Monday, May 20, 2019

Green stripes and chocolate polka dots in my bread, please

If you’re in the mood for something truly beautiful for breakfast, do I have a treat for you. 

I don’t know about you, but most days I don’t get to eat enough jade-green bread, and I never have enough chocolate for breakfast, no matter how I try, so deal with this tragedy I have put together this recipe based on a Taiwanese favorite.

The thing is, most Taiwanese-style bakeries don’t offer much in the way of flavor or texture in their matcha breads. 

There’s green in there, of course, but this could be food coloring for all I know. And even worse, the bread is studded with red beans, which just don’t spin my wheels.

And so I’ve added lots of chocolate chips instead. 

You’ll notice that they are flat here, which allows them to sidle up to the bread twist and become one with the loaf, instead of oozing out. This is because I’ve called on Caillebaut’s dark callets, which are like little discs, rather than the perky kisses that most Americans are used to.

Matcha
Lashing the bread with generous speckles of dark chocolate instead of the usual milk chocolate drastically lowers the sweetness of these loaves, and I really like that. Sugar tends to overwhelm many flavors, especially something as elusive as green tea, so nudging just a gentle edge of sweetness into the bread works well here.


Matcha chocolate chip bread
Mŏcháfĕn qiăokèlì tùsīmiànbāo  抹茶粉巧克力吐司麵包
Modern Taiwanese pastry
Makes 2 loaves

Green dough:
¾ cup | 150 ml hot water
¼ cup | 25 g matcha (finely ground Japanese-style green tea)
¼ cup | 25 g powdered milk
Layers of interest
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus more for kneading
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons | 25 g coconut oil or unsalted butter, softened

White dough:
¾ cup | 150 ml warm water
¼ cup | 25 g powdered milk
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus more for kneading
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons | 25 g coconut oil or unsalted butter, softened

Lay the green on white
½ cup | 30 g dark chocolate callets,
or chocolate chips, divided in half
Spray oil
2 tablespoons milk 
Sanding sugar

1. First make the green tea by pouring the hot water over the matcha. Let the tea sit until its temperature has reduced to warm.

2. Now make the two doughs: For the green dough, mix the warm tea (including the matcha itself), powdered milk, yeast, and sugar together in a large work bowl. In a separate bowl, make the white dough with the warm water, powdered milk, yeast, and sugar. Give the yeast time to wake up and become very foamy, which should take around 20 to 30 minutes. If you don’t get a good head of foam, buy fresh yeast and start over.

Chips scattered on the doughs
3. Stir the egg, flour, salt, and oil into the two yeast mixtures to form soft doughs. Quickly knead the doughs, adding more flour as necessary to keep them from sticking, until they are smooth and bouncy. Roll the two doughs into two balls and lightly flour them. Cover the doughs with clean tea towels, stick the bowls over the top to help keep the doughs moist, and wait until the doughs have risen to at least twice their original size, which will take an hour or two. Separately dump the puffy doughs out on to a board lightly sprinkled with flour and knead them by hand until they are smooth and tensile. Cover them again and let the doughs rise until they are again at least double in size, about 30 minutes. Divide each ball of dough in half. You should have two green balls of dough and two white.

4. On a lightly floured board, roll half of the white dough out into a 9-inch | 23-cm square. Roll half of the green dough out into the same sized square and place it on top of the white rectangle. Sprinkle half of the chocolate over the green dough, leaving the edges clear. Roll up the doughs from one end, and then pinch both the long edge and the ends closed. Repeat with the other two halves of the dough and the chocolate chips.

Pinch up the edges
5. Spray oil in the bread pans, set the dough in the pans, sprinkle both loaves with water,
and lightly cover them until each loaf has almost reached the top of the pan, about 15 minutes. 

