Chinese Chips – French (Bean) Fries with a Chinese Twist

The last time I visited China Sichuan Restaurant in Sandyford, Dublin the owner Kevin Hui gave me a book. Now it takes a special kind of restaurateur to know his clients so well that he can surprise them with something they will treasure. For this is no ordinary cookbook. It’s “Hunan – a lifetime of secrets from Mr Peng’s Kitchen”.
Mr Peng is the owner of a restaurant called Hunan in London that opened in 1982. Many regard it as the best Chinese restaurant in London or maybe even in the world. Little is known about Mr Peng who keeps the story of his own provenance close to his heart. He has his own unique take on Chinese food with influences of Taiwan, Hunan, Cantonese, Sichuan and Guangdong  cuisine all coming through in his dishes.
At a time when most London Chinese restaurants were Cantonese, Mr Peng set out to show that there was more to Chinese food. He plied his customers with dishes they hadn’t ordered, taking a “leave it to us” approach to a whole new level, until eventually he abandoned a menu altogether. Now each guest is served a selection of small dishes, as many as 15 at a sitting, and encouraged to try out different tastes on every visit.
This is precisely the way I approach a visit to China Sichuan in Dublin. I never look at the menu any more. I just find Kevin, ask him plaintively to “feed me” and allow him and his chefs to do the rest, knowing each dish will be a feast for the eyes and the palate. Perhaps that’s why he knew I would enjoy the Hunan cookbook so much.
Mr Peng is nearly 70 now, his own life story remains untold. But food and travel journalist Qin Xie, who writes her own blog In Pursuit of Food, has captured his recipes and his kitchen wisdom in this lovely book. In it his son Michael Peng who works with him in the restaurant speaks lovingly of a man whose story is that of a stereotypical Chinese immigrant who has never lost the values of his homeland, who remains an enigma and a force of nature to be reckoned with, bolshy, maybe even arrogant and an extraordinarily hard worker and who doesn’t change his approach with the passing of the years.
I have already cooked many recipes from the book and but one in particular caught my eye. As a result of my last blog post on Sichuan Chilli Squid with Black Beans, I’ve struck up an email correspondence with Chinese American food writer Grace Young. Her books Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge and The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen are also among my favourites with her tales of her own family and the Chinese diaspora interspersed with wonderful recipes. Grace was enquiring if it is true that the Irish have french fries with their Chinese meals and I explained the post-pub Chinese takeaway of “Chicken curry, half rice, half chips”. So when I came upon the Hunan recipe for “”French Chips”, I had to give it a try.
The recipe was an immediate hit in our house – a bit naughty and not as low in fat as my usual Chinese vegetable dishes but a great treat as a side dish or part of a multi-course meal. I am going to try a similar approach with cauliflower florets, courgettes, carrots and leeks.
As I grow more confident in my own Chinese cooking under the watchful eye of my friend and Chinese teacher Wei Wei, I’m getting more intuitive with the use of ingredients, learning the feel for texture and flavour. I’m going to start encouraging my faithful readers to do the same. So here goes with Mr. Peng’s Chinese Chips.
Meanwhile, the next time I get to London, I know where I will be heading for dinner.
Chinese Chips made with Green Beans

Chinese Chips
Chinese Chips

Serves 3 – 4 as part of a multi-course meal
The secret is in Mr Peng’s batter which uses self-raising flour and vinegar to give a stiff dough and a tempura like texture.
You will need:

  • 300 to 400 green beans – about 100g per person
  • cooking oil for deep-frying (sunflower or groundnut oil)

For the batter

  • self-raising flour
  • water
  • Chinese white rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • salt

For the seasoning

  • red chilli
  • garlic
  • spring onion
  • crushed Sichuan peppercorns
  • salt


  1. First make your batter. For every 100g self-raising flour add about 200 ml water and 4 tsp vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar) and a good pinch of salt. Beat it well with an electric mixture and leave to stand for about 20 minutes until the bubbles rise to the surface. Chef Peng and Qin Xie say you need a batter that’s quite thick and gloopy. With those proportions I found my batter was a little runny but I liked the tempura like texture with the batter lightly clinging to the beans rather than giving them a heavy coat. You will need about 50g flour for every 100g beans.
  2. Wash, dry and trim your green beans and, if necessary, break into lengths about the size of chips. Irish long green runner beans are great for this dish. Avoid the very skinny imported ones as they need too much batter.
  3. Dry roast a handful of Sichuan peppercorns in a wok or frying pan and grind them in a pestle and mortar when cool (or if you’re lazy like me use a small coffee mill set to coarse grind which I only use for spices). They will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container.
  4. Peel and finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic, the white part of a spring onion and a medium heat red chilli. You can dial up or down the chilli heat to taste.


