Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cross Cultural Comfort Food

The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam (Plume)I do not claim to be an expert in Asian flavors. I do my best, but when I falter, I call on my brother for help. In general, the fellow has made a science out of finding cookbooks written by chefs of the country of origin. He found a Vietnamese cookbook with an intro by Jacques Pepin, asked his Indian colleague at work which books he should buy and reads Escoffier for kicks.

So, today, when I was preparing to use our Chinese Cabbage from the CSA, I texted him:
"I'm making fried rice and I want to use my Napa Cabbage. What's the best way to cook it before hand? Sauté? Steam?"

He wrote back: "Sauté it for a minute or two, covered. Add a little rice wine vinegar if it is too dry."

Well, I didn't have any rice wine vinegar. Another day, I will stock up my pantry. Today, I will substitute in apple cider vinegar or sherry.

Helen Chen's Chinese Home CookingThe recipe I based my fried rice on comes from Helen Chen's Chinese Home Cooking. We received this book as a wedding gift. It has proven adaptable and delicious and great guideline for anything I might want to try. As is implied above, I haven't yet developed my instincts for Asian cooking. This cookbook bypasses all that by letting you in on the authors thinking, explaining, 'This is what we did in our home and why. This is what you could try instead or substitute in, if you have it.' The recipe I used is Shanghai Golden Rice, and it has a proven itself to be an easy comfort food for myself and Nomi many a time on nights when Dave is working late.

I usually use brown rice for the dish, cooking it up earlier in the day. This time around, I used leftover white rice from the Chinese take out we got on Tuesday. Sacrilege, I know, this combining of Certified Naturally Grown ingredients with take out white rice. However, the rice needed to get used, my family needed to eat and we'll get enough fiber some other way. In the future, I will return to brown rice, as I prefer the nutty flavor it adds, and I felt that the two day old white rice was too dry to soak up as much of the flavor as I would have liked.

However, the dish as a whole was rich and delicious, while still surprisingly light and suitable to this evening's almost summer, breezy weather. The cabbage stayed crisp, juicy and sweet. The tofu gave a gentle accent and added needed protein. The eggs gave even take out Chinese rice a creaminess. Give it a try, let me know how it goes:

Vegetarian Shanghai Golden Rice
Adapted from Helen Chen's Chinese Home Cooking - items in bold are from this week's CSA

4 cups cooked rice
2 large eggs
1 T sherry
5 scallions, chopped
2 or 3 garlic scapes, chopped
Canola or Vegetable oil
1 block firm tofu, cubed
1 head Chinese Cabbage, chopped
rice wine vinegar (or apple cider in a pinch)
soy sauce

1. Prep all ingredients. Place rice in a bowl. Add scallions and scapes. Crack eggs directly over the rice. Add sherry and a generous amount of salt or soy sauce (you are compensating for a lack of salted ham). Combine.

2. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add oil to the pan. Brown the tofu on all sides. When complete, remove and allow to drain.

3. Add cabbage to the pan, along with a good glug of vinegar. Stir, then cover and allow to cook until bright green and beginning to wilt. Remove from pan.

4. Add oil to the pan. Pour in rice mixture. Move around the pan, breaking up clumps, until rice appears to be individual kernels and fluffy. Return tofu and cabbage to the pan. Toss and cook briefly, bring all ingredients up to temp. Season to taste.

Now, I have listed Sriracha in the ingredients list. Sriracha is a required condiment for any and all serious foodie households, but be warned - it packs a whollop. I recommend serving it on the side and allowing diners to add it or not as they so choose. For instance, your diners who use a Dora cup with dinner probably would not enjoy Sriracha, where as your diners who are indulging in an after work Saranac just might. I choose not for this dish, however I will put this corollary - if you enjoy hot sauce on baked macaroni and cheese, you will enjoy hot sauce on this dish. Share and enjoy.


  1. Haha, the combination of two day old Chinese takeout rice and fresh locally grown produce is one of my kitchen shortcuts.

  2. nothing wrong with takeout rice... they make it the same way asians make white rice at home... in a rice cooker...

    granted, their rice cooker is probably 10 times the size of mine...

    have I mentioned that I love your blog?

    sometime this fall when the weather starts to cool, I'm going to have to come over and make us a big pot of veggie hot and sour soup. It's super yummy on its own but to make it a full meal, a little rice in a bowl topped with the soup makes it a delicious veggie stew. :)