China: Cookies, Noodles and Long Life interrupted

spinach and leek soup, vegetable pancake, dipping sauce, baked tofu, stir-fry eggplant, sesame noodles
spinach and leek soup, vegetable pancake, dipping sauce, baked tofu, stir-fry eggplant, sesame noodles

This week’s chapter of Sundays at Moosewood is China. The chapter’s author, David Hirsch, reminisces about growing up in Queens, NY and going to Ling’s restaurant on Utopia Parkway. I also grew up in Queens, NY, but I’m not familiar with Ling’s. Maybe because I was on the other side of the borough near LaGuardia airport. I don’t even remember going to a Chinese restaurant as a child. We did Chinese Take-out. During the dog days of summer, I and two good friends would rummage up a dollar each and go to the corner take-out store. We’d order a pint of chicken fried rice to share between us. The rice came tightly packaged in a folded white carton with a thin metal handle, with one packet soy sauce, one napkin and one fork in a paper bag. Our requests for additional forks were always met with the reproach: “One order, one fork!” With our paper bag in hand, we’d walk back to my friend’s house to get two more forks. There we’d sit on her stoop under a shady tree and talk about all the other things we’d wish we were doing with our lives as we passed the yummy fried rice around. Today, some thirty-odd years later, I wish I was sitting on a stoop under a shady tree with good friends passing around fried rice. At this moment, however, I have to start dinner and I’m late again!

I grew up eating traditional American fare, but I have grown to prefer Asian cuisine. As Hirsch explains:

Instead of a standard American meal – entree with a side dish of vegetables – here was food that was combined and cooked in a far different fashion…all thrown together (so to speak).

The irony of it is I once went through a phase where I did not want my food all thrown together. I recoiled if the juice from my meat ran into the broccoli. I pleaded with my mom to buy those new fangled paper plates that were divided into sections. My mom just gave me her “girl, you’re crazy” look and flatly said, “no.” Today, I love how food is all thrown together and seasoned and chopped and sliced into mouth-sized morsels. I also prefer quick cooking on high heat. Cooking on the stove keeps my ADD brain focused. If I were to put a roast or casserole in the oven, I’d forget it and burn it.

As for menu planning, the book explains:

In China, tradition dictates that meals are prepared with a harmonious balance of all the elements that food can offer – taste, fragrance, texture, appearance, and nutrition.

While that sounds wonderful and accurate, I chose my menu based on what I had at home. I also chose to make noodles instead of rice because the recipe stated that:

Noodles are traditionally served at birthday celebrations, left uncut, to symbolize long life.

It being the eve of my birthday, I thought I’d honor myself.

  • Spinach and Leek Soup
  • Sesame Noodles
  • Vegetable Pancakes with Dipping Sauce
  • Five-spice Tofu
  • Almond Cookies
Ingredients: peanut oil, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (in lieu of soy sauce), Rice vinegar, Sesame paste, canned water chestnuts, Chinese five-spice powder, star anise, grated carrots, leeks
this is what my kitchen looks like when I cook!
What a mess. It’s a view inside the ADHD mind.
Vegetable Pancakes: an ideal appetizer, light lunch or brunch. Tasted great the next morning!
Vegetable Pancakes: an ideal appetizer, light lunch or brunch. Tasted great the next morning!
My son entertaining himself as a quick dinner devolved into hours!
the almond cookies: these were yummy and super easy! we made some without almonds for my son
This is what happened to the first batch of noodles! Oops! dinner is delayed as I make a second one. What happens to my long life?

* all recipes come from the book Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

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Vegetable Pancakes

serves 4-6

1/2 cup finely chopped green or red bell pepper

1 cup finely chopped scallion

1 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup canned water chestnuts, drained, rinsed, and finely chopped

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 tbsp tamari soy sauce

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup unbleached white flour

scant tbsp baking powder

peanut or vegetable oil for frying

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients, except the oil, until well blended. Thoroughly coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet with about a tablespoon of oil. Heat the oil until a drop of water sizzles on the hot surface. Pour about /14 cup of batter into the hot skillet for each pancake. Cook the pancakes on medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Add more oil to the skillet as needed for subsequent batches. Serve at once, either plain or with Duck or Dipping Sauce.

 Dipping Sauce

yields 1/4 cup

1 tbsp tamari soy sauce

1 tsp dark sesame oil

1 tsp rice vinegar

1/4 tsp chili oil

1/4 tsp honey or sugar

1 tbsp water

combine all ingredients in a bowl. Dipping sauce will keep indefinitely if stored in the refrigerator.

Spinach and Leek Soup

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 tbsp oil

2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

2 large leeks well rinsed and sliced diagonally

1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks

6 cups Vegetable stock, warmed

2 tbsp tamari soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

salt and ground pepper to taste

10 oz fresh spinach, washed and stemmed

1/2 cup canned water chestnuts, drained, rinsed and sliced

strips five-spice tofu

Heat a wok or heavy soup pot on high heat for half a minute and add the oil. Swirl the oil to coat the bottom and add the garlic, leeks, and carrots. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover the wok, increase the heat to high, and add the spinach and water chestnuts. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Lower the heat to medium. Add the warm stock, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat through but do not boil. Serve immediately; garnish with strips of five-spice tofu.

Five-Spice Tofu

2 cakes tofu, 12 oz each, firm


3 tbsp tamari soy sauce

3/4 cup water

1/4 tsp five-spice powder

2 whole star anise

1 tsp molasses

Method One: combine marinade ingredients in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel 9″ square baking dish. Cut each cake of tofu in half horizontally. Place the slices of tofu in the baking dish and spoon marinade over them. Bake at 350 for one hour, turning the tofu over after 30 minutes. Cool and drain before storing the tofu. It will keep, refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap, for a week.

Method Two: cut each cake of tofu in half horizontally. Combine the marinade ingredients in a saucepan wide enough to fit the four pieces of tofu in a single layer. Bring the marinade to a boil. Add the tofu. Simmer, uncovered, on very low heat for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and marinate the tofu for 3 hours or overnight, turning 2 or 3 times. Cool and drain before storing. It will keep, refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap, for a week.