  1. Heat a few cms of oil in a wok or deep frying pan to about 180 degrees C. You want the oil to be deep enough and hot enough to deep-fry each bean. Chef Robert Jacob has taught me how to gauge this by holding my hand over the pan until I can feel the heat rising rather than by using a thermometer. Test by cooking one bean. It should take about a minute to cook.
  2. Dip the beans in the batter to coat and drop them one by one into the hot oil being careful not to splash yourself. I did this using a tongs to move each bean from the batter to the wok and a mesh strainer to remove them from the oil when cooked. I cooked the beans in three to four batches, ensuring they didn’t touch each other and the oil had a chance to come back to temperature between batches. You want them to be golden but not burnt. Drain the beans on kitchen paper.
  3. When all the beans are cooked, drain all the oil from the wok. Dry-fry the garlic, spring onion and chilli briefly to release the aromas. Toss in the green beans to heat through. Season with crushed Sichuan pepper and salt to taste and serve immediately.

Thank you Kevin Hui, Chef Peng and Xin Qie for opening up another new chapter of Chinese recipes for me.

Stir-fried Sugar Snap Peas with Garlic

Sugar Snap Peas with garlic
Sugar Snap Peas with garlic

This side-dish is so simple that it hardly deserves a blog post all of its own but it is one of those recipes that is very handy to have in your repertoire when you want to rustle up something fast to serve alongside spicier dishes or even with a traditional Sunday roast.
It is one of the many “home style” dishes that my Chinese teacher Wei Wei has taught me since we started combined Chinese and cooking lessons some weeks ago. After a bit of a break over the summer we are back in action now and she has also started adding new recipes to her own blog Wei Wei’s Chinese Kitchen.
No special Chinese seasonings are used in this dish. The secret to the flavour lies in adding half the garlic before stir-frying the peas and the other half at the end. Wei Wei normally makes this with mange tout peas which she plunges in boiling water for about a minute before cutting them. By happy accident I had picked up sugar snap peas by mistake and I loved the crunchy texture and the way the seeds pick up the flavour of the garlic and the oil. They take a little longer to cook. Broccoli can also be cooked in this way and my daughter in-law Shan often serves broccoli with garlic as a side dish.
The night Wei Wei showed me this recipe she also taught me how to make her version of Kung Pao Chicken which is utterly addictive. The results of my efforts are pictured below. The combination of the spicy chicken dish with crunchy peanuts or cashew nuts and the more delicately flavoured peas is a real winner served with steamed rice.
Wei Wei's Kung Pao Chicken
Wei Wei’s Kung Pao Chicken

I have previously blogged a recipe for Gong Bao Chicken, as it is known in Sichuan Province, which I learnt at Hutong Cuisine Cookery School but I also love Wei Wei’s recipe which is here on her blog. While the Hutong Cuisine version is spicier, the combination of tomato paste (tomato puree) and hot bean sauce in Wei Wei’s recipe softens and rounds out the flavour of the dish. Where she refers to prickly ash in the recipe that’s the same as sichuan pepper corn. I tend to use cashew nuts instead of peanuts but both work.
Try both recipes and see what you think and accompany them stir-fried sugar snap peas. Enjoy!
Stir-fried Sugar Snap Peas with garlic

  • 2 packets of sugar snap peas (about 320g in total)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs cooking oil
  • A drizzle of sesame oil (optional)

Preparation and cooking

  1. Peel and finely dice the garlic.
  2. Steam or blanch the sugar snap peas for about 2 minutes at most, then drain. You want them to retain their crunchy texture.
  3. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut the sugar snap peas into two to three sections at steep angles.
  4. Heat a wok. Add about a tablespoon of cooking oil. When the oil is hot add half the garlic being careful not to burn it. As soon as the garlic releases its aroma, add the sugar snap peas. Stir-fry for a few minutes until just beginning to blister but don’t allow them to burn.
  5. Add the salt and the rest of the garlic and stir-fry for about another minute. Remove from the heat and taste to check seasoning. Add a small drizzle of sesame oil if you wish.

