Month: November 2016

Asian mustard greens 芥菜 and the memories of the GuangDong GuangYa Middle School

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Sometimes, I boil some Asian greens with a dash of cooking oil and a little salt. I eat the vegetables and drink the water that was used for boiling the veggies as a ‘soup’.  I can drink many bowls of this ‘soup’. It is strangely comforting. It brings back the memories of my GuangDong GuangYa Middle School years.

Chinese mustard greens, gluten free, vegan, gai choi
Chinese mustard greens ‘gai choi’

GuangDong GuangYa Middle School was one of the highly selective schools in the city of GuangZhou. Although the school was located in one of the most populated cities in Southern China, it was established in the 1880s and built on an unusually large block of land with gardens, traditional style buildings and sports grounds. While we were not able to escape from the common poverty and a rigid  educational system which we were to memorize pretty much everything, we learned to be self-discipline and responsible for our own destiny.

My junior year at GuangYa Middle School - class singing competition
My junior year at GuangDong GuangYa Middle School – school singing competition

During my junior years when I was still living at home, the best time during a school day was the lunch time. When bell rang at 1pm we ran for the canteen. There were 4 tiny little windows at the front of the canteen where we collected our meals with prepaid vouchers. A typical meal was 2 cups of boiled rice, a few pieces of thinly sliced pork cooked with Asian greens, cucumbers or melons. The meals were pale looking, probably only seasoned with salt and nothing else. The vegetables were  over cooked, floppy and watery.  From time to time there were huge canisters in front of the canteen and we could scoop ourselves some ‘soup’ – the water used to boil the vegetables.  A few times a year before the major exams, we received special bonus called ‘Jia Chai’ 加菜 which was a little extra food.

When I started boarding during the senior years, I shared a rundown dormitory room with some 40 other girls. The room was large, with high ceiling and always full of dust. There were no cleaning staffs, the girls took turns to sweep the bare concrete floor each day. One end of the room was used as a drying area with rows of newly washed clothes dripping water onto the floor below. The external shower rooms  were bare with only cold water taps, no individual doors and very limited lighting. During winter time we could pay 2 cents to buy a bucket of hot water from the canteen and carried it all the way to the shower rooms for a warm splash, or to brave it with a cold shower.

At the dorm in the GuangYa Middle School, GuangZhou
Girls’ dorm at the GuangYa Middle School in the 1980s

The kids at the school were all very bright. They were expected to go to university. This meant 10-12 hours of study each day. Those days, going to university  would mean a guaranteed government job for life and the selection exams were very competitive. Boarding was compulsory during the senior years. There were strict routines –  getting up at 6am, compulsory exercise, breakfast,  a morning self-directed study session,  followed by 5 formal classes, lunch, nap time, 2 more study sessions in the afternoon, followed by exercise, shower time & dinner time, then evening more self-directed study in the classroom till 30 minutes before bed time. Lights were turned off at 10pm.

Despite the handwork and poor living conditions, GuangYa was a haven for me. At GuangYa  I found friendship, kindness and I was able to build confidence. I met a few good friends who were wonderfully warm and inclusive. Two of my main teachers were reasonably flexible and supportive (unusual for China those days).  Best of all, I escaped from home, a place where I struggled to feel warmth – perhaps one day I will have the courage to write about it.

Recipe for Asian mustard greens

Here is a simple dish with Chinese mustard greens (‘gai choi’芥菜 ), boiled briefly with a dash of cooking oil and seasoned with salt. I describe mustard greens as deliciously peppery with a slight bitterness.

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Noodles with cloud ear, beef and vegetables

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Sometime we just want a quick and no fuss meal, something easy, hearty and delicious. Noodles fit into this category nicely.

I often have a few packs of udon noodles in the pantry. I found udon noodles have the right texture once boiled, perfect for tossing in a frying pan for a quick stir fry.  Cloud ears (Chinese black fungus) is another vegetable that I often stock up. Once re-hydrated, it is so quick to cook and refreshingly crunchy. We also love cabbage for its sweetness and longevity in the fridge.

This cloud ear, beef and vegetable noodle dish takes about 20-30 minutes to make. It is flavored with oyster sauce and mushroom dark soy sauce. I added plenty of sesame seeds for extra flavor.

Noodles with cloud ear, beef and vegetables

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Sushi terrine with vegetables (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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A few weeks ago I set off to make a few carrot & vegetable dishes. Here is one of them…

It is made with sushi rice, saute pumpkin with cumin, saute carrot with turmeric, saute capsicum with garam masala and nori sheets.  Sesame seeds were added for extra flavor. The ingredients are layered in a terrine pan, and wrapped with 2 nori sheets.

Vegetable sushi terrine, low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free

Recipe is as follow:  Read the rest of this entry »

Carrot ‘noodles’ with green bean and bean sprout (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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Last week I was cooking humble carrots and wondering how may carrot dishes I could create. Here is one of them…

There are so many wonderful things about carrot, crunchy, juicy, colorful, full of goodies. Best of all, it has no carbohydrate so the FODMAPers can have as much carrot as they wish.

Carrot 'noodles' with green bean and bean sprout (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follow:

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Carrot with maple syrup and turmeric (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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I was helping out at Salvation Army’s community kitchen earlier this week. The kitchen uses OZ Harvest, a food rescue service that collects excess food products and provides the food to charities for free. The lady who runs the kitchen, Monica, a wonderful and cheerful woman, explained that she was not able to buy any other ingredients other than what was donated.

On the lunch menu it was Vietnamese San Choy Bao. I volunteered to cook the meal as I was comfortable with cooking large amount of food. After all I had ran an Asian food stall at our school fetes over the past three years.  The good news was that, we had pork mince and lots of vegetables. The bad news was that, there was no fish sauce, soy sauce, lemon or lime.  I found two small bottles of BBQ sauce. I cooked the meal with the BBQ sauce, a little sugar, salt and some turmeric. Although not really Vietnamese, the dish tasted pretty good. The meal was sold at $2 per serve. After that, there was no fresh meat left. So I prepared 2 trays of zucchini slices for next day’s free community lunch.  For the vegetarian option, I stir fried some diced potato, carrot, leek, capsicum, scallion and coriander with curry powder, turmeric and veggie spices. Thank goodness for all the other volunteers who chopped, diced, graded, washed and helped.

When I got home that day, I decided to learn a little more about cooking with simple ingredients. I started with the humble carrots and some left over pure maple syrup.

I diced 2 carrots, tossed the pieces with  some rice flour, maple syrup, a little oil and a pinch of salt. Then I pan fried the carrots with a little oil, tossed in some sesame seeds, turmeric and coriander.

It was the best carrot I have ever had.

Carrot with maple syrup, turmeric, sesame seeds and coriander, Low FODMAP, Gluten Free, Vegan

Recipe is a follow:

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