Archive for the ‘Chinese’ Category

Recently I’ve been craving my standard weekday breakfast from my time in China: 煎饼 (jian bing).  Jian bing is a typical Beijing street food, sort of like a crepe and an omelet fused together, seasoned with delectable sauces, cilantro and green onion, then filled with a crunchy cracker.  Fortunately, before we left China, I thought to ask for the name of the main sauce.  It’s English name is sweet flour (or sweet noodle) sauce.  It did take a trip to China town and a bit of legwork to find, but I got it, along with shrimp sauce and Chinese chili paste.  Whole Foods supplied millet flour and I was ready to go.  You’ll want several basting brushes (preferably with heat-resistant silicone bristles) for applying the sauces.  Although it sounds like a lot of instructions, these are actually quite quick to make (aside from the wait time for the batter).


1/2 c. millet flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. whole milk
5 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tbs. vegetable oil (plus more for frying)
2 tbs. roughly chopped cilantro
2 tbs. chopped green onion (scallion)
Sweet flour sauce
Shrimp sauce (optional)
Chili sauce (optional)
Wonton wrappers (you can often get these at the supermarket either fresh or frozen)

To make the batter, sift together the two kinds of flour and the salt.  If you can’t find millet flour, you can definitely experiment with other flour blends – all whole wheat, whole wheat and white, buckwheat, etc.  I would advise always using at least partially wheat flour (whole wheat or white).  I am not sure the batter will hang together well enough if you use all gluten-free flours, but if you are gluten-sensitive you could certainly experiment with 100% millet or similar.  In a blender combine 3 eggs, the milk and the sifted flour mixture and blend until smooth.  You can also do this in a bowl with a whisk.  Let the batter rest for at least an hour.  Just before you’re ready to start cooking, whisk in the 3 tbs. of oil (I used grapeseed, but you could use soy, peanut, or any other relatively flavorless vegetable oil – definitely don’t use olive oil, though).

To prepare to assemble jian bing, break the remaining 2 eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly (just to break up a bit).  Chop your cilantro and green onions and mix them together.  Put a tablespoon or two of the sweet flour sauce in a small bowl (I use a ramekin or custard cup) and blend it with a tablespoon or two of water to think it out to an easily brush-on-able consistency.  If your chili paste is very thick you may want to thin it a bit too.  Chili paste is often made with an oil base so you may find it easier to think with a bit of vegetable oil.  The same applies for shrimp sauce if you choose to use it.  I am not 100% certain that shrimp sauce is the right third sauce, but it was the only pink-ish sauce we saw and I remember there being a pink-ish sauce.  I made the first jian bing with the shrimp sauce to test it out and didn’t care for the flavor.  I think at least some jian bing makers may use it, but the ones whose jian bing I loved, maybe not.  In any case, I left it off the remaining ones.

To create the crunchy cracker filling, heat about 1/2 in. of vegetable oil in a pan.  When it’s very hot, slip in the wonton wrappers 1-2 at a time.  They should get large bubbles all over pretty quickly.  After a minute or two, turn them over and cook for another minute or so.  They should be a nice golden brown all over.  Drain them on paper towels.  I found that they tended to curve a little.  I put them concave side down on the theory that more oil would drain off that way.  Fry up one wrapper for each jian bing you intend to make.  With the size hot plates the jian bing makers in Beijing have, 1/person is plenty.  I found that 2-3/person of the size I have the facilities to make was about right.

Now you’re ready to begin cooking your jian bing.  Heat a large, frying pan (preferably non-stick, and preferably of the variety with relatively shallow, sloping sides) over medium heat or very slightly higher.  When the pan is hot, brush it with a bit of vegetable oil.  Pour in a few tablespoons of the crepe batter (don’t forget to whisk the oil into the batter first).  The amount you need will vary depending on the size of your pan.  Swirl the batter around quickly to coat the bottom of the pan thinly and evenly.  In China they then break an egg directly onto the crepe and spread it out in a thin layer.  Since their eggs are smaller and crepes bigger, I found that 1/2 egg/crepe is about right (I was using a 10 in. pan) which is why I break the eggs into a bowl and beat them a bit.  Pour a tablespoon or two of egg (about 1/2 egg) onto your crepe as soon as the top no longer looks liquid.  Smear the egg out to cover the top of the crepe in a thin layer.  Sprinkle on a little of the cilantro/scallion mixture.  As soon as the egg is no longer runny, flip your jian bing over.  Quickly brush the crepe with a thin layer of each sauce you’re using.  I usually cover the whole surface with the sweet flour sauce, but just put a little chili sauce on.  Place one of the fried wonton wrappers in the middle, and fold the side of the crepe up to cover the wonton wrapper.  Use your spatula to crumble the wonton wrapper up some.  Slide out of the pan and eat.  Yum!