Sichuan fried green beans to celebrate Dermot's arrival in Dublin

Regular readers will know that it’s very unusual for me to let a weekend go by without writing a new blog post. But this weekend I had an excuse – Shane, Shan and Dermot arrived from Beijing on Saturday and I had forgotten how much one small, precious person can turn a house upside down, become the focal point of all your attention, grab hold of your heart strings and turn your brain to mush!
The bank holiday weekend has been a whirlwind of family get togethers leaving little Dermot somewhat bewildered as he encountered one new face after the other with every relative wanting to give him a hug and a cuddle so today he is having a well deserved rest.
From all the memories made in the last few days, some will remain with me forever.
After a long, restless journey, Dermot was asleep when he arrived at Dublin Airport and he opened his eyes in Ireland for the first time in the car on the way home to find me sitting beside him in the back seat.

Now who might you be? Nai Nai?

Then yesterday came a moment we had all been waiting for when his great granny got to meet him at last.
Hello tai tai

On that beautiful, sunny bank holiday Monday, Shane fulfilled a promise made as he and I watched the Kerrygold “Made of Ireland” ad last Christmas – that his baby’s feet would touch Irish soil first. Dermot loved the tickly sensation of the grass.
He may have been born in China … but his feet touched Irish soil first

And yesterday morning Dermot, who will be 4 months old tomorrow, “danced” on my lap in fits of giggles to Tiny Dancer, a moment too special to interrupt with camera or video recorder.
On Sunday night we had a rare moment of quiet while Dermot slept and visiting was done for the day. So I took my courage in my hands and cooked a Chinese meal for Shane and Shan, conscious that I am up against stiff competition in the culinary stakes from Shan’s MaMa in Beijing.
It seemed appropriate to include in the meal the dish that inspired me to start this blog last July and the very first that Shan taught me to cook long distance – Sichuan fried green beans. Since my first post on 29th July of last year, I’ve tried several variations of fried green beans including Shan’s recipe, the version prepared by the chefs in China Sichuan and the one in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. I suspect every Chinese cook has their own variation. This is the recipe I was taught at Hutong Cuisine in Beijing last March by Chunyi who trained in Chengdu in Sichuan province and has now become my definitive version of the dish. Shane and Shan gave it the thumbs up for flavour although Shan said I could chop the beans smaller and add some more minced pork if I wanted to create a slightly different texture.
Dry stir-fried green beans – gan bian si ji dou
Sichuan fried green beans

Continue reading Sichuan fried green beans to celebrate Dermot's arrival in Dublin

Strong Women and Summer Vegetable Chow Mein

Today felt like the first day of summer here in Dublin and I came home on a high after taking part in the Irish Tatler Business Academy organised by that dynamo Norah Casey. It’s a long time since I’ve spent the day in the company of 450 women and I came away buzzing from the positive energy in the Dublin Convention Centre and the extraordinary openness and honesty with which the panellists spoke about their personal adventures on the road to leadership. Women are good at revealing their hearts and inspiring energy and positivity in those around them. Passion with purpose is what I saw today.
And I loved the time I got to spend in the “green room”,  (now doesn’t that sound posh), with such special women as Clodagh Higgins Online Marketing Specialist, Marie Chawke of Aghadoe Heights Hotel, Margaret Nelson CEO of FM104, Ros Hubbard casting director, Aubrey Tiedt, Vice President of Etihad Airways, and Emmeline Hill, Co-founder and Chair of Equinome Ltd.

