“15 cents a pile” for Bok Coy

The farmers’ markets, ji (集), in Beijing are not like the ones back home in Berkeley.  Here there are hundreds of vendors lined up for miles selling produce and almost anything else you might need for the household. I had my shoes repaired there; I picked up cotton fabric and had sheet sets made there. For thousands of years ji has meant a regular gathering for local country people to exchange their goods and purchase their needs. With the expanding city limits of Beijing, new modern residences are now mixed with old villages and supermarkets are gradually taking over the traditional ji. Luckily, there is still a ji right by my neighborhood that takes place three times a week, and I get to enjoy ganji (赶集)—rush to the market—quite often.

Walking along the river in the morning when there is a summer breeze is rather pleasant. We were fortunate to have a day like this in August in Beijing, particularly after a week of long, hot, humid, and rainy days. It was obvious that the cost and the quality of produce this week was quite different from the week before, the price had gone up and the quality had gone down. Well, things are always like this, up and down taking turns in our life. I am old enough to have a very good attitude facing it.

Someone cried “one yuan a pile” from the side on the bridge. I turned around and saw piles of bok choy lying on the ground.  The bok choy weren’t long and round with tightly closed leaves like usual, instead the farmer had a huge pile of broken leaves thrown to the side, with only the bok choy hearts put together as a pile. Oh no, this poor man’s bok choy had been badly damaged. He didn’t even bother to weigh his produce and was asking for such a humble price for the still fresh and good part of his bok choy. I felt sorry for him and brought home a bunch happily.

My refrigerator won’t fit such huge bunch of bok choy and there was no way I could kept it fresh in this hot summer weather, so a Gan Shao Bai Cai ( Dry Cooked Bok Choy) was served for lunch, here it is.

Gan Shao Bai Cai

1. Clean and dry the bok choy, throw it into the wok and cook for a few minutes until it dries out.

4. Remove to a clay pot

5. Add some sauce from the bottom of a bottle of Chinese fermented tofu (try to finish up any leftovers or sauces you have on hand or add soy sauce, sugar, and cooking wine)

6. Cook for twenty minutes and serve

My husband enjoyed this unfamiliar but tasty dish. He couldn’t tell what flavorings were in the bok choy. Of course I wouldn’t tell him the top secret of my kitchen either.

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Mom on Aimee’s Ants Climbing a Tree

Via Gmail:

I just read it, your dish is not ants climbing a tree, must be caterpillars, ants have to be ground pork, and you need to cut everything else into small pieces.
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Cinderella Cucumbers

So now that you have the basics down here is a dish from my mother:

(These pictures are by my dad, an artist, so they will look much better than mine…)

Hi kids,

Vendors in the farmers’ market often mark “Ding hua dai ci” in Chinese for their home grown cucumbers in Beijing. It means “Flower top with thorn attached,” a special term for top quality cucumbers.

When Daddy and I took a train to Tibet two years ago, we saw many passengers boarding with big bags of cucumbers. At first I thought they were gifts for their friends and relatives since Tibet is well known for its lack of fresh vegetables and fruit. To my surprise, they ate them all on the way to Tibet. They were snacks, fruit, and also vegetables for the long trip, easy to carry and easy to handle. Judging from the snapping noise and splashed juice in the air, I could tell they must be very crispy and sweet. Of course I saw the withered and skinny yellow flowers still attached on top too.

Young and crispy are standard requirements for cucumbers and are people’s favorite choice here. The big, fat and old cucumbers are unacceptable and not welcomed. Our neighbor Julie gave me some overgrown cucumbers after we returned from our trip to Korea. Aunt Fan used them for making Baozi which was not bad. I have a deep passion for anything big, fat and old nowadays. I had to make it fancy. Cucumbers of this size are actually perfect for stuffed cucumbers, just scoop out the center and fill the hole with your favored stuffing ingredients and steam until done.  The combination of pork, dry mushrooms and shrimp is my favorite stuffing, easy and fast, also refreshing, light, and tasty. The big, fat and old cucumbers are turned into a beautiful and perfect summer dish. I bet you will enjoy it, now my Beijing neighbors do.


ps    Shall we name it Cinderella cucumber?

(A note from Aimee, to make the stuffing add GGGOSWSSaSO, as detailed in the last post, to ground pork, add some diced (small dice) uncooked shrimp and minced shitake mushrooms and mix well.  For the shitakes we usually use reconstituted dry mushrooms–reconstitute like the bean thread noodles and cut off the woody stems before mincing.)