The batter recipe should make 8-12 crepes, depending on size.   The total amount of egg, scallion and cilantro listed is actually only enough for about 4 10 in. jian bing.  Just figure 1 egg and 1 tbs. each of cilantro and green onion will make about 2 10 in. jian bing.  Use however many eggs and herbs you need for the number you want to make.

You can definitely cut the batter recipe in half if you want to.  I am also going to experiment with cooking extra crepes and freezing them so I need only defrost them and pick up with the “smear with egg” step.  Also, wonton wrapper tend to come in packs of about a zillion.  They can definitely be frozen, though.  I’ll probably separate them into small stacks, then wrap and freeze each stack separately so I don’t have to thaw dozens to get just 4-6 when I want to make some jian bing.  The sauces should keep pretty much indefinitely in the fridge.

If you have trouble finding the ingredients, you should be able to order them online.  Your best bet for sweet flour sauce is Asian Food Grocer.   Any supermarket will have some kind of chili paste/sauce that will do.  Shrimp paste/sauce is optional and you can definitely do without, but if you want to try it, Asian Food Grocer will probably work.  My Whole Foods had millet flour so that wasn’t a problem, but if you don’t find it, I googled it and found plenty of places to buy it online.  Or, as I mentioned, you can experiment with other flours.

A few notes on authenticity.  I am quite confident in my use of sweet flour sauce for the main sauce.  It definitely tasted right.  Similarly for the cilantro and green onion (although I’ve had some that used regular onion instead).  The crepe batter was pretty much a guess.  I just picked a whole wheat crepe recipe I’ve used before then substituted millet flour for some of the wheat flour.  I was pretty sure they’d use millet flour in China and the crepe it produced had the yellow-ish color and a similar taste and texture to what I ate in China.  I would guess they use soy milk rather than regular milk, but I opted for regular since I hate soy milk and would just end up throwing out whatever didn’t go into the batter.  Also, I have zero experience cooking with soy milk and had no clue how I might need to adjust the recipe to accommodate any differences in cooking characteristics.  Also, I suspect they may use less egg and more milk in the batter than I did, but don’t know for sure.  I am sure the crispy, friend filling crackers they use aren’t precisely like wonton wrappers, but wonton wrappers are a suitable size and produce just the right texture.  At any rate, what I produced was close enough to what I picked up every day on my way to work to satisfy my craving.


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pot stickers

锅贴 - guotie (pot stickers)

I found myself craving Chinese food today for the first time since we moved back from China.  Wow!  Since I was most definitely NOT craving Chinese-American I decided the better part of valor was to make it myself.  The first trick was acquiring the ingredient.  I am sure that in Chinatown we’ll be able to find a grocery store that carries everything we were looking for, but our itinerary for the day did not include a trip into Boston.  Out here in the ‘burbs we’re a bit limited but we made do.  Ground pork, Napa cabbage, ginger, green onions…all no problem.  Seasonings, though…that’s where the going got tough.  Whole Foods had sesame oil and quite a range of organic soy sauces.  Unfortunately the soy sauces were all tamari style.  Definitely sub-optimal for Chinese food.  They had not one Chinese style soy sauce.  Shame on them!  Also no Chinese black vinegar and only Japanese mirin for cooking wine.  The Star market at least had tiny bottles of Lee Kum Kee which is an adequate-ish Chinese-style soy sauce.  Not great but we decided it would do.  Still dissatisfied and vinegar-less we made one more try.  Formaggio Kitchen, one of my favorite stores (the original branch of which happens to be just down the street from me), came through with good-quality Chinese soy sauce in both light and dark varieties.  Yay!  Still no vinegar or wine but at least we had the essentials.

Back home the cooking began.  My husband kneaded dough while I chopped and mixed.  If you want to try this, you’ll definitely want a kitchen scale.  Here’s the recipe (more-or-less) as I learned it from Zhou Chunyi in her hutong kitchen cooking school, Hutong Cuisine,  in Beijing.


