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From China's kitchens to yours.

From China's kitchens to yours

For centuries, China has been famous for its foods--for the infinite variety and subtle complexity of its cuisine, and for the cultural importance of esthetic dining to its people. When Chinese people settle in different parts of the world, their culinary traditions usually come with them. Here in the West, where large numbers of Chinese have immigrated, restaurants reflecting various regional styles have sprung up in great numbers in the last few decades--and won devoted fans.

But how does what we know here compare with the real thing?

To learn more about how food is prepared in China and to study regional differences in greater detail, Sunset sent an editorial research team directly to the kitchens of the People's Republic.

In August 1986, we proposed our project to the Chinese government. The Ministry of Commerce (which runs most of China's restaurants) offered to arrange the trip. Last May, our team spent 15 days in China, traveling through the four main areas where the best-known regional cuisines have developed. In the course of the trip, we sampled more than 300 dishes. We went to street markets, farming communes, restaurants, and private homes-- to shop, study, taste, visit, and enjoy.

In the next 11 pages, we share the 23 best recipes we brought back from China-- and tested in our editorial kitchens for use by Sunset readers.

Our impressions: some big surprises

What we found in private homes was absolutely amazing. In kitchens not much larger than a Western home's bedroom closet, Chinese families turned out meals with 10 or more dishes. Employing a large, detachable tabletop, a family with a small apartment could suddenly serve a dozen people. Some dishes were very simple, but others were rather complex, considering the facilities--usually just two gas burners and a water faucet. Most of the cooking was handled by one or two people, though sometimes extra helpers gave a hand with the preparation.

In restaurants, we were offered formal banquet meals. These usually began with a selection of cold appetizers--sometimes, as a centerpiece, artfully set out to resemble a bird, flower, or other symbolic figure. A succession of hot dishes would follow, often ending with soup, and then plain fresh fruit. Rice was offered but seldom eaten: we were too full.

The banquet-style presentations bore little resemblance to what most Westerners know from Chinese restaurants here. Though too elaborate for home kitchens, many banquet dishes were truly memorable. Among them: a beautifully presented meal at the Sichuan Culinary Institute; hand-cut egg noodles served in broth at the Chengdu Restaurant; a charming teahouse lunch in Shanghai's picturesque Old Town; the "drunken shrimp" at the Banxi in Guangzhou.

In this large country, season and geography determine what you eat. Transportation systems are limited to mostly local service, so food generally stays close to where it is produced. Regions with warm climates and agricultural abundance have created the most interesting specialties.

Basic flavoring ingredients

Many Chinese dishes are seasoned only with a little salt or soy sauce, some wine, and perhaps a bit of garlic or ginger. Others dishes require some special ingredients; you can find these at well-supplied supermarkets or Asian markets here.

Wine, made from rice, is used frequently; shaoxing is the most common kind. You can use dry sherry as a substitute.

Most Chinese vinegar is made from rice; it has a mellower, less acidic flavor than wine vinegar. Most often, the cooks use an aged black vinegar that has an aromatic, complex flavor much like that of an Italian balsamic vinegar. But use any unsweetened rice vinegar in these recipes.

Or, as a substitute, use a wine vinegar tempered with sugar.

Planning a Chinese meal

Chinese custom requires variety in a meal. Allow at least one dish per person. Add extra dishes for special occasions.

In our travels, tea was generally served before the meal. Beer, medium-dry Chinese white wine, shaoxing rice wine, orange soda, and mineral water accompanied meals. Gewurztraminer or dry Riesling would also be appropriate.

We have focused here on meals served at home. We've simplified menus and cooking techniques. Prepare a whole menu, or choose one or two new dishes to try along with familiar favorites.

SICHUAN

The Qing family invites us for a country banquet

Colorful Chengdu is the capital of China's agriculturally richest province, Sichuan, in the southwest. With this region's abundance comes a complex cuisine. In addition to the fiery seasonings for which it is best known, the repertoire includes clean and refined--even medicinal--flavors. Sichuan banquets, which can consist of as many as two dozen dishes, often alternate spicy foods with light, natural flavors.

To lend heat, many chili and pepper preparations are used and often combined.

Qing family country banquet

The Qing family lives on a farm in Chengdu. When visitors come, the family offers its own specialty, a custard-like version of homemade tofu. They scoop the warm, soft tofu into bowls and serve a pungent black bean sauce over it for an entree dish--or spoon warm honey over it and serve it as a dessert.

