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TOPICS INCLUDE: Thanks and more; Lou Yang banquet; Technical information wanted; Vegetarian abalone; Osmanthus; Luo Han fruit

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Spring Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(1) page(s): 8

Thank you for sending the review of my book: From the Earth: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking. Thank Susan Asanovic for her kind words. A word of caution though, Ms. Asanovic must be a bit more careful. My book is not $34.95, which she refers to twice. Also a correction about tempering glass.
MRS. LO: You are quite correct to point out the error. We owe you two apologies, and will swallow much poor food in penance, none made from your fine book, of course. One 'I am sorry' is from Ms. Asanovic, the reviewer, who should have advised that this book is $25.00 in the United States, $34.95 in Canada. The other comes from 'Yours truly,' who should have checked and not allowed that error to be printed. We appreciate your calling us to task on that. As to your comment on 'tempering glass,' we would like to advise that technically and in reality, the experts we consulted say there is no need and more important, that it can not be done.

Count me as one of the lucky ones. Do advise your readers that if they think a restaurant review is good, to rush there. I was able to enjoy a Lou Yang banquet two weeks before the restaurant closed. Thanks for tipping us off about the restaurant, and advising about their special fifteen-course banquet. Why do restaurants, particularly Chinese restaurants, come and go so quickly?
JONIE: Glad you had the opportunity to enjoy that very special banquet at the Lou Yang Seafood restaurant; it was a unique experience. Am not an expert on your question of why, but my experience is that many restauranteurs, Chinese and other folk, overextend themselves and run short of funds for the early months until they have built up a steady cliental. It costs in the neighborhood of half million dollars to set up a posh place, and inexperienced restauranteurs learn this as they go along. Also, permits and health and safety certifications take longer than most plan for, and customers need time to find a new place. That, and lots of mega-bucks are needed for advertising. And let me add a P.S. on this restaurant. They re-opened four days after they closed, as a disco, and just yesterday, a restaurant owner down the block told me they are once again a Chinese restaurant of the same name. I peered in after eating at one of their newest competitors, it was both true and crowded. Such multiple lives seems commonplace for some restaurants, not sure why.

From XI-MING-LEU of MANHATTAN: For those of us who need to answer friends about the health aspects of Chinese cuisine, can you provide both support and technical information?
XI-MING-LEI: Several people have asked if we would add a technical article or two about Chinese cuisine (and in future issues, we plan to). In the meantime, to satisfy you and the others who asked, see Professor Huang's article in this issue.

Can you help. I was in Los Angeles last month and bought something called 'braised abalone' that turned out to be an exceptionally tasty vegetarian product. I don't live near a Oriental market that carries it. I think I'm a reasonably good cook, so I'm asking if there is any way I can make it. JOHN: What you probably had was a commercial mélange of gluten, oil, and seasonings prepared, cooked, and canned with the texture and looks of, and almost the taste of the real thing. One can also buy mock duck, mock goose, mock turtle, and many other varieties of vegetable protein foods that simulate animal foods. I can help you make the gluten, sounds as though you can help yourself to flavor it.
To do so: Take five pounds of bread flour or gluten flour (bought in a health food store or catalogue; you can use all purpose flour, but you get less gluten in the end). Put the flour in a very large bowl with a pinch of coarse (kosher) salt. Slowly stir in six to ten cups of water until you have made a thick paste. Let it rest for an hour, then add more water slowly, I do it under a faucet with the water running very slowly. After the resting time, knead the dough for two or three minutes and then let it sit for five minutes; next pour off the cloudy water. Now, add more water mixing slowly, let it rest again for five minutes then re-knead another few minutes. Do this at least a dozen times, reducing the resting time to about two minutes after the first three or four times, until the water you pour off is not one bit cloudy. This will mean that you have washed out all of the starch and only the protein mass remains. The last kneading time, pour off all excess water, squeeze out any in the remaining gluten dough. Oil the side of your cleaver, pound the gluten to the thickness you want and cut into the size pieces you'd like. Use a rough piece of wood or a clean course fabric for the final pounding to make it take on the surface of meat or skin. Next, coat all the pieces with flour. I shake them in a bag of seasoned flour, and allow to rest about an hour or so. Next, use the prepared pieces as if you were stir-frying or braising with meat. You can also deep fry some or all of them to make puffy gluten, boil some others with two Tablespoons of oil and seasonings to taste, or steam some of them for about 45 minutes. If doing the latter, leave larger pieces and forget about the texture. Now it is ready to use in any kind of prepared dish. Before frying, steaming, or boiling, it can be frozen; I prefer to do so after cooking it one of the above ways.

What is the osmanthus flower jam I found in the Chinese market last week. It was in a tiny plastic bottle and would hardly be enough for four sandwiches.
EDNA: Though that was called jam, I know of no one who uses it that way. Osmanthus is usually a scarlet, yellow, white, or silver flower of the Osmanthus tree. Actually, there are over seventy species of this perennial, slender, fragrant tree. It grows wild and it can be cultivated. Actually, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted, in and around the beautiful city of Guilin. The flowers are small and aromatic extracts are made from them. I once read that a ton of petals makes less than a handful of pounds of extract (forgot the exact number...anyone out there know?). It made me think of saffron, also a rare item. That is why the jar you found was so small. These extracts are used for candy, tea, wine, and perfume. I bought some Osmanthus Tea to taste-test it for you, it was over forty dollars a pound, tasted a mite smokey, and had a heavenly aroma and a fine taste. For more about osmanthus, read Helen Chen's article about Hangzhou in this issue, she recalls enjoys the aroma, too.

I just returned from an Autonomous Region in the north of China and had a fruit there whose name I can't remember. It was green and pulpy, and my guide told me that it is used for coughs and to calm the nerves. Can you identify this fruit which has a hard exterior?
DAVID: Were you in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and was the fruit just a mite bigger than a lime but more round? If so, I believe you are talking about the luo han guo (also spelled lou han or lo han) fruit. It comes from a tree of the same name. There is a story that a farmer of the Yao national minority with the name Lo Han found this green fruit for the first time about three hundred years ago. The tale continues that he dried it near a fire and that it had a very strong aroma. When he boiled it, he said the water was the sweetest thing he ever tasted. This fruit is used commercially in many drinks in and around Guangxi today and all of them are super sweet. Chinese herbalists, I am told, recommend them for the two things you were told about, and for strengthening your lungs, helping your spleen, and reducing excess phlegm due to colds. I have not read any literature to prove or disprove their claims. In case you or our other readers would like to try them, they are available dried and in that state are brown on the outside, their pulp all shrivelled, in larger Chinese markets and at Chinese herb stores.

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