Recipes: This cookbook is devoted to Chinese food — and food that’s not really Chinese

The cookbook’s title grabbed me: “A Very Chinese Cookbook: 100 Recipes from China and Not China (But Still Really Chinese)” (America’s Test Kitchen). With a dose of culinary humor, the moniker acknowledges that many beloved dishes that are labeled Chinese actually originated in America.

Co-authors Jeffrey Pang and Kevin Pang, father-son hosts of America’s Test Kitchen’s hit YouTube cooking series “Hunger Pangs,” discuss American Chinese food in the book.  Jeffrey Pang writes about the first time he tasted Orange Chicken in his sophomore year in college.

“Until that moment, the Chinese food I grew up eating was wholly different from the Chinese food my friends in suburban Seattle consumed. It was like my friends and I lived in parallel food universes,” explains Kevin Pang, a James Beard Award winning food writer. “They ate Crab Rangoon, Empress Chicken, and Chop Suey — dishes not part of my vocabulary. When we ate Chinese food, we ate Chinese food — Radish Cake, Winter Melon Soup, Stir-Fried Clams with Black Beans.

“It was as foreign a concept for us Hong Kongers as a Crunchwrap Supreme likely was for Mexicans.”

Turns out that he liked the Orange Chicken. And as time went by, none of the Pangs dismissed American Chinese dishes.

The book is filled with scrumptious recipes, some American-rooted dishes such as Orange Beef and American Style Egg Rolls, as well as many more formulas that are authentically Chinese.

Here are three of my favorites that fall into the latter category.

Hot and Sour Soup is made with chicken broth, Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, extra-firm tofu, boneless pork shop, bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms and other ingredients. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Hot and Sour Soup

Author Jeffrey Pang warns against using substitutions in this delicious soup. As written, the listed ingredients yield a specific taste that is alluring and authentic.  The tofu needs to be extra-firm, not soft. Chinese black vinegar is a must: it has a unique malty-sweet flavor. White pepper provides a floral headiness that black pepper doesn’t match.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

7 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 (6-ounce) boneless pork chop, trimmed

6 cups chicken broth

3 tablespoons soy sauce, plus extra for seasoning

1 (5-ounce) can bamboo shoots, sliced thin lengthwise

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water, divided use

3 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided use

5 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 to 3 teaspoons chili oil

1 large egg

3 green onions, thinly sliced

Optional use: Place on table Chinese black vinegar, chili oil, white pepper

DIRECTIONS

1. Spread tofu over paper towel-lined plate and let drain for 20 minutes, then gently press dry with paper towels. Place pork chop on separate plate and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Transfer pork chip to cutting board and, holding knife parallel to cutting board, slice into thin cutlets. Slice each cutlet crosswise into thin strips.

2. Bring broth and soy sauce to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Add bamboo shoots and mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are just tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in tofu and pork; cook until pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

3. Whisk 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, vinegar, and pepper together in a bowl, then stir mixture into soup. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens and turns translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, but do not let it cool down. Stir in sesame oil and chili oil, and season with extra soy sauce to taste.

4. Whisk remaining 1 teaspoon water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch together in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, then whisk in egg until combined. Off heat, use 1 hand to stir soup with fork or chopsticks while using the other hand to pour egg mixture in slow steady stream into swirling soup. Continue stirring soup until cooked thin egg ribbons appear in about 1 minute.

5. Sprinkle individual portions with green onions. Provide chili oil, black vinegar, and white pepper for diners to use to suit their tastes.

Source: “A Very Chinese Cookbook: 100 Recipes from China and Not China (But Still Really Chinese)” by Jeffrey Pang and Kevin Pang (America’s Test Kitchen)

This Sesame Noodles dish can be made with thin white noodles, lo mein, dried wheat noodles or even spaghetti. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Sesame Noodles

“Cold sesame noodles is a classic street food found throughout China … it’s inexpensive, filling, and extremely delicious,” writes Jeffrey Pang.  If fresh thin white noodles aren’t available, substitute fresh lo mein or 12 ounces dried wheat noodles. In a pinch, spaghetti will work.”

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

5 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup Chinese sesame paste

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar

1 tablespoon chili oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 pound fresh thin white wheat noodles

1/2 English cucumber, cut into 3-inch long matchsticks

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

2 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted; see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: To toast sesame seeds, place in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Shake skillet handle to rotate seeds as they lightly brown, keeping a close eye on them in the process because they can burn easily. Remove from skillet.

DIRECTIONS

1. In a blender, whirl soy sauce, sesame paste, sugar, vinegar, 1 tablespoon water, chili oil, garlic, and ginger until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar  as needed; transfer to large bowl.

2. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add noodles and cook, stirring often, until just tender. Drain noodles in colander and rinse under cold running water until chilled; drain well.

3. Transfer noodles to bowl with the dressing and toss to combine. Adjust consistency with some extra water if needed until sauce smoothly coats noodles. Transfer noodles to a shallow serving bowl and top with cucumber, cilantro, green onions, and sesame seeds. Serve.

Source: “A Very Chinese Cookbook: 100 Recipes from China and Not China (But Still Really Chinese)” by Jeffrey Pang and Kevin Pang (America’s Test Kitchen)

Gai Lan with Oyster Sauce is made with a vegetable also known as Chinese broccoli. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Gai Lan with Oyster Sauce

Oh, how I love gai lan, the vegetable also known as Chinese broccoli. The stalks are dense and crisp, the leaves and tightly packed clusters of buds are irresistibly sweet in the vegetal kind of way. The deep green stalks are longer and more cylindrical than common broccoli and are less fibrous. Asian markets sell it, and occasionally supermarkets stock it. But if you can’t find it, use its offspring, broccolini. Broccolini is a cross between gai lan and common broccoli. Gai Lan with Oyster Sauce is a classic Cantonese recipe.

Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

5 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided use

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon Sichuan chili flakes

3 tablespoons chicken broth

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 1/2 pounds gai lan, trimmed

1/4 cup water

DIRECTIONS

1. Combine 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, garlic, and chili flakes in small bowl; set aside. Whisk broth, oyster sauce, wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch in second small bowl; set aside.

2. Trim leaves from bottom 3 inches of gal lan stalks and reserve. Cut tops (leaves and florets) from stalks. Quarter stalks lengthwise if more than 1 inch in diameter and halve stalks if less than 1 inch in diameter. Keep leaves and stalks separate from stalks.

3. Heat empty 14-inch flat bottomed wok over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Reduce heat to medium, drizzle 2 teaspoons vegetable oil around perimeter of wok, and heat until just smoking. Add stalks and water (water will sputter). Cover and cook until gai lan is bright green, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high and continue to cook, tossing slowly but constantly, until all water has evaporated, and stalks are crisp-tender, 1 to 3 minutes; transfer to separate bowl.

4. Heat the now empty wok over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Drizzle remaining 2 teaspoons vegetable oil around perimeter of wok and heat until just smoking. Add half of gai lan tops and half of reserved leaves and cook, tossing slowly but constantly, until beginning to wilt, 1 to 3 minutes. Add remaining gai lan tops and reserved leaves and continue to cook, tossing slowly but constantly, until completely wilted, about 3 minutes.

5. Push gai lan to one side of wok. Add garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing mixture with a fork until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into gai lan. Whisk broth mixture to recombine, then add it and the stalks and any accumulated juices and cook, tossing constantly, until sauce has thickened and coats the gai lan, about 30 seconds. Serve.

Source: “A Very Chinese Cookbook: 100 Recipes from China and Not China (But Still Really Chinese)” by Jeffrey Pang and Kevin Pang (America’s Test Kitchen)

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