In their chicken dish, stir-fried chicken shreds get a complex kind of heat from aromatic Sichuan peppercorns and a paste of crushed chilies. A dozen whole cloves of garlic braised in broth with green beans becomes surprisingly mild.

The "four happy lions" are moist braised meatballs garnished with manes of stir-fried spinach. In the stir-fried pork, thin shreds of meat are quickly cooked with sliced mild chilies. The soup is served as a palate cleanser after the entrees.

Chicken with Chili Paste

Four Happy Lions

Green Beans and Garlic

Stir-fried Chilies and Pork (optional)

Soft Tofu with Black Bean Sauce

Pickled Vegetable Soup

Rice

Beer or Sparkling Water

The meatballs can be made up to a day ahead. Prepare ingredients for other dishes. Cook beans while the meatballs simmer, then stir-fry the chilies with pork. Heat the tofu and make the soup.

Chicken with Chili Paste

3/4 pound skinned boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

About 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 tablespoons salad oil

2 tablespoons slivered fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons chili paste

1/2 cup bamboo shoots, cut into thin slivers

2 stalks celery, cut into thin slivers about 2 inches long

Sauce (recipe follows)

About 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns (recipe follows)

Cut chicken into matchstick-size strips about 3 inches long. Mix with cornstarch, wine, and salt.

Place a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When hot add 1 tablespoon oil. Swirl oil to coat pan bottom. Add ginger and garlic; stir-fry until garlic is limp. Add chili paste, bamboo shoots, and celery; stir-fry 1 minute. Lift out of pan; add 1 tablespoon oil and chicken. Stir-fry until chicken turns white, about 2 minutes; return vegetables to pan and add sauce. Stir-fry until sauce boils and thickens. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with Sichuan peppercorns. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

Sauce. Mix 2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon Oriental sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch.

Ground Sichuan peppercorns. Put 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns into a 6- to 8-inch frying pan. Pick out and discard any debris. Cook over medium heat, shaking pan often, until peppercorns are fragrant and lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Finely crush with a mortar and pestle (or whirl in blender until finely ground). Makes 2 teaspoons.

Four Happy Lions

3 tablespoons salad oil

Meatball mixture (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, pressed or minced

1 cup regular-strength chicken broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3/4 pound spinach (stem ends trimmed and yellow leaves discarded), washed and drained

Pour 2 tablespoons oil into a 10- to 12-inch frying pan and place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add meatballs and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Spoon off and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat. (If made ahead, cover and chill until next day.)

Add ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until garlic is golden. Add broth and soy sauce. Cover and simmer until meatballs are no longer pink in center (cut to test), 15 minutes (25 minutes, if cold). Lift out meatballs and place in a warm serving dish. Pour out pan juices and measure; add water if needed to make 1 cup. Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water and stir into pan juices. Stir until sauce boils. Pour over meatballs.

Rinse pan and dry. Place over high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and swirl oil over pan bottom. When oil is hot, add spinach and cook, turning, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Garnish base of meatballs with spinach. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

Meatball mixture. Soak 4 medium-size dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until soft, about 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water, trim off and discard stems, and finely chop mushrooms. Mix mushrooms; 1 pound ground lean pork; 1 large egg; 1/3 cup finely chopped bamboo shoots; 1/4 cup chopped green onions; 2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry; 1 tablespoon each cornstarch, soy sauce, and minced fresh ginger; 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced; and about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Shape into 4 equal-size balls.

Green Beans and Garlic

1 tablespoon salad oil

12 to 18 large cloves garlic, peeled

2 cups regular-strength chicken broth

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine oil and garlic. Stir over medium heat until light gold, about 2 minutes. Add broth; cover and simmer until garlic is tender when pierced, about 5 minutes.

Bring broth to a boil and add beans. Cook, covered, just until beans are tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. With tongs, lift out beans and arrange on a rimmed platter. Mix cornstarch and water and stir into broth. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thickened. Spoon sauce and garlic over beans. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

Stir-fried Chilies and Pork

1/2 pound boneless pork, such as loin

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons salad oil

3 large fresh Anaheim chilies, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin rings (if you prefer a milder flavor, substitute 1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin slivers for 1 chili)

Salt

Trim fat from pork. Cut pork into match-stick-size strips. Mix pork with soy and cornstarch.

