Sino-Thai Sunday brunch: bakuteh and batonggo

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Today I recreated a food experience from last summer in Bangkok, when my sisters-in-law took me out for a Chinese-style brunch at a place that specialized in “meat bone tea” (肉骨茶), or as locals in Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia refer to as bakuteh บะกุ๊ดเต๋. The meat and mushroom stew was savory and delicious, and interestingly, it was served together with deep fried dough known as batonggo ปาท่องโก๋, which I’ve only ever eaten with a sweet accompaniment of soymilk or sweetened condensed milk. I preferred it with the savory stew!

Here are a few images from that experience:

A story about Batonggo ปาท่องโก๋

Deep-fried dough is a classic breakfast item among Chinese communities all throughout Southeast Asia (and also China of course). I referenced these cousins of batonggo (the Chinese youtiao and the Indonesian cakwe) last year in my post on the incredibly indulgent Javanese-style chicken and rice porridge. Like the name of that item, in most other Southeast Asian communities this is referred to as “oil-fried devil” in Chinese dialects, sounding something like “yaujagwai” เหยาจากวั๋ย 油炸鬼. This is supposedly a reference to a traitor to the Song Dynasty. Apparently Chinese patriots revel in eating effigies of that person. In Thailand, these do often look strangely people-like…

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Today’s first batch of batonggo–they were crisp and perfectly chewy


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Storebought youtiao 油條 for comparison

In Mandarin Chinese and in mainland China, it is now generally referred to as youtiao 油条 (i.e. oil-fried strip).

Strangely, in Thailand the name of this food was originally meant for another food altogether. Supposedly (wiki reference–FYI) vendors used to sell youtiao and another sweet fluffy cake, baitangguo 白糖糕 together. Their shouts advertising their products ended up making the name for the fluffy cake equal to the name of the fried cruller. So now the name batonggo is widely understood to be the youtiao or cakwe cruller.

IMG_6753While I was in Thailand last summer I found a cookbook specializing in batonggo (left). I’ve long been planning to test out some recipes (freshly fried crullers are light years better than the ones in the freezer section), but there was one ingredient in recipes that I had some trouble finding: ammonia bicarbonate. This is a type of baking powder that has a pretty strong odor out of the jar, but that odor dissipates and the chemical helps to make a crispy texture for the fried dough. I ended up accidentally stumbling upon this ingredient while I was browsing for Lebanese spices at Makkah Market in West Philly last week.

Batonggo dough has three leaveners: baking powder, yeast, and ammonia bicarbonate. The other kind of unusual thing in batonggo recipes is after the preliminary mixing and kneading, dough needs to rest for at least three hours. As batonggo is generally a breakfast thing, I decided it would be good to mix and rest the dough the night before, and then chill it in the refrigerator until it was time to shape and fry.

As usual for specialty Thai meals/dishes, the YouTube series MrFoodTravelTV had great instructional videos on both of these foods: batonggo and bakuteh. These programs are in Thai, but they should be pretty easy to follow if you recognize the ingredients (which are usually posted on their page in Thai and English).

IMG_6747After I prepared my batonggo dough, I decided I should also do the “meat bone tea” the night before too. It was late and I was lazy–so I cheated and used a pre-mixed set of spices that La brought back from Malaysia (see right). To mix your own spices, see that MrFoodTravelTV video above for suggestions. Key flavors of the broth include garlic, white peppercorn, and “Chinese medicinals” (most commonly including dried sliced roots and barks–similar to my lushui recipe for guilin mifen stock). If you prefer to try the instant route, Southeast Asian markets may have a pouch of spices marked with the characters 肉骨茶. You still need at least one whole head of garlic, meat with bones (I used pork short ribs), mushrooms/vegetables, dark and light soy sauces, sugar, and oyster sauce (these create that dark broth that is well-known in Klang, Malaysia (and is similar to my restaurant memory from Bangkok).