Twitter pic posted by @Tamso at last session of #irishtatlerbiz

Now passion and positivity is all very well but as the in-domnitable Ros Hubbard said “what’s the point of being beautiful and fabulous if you’re broke,” to which I might add “what’s the point of being in high good humour if there’s not a thing in the house to eat.”
I arrived home to a near empty fridge and tried to figure out what I could rustle up with some vegetables left over from earlier in the week. Back last September, on one of those miserable Mondays that heralded the onset of winter (and what a long winter it has been) I had posted an impromptu recipe for winter vegetable chow mein. You can check it out here. So I searched for it on the blog, dusted it off and recycled it in a summer dress. Here goes.

Summer Vegetable Chow Mein
Summer vegetable chow mein

Ingredients (serves 3 -4)
Continue reading Strong Women and Summer Vegetable Chow Mein

Two different takes on Fish Fragrant Sauce – aubergine and pork

I’ve been enjoying cooking “fish fragrant” recipes since I started this blog and I have discovered several different ways of creating the salty, spicy, sweet, sour yu xiang flavour which the people of Sichuan love to use in their land-locked region to recall the flavours they associate with fish. The description often causes confusion among westerners as there is no fish or fish sauce used in these recipes.
The first time I made fish fragrant pork I used a recipe given to me by Chef Ricky when I went inside the kitchen of China Sichuan in Dublin and you can read it here. That version used chilli garlic sauce and owner Kevin Hui told me that in the early years they described it as Pork in Spicy Garlic Sauce on the menu to avoid putting off diners!

Chefs preparing fish fragrant pork at Taste of China (Photo by Solange Daini)

More recently I’ve cooked fish fragrant pork using fish fragrance marinaded peppers, as prepared by the chefs of China Sichuan at the Taste of China cookery demonstration. Before I left for China I promised to post the recipe for using this marinade and it is now below.
I know some of you have had these marinaded peppers in your fridge for at least 3 weeks now so it should be nicely flavourful. I used my now 9 week old marinade tonight, this time with chicken, and it was delicious.
Fish Fragrant Chicken with a dash of Chilli Oil

When I visited Beijing recently, I learned how to make a classic fish fragrant sauce based on pickled chillies chopped to a puree with a cleaver blade. The recipe for fish fragrant aubergine below is the one taught to me by Chefs Chun Yi and Chao at Hutong Cuisine in Beijing and is the way Chun Yi learnt to make it when she trained as a chef in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
Hutong Cuisine fish fragrant aubergine – yu xiang qie zi
Practising Fish Fragrant Aubergines at Hutong Cuisine

Continue reading Two different takes on Fish Fragrant Sauce – aubergine and pork

Reflections of a Long Distance Nai Nai and Fish Fragrant Marinated Peppers

There are two women with whom I feel a common bond. Susana lives in Argentina, Elena in Romania. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Elena here in Ireland last year, I hope to meet Susana before the year is out. Meanwhile we occasionally exchange comments on Facebook. Even if I don’t always understand the words, written in three different languages, the sentiments shine through.
Because in recent months we three have acquired grandsons. Susana and Elena are grandmothers to Domenic and Frederic, the 7 month old twin sons of my lovely friend Solange (she who took the great photos at Taste of China at Cooks Academy).

Frederic & Domenic – or is it vice versa!

NaiNai, nonna, abuela, bunica, call us what you will, we are the long distance grannies who share the joy and the longing of getting to know our grandchildren through Skype and social media.
Elena and Susana I salute you and share your pride in your grandsons.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past four weeks about how being a granny changes you:

  • There is a subtle shift in what matters. Suddenly climate change seems much more important, for instance, as you contemplate the world into which your grandchild will grow up.
  • You become addicted to Facebook, checking regularly in case your son or daughter has posted a new photo of the baby and because you don’t like asking for a new photo every day.
  • You trace the outline of  your grandson’s mouth on the screen of your iPad during a Skype call, marvelling at his little sounds and snuffles. You  are amused to find yourself unconsciously making the sign of the cross on his mouth when he yawns, just the way your own granny once did.
  • You save his photos in chronological order, studying them for signs of little changes that even his parents might not notice being so close to him on a daily basis. Already he’s losing that new baby look and you zoom in close to try and sense the texture of his skin, the feel of his hair.
  • You tell everyone you meet “I’m a granny now you know”, and feel sheepish immediately afterwards. You still seek out any excuse to show off his photos but know that you risk boring people.
  • You get into trouble with your son for posting a photo on Twitter or Facebook that was only meant for you (three strikes and I’m out!!)
  • You cuddle your friend’s babies, whom you also love, drinking in the sweet smell of the soft skin at the nape of their necks and imagine what you are missing.
  • You feel visceral envy of friends and relatives who live close by him and get to see him often.
  • You long to hold him.

