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TOPICS INCLUDE: Mushroom contamination; Lotus root vegetable; Common Chinese spices; Fermented taro curd; Shin beef; Pao cai and other pickled vegetables

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(3) page(s): 12, 13, and 15

From MARILYN via e-mail:
According to Mr. L.W. Chan of the Health Department, most mushrooms in the American marketplace come from China and are contaminated with chemicals soluble in water. The water the dried mushrooms are soaked in to soften them should be thrown away. Japanese scientists are looking into the fact that many mushrooms are contaminated by fertilizer. Testing is difficult to obtain reliable readings.
MARILYN: You are the first to report this. Our problem is that no one seems to know a Mr. Chen nor which health department he works for. We have queried federal and state offices and they are in the dark. Common sense makes me ask: Why eat mushrooms and not the water they soak in? That makes no sense. Anyone with definitive information, please step forward.

I enjoyed the current issue of Volume 16 of Flavor and Fortune, and do want to make the recipe on page 13. However, while the recipe calls for one section of lotus root, it falls silent about what you need to do with it. Do you peel it, steam it, slice it, etc.
VALERIE: Many thanks for a keener eagle eye than three of us here used. To make the recipe for Lotus Root Disks in Volume 16(1) on page 13, peel the needed section of lotus root; then slice and mince. Incorporate this with all the other minced ingredients, make them into disks and fry the disks on one side then the other until golden. Then drain and serve. One last thing, thanks for the correction.

JOHN asks:
Volume 16(2) reviews the book titled: Report from Xunwu, and it speaks about tofu made with taro. Do you have a recipe for it?
JOHN: Matter of fact we do thanks to Lena, a reader and retired library professional. We now thank her publically and can share that recipe with you. Incidentally, she told us about that book. Be aware we never found any fermented taro-curd in an Asian market nor did anyone in any of them that we spoke to. Should you want to make this recipe, you need lots of time and attention. Sunny weather helps, as does months of patience before using any taro-curd.

From HANK via e-mail:
Some one told me he once saw a list of common spices used in Chinese food. Do you have or can you construct such a list for me? That would be a big help as I will need to drive many miles to a Chinatown source to purchase them.
HANK: We recall seeing that list, too. Thought it in Volume VI:5 in the Joseph Needham series, but our memory was not accurate. Had trouble sleeping one night and where it was, actually did pop into my head. What you saw was in Food Plants of China by Hu Shiu-ying (Chinese university Press, 2005). Her list includes five categories of foods: Sauces and condiments, plant materials, sesame oil, sugar and other sweetening materials, and MSG. To be technical, only two of these sets are considered spices among the seven groups; but all seven are:
1. Root: Chinese angelica (dried)
2. Rhizomes or bulbs: Garlic, ginger, kaempferia, onion, and turmeric
3. Leafy shoots: Basil, coriander, eryngo, lotus leaves, perilla, rue, scallion, and tea
4. Bark: Cassia
5. Flowers and buds: Clove, osmanthus, jasmine, rose petals
6. Fruits: Black Chinese canarium, black pepper, cayenne pepper, fennel, lesser galangal, li-meng, hot pepper, long pepper, luo-han-guo, star anise, tangerine peel, tsao-ko, and zanthoxylum
7. Seeds: Fenugreek, mustard, and nutmeg

From BETSY in LONDON: Recently had a beef shin sliced and called Ten Plus Beef. Loaded with many Chinese spices, the only ones I recognized were goji berries and star anise. The cook said he makes this marinade once a year, never throws it out, and makes another with fresh spices then adds them together when he does. Ever hear of anything like this; and can you share a recipe?
BETSY: Actually we have, and not just for this marinade of spices. We keep a 'soy sauce mother' with seasonings as it is called, one for pickling, another a master beef stock. All are refreshed by adding a new batch of the original. Before one in use is set aside and refrigerated, it is boiled for two minutes, then filtered. Back to your spice marinade query, we cook shin beef using our marinade, it and all recipes for this column are after the letters.