 

This fried dough is not rocket science. To get perfect shapes though, you’ll need to play with it a bit. ANY shape dough will taste the same though, and keep in mind that for serving with something like bakuteh, even the ugliest of these “oil fried devils” can be sliced into a bowl and be made quite attractive.

The traditional “X” shape is done by pinching two flat strips of dough together in the center with a dab of water. I found that dough strips of one inch became two inches when I pulled them off the counter. Approximately two inch-long is what you are shooting for.

I have to say, about half of my effort did not look as nice as the ones above. They did well enough to sliced in a bowl next to the finished set (top image) though.

Measurements: 3 cups of flour (I ended up with at least 3 1/2 cups due to an extremely sticky dough), 1.5 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp yeast, 3/5 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ammonia bicarbonate (or carbonate), 1 tsp salt, 1 3/4 cups water.

The steps were simple. Add all leaveners, salt and sugar to the water. Dissolve well. Mix in the flour until you have a consistent dough that can be rested. Mine was stickier than typical bread or noodle dough, for example. Let rest for 3-4 hours (or overnight in the fridge). Flour the counter and form into a flat strip about 1/4 inch thick that you can slice into smaller strips. Again, shoot for 2″ pieces to go into the hot oil. Fry until golden–pieces will need to be flipped (I use chopsticks for that).

By morning my stew was perfect for preparing an individual portion. I put some of the stewed ribs into a shaguo 砂锅 clay pot with reconstituted shiitake mushrooms and bone broth. I topped that off with enoki mushrooms and cilantro and sliced batonggo to serve.

 

A classic food of the Chinese emigre communities of Southeast Asia! Hope you try it and enjoy it!

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The pleasures of sour kimchi and kimchi stew

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Kimchi is a great accompaniment to rice, soup, and stir fry dishes. After a jar (or tub) has been kept for several weeks however, it starts to get sour. That can also be delicious as it is, but many would use it only for cooking after it starts getting sour. The flavor on its own is very intense, but in cooking, a deep flavor is added to soups, pancakes, and stir fried dishes.

Kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae 김치찌개) is one of my favorite things to eat. Sour kimchi and kimchi brine impart a deep base flavor to the soup, and chile powder and gochujang add a nice spicy bite. This stew is a perfect meal with rice. Best yet, the dish can consist of pantry ingredients and “this and that” that might be around the fridge. Pork, fish, and even canned tuna are delicious in this soup, and soft tofu adds a nice texture.

I had a jar of kimchi in the fridge for about a month, and the flavors were getting strong. It was time to assemble a nice stew.

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Key ingredients in today’s kimchi stew, clockwise: egg, tofu, sugar, gochujang (red tub), doenjang (brown tub), old kimchi, chile flakes, sliced onion, chopped garlic, green onion, chopped pork belly

I love cooking in clay, and I have enjoyed my Korean black clay pots (ttukbaegi 뚝배기) for some years now. These pots can be found at Philadelphia Korean markets (Hmart, Saehan, Ko Ba Woo) and can be comfortably used on top of a gas ranges and even electric tops, and they really hold onto heat. I think this dish is best customized based on size of pot, items available, and personal preference. Today this is what I had:

  • 1/3 lb coarsely chopped pork belly
  • 1/2 medium sized white onion, sliced
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped sour kimchi and 1/3rd cup juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp+ Korean chile flakes (gochugaru)
  • 1/2 block of tofu
  • 1 Tbsp doenjang
  • 1 Tbsp gochujang
  • pinch sugar (if necessary), salt (if necessary), vinegar (if necessary)
  • egg
  • green onions, chopped

This is such a forgiving stew that you can put these items in nearly any order and the outcome should be good. The egg should be last though, unless you want it hard cooked.

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I started with some oil in the bowl, and frying the onions, garlic, and pork belly. Add in the chopped kimchi and kimchi juice. Add some stock. I used a basic Korean-style anchovy, kelp, and radish stock as suggested by Maangchi. Maangchi is a pretty well-known food celebrity at this point, but if you are not familiar with her and common home-style dishes like kimchi jjigae, she has some terrific videos for making most things. Check out her page on kimchi jjigae for reference.

