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Chen Horng Serves the Table

by: Chen Horng

Singapore : Tao Lieu 1999, $32.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 957-9211-93-0

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(3) page(s): 19 and 20

On TVBS, if you are fortunate enough to get that Taiwan channel and understand Chinese, Horng hosts a cooking program. For those who have not had the privilege, try his cookbook, no TV or language skills required. This bilingual book with introduction by Fu Pei Mei, whose own cookbooks are legendary, is impressive enough.

The recipes are in four chapters titled Meat; Seafood; Rice, Noodles and Snacks; and Vegetable and Others. But, do not be deceived by this simplicity, as each has a beautiful photograph of the completed recipe, four or five lines of inspirational poetry, and great detail.

The recipe for Black Pearl San-Bay Chicken is wonderful; probably the best we ever enjoyed made from this gorgeous white fluffy feathered bird with dark, almost black flesh. This stew made with okra, garlic that is called onions in the ingredient list, ginger, red peppers, mushrooms, and basil leaves. It is wonderful and requires no last minute attention. Shredded Pork with Sweet Marinade does need final flourishes, but the entire dish takes but three minutes. It made a hit with my grandchildren. It is sweet from the bean sauce, is finger holding when chopsticks can not be used, and is finger licking good.

Purple Rice can entice any kid to the table. Red amaranth called 'red vegetable' makes an impressive presentation, and Horng adds pickled radish, spelled reddish, that we found unnecessary as we are not enamored of its super salty flavor. We adored Fried Leaf Mustard and made it with any number of greens. We fell in love with his silk squash recipe called Sponge Gourd with Clams.

If you want great Chinese desserts, this book is for you. Be delighted with the Papaya Pancake and Banana Rolls and salivate over the Fragrant Sweet Potato Balls, then make them. If you read the article in this issue called Snow Frog: Trailing this Rare Delicacy and want another way to try it, enjoy a recipe called: Hashima with Pear and Lichee. If you adore mango, the Sweet Mango with Sugar Filament recipe is a wonderful dessert twist on the classic apple or potato that is battered and dropped into cold water. The crunchy sugar coating that results melting and mixing with the mango, and those wonderful sugar filaments, are everyone’s favorite.

Horng is creative with recipe twists. One such is Minced Shrimp Wrapped by Lettuce, usually made with pigeon. Then there is Green Crab Passing Through Sandy River, a gorgeous creation of a lobster classic proudly sitting on a two-tone bed of sauce.

The book has a small problem with the person who proofed the text. The typos and unusual spellings can cause problems. Figure things out from the pictures, know that 'cepa' is probably an onion, that '1/4' obviously means one-fourth, and that 'a few sesame oil' means to use a few drops. Get past these annoyances and enjoy the book's terrific recipes. Join me in hoping he writes another cookbook; and we publically offer to edit it.
Fragrant Sweet Potato Balls
1 medium sweet potato (about half pound), peeled and diced
1/2 cup sweet potato powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup mashed brown bean or sweetened bean paste
1 cup oil
4 Tablespoons blanched chopped toasted almonds
1. Steam sweet potato in a rice cooker or boil them for fifteen minutes. Then set them aside and allow them to come to room temperature, then mash.
2. Mix sweet potato powder and sugar with half cup of warm water and knead until a paste has formed. Then mix in the mashed sweet potato and divide into eight portions, flattening each one.
3. Take one tablespoon brown bean paste and put it on one flattened sweet potato, directly in the center. Repeat until all are done, then close the sweet potato mixture around the bean paste. With your finger, slightly wet the top of each ball then press it into the chopped nuts.
4. Heat oil and fry half of the balls, in about two minutes they will float to the top, when they do, remove them to paper towels and fry the second batch.
Serve when hot.

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