From PETE via e-mail:
When I go to Chinese restaurants with Chinese friends, we are served something called 'paozai' and I wonder if you have a recipe for that great pickled dish. Also wonder if you have another pickling items that use sesame seeds, and still another with radishes? Any other great ones? Am embarrassed and hope this is not asking for too much.
PETE: Do not be embarrassed, but do call the first dish pao cai. Waiters and restaurant owners are proud of the food they serve but can not always explain it. These items you ask about are appetite stimulants. Here are several to stimulate yours and those of your guests; hope you all do more Chinese cooking at home. Check the Flavor and Fortune website for ideas. There are a like number in an article in Volume 8(4). Seek them and all articles through 2001 on our web site. Only a few hard copies remain.
Homemade Fermented Red Taro Curd
1 and 1/3 pounds white taro, coarsely shredded
1/4 pound flour
1/4 pound coarse salt, mixed with four tablespoons boiling water
1/2 liter soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red coloring (powdered preferred)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 Tablespoons rose wine
1. Rinse the shredded taro, then steam until thoroughly cooked. Drain well, then mash and set aside.
2. Put the flour into a bowl, add a little water (a few tablespoons) and make this into a batter. Put in a heat-proof bowl and steam for fifteen minutes over rapidly boiling water. Remove and allow to cool.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour batter with the cooled salt water, and the cooled mashed taro. Knead for five minutes., then put this into a clean bowl and allow it to ferment uncovered at room temperature for half a day or overnight.
4. Next, put this bowl during the day, every day, for two weeks in a sunny spot. Do not ignore it, rather mix the contents every two hours during the day. Use chopsticks and do so from morning to night. The contents should dry out.
5. Pour the dried materials into a square tray such as an ice cube tray, and press them together firmly. Let this rest overnight.
6. Take a ceramic flat container or a bowl or urn and rub with the rose wine. Next, put the cut squares into it in one layer, the pieces close to each other.
7. In a separate small bowl, mix the soy sauce, red coloring, and five-spice powder. Pour this over the taro squares. Cover with cheesecloth, not touching the taro mixture. Set this container aside for one month; then it is ready to use.
Spice Marianade
3 slices fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
3 shallots, peeled and smashed
1 Tablespoon tangerine peel, sliced thinly
5 whole star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Tablespoons dry parsley1 whole chili
1 whole tsaoko
1 teaspoon red fermented wine lees
1/2 teaspoon sweet basil seeds
3 Tablespoons solid shortening, if needed
1. Simmer all of these spices in five cups of water for two hours.
Allow to come to room temperature, then strain and refrigerate. Note: Use within three to five days. If not using in five days, add three tablespoons solid shortening to the spice marinade, return to the boil, add the shortening and before it solidifies, top it off with melted solid shortening, pour into a clean bottle, then refrigerate.
Shin Beef
3 Tablespoons goji berries
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons broad bean paste
2 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1/4 pound Chinese brown sugar slabs
1 cup thin soy sauce
all residual spice marinade
2 pounds shin beef
1. Bring all ingredients to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for two hours.
2. Remove the beef, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Strain the marinade and refrigerate until needed. If remaining more than a few days, add three tablespoons solid shortening to the spice marinade when still hot, then refrigerate.
Pao Cai
1 hot red pepper, seeded and minced fine
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 pound Chinese cabbage, cut into one- by two-inch pieces
1 pound Chinese celery cabbage, cut into one- by two-inch pieces
1/4 cup corn oil
1. Mix red pepper, sugar, salt, and vinegar and refrigerate overnight, drain cabbages and reserve vinegar mixture.
2. Heat oil, fry both cabbages for one minute, remove cabbages and set aside for one hour, then drain well.
3. Mix cabbages with vinegar mixture, let rest for an hour, then serve.
Quick-chilled Cucumber Pickle
1 long English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise then into thin slices
2 Tablespoons Chinese sesame paste mixed with two tablespoons hot tea
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
4 to 5 crushed Sichuan peppers
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
few sprigs of coriander
1. Mix all of the ingredients except the coriander sprigs and refrigerate for an hour.
2. Remove from refrigerator, drain, and put on a platter, put coriander sprigs on top and serve.
Mixed Pickles
1 carrot, peeled and cut into two-inch lengths, then into thin strips
1 large daikon or large white radish, peeled and cut into two-inch squares, then into thin strips
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons cloud ear mushrooms, soaked in warm water for twenty minutes, then drained and cut into slivers
1 packet (one ounce) cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for half an hour, drained, then cut into four-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into two-inch pieces then thin strips
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup thin soy sauce
1/4 cup white Chinese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1. Mix carrot and daikon pieces with salt and set aside for half an hour, then drain and rinse with cold water, and drain again.
2. Bring water to boil and simmer cloud ear mushrooms for ten minutes, drain and set aside.
3. Bring fresh water to boil, add cellophane noodles and simmer for tem minutes. Drain and set aside.
4. Blanch celery for half minute, drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
5. Mix sugar, soy sauce, vinegar. Sesame oil, and dry mustard stirring until mustard is thoroughly dissolved, then add all vegetables, mushrooms, and cellophane noodles, stir well and serve.
Smashed Radish Pickles
1 bunch red radishes, ends removed
1 small daikon, peeled and cut into one-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon crushed Chinese brown slab sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1. Smash each radish or radish piece with the side of a cleaver.
2. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and let sit for half an hour, drain, and put into a clean bowl with sugar and rice wine.
3. Heat both of the oils and toss with the radishes and all other ingredients; then serve.

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