If you are a Fuchsia Dunlop fan (you are, we hope), you probably already have a copy of her new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, and are halfway through a lunch of braised chicken with chestnuts, peas with dried shrimp, and sour-and-hot mushroom soup. Or, should you be trying to one-up L.A. chefs on their recent pork endeavors, maybe salt-fried pork belly with garlic stems (or substitute chives). It's going to be a very happy Chinese New Year for you.
Has it really been 10 years since the release of Land of Plenty, Dunlop's excellent cookbook focusing on Sichuan cooking? And more than five years since she released Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes From Hunan Province? You can build a food blog in a day, but penning a truly great cookbook takes time. Lots and lots of good, old-fashioned time.
Every Grain of Rice takes a broader look at Chinese cooking as a whole, from the roadside cooking of Hong Kong street stalls to the dishes Dunlop has enjoyed at friends' homes in Sichuan province and in tiny restaurants throughout China (even a few quick, inexpensive dishes from her days as a culinary student there years ago). The diversity of the dishes -- and their simplicity -- makes this a remarkable book.
Most of the ingredients are easily accessible, at least in cities like L.A. with an eye toward culinary diversity. You'll need a few pantry staples like Chinkiang vinegar to make that eggplant with garlic and Chinkiang, as well as the many other dishes through the book that call for the Chinese rice vinegar made from fermented glutinous rice (you can substitute brown rice vinegar). But once you have the basics, the cooking methods for making something like a steaming bowl of buckwheat noodles with red-braised beef (p. 286) are pretty simple.
Simple does not mean boring. We're having a hard time deciding which recipe to try first, there are so many noodle, dumpling and stir-fry options. We'll likely go with that "Sichaunese numbing-and-hot-beef," simply because it comes with this handy nose-to-tail marriage advice:
At a food conference in Chengdu a few years ago, I met the daughter of the couple who are immortalized in the name of the dish "man-and-wife lung slices" (fu qi fei pian). In the 1930s, her parents, a pair of street vendors, charmed the citizens of Chengdu not only with their fiery, lip-numbing snack of beef offal (including head, skin, tongue, heart and tripe) laced with roasted nuts and fragrant oils, but with their happy and harmonious marriage, which is why the dish ended up with the "man and wife" name.
If you're debating how this dish falls within the book's "simple Chinese cooking" subtitle (tongue, cow's head, heart?), Dunlop's variation relies on whole beef shin, or beef stew meat, for easier ingredient access. She promises her variation "has had a rapturous reception" whenever she has served it. After we try it, we'll let you know what happens next in that romance-novel dinner plot.
If you're looking for something a little less meat-heavy, Dunlop offers plenty of fodder. Many of the meat dishes could be easily morphed into vegetarian dishes by substituting vegetable broth, and the meatless menu offerings include dishes like "vegetarian Gong Bao chicken" (using portobello mushrooms in lieu of meat), fava bean and snow vegetable soup, and "Fuchsia's emergency midnight noodles" (buckwheat noodles, green onions, soy-Chinkiang-chili sauce, fried egg).
As Dunlop explains of those "emergency" noodles: "A physiological peculiarity that I've inherited from my mother and grandmother is an inability to sleep without eating a starchy snack in the evening. If I've been out and haven't eaten enough starchy foods at dinner, I come home ravenous and in need of a midnight feast." Sounds like the perfect excuse to make "emergency noodles" -- or these quick spicy sesame noodles -- to us.
Chef Chen Dailu's Spicy Sesame Noodles (Chen Shifu Hong You Su Mian)
From: Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop
Note: Chilli oil (double "L" spelling intentional) can be purchased at Chinese supermarkets. Dunlop includes a recipe for a homemade version in the book. "This is a recipe taught by chef Chen Dailu of the wonderful Chengdu snack restaurant Long Chao Shou," she says. "I was interviewing him for a feature for Saveur magazine and I asked him to tell me about his favorite food. To my surprise, he came up with this scrumptious but blindingly simple vegetarian recipe."
Makes: 2 servings
2 teaspoons sesame paste
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ teaspoon dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
Good pinch of ground, roasted Sichuan pepper, or a dash of Sichuan pepper oil
1 ½ tablespoons chilli oil with sediment
7 ounces (200g) Chinese wheat or buckwheat noodes
Handful of pea shoots, green bok choy or choy sum leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onion greens
1. Combine all the ingredients - except for the noodles, greens, if using, and spring onions -- in a serving bowl and mix well.
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2. Cook the noodles. If you are using the greens, toss them into the cooking water for the last minute to blanch them. Drain the noodles and greens and add to the serving bowl. Scatter with spring onions, mix well, and serve.
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