Can hardly wait to meet you Dermot Gao O’Neill

Well in just over a week’s time I hope to do just that. This day next week Shananigans goes on tour. We travel to Beijing to meet Dermot and spend time with Shane, Shan and MaMa. From there we head to Sydney for a week to catch up with our daughter Claire and then back to Beijing for another week. You can expect tales of food and family. I might even manage to fit in a few cookery classes in between baby cuddles and perhaps, if I ask nicely, MaMa might even give me a some lessons. And in Sydney Claire is lining up a kind of impromptu cooks tour of the city and environs. The adventure continues.
Meanwhile I want you to do something for me. Make up a batch of the fish-fragrant marinade below. Lace it with vodka. Put it away in the back of the fridge and forget about it for at least 3 weeks. When I return from my travels, we will share a virtual meal of fish fragrant pork shreds, chicken shreds or aubergine – whichever takes your fancy – while I regale you with tales from afar.
The marinade is the one used by the chefs of the China Sichuan last Sunday. It is the sweet base which complements the salty and sour notes of the vinegar-based sauce you also add to this famous dish from Sichuan province. I’ve made fish fragrant chicken this week and I like to finish it off by adding a good dash of homemade chilli oil to bring out spicy notes and add a brilliant orange-red colour.
I served the dish with ShuXin tea given to me by my friend Tiedong Yang from Harbin in North Eastern China. Shu means Sichuan China and Xin means honesty and good faith. This particular blend is a jasmine tea called “Falling Snow” after the white flowers of the jasmine. Tiedong reminds me that the Chinese say that all that we eat and drink should balance so it is good to drink the light tea with the hot chicken dish to aid digestion.
As you probably know well by now, there is no fish in this dish which seems to have derived its name from the use of ingredients traditionally associated with fish cooking. For many years China Sichuan restaurant had to call it “Fried Pork Shreds in Garlic Sauce”, in case the name would put diners off.
If you can’t wait until I come back to try it, you will find an alternative version on the blog here which can be made with Lee Kum Kee Sichuan Garlic Sauce. And you will find the rest of the recipe used last Sunday at Taste of China here. Enjoy!
Fish Fragrant Chicken served with ShuXin Tea

“Fish Fragrant” Marinaded Peppers

  • 500 g bell pepper
  • 500 g sweet red pepper
  • 60 g salt
  • 25 g ginger
  • 25 g garlic
  • 1 shot of vodka     (30 to 35 ml)

Prepare and deseed peppers.  Dice the peppers, chop the ginger and garlic. Place in a clean bowl and add the salt and vodka.  Wrap with cling film and leave to stand in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. Blend roughly with a hand blender before use. The marinade will keep well in the fridge.

Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds with Shan's Bashed Cucumber

Since I started this blog I’ve been fascinated by the flavours of Sichuan cooking. It would be a mistake to think these are all about hot and spicy dishes, even if numbing Sichuan pepper is currently my favourite ingredient.
In her memoir Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop talks of learning the 23 ‘official’ complex flavours of Sichuan cooking. One of those is yu xiang wei or ‘fish fragrant flavour’ which came about as a result of the desire of chefs in that land-locked province to make more use of the flavourings used in traditional Sichuanese fish cookery. It is a unique combination of salty and spicy, sweet and sour which doesn’t drift over into the more familiar, and sometimes cloying, sweet and sour flavours of Cantonese cooking. It is heavy on garlic, ginger, spring onions and uses soy sauce and sometimes chilli bean paste for seasoning. The gorgeous dark Chinkiang vinegar and Shaoxing rice wine also make a regular appearance.
This is what the Chinese call fu he wei – engaging the palate simultaneously on several levels and is what I most LOVE about Chinese food.
When I cooked Fish Fragrant Aubergines the other night from Every Grain of Rice, I remembered that I hadn’t yet tried Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds – Yu Xiang Rou – one of the dishes Ricky the head chef made for me in the China Sichuan when I visited their kitchen. See Inside the Kitchen of the China Sichuan.

Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds Shananigans style

The owner Kevin Hui gave me their recipe for this dish and I tried it out my own version of it tonight along with Shane & Shan’s recipe for Bashed Cucumber – Pai Huang Gua. The quantity below serves 4 to 6 people. Make the bashed cucumber first and leave it in the fridge to allow the flavours to mingle.while you are preparing the pork.
Bashed Cucumber

I suspect if I had a Sichuan Master Chef standing over me tasting my dishes he would have things to say about the balance of flavours but to my developing palate this tasted just like I remember it in China Sichuan. I love the way the cornflour sauce adds sheen to the dish and the chilli bean paste, dark soy and Chinkiang vinegar give it a rich dark red colour – a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, especially when set against the contrasting bright green cucumber.
Continue reading Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds with Shan's Bashed Cucumber

Yes Chinese food can be healthy, nutritious and even slimming

The headline on today’s RTÉ News “Chinese takeaway meals can exceed daily calorie requirements – study” has me exercised. Of course the Safefood Research is balanced and contains a lot of very useful information about the risks of over-eating unhealthy Chinese takeaway food. But viewers who simply catch the headline could get the impression that Chinese food is inherently unhealthy. It’s not – if it is prepared and eaten in the manner and in the quantities that are typically used in a Chinese household. Chinese food, when authentic, is probably among the healthiest in the world.

Foods That Enhance CBD. There are many ways to take CBD, from smoking, CBD Flower and vaping to oral supplements and edibles. But should CBD be taken on an empty stomach? A few recent studies suggest that taking CBD with food could be beneficial. Which foods enhance the effects of CBD? This guide looks at the factors involved, as well as the top contenders for maximizing CBD.

Why we need to use essential amino acids? Amino acids are the building blocks the body uses to make proteins. The “essential” amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet. People use l-threonine for conditions such as a muscle control disorder marked by involuntary movements and muscle tightness (spasticity), multiple sclerosis (MS), inherited disorders marked by weakness and stiffness in the legs (familial spastic paraparesis or FSP), and Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

Since we returned from China in July I’ve been cooking authentic Chinese recipes at least 3 or 4 times a week. We notice that our weight has reduced and we feel less bloated. We are eating far larger quantities of vegetables than we used to but less red meat. I serve rice with the meals but I find we eat about half the recommended portion size – it’s usually only needed as soakage for the sauce. I use groundnut oil in cooking but, because most dishes are stir-fried, the actual quantity of oil used is actually quite small. And, because soy sauce has a high sodium content, I hardly ever add salt for seasoning. Last but not least it is quick and easy to prepare and as we use bowls and chopsticks to serve there isn’t even much washing up to be done.

For instance as part of my commitment to Meatless Monday, below are photos of what I threw together within about half an hour of coming home tonight.

The general rule when serving a meal in a Chinese household is to serve one dish per person with one extra and usually at least one dish is served cold.

All the recipes are by Fuchsia Dunlop from her latest book Every Grain of Rice which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to start cooking authentic Chinese dishes at home.

Spinach in ginger sauce – Jiang Zhi Bo Cai

This delicious dish is served cold and oozes healthiness.

Spinach in Ginger Sauce

Fish-fragrant Aubergines – Yu Xiang Qie Zi

The people of the land-locked province of Sichuan love their “fish-fragrant” dishes which draw on the seasonings used in cooking fish, but no fish gets near this dish of melting, silken aubergines.

Fish-fragrant aubergines

Stir-fried garlic stems with mushrooms and bacon – La Rou Chao Suan Tai

Ok I cheated a little here on the “Meatless Monday” theme by adding in a handful of smoked-bacon lardons. These little garlic stems, available at the Asia Market, are utterly delicious. The dish cooks in moments and is drizzled with a little sesame oil.