I hope you try this very simple and delectable dish!

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Fenugreek, a delicious herb/vegetable

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Spiced potatoes fried with fenugreek leaves (aloo methi) a South Asian classic

Fenugreek has long been used in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia in cooking and medicine. Today in the US it is perhaps best known as a spice component of cuisines of India, but it also has an important place within Ethiopian, Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Jewish cuisines. When visiting Philadelphia’s Sino-Southeast Asian markets on Washington Ave, as well as Indian and Pakistani markets in the West and Northeast, fenugreek seeds will be easily spotted in the spice aisles by the oddly cubic shapes of the seeds. These seeds are slightly bitter and sweet and have a lingering taste that is an essential ingredient in many curry and masala spice mixtures.

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Fenugreek seeds and vegetable

The vegetable that these seeds come from is an interesting one to cook with, and lately I’ve been seeing some nice fresh bunches of leaves in my explorations of markets in nearby Norristown (Northwest of Philadelphia).

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a bunch of Fenugreek leaves, found at West Norriton Farmers Market in Norristown

If you aren’t familiar with the West Norriton Farmers Market (aka Super Gigante-located at ), I highly recommend checking it out. It is a huge and fascinating  international grocery store that caters largely to Mexican and broader South American and Caribbean tastes, but also has substantial East and South Asian representation with some unusual finds in the produce section.

For example, do you know what a chayote is? Well they had three different kinds of fresh chayote, including the thorny one. Pretty well-stocked for tropical produce.

Fenugreek (often labeled with the Hindi name methi) leaves seem to be a standard offering at this market, and they are sold in bunches with the roots submerged in water. I find this to be a very interesting food that kind of crosses the line between herb and vegetable. I’m only just getting to know how to use it, but today I’ll share two dishes that highlight this flavorful green. In both cases, the tender leaves and stems are first taken off and washed before adding to the dish.

Fenugreek leaves with brown lentils

This first version I based on an interesting recipe that I found here for a Maharastrian Style moong dal salad (मेथी भाजी). I had regular Canadian brown lentils available and decided to substitute. It was delicious, and I feel like the leaves added a slightly tangy note to the salad.

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For an approximate recipe please visit that link–as you might be able to tell, the active ingredients in this salad were sliced shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, ground toasted spices, asofetida, and chile.

 

Another popular way to use fresh fenugreek leaves is to cook them with bite-sized spiced potatoes. Young potatoes were also an attractive purchase at the store today, so I made some aloo methi (i.e. potatoes a la fenugreek).

Aloo methi आलू मेथी

This dish’s preparation is even simpler than the lentil salad, and all the steps can be done in one pan. This looks like a recipe that has some pretty standard components (after a quick survey). Usually the fry starts with some whole cumin seeds, chiles, and potatoes in oil or ghee, and powdered spices are added (usually turmeric, asofetida, chile, salt and ginger or garlic). Add a touch of water if the potatoes are going to burn. Add in the whole bunch of cleaned detatched fenugreek leaves and cook until the potatoes are done and the leaves are wilted. Finish off with powdered mango powder or a squeeze of lemon/lime juice.

 

Some recipes used more greens than potatoes. I think next time I’ll go that route. While I enjoyed these results–it was perfectly spiced and addictive, more greens would better balance that starchy potato (as I was also planning to eat this with rice).

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I already had prepared a few Nepali-inspired dishes, a fried mustard greens with ajowan seeds and a black dal with jimbu (which I posted about a few years ago). Altogether, it was a nice weekend meal.

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Aloo methi, eaten together with otherwise Nepali-inspired black dal, fried mustard greens, and chickpea tarkha

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A Chinese pan-fried flatbread and “Chinese hamburger”

IMG_6188As the cuisine of China’s interior becomes popular in US cities (i.e. among the popular Xi’an-themed restaurants in NYC and Philadelphia–see here for my past post on that topic), items like “Chinese hamburger” are slowly becoming commonplace on menus at Chinese restaurants.