Place a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When hot, add oil and swirl to coat pan. Add pork and stir-fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Add chilies and stir-fry until they turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste. Pour into a bowl. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

Soft Tofu with Black Bean Sauce

3/4 to 1 pound soft tofu

Black bean sauce (recipe follows) or about 1/2 cup warm honey

Set tofu in a bowl that will fit in a steamer basket, wok, or deep wide pan; cover tofu. Place on a rack over about 1 inch boiling water in pan. Cover and steam until hot, about 10 minutes. (In a microwave, cover tofu with plastic wrap; cook at full power, 100 percent, until hot, about 4 minutes.)

Serve warm tofu topped with black bean sauce or honey. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

Black bean sauce. Rinse and drain 1/2 cup salted fermented black beans; coarsely chop beans. Chop 1/2 cup canned salted mustard greens; rinse and drain. In an 8- to 10-inch frying pan over high heat, stir 1 tablespoon salad oil, 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, beans, and mustard greens; cook until onion is limp, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and Oriental sesame oil and 1 to 2 teaspoons chili oil or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne.

Pickled Vegetable Soup

1/2 pound boneless pork, such as loin

1/2 cup canned salted mustard greens

3 cups regular-strength chicken broth

3 cups water

2 cups thinly shredded cabbage

1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns (see chicken with chili paste, page 96)

Trim excess fat from pork. Cut meat into matchstick-size strips. Cut mustard greens into same-size strips; rinse and drain. Pour broth and water into a 3- to 4-quart pan and bring to a boil. Add pork and mustard greens. Simmer, uncovered, until meat is no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Skim off and discard fat. Stir in cabbage; cook just until limp, about 2 minutes. Pour into a tureen and sprinkle with ground peppercorns. Serves 5 or 6 as part of a 5- or 6-course meal.

GUANGZHOU

A taste of the real Cantonese with the Huangs

Formerly known as Canton, the capital of the southern province of Guangdong is now called Guangzhou. Located in the fertile alluvial soil of the Zhujiang (Pearl River) delta, it has a productive agricultural base. The warm subtropical climate produces luscious fruits not found in the north, and the river yields a bounty of fish and seafood. This city teems with food, and with people who love to eat.

Cantonese-style cooking is probably what first introduced most Westerners to Chinese food. Its interpretation is uneven in the West, but in China its reputation is unsurpassed. In a region that produces ingredients of such good quality, chefs often strive to preserve the natural flavors, enhancing them with only very simple seasonings. Stir-frying, steaming, and roasting are popular cooking techniques.

Lesser-known cooking styles from other parts of this province are readily found in Guangzhou. They include Hakka (more seasonings, liberal use of oyster sauce), Chiu Chow (spicier, often employing bean paste), and Hainan (more tropical ingredients).

Huang family gathering

Just about everyone in the Huang family cooks: husband, wife, father, and brother are career chefs. Mrs. Huang and her brother-in-law cooked this meal for us.

The soup, naturally sweet from vegetables, is served first in Guangzhou--unlike other regions, where it comes later.

The chicken is steamed just until barely done and served quite plainly to show off its tender smoothness.

For freshest, sweetest flavor, Mrs. Huang starts with a live crab. She kills it instantly with a heavy knife, giving it a sharp blow directly down the center. She cuts the back shell into small rounds to hold the creamy crab butter (and small pieces are easier to serve with chopsticks). Then she steams the crab just until barely done to serve with vinegar and slivers of fresh ginger. If you prefer, you might have a live crab cooked at the market. Then clean, crack, and reassemble with the crab butter cupped in its back shell (whole or cut into small rounds).

The filled bitter melons and braised eggplant show some Hakka influence.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Steamed Chicken with Mustard Greens

Pork-filled Chilies and Bitter Melons

Steamed Crab

Braised Eggplant in Oyster Sauce

Rice

Medium-dry Chinese White Wine or Beer

Start the soup first, or make it ahead and reheat. Steam the chicken. While it cooks, fill chilies and bitter melons and brown (this can also be done ahead), then braise them. Also steam or boil the crab and braise the eggplant.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

6 cups regular-strength chicken broth

6 slices fresh ginger (each about the size of a quarter)

2 green onions, ends trimmed

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large sweet potato (about 3/4 lb.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large russet potato (about 1/2 lb.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, combine broth, ginger, onions, garlic, soy, and wine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add carrots; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add sweet potato and potato; cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender when pierced, 35 to 45 minutes longer. (If made ahead, cool, cover, and chill up to 2 days. Reheat to serve.) Pour into a tureen. Serves 5 as part of a 5-course meal.

