A Culinary Tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland

Upper management here at the Squabblery is 50% Chinese, so in tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland we have embarked upon an epic gastronomic journey. We are going to (or at least aspire to) cook our way through The Food of China cookbook (Murdoch Books, recipes by Deh-Ta Hsiung and Nina Simonds). Yuan gave this book to Little Miss for Christmas a few years back because it has great food photography, seemingly delicious recipes, and it appears to have been on sale. So far we’ve made a few things from it here and there, but now we set out to conquer. It seems to be a pretty good overview of some of the classic dishes of the various regional Chinese cuisines, and it is relatively short (relatively), so we actually stand at least some chance of completing our self-assigned task.

Our first foray took place about a week ago. Yes, I know, I have been slacking on my posting duties. Apologies all around. The occasion this time was catching up with a friend Yuan hadn’t seen in a while, and the (eventual) arrival of Ji, amateur whistling virtuoso and East Coast Chair of our Council on Gastronomic Indulgence.

There was no real rhyme or reason to our menu selection this time around – in fact, it mostly consisted of Little Miss wanting to make everything and Yuan putting his foot down. In the end, we concocted perhaps not a well-rounded menu but a satisfying one:

We started with a winter melon and ham soup. I’d actually never had winter melon before, and as it turns out I’m a big fan. It’s not sweet like you’d expect, but still has that mild, smooth taste that American melon-eaters (hee) are used to. The melon took on the flavors of the ham and some dried shrimp, which gave the whole dish a rich, savory kick in the flavor pants.

This soup was warming and hearty in the same way a much heavier wintry soup would be, but it was clear and light and simple.

Steamed beef with rice flour, a classic Shanghainese dish and a staple of Yuan’s childhood. The meat is marinated, coated in toasted ground rice, then steamed.

The rice hydrates and gets all fat and soft, and absorbs the flavor of the marinade.

I think our favorite dish from this tribute was the jellyfish and shredded chicken salad. The salad is an exercise in contrasts, blending crunchy jellyfish and celery with tender chicken, sauced with a rich soy-sesame-oyster sauce concoction, but with a gingery vinegar dressing to be drizzled over individual portions. Garnished with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds, this was crunchy, perky, and not your typical “Asian chicken salad.” Not unlike myself…

We finished off the meal with some dragonfruit, which we’d never had before but which looked too comically alien to resist when we were at the market. For those who haven’t seen them, they are fiercely pink and covered in large green-tipped petals, for lack of a better word. The flesh tastes like a mellow, less-tart version of a kiwi, and the texture is similar as well. Its a good thing Yuan bought it before realizing how expensive it was (that and the cherimoyas we also bought but which weren’t ripe yet), because otherwise we might not have known how deliciously cartoonish they are!

I believe all partakers would agree, or at least not deny, that the first Culinary Tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland was pretty much a success. Stay tuned, we have quite a bit of cooking ahead of us, and as always we’ll have cameras at the ready.

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