Tiger Food 老虎菜

Tiger Food (老虎菜)is a refreshing summer salad made with cucumbers, chilis, leek and cilantro, topped with a sesame-soy dressing.

Tiger Food (老虎菜)is a refreshing summer salad made with cucumbers, chilis, leek and cilantro, topped with a sesame-soy dressing.

f you’re intimidated by the thought of cooking Chinese food, or cooking at all, take heart. One of China’s most brilliant dishes (in my humble opinion) came from someone just like you, a young Dongbei woman who had to cook for her mother in law.

The story goes that this newly wed woman had absolutely no kitchen skills, so when her  mother in law gave her a giant plate of cucumber, green chilies, leeks and cilantro to cook with, she panicked. In her desperation, she chopped everything on the plate and threw it into a bowl with some seasonings. When her mother in law saw the dish she called her “hu” (虎)a word that means tiger, but in that part of the country means stupid. Poor thing!

But I have to say, I’m kind of glad her mother in law was such a terror, because this is a really wonderful dish! Tiger food is fresh, crispy, and savor, and unlike many western cold starters, it has a refined depth that almost make it a candidate for a main dish. And the best part is, it only takes about five minutes from start to finish!

And even better, it’s a very, very healthy dish, packed with minerals, vitamin C, free radicals, and immune strengthening elements. For those of you living in China, Cilantro is a great natural digestive aid and celating agent, meaning it can help your body get rid of heavy metals that have built up in your system. This dish is a natural heavy metal detox!

But let’s not get carried away by its health benefits! The bottom line is that this dish is awesome. Try it and see!

Tiger Food
A cool, crunchy summer starter with cucumber, long green chilies, leek and cilantro in a sesame oil sauce. 

Ingredients*

2 Asian cucumbers

3 long, green chilies

1/2 leek

1 small bunch of cilantro

2-3 tbsp Sesame oil

2-3 tsp soy sauce

a pick of salt

a small pinch of MSG (optional, but authentic)

Pluck a handful of cilantro leaves, set aside.

 

Wash and dry all of the vegetables and julienne them. You can prep the veggies about an hour ahead of time, but do keep them chilled to prevent the cucumber from drooping.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and if want to be authentic, MSG, and mix until combined.

Right before serving the dish, combine all of the ingredients and give it a quick toss.

 

*Hate leek? Think this salad is too green? Feel free to skip the leek, add white onion, or use a red chili instead. Chinese cooking is not an exact science, it’s about creating delicious food.

Pu’er Tea 普洱茶

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I was first introduced to this deep, earthy brew when the discovery of its health benefits set off a buying frenzy in China. Luckily, a good friend of mine was working on a film set in Pu’er’s native region Yunnan, and was able to snap up some for me before prices went through the roof.

Pu’er is a coffee drinker’s tea. It’s deep, warming, and slightly bitter with a rich, lifting overtone, and also provides a nice, steady buzz. The flavor is often likened to fresh earth, wood and mushroom, and changes with each brew, and a good “shou” Pu’er (we’ll get to that in a second), can produce anywhere from 3 to 8 delicious brews before you should change the tea leaves.

Pu’er tea comes from China’s southwestern Yunnan province, known for its high mountains, stunning scenery, and the breathtakingly colorful garbs of China’s ethnic groups, many of whom reside there. The name Yunnan, literally means south of the clouds, and this is one of the best places to visit in China.

While there are different theories on how Pu’er tea was developed, Yunnan’s remote location most likely has something to do with it. Pu’er tea is often pressed into cakes to facilitate transportations, and many of its health benefits derive from the additional fermentation that took place during its long journeys.

Pu’er tea is a natural weight loss remedy. One of side products of this long process is lovastatin – a natural cholesterol reducer – produced by one of the bacteria naturally occurring in pu’er tea. Animal research suggests that Pu’er can lower triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. not to mention is has just the right amount of caffeine to stimulate your central nervous system, heart and muscles, and antioxidants to protect the heart and blood vessels.

Now, there are two types of Pu’er tea – Sheng (Raw) and Shou (Cooked, mature or “done”). What’s the difference between Sheng and Shou Pu’er?

Sheng Pu’er is minimally processed, and normally aged for 15 to 20 years, and the Chinese believe that its health effects are more powerful. That being said, it has a raw, acrid finish that makes it much less of a pleasure to drink, and drinking it in excess is said to cause stomach problems. It is definitely a beverage for connoisseurs, and one that you really need to invest in.