Steamed Chicken with Mustard Greens

1 cup thinly sliced green onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

5 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 whole star anise or 1/2 teaspoon anise seed, crushed

1 broiler-fryer chicken (3 to 3 1/2 lb.), rinsed and patted dry

1 pound mustard greens, tough stems removed

2 tablespoons salad oil

About 1/2 cup regular-strength chicken broth

Salt

Mix onion, ginger, 4 cloves garlic, wine, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and anise. Rub 1/3 mixture all over chicken, then fill it with remainder. Set chicken in a shallow bowl that will fit inside a steamer basket, wok, or deep, wide pan. Cover bowl and set in steamer basket or on a rack above about 1 inch boiling water in pan. Cover steamer basket or pan and steam until chicken is white at thigh bone (cut to test; Cantonese prefer it tinged with pink), 1 to 1 1/4 hours; add water to pan as needed.

Meanwhile, discard wilted and yellow leaves from mustard greens. Cut into 3-inch strips. Wash and drain; set aside.

When chicken is done, remove from pan and let cool about 10 minutes. With a cleaver, cut chicken into bite-size pieces through the bone; or leave whole to carve as desired. Arrange on a platter. Pour chicken juices into a measuring cup.

Set a wok or 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add oil and swirl over pan bottom. Add about half of the greens and stir-fry until they wilt; stir in remaining greens. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved chicken juices, cover, and cook until greens turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Lift out and arrange around chicken.

Pour pan juices into measuring cup with reserved chicken juices; if needed, add additional broth to make 1 cup. Mix with 2 teaspoons cornstarch. In the same pan used to cook greens, add 1 clove minced garlic and broth-cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, over high heat until boiling. Add salt to taste. Pour over chicken. Serves 5 as part of a 5-course meal.

Pork-filled Chilies and Bitter Melons

Wrinkled bitter melons have a definite bitterness; use all chilies if you prefer.

3 large straight Anaheim chilies or bitter melons (fugua), each about 8 inches long, or some of each

Pork filling (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons salad oil

1 tablespoon salted fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup regular-strength chicken broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cut chilies in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Trim ends off bitter melons and cut melons into 3/4-inch-wide rounds; scrape out seeds. Fill cavities in both chilies and melons with pork filling.

Pour oil into a 10- to 12-inch frying pan; set over medium heat. Place chilies and melon, filling sides down, in pan. Cook until meat is browned, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes a side. (If made ahead, cool, cover, and chill until the next day.) Add black beans and garlic; stir until garlic is lightly browned. Add broth, soy, wine, and sugar. Cover and simmer over low heat until vegetables are tender when pierced, 5 to 7 minutes for chilies, 15 to 20 minutes for melons.

With a slotted spatula, lift out vegetables and set on a platter. Measure pan juices, skim fat, and add water to make 1 cup. Mix with cornstarch and stir into pan juices. Stir over high heat until it boils. Pour over vegetables. Serves 5 as part of a 5-course meal.

Pork filling. Mix 1/2 pound ground lean pork, 2 tablespoons minced green onion, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, and 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced.

Braised Eggplant in Oyster Sauce

2 tablespoons salad oil

5 Oriental eggplant (about 1 lb. total), stems removed, cut in half lengthwise; or 1 large eggplant (about 1 lb.), stem removed, cut lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch wedges

3/4 cup regular-strength chicken broth

1 tablespoon oyster sauce or soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

Place a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, place eggplant, cut side down, in pan. Cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until skin is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir together broth and oyster sauce and add to eggplant. Cover and simmer until eggplant is very tender when pierced, 8 to 10 minutes.

Lift out eggplant with a slotted spatula and set on serving plate. Mix cornstarch and water and stir into pan juices. Cook, stirring, until mixture boils and thickens; pour over eggplant. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 5 as part of a 5-course meal.

SHANGHAI

The Xins prepare a simple meal of salad and stir-fry

The sophisticated city of Shanghai, with a population of more than 11 million, lies in the center of the 20-mile-wide Changjiang (Yangtze) Delta, where the river opens toward the East China Sea. This water-oriented region is laced with rivers, lakes, and streams. The Chinese call it the land of fish and rice. Shanghai, with its bustling harbor, sits at the mouth of the Huangpu River.

The Shanghainese like their dishes only lightly seasoned, preserving the foods' natural appearance and taste. They do, however, use oil, salt, and sugar rather generously. They cook foods thoroughly, preferring them on the well-done side. "Red cooking," a way of braising meats with soy and sugar to give a rich brownish red color, is a popular technique.