5. Set a rack just below the middle of your oven and set it for 350°F | 175°C. When the oven is ready, sprinkle water once again over the loaves. Brush the tops of the loaves with the milk and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar, then slash them down the center about 1 inch | 2 cm deep. Set the pans in the oven and bake for around 35 minutes. The loaves should be a lovely golden brown and sound hollow when you tap them in the center. Remove the pans from the oven, turn the loaves out onto a cake rack, and let them cool before slicing. They freeze well, of course.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tianshui noodles


The streets of Chengdu – the storied capital of Sichuan province – are filled with great snacks. In fact, they are so delicious that I can easily be tempted to eat nothing but street food when I’m there.

Almost all of these dishes are super simple and amazingly cheap, which is why, of course, hawkers love them. But their customers return again and again for the flavors and the textures.

One of the brightest examples of these street foods is Tianshui noodles. Literally, this means “sweetwater noodles,” and I’m always tempted to call them by that name, as it has a sort of cowboy twang to it.

But my guess is that these originated almost directly north of Chengdu in Gansu province, since the second-largest city there is called Tianshui, and also because so many Chinese noodle dishes tend to be Muslim in origin, and lots of Muslims have called Gansu home.

Whatever its origins, this is a deceptively barebones dish that relies on amazing flavors to mask the fact that you are being served something requiring little more than a few pennies’ worth of ingredients to make.

Lovely mouthfuls
Do not let the simplicity of this dish fool you. This is perfection in a bowl. But, as with so many things that are ostensibly simple, the achievement of a memorable bowl of Tianshui noodles requires a couple of basic, stellar ingredients:
-       fresh noodles, as thick and chewy as possible, made with nothing but flour and water
-       good chile oil with crunchy bits
-       sweet soy sauce
-       perfectly fresh toasted peanuts or sesame seeds
-       flavorful toasted sesame paste or peanut butter
-       fresh garlic, cilantro, and scallions.

So you see, if you really want to hit all your pleasure buttons with Tianshui noodles, you have to do a bit of prep work. I always have all of these ingredients on hand, which makes me think this is a spectacularly easy dish to whip up on a moment’s notice, but I realize that no everyone is as single-minded as me.

If you aren’t, you can certainly get away with buy all of the ingredients here, and they will give you a fair approximation of what it is like to dine in paradise. Then, for your next excursion, make your homemade chile oil, sweet sesame sauce, noodles, and so forth, and then taste something that Chinese angels probably ask for every week.

Tianshui noodles
Tiánshuĭ miàn  甜水麵
Sichuan cuisine
Simple-appearing sauce ingredients
Makes 2 servings

4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons toasted sesame paste or peanut butter
¼ cup | 60 ml chile oil with toasty bits
¼ cup | 60 ml sweet soy sauce
Boiling water, as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces | 250 g fresh plain noodles (see Notes)
Around ¼ cup | 60 ml hot pasta water
¼ cup | 30 g chopped toasted or fried peanuts, or toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

1. In a small work bowl, mix together the garlic, sesame paste or peanut butter, chile oil, and sweet soy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

2. Bring the water to boil in a large saucepan and add the salt and noodles. Bring the water to a full boil again and then immediately lower the heat to maintain and gentle simmer. Cook the noodles only until they are al dente, which is usually when they first start to float. Drain the noodles (reserve at least ¼ cup | 60 ml) and divide them between two large noodle bowls.

3. Divide the sauce between the bowls and toss the noodles gently so that each strand is coated, adding as much of the pasta water as needed to keep things silky smooth. Sprinkle on the nuts or sesame seeds, scallions, and cilantro. Serve hot.

Note:

Make your own noodles, if you wish, or buy them ready-made at a Chinese grocery store. The only requirements are that they be fresh (definitely not dried pasta of any kind), made with only flour and water, and are relatively thick, as this gives the dish personality.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Chinese style hummus

Hummus is very popular around our place. My husband and I are usually busy writing whenever lunchtime rolls around, and so I’m always happy to find something easy for those days when we are both famished and too busy to fuss with anything too complicated, but still long for something delicious. And that’s why hummus so easily fits the bill. 

