Anyone who followed along when I made a new cookie every week for a year knows I love projects and themes. Partly because because it satisfies my mild OCD and also because it makes me cook more at home. Despite having a food blog I struggle every week to cook at least 5 nights out of 7. My husband is an extremely picky eater and atrocious cook and the same dishes get rotated day after day. And it’s boring. Really f$%@ing boring. Which is why I’m more of a restaurant profiler than home cook nowadays. And as tempting as it is to order in or go out instead of cook it’s expensive and unhealthy.
When I stumbled across Gabby Peyton’s blog post about her Around the World in 12 Plates adventure (read more about it here) I couldn’t have been at a more dejected place in my home cooking. Could a challenge like this help me get back into the kitchen more and feel better about my talents? Whether I accomplish either of those things to the smallest degree I know I’m a step further than I was before.
China is a perfect start. Or so I thought. At first glance you think you know all about Chinese cuisine. Sadly what we really attribute to their culture has been westernized out the wazoo. What is assumed to be one style of cooking is actually broken down into eight modern cuisines based on where in the country you happen to be. Those are further broken down by towns and counties with unique ingredients and flavours that highlight both the dishes background and geography. It’s almost overwhelming when you think of the possibilities.
Erase all ideas you have about what is “authentic” Chinese food. A quick google search will educate you that you are in fact thinking about American-style. Traditional dishes are not full of sweet, sticky sauces or oily, deep fried battered things. It’s fresh vegetables, quick cooking techniques and family style plates. It’s vibrant flavours and biting spice.
Rumoured to be a favorite dish of Marco Polo and a possible inspiration for pizza (a loose rumour to be noted), scallion pancakes are a unleavened fried dough consisting of five simple ingredients; flour, water, salt, oil and scallions. What can set this flatbread apart from others is your choice of dipping sauce. I used this foolproof recipe from The Kitchn and a simple mixture of teriyaki, soy sauce, honey and rice vinegar to create a sweet and sour dipping sauce. These savoury pancakes are perfect for sopping up sauces from main dishes and are extremely addictive.
In my research to find some dishes to try I was surprised to see one dish, General Tso Chicken as being loosely authentically Chinese. While North America has adopted it and adapted to our more basic tastebuds it is still a very simple dish to pull together at home. It has long been argued how this recipe came to be; whether it was named for a Hunan General or by a chef in one of the many municipalities in the country. Either way it is a wonderfully spicy dish using ingredients that are easy to find and may already be in your cupboard. I used the recipe from The Kitchn and substituted chicken instead of tofu and by not deep frying the chicken and bumping up the vegetables you have a flavourful and healthy dish.
I am not the only one who was drawn to this intriguing challenge. Not knowing the next country until it is announced at the beginning of each month obviously sparked the adventurous side of some other great bloggers as well. Check out their links below and see what they discovered on their voyage through China. And I look forward to you guys following along each month as I discover my inner culinary traveller.
My Organic Diary: http://my-organic-diary.com/2017/01/crispy-tofu-rice-bowl/
Korena in the Kitchen: http://korenainthekitchen.com/?p=9409
The Food Girl in Town: http://thefoodgirlintown.com/2017/01/30/around-the-world-in-12-plates-china/