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A Chinese food cart selling baozi and roujiamo in Madison, Wisconsin in 2013

Roujiamo 肉夹馍 is a popular street food in China’s north and northwest (but it is now pretty much everywhere), consisting of a bland wheat flour flatbread–the “mo” in roujiamo–sliced into a pocket and packed with a coarsely chopped slow-cooked fatty marinated meat. The finished product is a very satisfying greasy snack: a slightly crispy exterior filled with a juicy and savory punch of intensely seasoned fatty meat.

If you want to try a local restaurant version of this Chinese street food, Xi’an Sizzling Woks has a pretty good standard. The new Henan restaurant (that has “Authentic Lanzhou Pulled Noodles” on its sign at the corner of Arch and 10th) also has a delicious version. All the local versions I know in Philadelphia are with pork. In the Muslim Chinese heartland, a fatty mutton version is preferred.

If you want to try to prepare this at home, read on. I’ve been working on my ideal roujiamo and today I had pretty satisfactory results with a slow cooked pork belly.

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I think the hardest part to a great roujiamo is getting the bread right. In China this style of bread is called baijimo 白吉馍. In Shaanxi, it is occasionally prepared in an oven, but it is perhaps more often witnessed street-side frying on charcoal-fired griddles. You can see some gorgeous examples in the popular Chinese food tv program A Bite of China (舌尖上的中国), via this link to CCTV’s youtube post. While you are at it, watch this sublime  example of homemade roujiamo session from the beautifully edited Chinese video series “daily food diary” 日食记.

Recipe: Baijimo lazhirou (aka “Chinese Hamburger”, or roujiamo) 白吉馍腊汁肉 (肉夹馍)

Making baijimo at home can be done by frying breads in a dry heavy-bottomed pan, over low heat and for a prolonged period. Today I had some decent results using a small stainless steel frying pan.

In my research for best practices in making the baijimo flat bread, I came across several Chinese videos, one of the best of which was produced by video food cook “Shaanxi Kitchen Beauty” 陕西美厨娘 (click to see video on YouTube). The video is in Chinese, but you can get a good sense of the kneading technique and the appreciated qualities of a good baijimo. The video’s host outlines the attractive characteristics of a successful baijimo step-by-step: the “tiger’s back” hubei 虎背 is created when the bottom of the concave dough is placed on the hot pan (at approx. 5 minutes into the video). This creates a browned center on the bread. When the bread is flipped, the edge of the bread will crisp first, creating an attractive ring that is often referred to as and “iron circle” 铁圈. The host points out that on the flip side a “silver border” yinbianr 银边 is created, and finally, by pressing the bread flat, a “chrysanthemum flower” juhuaxin 菊花芯 pattern is formed. These terms are often used by other Chinese food bloggers in Shaanxi to describe the qualities of a great baijimo.

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Some of my more attractive examples from today’s experiments

A few points on making baijimo:

1. The bread is a simple dough of all-purpose flour, yeast, water and often a sprinkling of some jianshui 碱水 (potassium carbonate+sodium bicarbonate) or baking soda. Traditional recipes don’t include salt or sugar. I used about 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of yeast, and 1 tsp of baking soda to approximately 3/4 cups of water. After mixing, let dough rest for an hour or so before sizing and shaping concave discs for frying.

2. Size dough balls approximately the same size as English muffins or small hamburger buns.

3. When preparing the concave discs for frying, first roll out the pre-sized balls into long flat torpedoes, then roll flat with a rolling pin. Roll this strip into a tight coil. That will help ensure the edges of the dough disc to turn into a concave shape after you press it flat with the round bottom of your palm or your rounded rolling pin.

4. No oil is used in the dough or on the pan, and a heavy-bottomed pan is put on low heat. I used a cover to help my breads rise at the beginning of the frying process. The took about 10 minutes to cook (each). If you use a larger pan, you can do several at once.