Xin light lunch

For a simple lunch, the Xin family enjoys serving two cool salads to eat with hot stir-fried shrimp. It's a refreshing light meal that goes together speedily.

Shanghai Cucumber Salad

Bean Sprout Salad

Shrimp with Green Onions

Rice

Sparkling Water or Hot Tea

Cook the rice. Make the cucumber and sprout salads. Then stir-fry the shrimp.

Shanghai Cucumber Salad

1 small European cucumber

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or wine vinegar plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup water

Cut cucumber into 2-inch lengths. Cut each piece lengthwise into 8 wedges. Mix cucumber with vinegar, salt, sugar, and water. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Lift out cucumber with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Serves 3 as part of a 3-course meal.

Bean Sprout Salad

1 pound bean sprouts

1/4 cup rice vinegar (or wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil About 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin slivers about 3 inches long

4 ounces thinly sliced cooked ham, cut into thin strips about 2 inches long

Egg shreds (recipe follows)

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, bring about 3 quarts water to a boil. Push bean sprouts into the water to immerse completely. Cook just until wilted, about 30 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool; drain well.

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add bean sprouts, pepper, ham, egg shreds, and more salt to taste. Mix and serve, or cover and chill up to 30 minutes. Serves 3 as part of a 3-course meal.

Egg shreds. Lightly beat together 2 large eggs and 1 tablespoon water. Place over medium heat a frying pan that measures 7 inches across bottom, or 7-inch crepe pan. When pan is hot, brush lightly with salad oil and at once pour 1/4 cup of the egg mixture into pan, tilting pan to spread egg over pan bottom. Cook just until edges begin to pull away from pan sides and egg feels set in middle. Turn out of pan and repeat with remaining egg. Cut egg into 3- to 4-inch-long thin strips.

Shrimp with Green Onions

1 pound large shrimp (31 to 35 per lb.), shelled if desired

Salt

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons salad oil

4 green onions (ends trimmed), thinly sliced

If shell is left on shrimp, devein by inserting a wooden pick in back of shrimp in several places and gently pull vein out. Mix shrimp with about 1 tablespoon salt; let stand 5 minutes. Rinse well and drain. Mix shrimp with wine and cornstarch.

Set a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add oil and swirl over pan bottom. Add shrimp and stir-fry until pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Add green onions and stir-fry until shrimp are opaque in thickest part (cut to test), about 1 minute longer. Add salt to taste. Serves 3 as part of a 3-course meal.

BEIJING

Mrs. Zhu shops, Mr. Zhu cooks a six-courser

The nation's capital attracts chefs from all over the country. Originally, many came to cook for the imperial family. As a result, the term "mandarin" was applied to the best dishes of any region--those worthy to be eaten by royalty.

But if you look at geography, this northern region loses some of its veneer of glamor. Beijing is located in the middle of flat, dry, dusty plains, where summers are hot and winters severely cold. The climate suits the growing of grains such as millet and wheat, and breads and noodles are eaten more frequently here than elsewhere. But fresh produce is in short supply, except during the prolific summer.

From the nearby province of Shandong, on the Gulf of Bo Hai and the Huang Hai (Yellow Sea), comes a bounty of seafood.

When Mongols invaded the north, they brought a fondness for lamb and for bold garlic flavors--a combination that's the mainstay of some popular dishes here.

What we sampled in Beijing was something of all of this: elaborate banquet-style dishes that originated elsewhere; precious imperial-style dishes using rare ingredients; cook-it-yourself Mongolian lamb; plump, crisp Peking ducks; and the subtle, light, wine-seasoned seafood and soups of Shandong.

Zhu family dinner

In the Zhu household, Mr. Zhu prefers to do the cooking. His wife shops for vegetables at the neighborhood market, for meat at the government store. He makes a refreshing salad, boils a chicken, then cooks several simple dishes in rapid succession.

Green Pea Starch Salad

Mr. Zhu's Steamed Fish

Boy Choy with Quail Eggs

Gingered Tomatoes and Eggs

Pork with Garlic Chives

Boiled Chicken with Soy Sauce (optional)

Hot Cooked Rice

Beer Orange Soda

You can prepare all the ingredients for the dishes as early as the night before.

