Saturday, 19 May 2012

an attempt at risotto

I haven't been able to find arborio rice here in China. I don't have my beautiful heavy-bottomed, perfect-for-risotto pot. Although I am perfectly happy to spend a long time cooking just for myself, I wasn't sure I could bring myself to spend an hour on my own stirring risotto in the hot, poorly lit kitchen. But my old uni friend S was passing through Beijing, and brought me a Chinese red wine that she promised was really good, and I thought maybe I could give it a go.

It turns out, despite all bottles of wine being sealed with corks in China (cork-corks, not plastic corks), cork screws are difficult to find. So I poked this one out with a chopsticks, into the wine, and decanted the remainder into a glass bottle I had lying around.

At the local supermarket I managed to find a short-grain rice, and though I'm not sure what it is it's definitely not arborio. I forked out quite a lot for some olive oil, and decided to make a mushroom and tomato risotto.

oooh risotto

The risotto turned out softer than it should have, almost congee-like. I love mixing mushrooms, so I went for a couple of button mushrooms (delicious and familiar but fairly expensive here), and enoki mushrooms. I also caramelised half a red onion, and added a tomato in my usual risotto-y way, before heaping in the red wine and the stock.

It was a nice moment of familiarity, and I'm glad I had the wine to do it, and it was expensive compared to the other stuff I cook but not too pricy. But the congee-like consistency made it a little bit weird.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

home style restaurant food / 家常菜

The area near where I work has many Beijing homestyle restaurants, and I've developed a bit of a repertoire for dishes I'll hint that should be ordered when we go so that I can eat. Homestyle cooking (jiachangcai / 家常菜) is unsurprisingly easy to cook at home, but also a style quite favoured by little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and even some of the bigger ones.

Our usual restaurant doesn't have any English, and I'm actually not sure of its name, though I know it fairly well as we go there all the time. As a result this isn't so much a restaurant recommendation, but more of a things I eat because they're often vegan recommendation.

shredded potato

Shredded sour and spicy potatoes (算拉土豆丝) can be very sour and a little spicy, or very spicy and a little sour. I prefer a little sour and very spicy. This is a very dry dish, sometimes served with onion, and it's easy to go too far sour and too far spicy, but it's one of my favourites.

sour baicai

Okay I know you're going to notice a pattern, but sour and spicy cabbage (算拉白菜) is also pretty tasty. There is a whole lot of variation with this dish in the way it's prepared, unlike the potatoes, which are always shredded / 丝, but the result is always a slightly saucy, slightly sour or tart cabbage dish that goes really well with any of the spicier dishes you might have ordered.


Down the back of most menus, hidden away underneath and behind many other things, you might find something that reads suspiciously like cantonese vegetables / 广东菜. What they mean is gailan, and you can get them lightly wok-fried in soy sauce or with garlic or, if you're not careful, oyster sauce. I usually ask for them fried with garlic.

sadly not disanxian

Eggplant has been a really awesome experience for me in Beijing. Almost every restaurant will have some sort of eggplant speciality. My favourite is 地三鲜, literally 'three earth treasures', which is potato, eggplant and capsicum and it's so good. Pictured above is an eggplant, capsicum and tomato dish, because when I asked for 地三鲜 on Thursday they said they didn't have any, which given they then gave me this and a potato dish makes me wonder but whatever. The sauce is amazing, the eggplant just soaks it up and so does the potato and it's so delicious. Sometimes you need to check the eggplant dishes to make sure no animals were harmed in the making of them, but this one is usually okay.

