Weather as hot as it's been lately demands cool and refreshing meals, because if you're anything like me, your appetite lags in direct proportion to the rise in mercury.
One way to make food more appealing is to offer a spread of what the Chinese call "stomach openers," or kaiweicai, the very definition of appetizers. Most of what I offer here are vegetarian - that's because to my mind few things are as refreshing on a sweltering day as cold salads and chilled veggies. In the next column we'll take a look at what is probably the most scrumptious way to cook an egg, but for the nonce, as they say, it's nothing but vegetables around here.
|Crispy fried peanuts|
The only thing I ask you to take particular care with - aside from frying the peanuts, of course - is the washing of the spinach. Nothing destroys a spinach dish faster than grit, and spinach seems to hold onto sand with impressive tenacity. The best way to wash spinach is to use the trick I learned eons ago from Marian Morash's Victory Garden Cookbook: wash the spinach in a tub of warm water, which is easier on your hands and so makes swishing around the leaves a whole lot more pleasant. Rinse and swish the spinach, changing the water each time until there is absolutely no sand left in the bottom of the bowl. Then, shake the leaves dry; you don't need to get them totally dry for this dish, as they are going to be blanched.
|Soak the spinach in warm water|
Enjoy this dish either chilled or slightly warm. If you are making it ahead of time, wait until the last minute to toss in the dressing and peanuts so that the spinach remains a lovely emerald green and the peanuts stay crunchy.
Beijing-style spinach and peanut appetizer
Bocai huasheng 菠菜花生
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer, 2 to 3 as a side dish
1 bunch (about 12 ounces) fresh spinach, as tender as possible
¼ cup Fried Peanuts
2 to 3 tablespoons roasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced, plus 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, plus 1 tablespoon tasty dark vinegar, plus 1 teaspoon sugar)
Sea salt to taste
|The garlicky dressing|
2. If you haven't fried the peanuts yet, do so now, as they will need to cool down before they become crispy.
3. To make the dressing, combine the sesame oil with either the sauce from the Sweet Pickled Garlic Cloves or the rest of the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
4. Just before serving, toss the spinach with the sauce and the Fried Peanuts. Serve cold.