Lazhirou 腊汁肉

For roujiamo in Central China, the long-simmered fatty meat is referred to as lazhirou 腊汁肉 (i.e. “stew-preserved meat”). The preparation is similar to other five-spice preparations (i.e. the kinds of slow simmers that help to enhance a meat braising stock of lushui 卤水–discussed in my past posts on Guilin mifen noodle soups). This process requires time, but there is otherwise little fuss. If you are doing this all the same day, start this part before the bread.

Before filling the bland bun with the chopped meat mixture, taste for seasonings. Drizzle the chopped mixture with the lushui stock to refresh and intensify the flavors. Add a touch of soy sauce or vinegar if necessary, and pack into an opened baijimo. Enjoy.

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Delicious greens: water spinach

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Water spinach is one of our favorite vegetables. It is a popular vegetable to stir fry in Southern China and Southeast Asia. When quickly fried at high heat, its leaves wilt and the stems stay crunchy. Its flavor is like a cross between spinach and watercress.

This Vegetable grows in wet subtropical areas and has several names in English: water spinach, water convolvulus, Chinese watercress, and sometimes morning glory. In Chinese this is generally known as “empty heart vegetable” (kong xin cai 空心菜) or “open heart vegetable” (tong xin cai 通心菜), as in hollow stem. In Chinatown you might hear it referred to by the Cantonese name, Ong choi (蕹菜). In Philadelphia it is available year round, and can be found in two or three varieties: A green version like the one I’m using today, a pale green variety, and a variety with very thin stems can sometimes be found at Cambodian markets.

Seasonings for cooking this vegetable can be as simple as salt or soy sauce, but they often include a funky fermented paste of some sort, and a touch of sugar. In China and Taiwan, fermented tofu (doufu ru 豆腐乳) is often broken up and added to the this vegetable as it is quickly sauteed. The pairing may seem odd, but the pungent creamy tofu really pairs well with the grassy crunch of the vegetable.

Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is common to fry this (which they call kangkung) with fermented shrimp paste. See here for a Google image search of that dish kangkung belacan. That is a very similar flavor pairing to the pungent tofu (and to the bean paste version I’m making today).

This is also delicious in Southeast Asian soups and curries. For example, it is delicious in place of eggplant in a Cambodian sour beef soup that I posted on a few years ago.

I will prepare this today our favorite way… a typical Sino-Thai style with fermented soy bean paste, garlic, and chile. In Thailand this preparation is popularly called “red fire fried water spinach”, referring to how this is often prepared at street carts, starting with a big ignited flame in the wok as the pile of seasoned and sauces vegetable is thrown in–not recommended for home kitchen stoves with a low overhead.


Red fire-fried water spinachผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง

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Get yourself a nice bag of water spinach. Chinese markets tend to sell these in big quantities. I usually do a big wok full at a time (about 1/2 a bag) for a nice accompaniment to another stir fry and rice. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last as long in the refrigerator as most other long leaf greens (like Chinese broccoli, bok choy, yu choy, or kale), so you need to try to use it sooner than later.  Trim wilted stem ends off of the bunch and remove any blackened slimy leaves, then wash well in a big bowl. Next, cut the vegetable up into about 2-3 inch long pieces (including the leaves). I usually wash them again at that stage and drain:

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Finely chop 3-4 cloves of garlic, and slice a few chiles into large chunks (depending on how spicy you want to make it). Today’s chiles were relatively mild, I used some large red Korean chiles.

There are two ways to do this dish. Some people fry the vegetable in the garlic and chile and add sauces/seasonings one by one. Today I did the flash fry method where I added the seasonings right into the bowl of chopped vegetable and tossed it all in the hot pan at once. My seasonings were pretty standard: about 1 Tbsp Thai fermented bean sauce (here is a link to an image of the kind commonly available in Philly), 1 tsp oyster sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, just a touch of sugar. I put those right onto the chopped vegetable in the bowl.