But one day I started thinking about hummus (I’d never really given that much thought about it before, to be honest) and realized it could be made even more tasty – in my humble opinion – if it were given a Chinese twist or two. 

So, out with the tahini and in with the toasted sesame seeds. Rice vinegar takes the place of lemon, and fish sauce subs in perfectly for salt. Garnish it with your favorite chile oil (really, you want something with crunchy stuff here), toasted sesame seeds, and scallions or cilantro or both, and suddenly you have the best of both worlds.

Crunch, flavor, & nuttiness
I love this so much that I often make a breakfast sandwich by slathering way too much hummus between two slices of toast. Come lunchtime, and I’m more in the mood for vegetables, so out come the carrots, jicama, cucumbers, and whatever else is hanging around in the fridge.

This makes a lovely gift, too, and since you’ll have about five cups of the stuff, you might be able to bear parting with a cup or so if you’re feeling generous. If not, I totally understand.

By the way, the Chinese name for garbanzo beans – or chickpeas – is literally “raptor’s beak beans.” Check out the little beaks on these guys… they remind me more of parakeets (or budgies) than eagles, but I wasn’t the one in charge of handing out names that day.

Chinese hummus chez Huang
Huángjiā yīngzuĭdòu níer  黃家鷹嘴豆泥兒
Makes about 5 cups | 1200 g

Hummus:
Definitely parakeets
1½ cups | 300 g dried chickpeas (see Note)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Water, as needed
8 ounces | 225 g toasted sesame paste
¼ cup | 60 ml pale rice vinegar
6 cloves garlic
½ cup | 125 ml cool water
2 tablespoons fish sauce

To serve:
Homemade chile oil, preferably with crispy bits
Chopped scallions and/or cilantro
Cucumber spears, carrots sticks, or what have you

1. At least one day before you plan to serve this, place the dried chickpeas in a medium work bowl and cover with cool water by at least 2 inches | 5 cm. Soak the beans overnight, drain them well, rinse, and place them in a medium saucepan.

Ginger & garlic - lots of it
2. Cover the beans with fresh water, add the baking soda, and bring them to a boil. As they get ready to boil, a massive cloud of foam will rise up, and you need to stir this down, scoop it off, or remove the pan from the heat – it doesn’t matter which you choose to do, as long as it doesn’t flood your stove and make a horrible mess. Lower the heat and simmer the beans until they are tender, about 5 minutes for relatively fresh beans.

3. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse. Place them in a food processor with the sesame paste, vinegar, garlic, water, and fish sauce. Pulse the beans until they are a fine paste, stopping the processor every once in a while to scrape down the sides. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Scoop the hummus into a container and refrigerate it if you are not using it right away. 

4. To serve, mound the hummus in a low bowl and drizzle it with chile oil. Garnish it with the scallions and/or cilantro and the sesame seeds. Serve it with whatever you like.

Note:

Fresh beans are a must hear  They cook up almost instantly that way, and they have a wonderfully creamy texture as a result. Garbanzo beans - aka chickpeas - are best bought in bulk, where they are cheapest. Just be sure to buy them from a place with a busy turnover, like a health food store or a Middle Eastern grocery. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Time for breakfast

Breakfast is a big deal in China. Unlike the States, the first meal of the day is a lot more than eggs, bacon, bread, and cereal. In fact, it’s a terrific reason to get out of bed any day of the week. 

In most places I’ve visited in China, little stands do nothing but prepare breakfast specialties that are ready from the wee hours of the night until lunchtime. And boy, do they have some tasty things on the menu.

One of my favorites is this, little hand pies whose Chinese name literally means “chive boxes.” Garlic chives are indeed the main attraction, but this being China, a deliciously savory edge completes the flavor range, and so there’s baby dried shrimp for a gently funky, salty layer, some tiny bits of scrambled egg for a meaty feel, and cellophane noodles to lighten up the texture. 