Up to 2 hours before serving, make the salad. If you include the chicken, simmer a whole 3 1/2- to 4-pound broiler-fryer in water to cover just until it is no longer pink at the thigh bone, 45 to 60 minutes; serve it with soy sauce. Start the rice while chicken cooks. Then stir-fry remaining. dishes in sequence. Serve dishes one at a time as they are cooked, or several at a time.

Green Pea Starch Salad

In China, vendors sell sheets of fresh pasta made from mung bean flour (it's called green pea starch). The sheets are cut into small pieces to make this salad. Here we use the more available dry bean threads--also made from mung beans.

8 ounces dry bean thread noodles (saifun)

1/3 cup rice vinegar (or wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Oriental sesame oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small cucumber, seeded and cut into thin, 3-inch-long slivers

Salt

2 green onions, ends trimmed (optional)

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, bring about 2 quarts water to a boil. Add noodles; stir to separate noodles and let them soak off the heat until soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well and cut noodles into 6- to 8-inch lengths. Place noodles in a large bowl.

Mix the vinegar, soy, oil, sliced onions, cilantro, ginger, and garlic. Add to noodles with cucumber; mix to blend. Add salt to taste. Garnish with whole onion. Serve, or cover and chill up to 2 hours. Serves 6 as part of a 6-course meal.

Mr. Zhu's Steamed Fish

1 whole rockfish (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lb.), dressed (remove head, if desired), or 1 1/2 pounds rockfish fillets

Salt

3 tablespoons fresh ginger slivers

3 green onions (ends trimmed), thinly sliced

1 slice bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 dried hot red chili (about 3 in. long)

1 tablespoon each rice vinegar (or wine vinegar) and soy sauce

Cilantro sprigs (coriander)

Rinse fish and pat dry. Make 3 diagonal slashes across body on each side of the whole fish. Place fish in a wide bowl or rimmed plate that will fit inside a steamer basket, wok, or deep, wide pan. (If fish is too long, cut it in half crosswise and set halves side by side.) Sprinkle fish lightly with salt, inside and out. Place half of the ginger, green onions, and bacon inside fish cavity; put remaining on top of fish (or put all on top of fillets). Set chili on fish. Pour vinegar and soy over top.

Drape a piece of foil over dish. Place dish in a steamer basket or on a rack set over about 1 inch boiling water in pan. Cover and steam until fish is opaque in thickest part (cut to test), 8 to 10 minutes for whole fish, about 5 minutes for fillets. Remove from steamer. If needed, reassemble halves and garnish with cilantro. Serves 6 as part of a 6-course meal.

Bok Choy with Quail Eggs

12 to 18 quail eggs

2 tablespoons salad oil

12 ounces baby bok choy heads, about 2-inch diameter at bases, ends trimmed

1/4 cup water

Salt

In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, combine eggs and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and hold below simmering; cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Drain and immerse eggs in cold water to cool. Peel.

Cut bok choy heads in half lengthwise. Rinse well and drain. Set a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, swirl 1 tablespoon oil over pan bottom. Add bok choy and stir to coat with oil. Add water, cover pan, and cook, turning often, until stems are barely tender when pierced and leaves are bright green, about 3 minutes. Lift out of pan and place on serving dish.

Pour any water out of pan. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan and place over medium heat. Add eggs and cook, turning often, until eggs are golden, about 3 minutes.

Place eggs on greens. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Serves 6 as part of a 6-course meal.

Gingered Tomatoes and Eggs

2 tablespoons salad oil

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon fresh ginger slivers

2 green onions (ends trimmed), thinly sliced

2 large firm-ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

Soy sauce or salt

Pour oil into a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add eggs and cook, lifting to let uncooked portion flow underneath. When set, break up eggs with spatula into bite-size pieces. Add ginger and onions and continue stir-frying until eggs are a darker gold color, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; stir-fry until hot. Add soy or salt to taste. Pour into bowl. Serves 6 as part of a 6-course meal.

Pork with Garlic Chives

Garlic stems were originally used in this recipe. They're rarely found here, so use garlic chives, available in Asian markets, or green onions and garlic.

1/2 pound boneless pork, such as loin, or shoulder or butt, cut into thin matchstick-size strips

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons salad oil

1/2 pound garlic chives, cut into 3-inch lengths (or green onions, cut into thin slivers, plus 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced)

Salt and pepper

Mix pork with cornstarch and wine. Set a wok or 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add pork and stir-fry until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chives and stir-fry until bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bowl. Serves 6 as part of a 6-course meal.

