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TOPICS INCLUDE: Gingko nuts; Powdered tea; Shrimp paste; Chinese apple juice; More kudos; Star Anise tea; Unproven herbal claims

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Winter Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(4) page(s): 6, 35, and 38

FROM LEONARD P. via the e-mail:
I was told that you would know how to process gingko nuts.
LEONARD: Thank you for thinking us knowledgeable, but we are not sure what you mean by 'process.’ We do know that Chinese boil, steam, and toast them and prepare them one of those ways alone and with other foods. Sometimes they do not need to be peeled as they can be found shelled. If this query is about how to remove the outer shells, try a nutcracker or as many Chinese do, hit them reasonably hard and with the wooden handle of the cleaver or the flat side of the blade. If you are planning to make a paste, then if they smash do not worry. If you want them whole, use the nutcracker carefully and on the gingko nut seam edge. As to the tan seed coat inside the shell, blanching as one would an almond but for two minutes will loosen it. Then just slip this inner peel off. This step is important because this inner seed coat is somewhat bitter. Now, if you want a super recipe for these nuts, we recommend one adapted from one published by our test kitchen editors, Wonona and Irving Chang. It is at the end of this article. And if you are unfamiliar with their books, get thee to the internet or a good bookstore.

From DOT in Colinga:
Went to that Japanese tea shop called Ito En on Madison Avenue that was written about on page eight of the last issue. Still no powdered tea. A customer recommended Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company at 75 Mott Street in New York’s Chinatown. So grabbed a cab and went there. Found it in two flavors. Why those two?
DOT: After we went to press, we learned that Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company (with stores all over the world) has long been packaging a powdered tea in individual foil and plastic barrier envelopes, twenty to a box. They advise that in Taiwan, people are putting the contents into a bottle of water and toting that wherever they go. We went there to taste them and some goodies particularly popular with their bubble teas at Ten Ren’s Tea Time nearby at 79 Mott Street. While there, we sampled the mostly fried and steamed snack foods served. Went ga-ga over the mango iced drink, best we have ever tasted. They told us that powdered teas are an old Chinese process, but only plain powdered tea is ancient. They make theirs in their Taiwan headquarters and the two flavors are Plain Green Tea and Milk Green Tea. The latter one is in response to the many newer tea beverages now popular in Taiwan and around the world; all gaining in popularity, as are bubble teas. We used the plain one in water, in juices, as a topping for a classic pork dish usually made with tea, and in a dish that called for crushed roasted tea leaves. This new product worked well. Ellen Lii of Ten Ren said they had made a lemon one but no longer do and they may make others if need arises. We asked about the paper coasters at their Tea Time eatery and were told the logo in the center is also new. It is lovely, so we brought ours home. For those who want some and can not get there, write to Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company; 75 Mott Street; New York NY 10013; phone: (212) 349-2286; fax: (212) 349-2180.

From HARRY, via e-mail:
Do the Chinese use a plain garlic or ginger pastes? What about shrimp paste?
HARRY: To the best of our recollection, we have never seen such an item in a Chinese cookbook nor mentioned in an article about Chinese food. However, our files do contain such items, source long forgotten, that you may want to try. For the garlic paste, recommended are four or five heads of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped. Put them in a blender with a cup of rice vinegar and water , amount of each to your taste. Then blend thoroughly. Refrigerate after you make it, but do not keep it for more than a day or two because it gets very bitter and does discolor. As to the ginger paste, another source says to use about eight or ten ounces of ginger, peeled, and coarsely chopped, then blended with about a cup of water. That article offers no information on how long it stays, but we suggest a week might be tops. We made both, tried them to flavor meat and fish before grilling, and were not impressed, nor were we when used in a chopped fish recipe that was tucked into sections of the long Chinese cruller, then fried. We used two tablespoons each, to half pound of fish, and the resultant appetizer was too bland and hardly worth the effort. Actually, we liked a wasabi paste or American horseradish better in this stuffing. As to shrimp paste, there are many Chinese ones on the market, all aromatic but bland. To make a spicy one, use about a cup of Chinese dried shrimp. Crush them in a blender with half cup of Chinese sesame oil. Use or add a hot chili oil, if you want yours hot. We fry an onion, a small one, in a tablespoon of that oil, then add about five tablespoons of fresh minced ginger. When cool, we add these to the blender. If you want to keep this for two or three weeks in your refrigerator, we say to fry the shrimp before putting them in the blender.