I changed the traditional recipe up slightly by frying the baby shrimp - which are called "shrimp skins" (xiāpí 蝦皮) in Chinese - to broadcast their flavor throughout the filling while tamping down their tendency to turn a tad soggy. And in case you are afraid that these will be overwhelmingly fishy, be assured that they instead turn into crispy bits that are barely noticed other than a suggestion of xianwei (umami) on the tongue.

In spite of all that, what I love best about this recipe is the pastry. It is simply the best one I know of, as it is light, thin, and fries up into a crisp layer that shatters in your mouth. It is easy to master, too.

A lovely coiled edge
Here's a video I made that shows you how to make an easy yet pretty coiled edge on your pastries. (A heads-up for those of you who are reading this at work: there's music on the video, so turn down the sound before clicking on the link.) 


Serve these with millet porridge 
whenever you want to start out the day with a smile on your face. 


Chive box pastries
Jiǔcài hé 韭菜盒
Beijing
Makes 1 dozen

Filling:
1 small bundle cellophane noodles
Warm water, as needed
Ready to fill the pastry
¼ cup | 60 ml fresh peanut or vegetable oil
¼ cup | 20 g dried baby shrimp
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces | 225 g (or so) green garlic chives
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt (see Tip)
½ teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Dough:
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour
2 tablespoons fresh peanut or vegetable oil
½ cup | 125 ml boiling water
1 tablespoon cool water
More flour, as needed
Oil for frying
Chile sauce for dipping, optional

1. An hour or two before you plan to serve these, soak the cellophane noodles in warm water until they are completely soft and silky. Drain them well and then chop the noodles into pieces ¼-inch | 5 mm long or smaller. 

Fill the pastry
2. While the noodles are soaking, make the dough: place the flour and oil in a medium work bowl. Use chopsticks to stir in the hot water until large flakes are formed. Work in the cook water, adding more flour or cool water as necessary until it does not stick to your hands or the board. Knead the dough until it is soft and supple. Cover it with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Roll the dough into an even rope 12 inches | 30 cm long, and then cut it into 12 pieces. Toss these lightly with a bit of flour and let them rest again while you prepare the filling.

3. Make the filling just before you are about to fill the pastries, as otherwise the chives will wilt from the salt. Place a wok or frying pan over medium heat, and add the oil once it is hot. Sprinkle the baby shrimp in the oil and gently fry them — adjusting the temperature as necessary — until they are a golden brown. Scrape them into a small work bowl and return as much of the oil to the wok as possible. Return the wok to the stove and fry the eggs until they are scrambled nicely. Chop the eggs up into small pieces with your spatula and add them to the shrimp. Trim, rinse, and pat the chives very dry. Cut the chives into pieces ¼-inch | 5 mm long and add them to the shrimp and eggs. Season with the salt, sugar, and pepper. Divide the filling into 12 portions.

4. Roll each piece of dough into a 5-inch | 13-cm circle, and keep the dough covered whenever you are not using it. Wet your finger with water and draw a circle around the edge, which will help seal the dough. Fill the pastries by placing one portion of the filling in the center of the dough — be sure not to get any oil on the edge, as this will prevent the dough from sealing well. Pinch the pastry into a half-moon shape, and then curl the edge with a decorative braid, if you wish. These pastries should be immediately fried or frozen. (Frozen pastries can be fried later without being defrosted first.)

Folded up and ready for crimping
5. To fry the pastries, set a flat frying pan over medium heat. Film the pan with oil once it is hot and add only as many pastries as will fit without touching each other. Cover the pan and let them slowly fry on one side until golden on the bottom, and then uncover the pan and flip them over. Cover and fry them on the other side. When the second side is a light gold, uncover the pan and fry them until crispy. Serve immediately with a side of chile sauce, if you like.

Tip

Use 1 teaspoon of salt if you are going to eat these fresh. Freezing the pastries heightens their saltiness for some reason, so it you want to make these ahead of time, use half that amount of salt. If you are eating half and freezing the rest, then use the smaller amount and dust the pastries with a sprinkling of salt as soon as they have been fried.