Shou Pu’er is much smoother, owing to the additional heat and moisture that is applied during the fermentation process. When brewed, it produces a deep, earthy brown-reddish tea that glows like amber for a mild brew, and deep, clear chocolate brown for a stronger brew, which is how I like it.

The first time you drink Pu’er, you might be struck by the back of the throat bitterness, but consider this a palette-cleansing process. With every sip the flavors continue to unfold, and you’ll soon be mesmerized by its profound flavor and deeply satisfying fragrance. And then before you know it, you’ll be a Pu’er junkie like me, who can’t go a single morning without a cup of this delicious brew!

By the way, there are many ways that you can “upgrade” your Pu’er experience. In China, they sell Pu’er mixed with chrysanthemum, rose, and even roasted glutinous rice, all of which provide an amazing experience.  You could also go exotic and brew it with ginsing slices or ginger. Or, you could do what Tony Gebely at World of Tea did, and make a Pu’er ice-cream float! Yum!

How to brew Pu’er Tea

Ingredients

1 tbsp of your favorite Pu’er tea
1-2 cups of boiling water

Place Pu’er in your favorite cup or tea kettle, add enough water to cover, give it a quick swirl and pour the water off. This will open the tea and wash away any dust that can make the tea taste murky.

Pour you water and let it steep for about a minute for your first brew, and an additional 30 seconds to one minute for your latter brews. It’s not an exact science, but a matter of taste, so if you have a nice, aged pu’er tea, brew it lightly and really devote yourself to savoring the experience, and if you have a younger one, enjoy its robust earthiness.

 

Iced Pu’er Tea Recipe

Ingredients

5 tbsp of your favorite Pu’er tea, preferably shou
1/2 cup of boiling water
3 cups of room-temperature water

Pour the boiling water over the tea, let sit for 30 seconds, and then give it a quick swirrel and drain the water. This will wash off any dust remaining on the plant and open the tea leaves.

Add the tea to a large container, fill it with water, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. The resulting brew is a rich, deep reddish black that is slightly bitter and can quench even the deepest thirst!

Pineapple Sticky Rice 菠萝饭

Pineapple-Rice

A delightful alternative to plain or fried rice, pineapple sticky rice explodes in your mouth with intense sweetness and a hint of tartness than make it instantly addictive. This beautiful piece is a great conversation starter at potlucks, and is a family favorite in Yunnan, where every grandmother has her own special way of cooking it. Feel free to play with ingredients like red adzuki beans, raisins and sliced almonds to come up with your own.

Pineapple Sticky Rice Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup White Rice

1 1/2 cups Pineapple juice or Water

1 medium to large Pineapple (or 1 8oz can of pineapple)

2-4 tbsp of sugar or honey, to taste (if using water, add more)

To prepare the pineapple, slice off the top quarter length-wise,  making sure to keep the green leaves intact. Using a thin knife, gently cut along the inner rim of the pineapple and scoop out the flesh without damaging your pineapple “bowl.” Don’t worry if you have a couple of small cuts. Remove the core (unless you like the crunch), chop the flesh roughly, and place the pineapple, rice and water or juice in a rice cooker and cook according to the settings. If you’re using a stovetop, place all ingredients in a medium pan and simmer 15-20 minutes until the water is evaporated and the rice is fluffy.

Once the rice is ready, give it a good fluff, place the pineapple bowl on your serving plate, and scoop in the pineapple rice inside. If the bowl wobbles, you can use some toothpicks to steady it.

Yunnan Mint Salad 凉拌薄荷

Spicy-Mint-Salad

You know those recipes that you just come back to over, and over, and over again? For me, that is the spicy mint leaf salad, and every time my husband makes it I joke with him that it’s the only reason I married him. A traditional yunnan favorite, you can also serve it with tofu skins or thin slices of beef, although I will admit I like it plain. An easy summer salad, where the fragrance of the mint is balanced with a savory sauce infused with garlic, sesame oil and chili.

Ingredients

2 cups of Mint Leaves

3 tbsp Soy Sauce

1 tbsp Fragrant Vinegar

1 tbsp Sesame Oil

1 small pinch Salt, to taste

1 pinch of Sugar, optional

2 clove of Garlic, minced

1 Thai Chili, minced

Whisk all of the ingredients, except mint leaves, together in a small bowl and taste with salt and sugar. The dressing should be slightly sour and salty to keep pace with the powerful flavor of the mint.

Place the mint leaves in the serving bowl, and toss with the dressing immediately before serving, and no sooner! The vinegar will cause the leaves to wilt very quickly.

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