Start a large wok or pan on high or medium high heat. When the pan is ripping hot, add enough oil (1 Tbsp or more). Throw in the vegetable and sauces, chiles, and garlic into that hot pan, and stir constantly. Add a little water to keep the mix from burning. The vegetable will cook very fast, likely in about a minute or so. If you are unsure if it needs more salt, taste for seasoning and add a squirt of fish sauce or soy sauce if you need to. When all the leaves are wilted, turn off the heat and plate the vegetable. Enjoy.

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Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, - Recipes, Chinese food, Malay/Indonesian food, Thai/Lao food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A childhood comfort food memory via Kashgar flatbread and a savory mutton stew

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Have you ever had that unexpected situation when you taste something that transports you back to your childhood–even though you happen to be thousands of miles from where you grew up? The subject of today’s post is exactly that, and improbable as it may seem for me, in the embodiment of a simple homestyle mutton stew with Uyghur flatbread in Kashgar in 1999.

At the time I had been living in Guangzhou for a few years studying Chinese music and Mandarin, and like many other foreign students, teaching English on the side. As I slowly became aware of the fascinating cultures in China’s far west (particularly the Uyghur people of Xinjiang), my summers were used more and more to travel and explore out west. My diet at that point was pretty much converted to a South China “normal”: rice, with stir-fried long leaf vegetables and a preference for Sichuan-influenced spice. Coming from Wisconsin, this was a pretty big shift.

From there, let’s jump to Kashgar in 1999, where my travel companion (who later became my wife) and I explored the city from our base near the famous Id Kah mosque. There was a small restaurant near our hotel where we ate most of our meals at (out of convenience and frugal necessity). Sadly, this restaurant is now long gone as Kashgar has undergone a pretty dramatic facelift and reorganization. Below there is an image of me (white T-shirt) hanging out with the guys who ran the restaurant out front. There is a butcher (center) preparing skewers of kebabs (kawap in Uyghur). The guy seated in front grilled the skewers and the guy in the blue shirt was the waiter. As you can guess from the carcasses hanging, mutton is big in Xinjiang, and is the go-to meat for most meals. This joint’s food was great, as were the welcoming staff.

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Many American and Western European foreigners based in China’s big cities at that time likely recall the first time they tasted or experienced Uyghur food. For many, this became an outlet where you could find flavors much closer to home: sauces of garlic and tomato, wood-fired breads (at a time when “Western bread” in big Chinese cities was a shitty Wonderbread sponge with sugar glazed onto the crust), and even boiled noodles with a tomato topping similar to spaghetti (a topic of a prior post). All of this served with a laid-back attitude that was quite unlike the cultural zones of East China.

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Some home-baked naan with sesame seeds

Uyghur naan bread is kind of unusual in that it is extremely thin in the center, as it is punched and punctured to inhibit rising before baking. This creates a crater in the center that is very compacted and brittle, much like a tough saltine cracker. Ultimately, this is what spawned my food trip today. This qordaq was a savory stewed meat in a tomato and garlic base, together with potatoes and carrots, topped with submerged naan saltine cracker. An unlikely taste of home, in distant Kashgar.IMG_6081

Naan is often used in restaurant settings to act as a kind of plate, in serving kebabs on skewers, and it is sometimes pre-sliced in pizza-like wedges and then topped with a stew. That presentation can be witnessed on the cover of a recent acquisition to my cookbook collection: Goshluk qorumilar (translated as “meat fry dishes”) by Mehmetjan Rosi (2007 Shinjang xalq neshriyati)–pictured to the right.

Make your own chekkuch!

In order to make that brittle depression in the bread, you need to punch the wide basin of the bread with a device known as a chekkuch. These devices can be purchased in Xinjiang bazaars, and are sometimes patterned in interesting ways. If you don’t have access to a Xinjiang bazaar, you might consider making one of these devices yourself. I had a whole day to figure out how to do this with what I had in the kitchen, and had pretty good results with a pack of bamboo skewers, some masking tape, and some paper towels.

Do as I did if you are artistically curious, or, if you are lazy, use a FORK.