Time for a picnic . . . on the Great Wall or Hangzhou lake

This picnic capped an exhilarating walk along the Great Wall. To create a Chinese-style sandwich, you stuff chunks of fragrant five spice fish into white steamed buns. Serve with chili-spiked chicken wings and marinated beans.

Steamed Buns

Five Spice Fish

Soy-Chili Chicken Wings

Green Beans with Ginger

Golden Delicious Apples Tangelos

Juice and Sparkling Water Blends

If time is short, you can substitute brown-and-serve dinner rolls for the buns.

Steamed Buns

1 package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (110|)

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons salad oil

1 teaspoon salt

3 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water; stir in sugar, oil, and salt. Let stand in a warm place 15 minutes. Add 3 cups flour and mix until dough holds together. Place on a lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes, adding flour as required to prevent sticking.

Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Knead dough on a lightly floured board just to expel air. Cut into 8 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured board, knead each piece of dough into a smooth ball. Set each bun on an oiled 3-inch square of waxed paper. Set, paper-side down, in a steamer basket or on a plate that will fit into a wok or deep, wide pan.

Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 30 minutes. Set steamer basket over boiling water or put plate on a rack set at least 1 inch above boiling water in a deep, wide pan. If using a metal lid, drape buns with a piece of foil, so condensation does not drip on them. Steam until buns spring back when lightly touched in center, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from rack. Serve hot or at room temperature.

If made ahead, cool, wrap airtight, and store up to 12 hours. Freeze for longer storage; thaw and reheat over steam until hot, about 10 minutes, or covered with plastic wrap in a microwave oven at half-power (50 percent) until hot, about 2 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Slash buns crosswise almost but not completely through. Makes 8.

Five Spice Fish

1 1/2 to 2 pounds firm white-flesh fish fillets, such as rockfish or halibut

3 green onions (ends trimmed), cut into 2-inch lengths and crushed

8 thin slices fresh ginger (each about the size of a quarter), crushed

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice (or 1/8 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ground allspice, ground cloves, and crushed anise seed)

Cut fish into 1 1/2-inch-wide slices about 1 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches long. Mix fish with onions, ginger, soy, wine, sugar, sesame oil, and five spice. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or up to next day.

Lift fish from marinade and set slightly apart on a greased rack in a 10- by 15-inch broiler pan. Broil about 4 inches from heat, turning once, until opaque in thickest part (cut to test), about 10 minutes total. Serve warm or cool. (If made ahead, cool, cover, and chill until the next day.) Makes 8 servings.

Soy-Chili Chicken Wings

2 tablespoons salad oil

2 pounds chicken wing drumettes

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon chili oil or 2 small dried hot red chilies

4 slices fresh ginger (each about the size of a quarter)

2 cloves garlic

2 whole green onions

1 cup water

Pour oil into a 10- to 12-inch frying pan and place over high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add soy, wine, sugar, chili oil, ginger, garlic, onions, and water. Cover and simmer until chicken is white at the bone (cut to test), about 20 minutes. Uncover and boil, turning chicken often, until sauce reduces and thickens to coat wings, about 10 minutes.

Serve chicken warm or cool. (If made ahead, cool, cover, and chill until the next day.) Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Green Beans with Ginger

1 pound Chinese long green beans or regular green beans, ends trimmed

1/4 cup rice vinegar (or wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons fresh ginger shreds or 1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt

Cut beans into 3-inch lengths. In a 5- to 6-quart pan, bring about 2 quarts water to a boil. Add beans and cook, uncovered, just until barely tender to bite, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain; immerse in ice water. Drain.

In a bowl, mix vinegar, soy, and ginger. Add beans and mix. Add salt to taste. Serve, or cover and chill up to 2 hours. Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Hangzhou boat lunch

"Above there is heaven; below is Hangzhou." This phrase is often used to describe the lovely resort south of Shanghai. Its colorful gardens, clean air, and fine food attract many tourists.

Here, as in neighboring Shanghai, people love to eat dumplings for lunch or a snack. Steamer baskets filled with dumplings are stacked tall in the centers of restaurant tables. We rushed just-steamed dumplings to a waiting boat for a picnic.

Our favorite dumpling was a pork- and shrimp-filled one, bursting with juices, to eat with vinegar and ginger shreds. Cold consomme is stirred into the filling; when the dumplings are cooked, the consomme melts to become a flavorful juice. In our simplified version, we use purchased wonton skins.

Shanghai Cucumber Salad (see page 100) Tang Bao

Chinese White Wine or Hot Tea

Asian Pears Oranges

If you transport dumplings, bring a portable burner and steamer to reheat.

