the oil slowly and while it is heating, coat each oyster cake with sweet potato flour then fry on one side until lightly browned, turn over and repeat for the other side. Serve immediately.
Xiamin Spring Roll
1/2 pound firm bean curd, pressed to remove excess water, then mashed
1 egg
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1/4 pound ground pork
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 cup cabbage, shredded
10 snow peas, sliced very thin
1 scallion, minced fine
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sweet potato flour
6 sheets of spring roll wrappers
1. Mix bean curd and egg, heat oil in wok or fry pan and fry stirring until egg is set, then remove from pan and set aside.
2. Fry pork until no longer pink, then add all but the spring roll wrappers and cook until cabbage has bled all its water and all ingredients are rather dry, about five minutes. Remove from pan.
3. Take one wrapper, and put about one-sixth of the cooked filling on it in the center, then roll and place it on a serving plate. Repeat until all are rolled and plated, then serve.

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