Monday, April 4, 2011

Seasonal Asian Fare

Hot & Sour Soup, Egg Rolls & Sweet Chile Sauce
We have a new grocery store here in Bridgeport and I’ll admit I’ve gone a little nuts. It’s been ten years since we’ve had access to such exotic fare without driving 45 miles and even though the produce isn’t any more flavorful than it is anywhere else, by golly, it’s prettier and fresher! Course the deciding factor as to whether I would shop there frequently was…

Spring Roll Wrappers! Good ones. The kind that can hold a full 1/3 cup of filling. The kind that don’t tear. At an affordable price. Course the fact that the new grocery also has a good selection of fresh and flash-frozen seafood hasn’t diminished my opinion of them either. That’s another thing we’ve really missed!

Over the weekend I thinned the turnips and snowpeas. I have several bags of baby turnip greens and pea shoots in the fridge. And of course we always have our own carrots. March thru May is also the time of year when over-wintered cabbages are ready in Texas. Pak choys and Tatsois that were set out mid-February are also ready now, and with succession planting, will be available until mid-May. The first spring onions are also ready to pick and this is the only time of year asparagus is affordable if you don’t grow your own. So there’s a virtual cornucopia of wonderful things with which to fill spring rolls and make stir-fries.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve had a craving for Curtis’ incredible “Hot and Sour Soup”. He’s the only one that’s allowed to make it. (I’ve made it several times and it just doesn’t turn out the same – go figure!) It’s chilly and blustery today and it just seemed like the day for it. (That, and it’s a good use for all the fresh chicken broth we have right now!)

A pot of soup and a platter of spring rolls, perhaps a stir-fry and some good, steamed jasmine rice – what more do you need out of life? J

Preliminary Prep Work
Before beginning, consider chopping (in the food processor, separately) a big knob of ginger and a handful of garlic cloves. Thinly slice a bunch of spring onions (about 6) by hand, separating the green pieces from the white in separate bowls. Have on hand and readily available:
Soy Sauce
Mirin or Sherry
Sesame Oil
Rice Vinegar
Miso (optional, stores forever in the fridge or freezer)

Curtis’ Hot and Sour Soup
6 cups chicken or pork broth, or dashi
1 tablespoon grated ginger
whites from 6 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup cloud ears
4-6 dried shitake mushrooms
¼ cup lily buds or golden needles (optional)
¼ pound pork, cut in matchstick pieces
¼ cup bamboo shoots, cut in matchstick pieces (optional)
10 medium shrimp, coarsely chopped,
(or 1 (4.25 oz) can Small Shrimp)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sherry or mirin
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (more to taste)
½ tsp white Pepper
1 cake firm tofu, cut in small cubes
Hot sauce to taste (Tabasco, Hot Oil, etc.)
1 tablespoon miso
2-3 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup water
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Thinly sliced green onions for garnish

(Assemble ALL ingredients before beginning!)
Soak cloud ears, mushrooms and lily buds in hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain and slice or shred.
Bring broth to a boil.
Add pork and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add cloud ears, mushrooms, lily buds, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, sherry, salt and shrimp (if using the can of small shrimp, add later). Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add vinegar, pepper, tofu and hot sauce (and can of small shrimp). Simmer about 3 more minutes.
Scoop some broth from the soup into another container and whisk in the miso. Add the mixture back and simmer a few more minutes.
Taste and season as needed. (Will probably need more vinegar.)
Combine cornstarch with water and add, stirring gently until soup thickens.
Continue to gently stir and slowly add eggs so that they form long strands.
Stir in sesame oil.
Garnish with Onion or Scallion.

Diane’s Spring Roll Filling
It’s helpful to have 2 sets of hands to make these – one person to assemble them while another cooks them. Be sure to brush an egg wash on the inside of each wrapper before filling and brush the outside of the finished roll with a pastry brush dipped in flour or cornstarch to keep them nice and dry. We can crank out a platter of these in less than half an hour.

Assemble raw ingredients in a VERY large bowl and set aside. (I chop everything in the food processor.):
4 cups cabbage or cabbage plus mixed greens
2 stalks celery
3 thinly sliced green onion tops
1 large carrot
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Assemble cooked ingredients:
1 pound finely ground pork
4 ounces chopped fresh mushrooms
1 teaspoon grated ginger
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Brown pork in wok or large skillet, separating it into as small of pieces as possible. (A pastry blender is handy if your skillet isn’t teflon-coated.) Add the remaining ingredients and chow for several minutes. (Don’t let the mushrooms sweat too much or the mixture will be too wet – if this happens, sprinkle in a bit of cornstarch.) Remove from heat.

At the last minute (right before assembling and after oil is hot), add pork mixture to raw ingredients, along with scant ¼ cup soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Mix thoroughly. Assemble using about 1/3 cup of filling in each roll. Fry them 3 at a time in hot oil. Makes about 20.

We used to make these in a deep-fryer set on 350-375. Now we usually just use a cast iron skillet with about an inch of oil on medium high heat. Using REAL lard results in a far superior product if you’re willing to cook with it.

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