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Garlic, Ginger, Green Onion, Shaoxing Wine, Soy Sauce, and Sesame Oil (GGGOSWSSaSO)

These are the must have ingredients for Chinese cooking, though when pressed, you can always substitute sherry for Shaoxing and do without garlic or green onion, or, if you are my brother, without ginger.

The first thing I learned from my mother was adding these ingredients to meat, be it ground pork, julienned pork, chicken dice or julienned chicken.  Based on my own tastes I haven’t ventured too far into beef but will do so now that you are reading.

I usually add some ground white pepper and, if I want my sauce to be thick, some cornstarch.  If I’m making meatballs I might add some finely chopped shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, and maybe an egg as binder.

But aside from those variations this is really the secret to Chinese cooking, adding these ingredients to meat in amounts to suit your taste, mixing well, and adding to a hot wok or skillet. Cook the meat a little more than halfway, return it to the bowl it came from, add the veg etc. that you are planning to cook it with in the now empty wok/skillet, cook that until almost done, return the meat to the pan, and cook until done, possibly adding more of any of the above, or salt, to taste.

There are many nuances of course, including dark soy sauce, which I only just came to appreciate during a May visit to my mother’s kitchen in Beijing, but I’ll save that for another post involving slow cooked mushrooms.

But for today, my version of ants climbing a tree: a dish with julienned pork, julienned poblano peppers (suffice it to say that 80% of the time the food in Chinese cooking is julienned), and bean thread noodles.

Here’s the finished dish:

Ants Climbing a Tree

And here are the non-meat ingredients (ignore the smoked tofu to the right, I was cooking up a storm when I took these pics and used those in another dish which I will share with you later):

Don’t forget the GGGOSWSSaSO (take that EVOO!):

And don’t forget the Shaoxing (here’s a close up of the label):

Julienne your meat (the Chang family mostly uses pork tenderloin) by slicing the tenderloin into thin slices (partially freezing the meat can help you slice it thinner):

Then stack the slices on top of one another and julienne:

(My mom probably thinks that is too big but I think it is fine)

Put the julienned meat into a bowl and mince your ginger and garlic.  I use equal amounts of the two, about 1/2 TBSP each to 1/3 lb of meat. Cut your ginger pretty much the way you cut your meat except peel it first and then mince it finely after you have matchsticks:

Crush the garlic with the side of your knife (hard to tell in this pic but my knife is placed with the blade parallel to the cutting board between my hand and the garlic):

Add the minced garlic and ginger to the meat with the GGGOSWSSaSO, along with white pepper and corn starch if you’d like:

Mix well and set aside.  Now julienne your peppers:

Use whatever kind you have/want–I like poblanos for their medium spice.

Soak your bean thread noodles in boiling water, put them in a bowl, boil water, and pour it over the noodles.  Bean threads come in different thicknesses, choose whichever you want, here I’m using something slightly thinner than fettucine:

Slice your green onion–I usually halve the white parts before slicing both the green and white.  I often use the green for garnish at the end and the white at the beginning of the dish:

There are a few missing pictures here where I cut it into small pieces–cut the sections above into v. short lengths, about 1/4 in. long.

Once everything is sliced and prepared you are ready to being stir-frying–heat oil in a hot wok or skillet:

Add the cut green onion (more white than green):

Then about 30 sec. later the meat with the sauces:

Cook, until about half done.  When you first add it let it sit for a few seconds before stirring so that the meat sears:

Almost half Done:

Return the meat to the bowl.  Add some more oil, if needed and begin stir frying the poblanos:

When they begin sticking to the pan add 1/2 TBSP water and put a lid on top for about 20 seconds, stir, cover, stir until the water evaporates and add water again if needed.  You want to cook the peppers until they are soft and browned:

Then add the meat back to the pan:

Mix it in:

Add the soaked and drained bean thread noodles:

Stir (fry):

Until cooked through:

You can add some soy or cooking wine at this point if you feel it needs it:

And you are done!  Put it in serving dish and garnish with green onion, eat with rice and maybe some chili sauce.


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Annie, Jason, and Aimee

This is Aimee.  I started this blog with my mom Annie, and my brother Jason.  My mom is a fantastic cook and my brother and I have been learning from her slowly but surely over the years.  A few years ago our parents moved to Beijing and I started this blog so we can keep track of recipes, tell the family stories behind the food we cook, and share our cooking with you.   I’m based in Texas and my brother is in California.



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