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Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, The

by: Grace Young

New York NY: Simon and Schuster 1999, $27.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-684-84739-6

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(2) page(s): 16

Be resourceful and buy this volume of wisdom. It is laced with lots of smarts, fine story telling, and many recipes. All are in three sections: Mastering the Fundamentals, The Art of Celebration, and Achieving Yin Yang Harmony. There is also a section titled Shopping as a Sleuth, a glossary, and an index. Every one of them is worth your attention. Each recipe and all foods in the glossary are in English, Chinese and transliterated into Cantonese, the source of all of them.

The three main sections have wonderful recipes further subdivided into sections with philosophical sub-headings such as, but not limited to, Shreds of Ginger Like Blades of Grass, Going to Market with Mama, A Day Lived as if in China, and Cooking as a Healing Art. The recipes, the sections, and the sub-sections themselves all have introductions that range from paragraphs to pages. They read like a fine-tooth comb making their way through the strands of life.

A sociologist or anthropologist studying Chinese Americans, a historian wondering about acculturation, a person looking back on their own life, or someone who adores reading about and cooking fine Cantonese cuisine can equally savor this book, as can those who are looking for ancient healing foods. It is much, much more than a cookbook.

Within its pages one reads about changing generations seeking roots and learns of their family's healing foods. This book is loaded with culinary brilliance, filled with personal lore, and has appropriate respect for family, friends, and food.

The recipes range from very simple to a mite more labor-intensive. Most are easy to make and most use readily found ingredients. Some examples of these are Steamed Tangerine Beef, Stir Fried Long Beans with Bell Peppers (which can be made with fresh green beans), Chicken with Cashews, Cabbage Noodle Soup, and White Cut Chicken. Thankfully, there is not total omission of classic dishes due to need of a more unusual item or a mite more time. Some of these that are adored by most Cantonese families include Braised Nom Yu and Taro Duck. (Nom Yu is Cantonese for fermented red bean curd), Stir Fried Frog on Rice, Oyster Vegetable Lettuce Wraps, Double Steamed Papaya and Snow Fungus Soup, and Pickled Pigs Feet. That last recipe is one of my husband's favorite foods, made with much less vinegar and ginger so that it is less spicy than the one Grace Young provides. Wonder if she realizes that in the Cantonese tradition, they serve this as soup to new mothers to help them produce more milk for the baby. Research has told us that the calcium content in it is also very good for mother and baby.

Simple or time consuming, the recipes are easy to follow, the finished products a pleasure to serve. Making them will garner many compliments to the chef. One reminded of my childhood. It is the Lotus Seed Tea, a soup made with lotus seeds, rock sugar, and almost poached eggs. Her Auntie calls them good for the kidneys. Once when not up to snuff, my Chinese Aunt Lily served me some and soon I felt better. When I came home and told my mom, she advised that tea was not great for growing girls. At that time, neither she nor I knew that the Chinese word for tea also means hot beverage, and this tea did not have any tea leaves.

The Beef Chow Fun in the book is fantastic, so much better than you get in a restaurant. Ms. Young says it is because it is less oily; I think the texture is different and better, too. However, in this and all beef recipes, proceed with caution. While it is authentic and some Cantonese people still do so, baking soda sprinkled on the beef should be omitted. It may make the meat more tender, some say more mushy, but it also reduces vitamin absorption. This use on beef is not allowed in Chinese restaurants in the United States. Anyway, it is not needed because beef in this country is grain fed and more tender than beef raised in China, where the custom originated.

Other than that minor item and the fact that in the glossary, almond seeds are alphabetized under Peeled Almond Seeds not under Almonds, this is one fantastic book. Wisdom requires it have an honored place near your wok; it is front and center on mine. I would like to try all of the recipes and am working toward that end; recommend you do the same.
Steamed Tangerine Beef
1 dried tangerine peel
8 ounces flank steak
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons finely shredded ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1. Soak tangerine peel in half-cup water for half an hour, then drain and finely shred the tangerine peel.
2. Half the flank steak with the grain, then cutting across each piece, cut each into quarter-inch strips, and put them into a heatproof bowl.
3. Mix meat with soy sauce, half the tangerine peel, ginger, cornstarch, and 2 Tablespoons cold water and gently combine these ingredients, then sprinkle remaining peel on top.
4. Prepare a steamer with water and bring to the boil. Put bowl with meat into the steamer, cover the steamer and steam for two minutes. Then carefully remove the cover, gently mix the meat, and steam another minute, then serve.
Pickled Pigs Feet II
2 pounds ginger, peeled
4 pounds pigs front feet, chopped into two to three inch pieces
1 pound pigs rear feet, chopped into two to three inch pieces
20 ounces black vinegar
21 ounces black sweetened vinegar
4 eggs
6 ounces brown sugar slabs
12 ounces white vinegar
1. Soak ginger root in cold water for about twenty minutes, then remove, cut into one inch chunks and smash each one with the side of a cleaver. And, if needed, in a very large pot, boil water and immerse pigs feet returning the water to the boil, then remove and shave any hairs remaining on the feet.
2. In a non reactive pot (i.e.: enamel), add ginger, pigs feet, and six cups of boiling water and bring water back to the boil, then add the regular unsweetened vinegar and reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer about one hour or until feet can be easily poked/pierced with a knife.
3. Add Sweetened black vinegar, cover again and simmer twenty more minutes then remove pot from the heat, cool, and then refrigerate overnight. In the morning, remove the hardened fat from the top and discard it.
4. Hard cook the eggs and remove the shells. Stir them into the pigs feet; and return this mixture to the refrigerator for four or more hours.
5. Cut brown sugar slabs into four or so pieces, remove pot from the refrigerator, add them and the white vinegar and heat until sugar is dissolved and the soup is very hot. Serve one cup of liquid and some pickled feet per person.

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