You might notice the lack of tofu dishes! That's because there's no tofu dish I can guarantee you is vego, so it's best to make enquiries as you go. But I have a tofu dish recommendation post lined up for soon!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

broccoli in my pasta

I feel all out of the habit of writing recipes. It's not that I'm not cooking, it's that what I can do in my kitchen is limited by the equipment and ingredients. Some equipment I'm used to I can buy, but I don't want to purchase only to leave it behind at the end of my twelve months; some equipment I just cannot find. Such as last night's disaster where I couldn't get this bottle of red open. In the end I used a chopstick and pushed it into the bottle, but frustrating was the knowledge that the person who gifted me with this bottle of red had also brought a corkscrew for me, and forgotten to give it to me.

broccoli pasta

Anyway, PASTA. It's a comfort food for me here in China. As I'm blogged before, it's hard for me to order because very few places in Beijing do a good pasta and they almost always, even if I ask for it without, come with cheese. But I cheat here in Beijing like I never would at home. I've posted a previous cheatery pasta, but this one I cook probably a bit more often. And it's a bit cheaper and easier to get the ingredients.

You know how to make pasta, you don't really need a recipe, but in case you're interested (it's kind of like cataloging what I can get in China):

coloured broccoli pasta

slice three button mushrooms, and fry in a little olive oil. add half a dozen cherry tomatoes, halved, and saute until they start to soften. add some tomato pasta sauce, a little chilli flakes, and one or two cloves of garlic, and simmer on reduced heat for five minutes. in the meantime, cook 250 grams of coloured pasta, and when it's almost done, add one small head of broccoli that has been pulled apart. drain and mix it in with the pasta sauce and two or three or four tablespoons of nutritional yeast. the broccoli should be crisp and everything else should be squishy.

did I mention that in China, cherry tomatoes are considered a fruit, and found in the fruit section?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

veggie table iii [lama temple area, beijing]

I've written twice before about my love of the Veggie Table, and I love it, I really do - located close to my house, with excellent cake and good pasta, they have free wifi and don't mind if I sit there working and drinking coffee made with coconut milk.

So it saddens me to say how much I disliked my lunch there on Monday.

I've never taken the opportunity to try any of their specials and, having previously tried everything that interests me on their regular menu, I thought I'd give their daily special of sundried tomato and mushroom pasta with pinenuts a go.

pasta of the day at veggie table

Unfortunately I struggled to eat this, and I regretted that I hadn't ordered the mushroom burger as I'd been planning (it's the best burger I've been able to find so far in Beijing). It was a little too oily for me, and filled with a combination of flavours that I'm not a fan of on their own. I'm perfectly willing to concede that others would like this pasta, and really, I should have known better.

My previous (and extremely tasty) visits: one (includes accessibility details) and two.

Other reviews: Lum Dim Sum had a very mixed experience, and Bespoke Beijing had a much more pleasing time.

veggie table
19 wudaoying hutong
dongcheng district

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

making baozi

One of the things on my list of things to achieve while I'm living in Beijing is to improve my cooking repertoire. Last week I made tofu from dried organic soybeans, which was lots of fun and the result was some of the most delicious tofu I've ever eaten, plus a whole lot of inspiration for making my own tofu (and also adapting the technique to make vegan, gluten-free haloumi).


This week I made steamed buns!

We started with making the dough, which was (unsurprisingly) quite similar to making pizza dough. We gave it just the one rise, though if we'd had more time the teacher recommended a second proofing, before and after going to choppy town with a cleaver and making balls. (Cleaver optional)

choppy time

I was really interested to discover just how fast the dough dries out, and what a difference it makes both to my ability to finish making the bao, and also the final bao. It dries out very, very quickly, and the dough becomes very difficult to handle as you try to fold the shape and press in the filling at the same time.

almost there!

I became much faster and better at this even after just a handful of baozi, though my skills in this area still have far to go!

We used a smoked tofu, bok choy and shitake filling for these baozi, and it was delicious! I wish I hadn't been feeling a little below average, because I would have loved to have eaten more. There was also a bit of sesame oil in these ones because my cooking teacher, who is also a nutritionist, insisted, due to the lack of animal fats in my diet. It's okay the reason, because it was definitely a tasty filling.

Unlike the tofu, which I will make again but not until I get home and can impress my fellow vegmel bloggers with how awesome freshly made that hour tofu is at a potluck, I plan to make bao often both here and at home, just as soon as I can get some yeast!