From SOYSUE via e-mail: Are you aware that there is considerable export of apples, as a juice concentrate, that is coming from China?
SOYSUE: We were not. Here is what you sent to us, excerpted for any interested readers. Some of America's apple juice (about twenty percent) now comes from China. The outskirts of Xian and elsewhere have apple orchards that stretch for miles and miles and make China is the world's largest apple grower. They produce one and a half billion bushels of them a year. American apple growers complain of devastating losses because of China’s cheap concentrate. Soysue, we learned first hand how cheap it must be as we purchased a gallon of cider in our local supermarket for ninety-nine cents the entire gallon. Then we used it to drink and to cook a Chinese-style beef stew using Chinese pumpkin, potatoes, the long white radish, chayote, beef, and other Chinese vegetables. For the record raders, the juice can be made from red and yellow delicious apples from imported seedlings and from Chinese varieties such as Guoguan and Jinguan.

From SELINA, via e-mail:
Flavor and Fortune is great! What a fantastic resource. I feel like I am in Chinese food heaven. I particularly like the book reviews and the articles about people. and from
J. THRUSH, also via e-mail:
Spend time reading your magazine and love it.
SELINA, J. THRUSH, and OTHERS: Such nice sentences! As we go into our second decade starting with the next issue, we take comments such as yours to heart and will try to do even more, even catch the typos and other minor errors that slip by. In the meantime, as to people, do read Calvin Sia's article about his mom. Her first two hardbound editions in 1935 and 1938 remain favorites. If space allows, we'd print some of her early recipes, they are gems. Also, you and others should stay on the lookout for a book to be titled Culinary Bibliographies edited by Alice Arndt. Some of the entries are Chinese greats. And for this magazine, Selina, do advise of others you want to know more about. Also, for those who do not get The Rosengarten Report, his kudo in the August 18th issue calls this magazine a "brilliant Chinese newsletter that will change your chopstick life." He also says "great stuff for cooks" and a "huge discovery for Chinese food freaks: At last an up-to-the-minute Chinese info source." These and the word's of others make us want to work even harder. In return, we say xie xie to all.

To ALL with thanks to information from LILLIAN: She wrote: On September 10th, 2003 the Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory on star anise teas. They advise not to consume teas brewed from star anise because at least forty individuals have been made ill; this includes approximately fifteen infants. The illnesses ranged from serious neurological effects such as seizures, to vomiting, jitteriness, and rapid eye movement. They ask that these teas not be given to infants (children, too), even though they are a popular Asian item against colic. Everyone meeds to be aware of the symptoms when using star anise for other purposes. The problem may be that commonly available Chinese star anise, Illium verum, may contain Japanese star anise, Illium anisatum. This latter item has long been recognized as a toxin. The problem, the FDA and others do not know how to tell them apart when dried. They, the FDA, consider Chinese star anise to be Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS. The Japanese star anise is not recognized as safe and is considered toxic. Though a possible serious problem, do not lose too much sleep over this, but do exercise caution. All affected individuals, including the infants, did recover without complications. Do not ignore it either, as there are more reports coming from Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington, and from three countries abroad, the Netherlands, France, and Spain.

While on the subject of the FDA which are the initials for the 'Food and Drug Administration' of the US Department of Agriculture, they have launched a new on-line data resource for those who are nutrient conscious. This electronic directory is where users can look up the amount of a specified nutrient in any one of their 1,147 food items. To use it, go to www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp Many on herbal issues and many online claims are misleading, unproven, even false. In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that discussed marketing claims analyzed from the internet about St John’s wort, echinacea, and ginseng, the websites found said they could cure, prevent, or treat depression, infection, and stress, respectively. These are as yet unproven as was heel pain relief wearing magnets, etc. As always, it is buyer beware and be aware.
Chicken with Gingko Nuts
6 black mushrooms, soaked until soft, their stems removed
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon scallion, minced
1 whole boneless and skinless chicken breast cut into two-inch cubes
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup snow peas, remove their tips and cut them in half
1 cup fresh or canned gingko nuts, if fresh pre-boiled for half an hour, if canned drain them
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1. Reserve two tablespoons of the soaking water after removing the mushrooms; then quarter them.
2. Heat oil, then add scallions and soaked mushrooms and fry for one minute, add chicken and fry for another minute.
3. Add all remaining ingredients, stir well, then cover and cook for three minutes, then serve.

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