You'll find a couple of local dishes in Bee Yinn Low's Easy Chinese Recipes (Tuttle Publishing, $24.95). This is because Low lives in Irvine and eats Chinese food all over California as well as in Asia. The L.A.-area recipes are shrimp and yellow chive dumplings, modeled on a dish at Dumpling 10053 in El Monte. The other is pork dumpling soup, which Low says she researched by eating "countless servings" at Sam Woo.
Born into a Chinese family in Penang, Malaysia, Low puts a lifetime of experience into judging Chinese food, and she is harsh when necessary. "The orange chicken served in the United States often looks like a gloppy mess," she writes. Egg drop soup is as bad or worse. "To be brutally honest--I have never tasted a really decent egg drop soup in the Chinese restaurants here in the United States." They are "goopy" and "MSG-laden," she complains.
You can, of course, learn to make "decent" egg drop soup (copied from a restaurant in Shanghai) and excellent orange chicken from her book. The theme is "easy," but Low offers an intriguing range of Chinese food, not just pared-down, simple dishes for beginners. It's subtitled "Family Favorites from Dim Sum to Kung Pao."
If you hang out in the San Gabriel Valley, you've probably eaten plenty of clams with black bean sauce, honey walnut shrimp, salt and pepper squid, pot stickers, Yangzhou fried rice and boba tea.
With Low's book, you can make these and also produce your own chili oil, Sichuan peppercorn oil, Chinese BBQ sauce and even dumpling wrappers. Low herself took the photos that accompany each dish.
Low jumped from a business career to food, launching the popular blog RasaMalaysia.com. Although she talks about eating in such places as Shanghai and Beijing, she is by no means Asia-centric. A hole-in-the-wall in Salt Lake City produces her favorite beef chow fun.
PORK DUMPLING SOUP
From Easy Chinese Recipes
Makes 12 to 20 dumplings
1 small wood ear mushroom
6 ounces ground pork
4 ounces shelled and deveined raw shrimp, cut into small pieces
2 peeled fresh or canned water chestnuts, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
1 1/2 teaspoons oil
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 dashes white pepper
1 pack store-bought siu kow or wonton wrappers
4 cups water
1 3/4 cups homemade chicken stock or 1 (14-ounce) can store-bought chicken broth
1 cup water
3 dashes white pepper
1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds
1. To make the filling, soak the wood ear mushroom in warm water for about 15 minutes. Cut it into thin strips. Combine the wood ear mushroom, pork, shrimp, water chestnuts, green onion, oil, rice wine, sesame oil, chicken powder, fish sauce, salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes.
2. To assemble the dumplings, place a wrapper on your palm and and spoon on about 1 tablespoon filling. Do not overfill. Dip your index finger into a small bowl of water and circle around the outer edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over and press the edges with your thumb and index finger to ensure that the dumpling is sealed tightly and there is no leakage.
3. Repeat for the remaining wrappers and filling.
4. Place the dumplings on a floured surface or baking sheet. Cover them with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying. Bring the 4 cups water to a boil in a pot. Gently transfer the wrapped dumplings to the boiling water and boil until they float to the top, about 2 to 3 minutes. If necessary, boil in more than 1 batch.
5. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon, drain the excess water, and cover them to prevent drying.
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6. Make the soup by bringing the chicken broth and 1 cup water to a boil in a pot. Add the white pepper and salt to taste.
7. Place 3 to 4 dumplings in each soup bowl, add some of the soup to the bowl and garnish with green onion rounds. Serve immediately.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at www.EatMx.com, www.TableConversation.com and @foodandwinegal.