100g ground pork
100g Chinese cabbage (Napa)
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped scallion (white and light green parts)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. Chinese yellow wine (substitute dry sherry)
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. peanut oil (or other cooking oil)

125g flour
60g water

To make the dough, mix the flour and water together with your hands, then knead on a smooth surface until the dough is very smooth and elastic (about 5-10 minutes).  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, shred the cabbage very fine.  Put it in a bowl and toss with the salt.  Set aside for 10 minutes.  Chop the ginger (don’t forget to peel it!) and scallions.  Mix the pork, ginger, scallions, soy sauce and wine in a bowl.  Make sure you always stir in the same direction.  Squeeze as much water as you can out of the cabbage, making sure to keep the water.  Add the water 1/3 at a time to the pork mixture, stirring each time (still in the same direction).  Add the cabbage, sesame oil and peanut oil to the pork mixture and keep stirring.

To assemble the jiaozi, roll the dough into a cylinder then cut it into 16 discs of equal size.  Keep the cut pieces covered with plastic wrap while you work to keep them from drying out.  Use a rolling-pin (or other smooth cylindrical object) to roll one disc at a time into a circle about 3-4 inches in diameter.  I find that the dough often gets kind of squished when I cut it.  Rolling each piece into a little ball before rolling out can help keep it more circular.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of filling into the middle of the circle of dough.  Lift the edges of the circle up to meet each other and pinch them together as demonstrated here.

You have three choices for how to cook your dumplings.  The way they’re most often served in northern China is boiled.  Bring a big pot of a water to a boil (you can probably get away with a 4 qt. saucepan, but larger is even better).  When the water is boiling, put your dumplings in.  Give them a gentle stir to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Cover them and let them boil for 8 minutes.  Drain and eat.  Your second option is steaming.  The details will vary a tiny bit depending on the kind of steamer you have, but basically, bring some water to the boil in the bottom of your steamer-contraption.  But the dumplings in the steamer basket.  Put that in the pot and cover.  Steam for 8 minutes.  The final option is a combination boil/steam/fry that results in what you are probably familiar with as pot stickers.  Put a little oil into a frying pan (preferably not non-stick) that has a lid and is big enough to hold all your dumplings.  The oil should be enough to coat the bottom of the pan quite generously.  Put in enough water that it will come about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the dumplings (probably about 1/2 inch or a bit less).  Bring the water to a boil.  Put the dumplings in and cover.  After about 5 minutes take a look.  If there is still a lot of water in the pan, uncover for a bit to let the water boil off.  When the water has boiled off, put the lid back on and allow the dumplings to fry for a couple of minutes.  The total cooking time should, again, be about 8 minutes.  You’ll need to use a spatula to gently loosen the dumplings from the pan.  Once you’re done, I’d advise putting water in the pan right away to help loosen up the stuck on bits so it will be easier to clean.

Boiled dumplings will come out with a very soft, slippery skin.  The steamed version will come out with a chewier, more substantial feeling skin.  Fried will come out much like the steamed version but with a nice brown, crisp bottom.  Yum!

Traditionally the dumplings are just dipped in Chinese black vinegar.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any.  Instead I made a dipping sauce by putting a little sliced ginger and scallion in a mixture of about equal parts light soy sauce and vinegar.  I used champagne vinegar which was the lightest vinegar I had on hand.  If I’d had it, I’d have used the white rice vinegar you can get in the Asian aisle at any supermarket, but I didn’t buy it this afternoon because I was hoping to track down black vinegar.  I let this sauce sit for 10 minutes or so to let the vinegar and scallion flavors infuse into the liquid.  It was pretty tasty.

One recipe (16 dumplings) makes a good meal for one adult.  I made four recipes worth today – enough for me and my husband to both have a good dinner with some left over.  Cook only as many jiaozi as you want to eat.  Cooked jiaozi don’t leave over too well.  The good news is that uncooked jiaozi can be frozen to cook later.  Lay them out on a cookie sheet so they’re not touching.  Cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the freezer over night.  Once they’re good and frozen, take them off the cookie sheet and put them in a ziploc bag.  Cook them straight from the freezer using any of the methods suggested above – just give them about 2 minutes longer.  If you’re doing the pot sticker method, use a little more water because you want them to boil/steam for longer, not to fry for longer.

真的好吃! (really yummy!)

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