Monday, December 30, 2019

Rice cakes with yellow chives and mushrooms

One of the glories of East Chinese cooking is its artistry with rice, particularly sticky rice. 

In other parts of the country these grains are turned into equally sticky dishes or ingredients.

However, Zhejiang province in particular has mastered their transformation into hard white logs or small batons that are literally called year cakes, but which we know as rice cakes, which still doesn’t make much sense in English, but there you go. 

Be that as it may, since they are called year cakes in Chinese, they make the perfect vegan dish for the Lunar New Year (January 25 this year). Plus, these are so crazily easy to make that they should probably be on regular rotation throughout the year.

Korean sliced rice cakes
I’ve found that some of the most reliable brands now available in the Bay Area actually come from Korean manufacturers since they have become a beloved staple in Korean cuisine, where they’re known as tteok.

When it comes to Chinese yellow chives, the main thing you want to be concerned with is freshness. Each leaf should look bright, shiny, and full of pep. 

This vegetable goes south so fast no matter how hard you try to treat them with love and respect, so count on using them no later than the day after you buy them. 

If you've done that, they are easy to prep: just rinse and cut them into the desired length. 
Super fresh yellow chives

If not, you'll have to spend precious time slowly picking over them, pulling out the slimy leaves, and that is no treat. Plus, they smell awful if they're not extremely bouncy, so choose your yellow chives carefully and use them immediately.

Fresh mushrooms of any kind are delicious here. I've used Chinese black mushrooms, but feel free to improvise to your heart's content. And be sure to season this with salt, not soy sauce, since you want the beauty of the chives to shine through.

Rice cakes with yellow chives and mushrooms
Jĭucàihuáng xiānggū chăo nián’gāo 韭菜黃香菇炒年糕
Cook these only til wilted
Serves 4

½ cup | 125 ml peanut or vegetable oil, divided in half
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces | 250 g fresh mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 pound | 500 g yellow Chinese chives, trimmed and cut into 1-inch | 2-cm pieces
8 ounces | 250 g sliced rice cakes
½ cup mild rice wine
2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste

Sliced fresh Chinese black mushrooms
1. Pour half the oil in a wok set over medium-high heat and toss in the salt, garlic, and mushrooms. Stir-fry them until the mushrooms are golden on the edges, and the slide them out into a work bowl. Without adding any more oil, toss in the yellow chives and stir-fry them until they have barely wilted. Add these to the mushrooms.

2. Pour the rest of the oil into the wok and add the rice cakes. Toss these around until they have gently browned on the edges, and then add the rice wine and boiling water. Simmer the rice cakes, stirring often from the bottom, until the water has reduced to a thick gravy. Toss in the mushrooms, chives, and sesame oil, and then add more salt as needed to taste. Serve hot as an entrée or side.