Stir-fried garlic stems with bacon and mushroom

Stir-fried peas with chilli and Sichuan pepper – Qiang Qing Wan Dou

A spicy take on frozen or fresh peas (I opted for Irish peas, frozen when fresh, rather than Venezuelan imports) and another dish than cooks in moments.

Stir-fried peas with chilli and Sichuan pepper

So forget the takeaways and prepare your Chinese meals at home. You will find lots of recipes on this blog. There, I feel better for getting that out of my system!

Meatless Monday – Irish Vegetable Chow Mein

It was a wet and miserable Monday in Dublin today heralding the onset of winter. Like so many others, I got soaked on the way from the bus and the challenge when I got in was to throw together a quick and easy dinner that would warm us all up and use up leftover vegetables. I’m also trying to get into the habit of having one day a week when we eat vegetarian food so, taking a cue from Claire and Mike in Australia, Meatless Monday it is.
When we visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang, China, I was surprised to discover how prevalent “Irish” vegetables, such as carrot, parsnip and cabbage, were in their diet so it didn’t seem inappropriate to include them in a chow mein. The recipe below is based on the Winter Vegetable Stir-fry recipe Claire sent me from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday – see Variations on Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti.
I hadn’t meant to do a blog post today but this made up recipe worked so well that I thought I had better capture it while I can still remember what I did!
By the way when I went into the Asia Market to pick up some Shaoxing rice wine today, a very nice Chinese lady gave me a tip. She said to always swirl the rice wine around the sides of the wok rather than mixing it in, unless you are using it as a marinade. That way it flavours the dish correctly and the alcohol burns off. Apart from the useful information, this was the first time any of the staff in there have engaged me in conversation. A breakthrough. Yeah!
Irish Winter Vegetable Chow Mein

Irish Winter Veg Chow Mein

Continue reading Meatless Monday – Irish Vegetable Chow Mein

Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Beef (niu rou dan dan mian)

I’ve a head teeming with ideas for blog posts and recipes I want to try but it’s been a hectic week since I came back from Sicily and I haven’t yet had time to cook anything new. A Twitter conversation with Elaine (@LainerC) on how and in what combination with other ingredients to use Sichuan pepper reminded me of Fuchsia Dunlop’s version of Xie Laoban’s dan dan noodles which I tried for the first time just before I went on holidays and captured all the flavours of Sichuan in one simple dish. This dish is also a good example of ma la – the balance of numbing, cooling ma with spicy la, and I’m grateful to Ronan Farrell (@ronan_farrell) for reminding me of that lovely Chinese expression.
I love the Chinese characters for noodles 面条- mian tiao where the first character is the symbol for “face” and the second for “twigs”. I always remember it by thinking of a man piling “twigs” of noodles up to his face.
I also love Fuchsia’ story, told in detail in Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, of the inscrutable and often cranky Xie Laoban who made this legendary version of dan dan noodles in a tiny restaurant in Chengdu and her painstaking efforts to recreate the recipe by getting little nuggets of information from him over time and by closely examining the dish.
Increasingly for me Chinese food is not just flavour, it’s story and history woven into a tapestry on a plate. Noodles are a very significant part of the Chinese diet and, while I sometimes craved something more like a Western breakfast while I was there, Shan was constantly in search of noodles, eating little and often as the Chinese do. I can never eat them now without thinking of her Mum explaining the importance of serving them when welcoming family home, because of their symbolism in binding people together.
The dish below is unapologetically spicy, one for the spice girls – or the la men zi as they are known in China – and is the version Fuchsia included in her seminal cook book on Sichuan cuisine Sichuan Cookery. Get this right and you know exactly what balance of flavours to look for in a Sichuan dish.
The joy of this recipe is that it can be prepared in minutes from store cupboard ingredients and a 100g of minced beef. I got some extra lean minced beef today and froze it in 100 gm portions as an emergency supply so that I can avoid the need for mid-week takeaways. It has already become one of our favourites.
Dan Dan Noodles – Niu Rou Dan Dan Mian*

Friday night comfort food – dan dan noodles

300 g dried Chinese noodles Continue reading Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Beef (niu rou dan dan mian)