Tang Bao (Soup dumplings)

6 small dried shiitake mushrooms

1/2 pound ground lean pork

1/4 pound medium-size shrimp (43 to 50 a lb.), shelled, deveined, and finely chopped

1/4 cup minced green onion

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

1/3 cup canned consomme, chilled

About 50 (about 1 lb.) wonton skins

1 large egg white

Large cabbage leaves

Rice vinegar or wine vinegar

1 piece fresh ginger (1 by 3 in.), peeled and cut into thin shreds

Soak mushrooms in hot water to cover until soft, about 20 minutes. Cut off and discard stems. Finely chop mushrooms. In a bowl, combine mushrooms, pork, shrimp, onion, soy, ginger, garlic, and consomme; stir until well blended.

Place 1 rounded teaspoon of pork filling in center of each wonton skin. Moisten center of each edge with egg white. Bring each pair of opposite edges of wonton skin to center and press to seal. Brush corners with egg white. Bring corners together to make 1 point in center; press and twist together to seal.

Set slightly apart in flour-dusted 10- by 15-inch pans; keep lightly covered. Repeat to fill remaining wrappers. (If made ahead, cover and chill up to 2 hours, or freeze; when solid, remove from pans and store airtight in freezer up to 1 month.)

Line a steamer basket with cabbage leaves (you may need to wilt them in boiling water to get them to lie flat), or use plates that will fit into a wok or deep, wide pan. Set cold or frozen unthawed dumplings about 1 inch apart on the steamer baskets or plates (cover plates loosely with foil). Set steamer baskets over a wok or plates on a rack over 1 to 1 1/2 inches boiling water in pan. Cover steamer basket or pan; steam until filling is firm to touch, 10 minutes if cold, 15 minutes if frozen. Serve hot to dip in vinegar and eat with ginger shreds. Makes about 50, 4 entree or 10 appetizer servings.

Photo: On the Great Wall, Sunset food editor Linda Anusasananan (center) and photographer Glenn Christiansen join Chinese hosts

Photo: At Beijing market, bok choy proves irresistible as local family takes editor shopping

Photo: In Shanghai, tiny kitchen is like those in many apartments in big cities

Photo: At Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu, teacher shows class, reflected in mirrors, how to cook gong bao chicken. Map names the five principal cities we visited

Photo: Master chef serves Cross-Bridge Noodles in Beijing's Kangle Restaurant. For the recipe, turn to page 220

Photo: At family farm in Chengdu, selection of cold appetizers starts banquet; cold dishes ring plate of blossom-like tomatoes

Photo: Qing family cooks country-style banquet in five-generation-old farm kitchen. Their specialty is homemade tofu (in wok at left). Straw and bamboo fuel their stove

Photo: Sichuan farmers grow rice and wheat for much of China. But local cuisine stars chili- and pepper-spiced entrees

Photo: Meal from Sichuan province features (clockwise from upper right) stir-fried chilies and pork, green beans and garlic, "happy lions" meatballs, and pickled vegetable soup

Photo: Panda-carved winter melon holds soup; such touches are common at banquets

Photo: At Guangzhou Restaurant, cook turns pork over coals for perfectly brown crisp skin

Photo: "Ganbei!" Huang family toasts many more good meals. With these talented chefs, wish is assured

Photo: Cantonese-style meal consists of sweet potato soup, pork-filled chilies and bitter melons, crab with its butter, steamed chicken with greens

Photo: A harbor city, Shanghai is full of activity. Western influence shows up in architecture, in clothing, and in certain flashy modes of transportation

Photo: Shopping at outdoor market, Mrs. Xin buys bean sprouts to make lunch salad

Photo: Light lunch from Shanghai combines hot stir-fried green-onion shrimp with cool cucumber and bean sprout salads

Photo: Forbidden City sits near the heart of Chinese capital

Photo: Sharing the chores, the Zhu family cooked us a six-course meal; four of their dishes are pictured below

Photo: Green Pea Starch Salad

Photo: Bok Choy with Quail Eggs

Photo: Gingered Tomatoes and Eggs

Photo: Mr. Zhu's Steamed Fish

Photo: Visiting the Great Wall, we brought along this lunch--chili chicken wings and steamed buns to fill with five spice fish

Photo: Boaters enjoy juicy dumplings on Hangzhou's West Lake. They dip the savory morsels in vinegar, then nibble them with a few shreds of fresh ginger
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1988
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