Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stuffed squash blossoms from tropical China's Guangxi region

When you mention a dish like Stuffed Squash Blossoms, the image that will probably pop into your mind is that of a lovely Italian dish, preferably with some ricotta cheese in there, a sprinkle of delicate herbs, and a gentle whiff of garlic.

But the similarity between Chinese and Italian ways with a squash blossom begins and ends with the garlic. 

Instead of a rich mouthful of cheeses, these delightful stuffed flowers from Yangshuo in the tropical south-central region of Guangxi burst with a savory meat or mushroom filling that lets you know for a fact that you’re not in Kansas – or Florence, for that matter – anymore.

Yangshuo is known for its 32 variations on the stuffed foods theme, including lotus roots, chilies, bitter melons, eggplants, and bean curd. In fact, if squash blossoms are out of season, you can easily use any number of things to contain this delicious filling and flaunt the nose-tingling sauce.

This dish looks complicated and refined, but in fact it’s quite easy to put together. All you need to do is rinse out the squash blossoms and remove the thick stamen (checking for any bugs and bees while you’re at it) and let them drip dry while you chop up the filling. 

Stuffing them is little more than spooning the filling into the fat bottoms of the blossoms and pinching the petals together before tossing them in cornstarch and a beaten egg. The final step is a simple frying to cook the filling and crisp up the egg-drenched flower. It’s delicious, it’s beautiful, and it’s not something that everyone else is making.

Stuffed squash blossoms 
Guahua niang  瓜花酿  
Serves 6 as part of a multicourse meal, or 12 as an appetizer

Squash blossoms:
12 squash blossoms
1½ cups finely chopped pork or fresh mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 large egg
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 diced red chili, optional

Egg wash:
1 large egg, beaten
Cornstarch as needed
Peanut oil as needed

Garlic and chili sauce:

Crispy fried blossoms
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 red chilies
4 tablespoons peanut oil
4 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dark vinegar
or, Roasted Sichuan Pepper and Salt Dip (see below)

1. Carefully rinse and pat dry the squash blossoms. Cut out the thick stamens in each one and trim off any green calyxes at the bottom of each blossom.

2. Mix together the filling ingredients and stuff the mixture into the squash blossoms. Close the petals over the filling by lightly squeezing them together. Dip each blossom in the beaten egg before rolling it in the cornstarch; shake off any extra cornstarch and arrange on a pan next to the stove.

3. Heat an inch of peanut oil in a wok over medium heat until a bamboo chopstick inserted in the oil immediately bubbles all over. Fry about 4 of the squash blossoms at a time, being careful not to crowd them. The petals will cook faster than the filling, so as the petals turn golden, tip them up against the side of the wok to keep them out of the heat. As soon as the bases of the blossoms are a golden brown, remove them to a serving platter with the petals facing outwards and the bases snuggled up against each other so that it looks like a sunflower.

4. If you want to make the ginger and chili sauce, pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the oil in the wok. Heat the wok over medium-high heat and quickly stir-fry the ginger, garlic, and chilies for about 20 seconds. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, and as soon as they come to a boil, pour them over the bases of the squash blossoms, as this will keep the petals crisp. Serve immediately.

5. And if you’re using the Roasted Sichuan Pepper and Salt Dip, just serve the squash blossoms as soon as they’re fried with a few small bowls of the dip.

Roasted Sichuan pepper and salt dip

Huajiao yan  花椒鹽 

All over China

Makes about ¼ cup 

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

4 tablespoons sea salt
1. Place the peppercorns in a dry wok and covering them with the salt. Heat the salt and peppercorns over low heat for about 5 minutes, shaking and stirring them occasionally, until the salt begins to brown and the peppercorns smoke slightly and smell delicious.

2. Remove the salt and peppercorns to a small bowl to cool down before grinding them in a spice grinder or blender. Shake the roasted salt through a medium sieve to remove any coarse pieces, and then pile the salt into small serving bowls.

Map courtesy Wiki Commons

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