Qordaq is a rich stew enjoyed in Xinjiang. One very famous example of qordaq in China is becoming pretty well-known among trendy Chinese restaurants in North America: “Big plate chicken”, or 大盘鸡. I  previously discussed this dish as I was surprised to find it on menus in Philadelphia’s Chinatown back in 2013. In Uyghur that is known as “big chicken qordaq“. Like “big chicken qordaq“, regular (mutton) qordaq is stewed with onions, star anise,  huajiao, chile peppers, carrots, and potatoes. Like many great Xinjiang sauces, there is also a hint of tomato.


Recipe: Uyghur bazaar-style naan – بازار ﻧﯧﻨﻰ

My measurements for making 2 Uyghur naan are as follows:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups water and/or milk (more or less depending on the weather)
1 tsp salt
dash sugar
1/3 package of yeast
grated onions or sesame seeds for topping

Procedure: Rest bread dough for a few hours. Heat your oven to as high as it will go (I use a baking steel inside my oven–like a baking stone but more sturdy–and get the oven ripping at about 550). Then divide and shape the dough into two balls. After your oven has been appropriately heated, shape the ball into something resembling pizza by pushing on the center and lightly pulling the ring around the outside. Puncture the basin of the bread all over (usually in concentric circles), and add sesame or onion toppings if you like. This is most easily done by dampening the top of the bread and then inverting the bread onto a plate of sesame seeds. Then, invert it back on to the pizza peel.

If you use a stone or baking steel, you’ll need to use a pizza peel to get the bread onto that hot surface. I have found that because the center is so thin, it will burn through very easily from the bottom. Because of that, I change to broil before I throw the bread on, to simulate the Xinjiang wood fire oven, or tonur (described in a prior post). The bread will cook very fast. Keep an eye on it, and rotate or move it toward/away from the broiler as need be. I recognize these are not user-friendly instructions… it is cooking with a kind of unpredictable flame. It is worth it though, if you can get a good browning all around.

Ok, bread is done. Now for the mutton stew. In reality, I did these at the same time. Start the stew after you set aside the bread dough to rise.

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Recipe: Uyghur qordaq mutton stew – قورداق

My recipe is largely based on one found in the 1993 book Uyghur Tamaqliri, by Mahmut Sabit, and by the VCD video Andre the Giant-style narration by chef Osmanjan Zakir that you can see online at YouTube. Oh, the wonders of the internet!

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Ingredients:

2 lbs Mutton with bones
3 Tblsp oil or fat
1 lb potato
1 lb carrot or daikon
2 large green chiles
2 Tbsp sliced ginger
1 Tblsp tomato paste
1 Tblsp star anise
1 Tblsp ground huajiao (“Sichuan peppercorn”)

Salt to taste
Soy sauce to taste
MSG to taste
For serving (optional): chopped cilantro, finely sliced onion, tomato wedges, pepper

This is a very simple hearty stew: brown chunks of meat in oil or fat, add onions, salt, tomato paste, star anise, huajiao. Top off with water and boil until meat is coming off the bone (around 1.5 hrs):

For the last 20 minutes or so, add coarsely chopped chiles, potatoes, carrots, and more stock or water. Bring to boil, taste for seasonings (salt, MSG), and cook until carrots are tender.

I used quite a bit of mutton fat in the initial frying process. As that hits the tomato paste and MSG, the overall flavor is intensely savory.

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No more words. Make this dish and enjoy it.

Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, Central Asia/Uyghur food | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Besan flour and Burmese chickpea tofu

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Tohpu thoke, or Burmese chickpea jelly salad

Yesterday I had an exciting new food experience with a starch jelly common in Myanmar. There it is commonly referred to as “tofu” တိုဖူး, though it isn’t made from soy or processed in the ways in which beans are fermented into blocks in other parts of East and Southeast Asia. In this case, a bean jelly is made by combining chickpea flour in water and simmering the mixture for a few minutes before pouring it into a vessel to set.

The result is a consistency similar to silken tofu, but with a slightly nuttier flavor, reminiscent of hummus. The finished jelly can be used in a variety of ways. It can be added to savory soups, it can be mixed with aromatics and sauces to make for a refreshing cold salad, and it can even be deep fried like Chinese tofu.

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Deep fried chickpea tofu

Chickpea tofu is a fascinating example of the cultural mixing that happens in Myanmar. A name and notion from a well-known food preparation in China is adapted and applied to a staple of chickpea flour common in India.

The context of my food experience was a food outreach event yesterday with a student action group called the REFresh Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. The event called attention to foodways of Philadelphia refugees from Myanmar. There were some moving stories told as we shared cooking duties to make several dishes together. Many of the flavors we explored were very similar to those of Northern Thailand, but one item in particular was a new to me among these otherwise Southeast Asian flavors: toasted chickpea flour. This powder was mixed into all of the different salads served. I was intrigued.

I later learned that there are different varieties of chickpea flour to use for different purposes. The powder we used for salad was different than the untoasted kind used for making chickpea tofu.

Chickpea flours are relatively easy to obtain in Philadelphia as many cultures share the chickpea (or garbanzo bean) food staple. I traveled down to South Philly’s 7th Street Burmese markets to talk with shopkeepers and get some suggestions on best varieties of chickpea flour to use for chickpea tofu.  As you can see in the image below, I was directed to an Indian brand of chickpea flour. Keep that in mind as Philly’s South Asian markets are more plentiful than Philly’s Burmese markets (which are concentrated on South Philly’s 7th Street).

There is a great video on Youtube that shows large scale “yellow tofu” processing in the Shan State in Myanmar. It is worth a viewing.

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Besan (Bengal gram chickpea flour from India) can be found at South Asian and Burmese markets in Philadelphia for making chickpea tofu. At Burmese markets, you can also find toasted chickpea flour (on right) that is useful for mixing into Burmese salads.

I also found that I had a good deal of information on chickpea tofu already on my bookshelf in Naomi Duguid’s 2012 cookbook Burma: Rivers of Flavor. She has recipes for making the tofu (which she calls “Shan” tofu), as well as soup, salad, and deep fry recipes for using the finished tofu. I used her recipe for making the tofu, one cup of chickpea flour to 3 cups of water.

I prepared two batches of tofu, one that was just besan, salt, and water, and one that included a pinch of turmeric for coloring. The basic idea is the same as making a Chinese jelly noodle: 1. Premix the starch (or in this case bean flour) with part of the water until it is smooth and press through a sieve to ensure there are no lumps, 2. dump that mixture into a pot of boiling (remaining) water, 3. Stir on medium heat to heat through the mixture and make a velvety texture, and 4. dump into an oiled vessel that can be put into the refrigerator for several hours.

After several hours in the refrigerator, the tofu is stiff enough to be used in salad and deep fry preparations.

Above are my two batches. The one on the left was quite fragile and watery. That might be because I covered it while it was still warm and let it set in a very wide bowl. The second one (with yellow turmeric)  was set in a smaller bowl, and I left it uncovered–that one had a tighter texture.

Burmese Tofu Salad

Chickpea tofu is commonly used in Myanmar to make salads. Seasonings and sauces can vary based on region. Here is a nice image example from MyFoodMyanmar.com that uses shrimp powder, fish sauce, and cilantro as key seasonings. Mark Viens also has a nice video eating this salad this as street food in Yangon. In the end, I based my try on Naomi Duguid’s recipe, as it combined yesterday’s food memory with what seemed like the standard key ingredients (primarily shallot oil, sourness, and herbal aromatics).

Chickpea tofu fritters

Chickpea tofu can also be deep fried in crunchy thin slices or blocks that are crunchy on the outside and velvety on the inside. Below are some images of how those turned out. The flavors were nutty and sweet. The really small crunchy bits were so sweet they almost tasted like GrapeNuts (for me this is not a negative flavor association).

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Posted in - Featured Food Discoveries, - Featured Markets, - Recipes, Myanmar/Burmese food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment