Pork spare ribs are inexpensive in Sydney, a fraction of the cost of pork ribs. It is one of the most popular cuts of pork for Asian food, lovely when slow cooked in a rich salty, sweet and sour sauce.
Here is our dinner tonight – pork spare ribs braised in a soy sauce, red wine,sesame oil and vinegar, with a hint of ginger and cumin.
Recipe is as follows:
Nearly 30 years had passed since I left China, but I still remember vividly the wonderful days around the Chinese New Years. Extended families gathered at the large dinner tables, briefly forgot about their quarrels throughout the year. The wok chinked with an aroma of delicacies that we couldn’t afford as daily meals. The rolling pins were out for the wickedly delicious sweet peanut pastry.
The flower festival (‘huaJie’, 花街) was held about a week before the Chinese New Year. Families went to the street market packed of flower vendors to select their festival decorations. Kumquat 金橘 was an essential – ‘kum’ means gold and ‘quat’ has a similar pronunciation as fortune. It is a plant that will bring good prosperity in the new year. A small blossoming peach shrub was also an essential, s symbol of strength and vitality, with beautiful flowers emerged from the harshness of the winter. Also common were the chrysanthemum 菊花 and peony 牡丹, large and colorful, symbols of riches and honor.
When I was a little girl, my father worked in another city. So my second uncle took me to the flower festival each year. Our most memorable trips were the ones on the New Years Eves. We had loads of fun browsing the market and pushed through the crowd. There were so many people at the market, my uncle had to put me on his shoulders to be safe. When it was close to the midnight, we rushed home to light our fire crackers. There was one time that we were late and ran into the fire cracker storms at mid-night. The crackers and the odd firework were loud and smoky, with laughter of the children, so much joy and happiness.
The next morning the streets were quiet with a red carpet of paper left behind by the fire crackers. Kids got up early to collect the odd fire crackers that did not go off the previous night, then ran around greeting their relatives ‘goon he fa choi’ 恭喜發財, in exchange for red envelopes with a little money, which they would use to buy lollies for months to come.
After the big feast on the New Year’s Eve, vegetarian meals were common on the first day of the new year. My favorite dish was the stew Chinese mushrooms, a delicacy rarely consumed during the year. The mushrooms were cooked with different types of dry or fresh vegetables – lily buds, fungus, dry tofu sticks, hair vegetable 髮菜 and bamboo shoots. The aroma of the dish is still lingering in my mind.
Nowadays I cook Chinese mushrooms quite often – nearly everybody in our family and extended families love it. In Sydney the Chinese mushrooms are inexpensive, a 250g bag of good quality mushrooms cost around $12. It makes a huge dish for 8-10 people to share. We are thankful for what we are able to enjoy today.
Here is a simple mushroom dish I’d like to share with you.
Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt ‘Yi-ma’, and how my mother met my father (low FODMAP, gluten free)
During the week, we try to make simple meals. A meal cooked over rice in a rice cooker is ideal for a late autumn evening – warm, comforting and super easy. We enjoy a glass of wine while the rice cooker is hard at work.
So I cooked some steamed pork tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt ‘Yi-ma’ who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. My mother met my father during a match making meeting between Yi-ma and my father. Yi-ma (姨妈) means an aunt from the mother side.
My mother was an orphan. Her mother was a maid who married her aged master. In early 1900s, my grandfather was a laborer who went to Malaysia and worked on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the southern coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and two houses. He then took a concubine – his first wife only gave him a daughter but not a son. Later the daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before he had his own son, my grandfather also adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han. During the Sino Japanese war the family ran out of money and grandfather and his wives died under some circumstance – how it happened was never mentioned by my mother. Some relatives said it was from hardship as they were not able to collect rents from the land and houses during this period.
During the 1940s, my mother grew up with his brother, living on some cash sent home by the sister in America. The two young children cooked for themselves and cared for each other. The adopted son, Han, was a soldier in the National army. Upon his returning home, he took all the cash sent from America and rents from the land and houses. He left the two young orphans with little food and resources. Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice. They cooked congee for meals and were always hungry. As a grown up, my mother refused to talk about this man. Every time his name was mentioned, mother was anxious, sad and angry.
In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their house. They are remote relatives from my mother’s side. Mother was grateful to them despite that she didn’t enjoy the chores, like getting up 5am in the morning to cook congee for breakfast. A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars required. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education. Yi-ma was fortunate, she went all the way to university and became a doctor.
In late 1950s, my mother joined the work force. With her good look, she dreamed to become an actress. However, she was rejected due to her lack of height. She enjoyed a role as a childcare workers but she was shortly made redundant. Her job was given to a relative of an official. She finally found a job at a wireless factory where she worked as a factory hand. She had lots of friends there and many admirers. For the first time in her life, she was receiving attention and care she was crying out for. She was determined not to have a relationship, so she could go to America and joined her sister. Unfortunately, her sister passed away and her dream to America was shuttered.
In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment. The young man’s mother, my grandmother, was trying to find a wife for her son. Grandmother and Yi-ma’s mother knew each other. They decided to match Yi-ma with the young engineer. The introduction did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. My mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.
That’s how my mother met my father.
Yi-ma later married a nice man who was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ 姨丈, meaning an uncle from the mother side. They were very well off. Yi-ma’s brother died during the Korean War. All the family assets went to Yi-ma, including a sizable portfolio of real estate and stocks in Hong Kong. In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time, from fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang rarely drank. It didn’t bother him that some liquor was rotten in the bottle a few years later, as they were fake and made with tea. Their only daughter, Pan, was similar age to myself. We became good friends.
Yi-ma and Yi-zhang were the first family we knew to own a color TV and a fridge. They often invited us over for meals, cold jelly, special goodies or simply when they cut open a watermelon. Their most tasty dish was the steamed pork, cooked in a little metal dish on top of the rice, juicy, sweet, salty and delicious. My father never went to their house except a visit during each Chinese New Year.
Knowing our limited financial resources, Yi-ma was always generous to us. Every year at the Chinese New Year she always gifted me a handsome amount in a red envelope. She gave me my first $1 note. In early 1970s, $1 was a fortune to a little girl. Unlucky for me, my mother confiscated the money over many years, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.
I cooked some steamed pork tonight. For some explainable reasons, I remembered my aunt Yi-ma and how my mother met my father.
Recipe is as follows:
I cooked some cracklings tonight, the way my grandmother cooked them a long long time ago.
When I was growing up, pork fat was a rare delicacy. Meat was rationed. It was difficult to imagine that one would waste the precious coupons on pork fat instead of good cut of meat.
My grandmother was an extraordinary woman, always working, never complaint and never indulged herself, except, she loved pork fat. Occasionally she took me to the food market across the street and bought a small slap of pork fat with skin. She cut up the meat, then pan fried the pieces in a wok over the coal stove.
The pan frying turned very quickly to deep frying. She scooped out the oil and stored it in a little black urn. The black urn sat on a rotten timber shelf up high away from the cats, looking like treasury. In the wok, the pork pieces eventually turned into golden delicious cracklings which we shared with the whole extended family of about 10 people.
Over the next few days, grandmother and I enjoyed hot boiled rice with pork fat for lunches, flavored with a dash of soy sauce. My grandmother called it ‘lou fan’ meaning ‘mix the rice’. These were some of the most delicious meals I ever had.
I still remember our kitchen. The walls were never painted, darken by the smoke from the coal cakes. The small earthy stove was among piles of coal cakes, which we purchased from a small shop at the end of our lane way. From very young age, I helped to carry the coal cakes home, a few at a time, on top of a small timber slab. Our house cats slept on top of the coal cakes during winters for the warmth from the stove, waking up in the morning, looking filthy. The cats were working cats and expected to fetch most of their own food (rats). They ate scraps from the family meals, most of the time it was just some rice, vegetables and sauce. Unloved and hungry, they had anxious looks in the eyes that I could never forget. They had a hard life.
Today, we have shiny appliances in our kitchen and beautiful stone splash back. We have a beautiful dog in our household which we dearly love. He enjoys his home cooked meals with all the goodness.
As I enjoyed the meal, I really appreciate what we have today.
Recipe is as follows:
To me, there is something special about lotus root – earthy skin with mud, crispy flesh, artistic structure. Looking at lotus root, I could see a beautiful pond, colorful lotus flowers, surrounded by peaceful willow trees, their green branches gently brushing in the breeze, like a dream.
And my husband described lotus root as potato with holes in them – silly!
It is difficult to find fresh lotus root in Sydney. This week I managed to buy some from an Asian store, and I made a stir fry dish with it.
I first sliced the lotus root, then blanched the pieces briefly. I lightly pickled the lotus root pieces and left it in fridge to infuse overnight. The next day, I pan fried the lotus root with some capsicum, green shallot, a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil. Yummy.
Recipe is as follows:
I recently purchased a Tiger thermal magic cooker from Singapore. It is really a magical piece of equipment – perfect for slow cooking with limited use of the stove top. I made some pulled pork for dinner last night – it was slow cooked over 24 hour, juicy and yummy.
The thermal cooker consists of 2 layers – an inner pot and an insulated outer pot. I first placed the pork shoulder in the stainless steel inner pot; I topped it with some pineapple pieces with all the juices^, 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of soy sauce*, 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce*, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of wine, 6 cardamon pods (slightly crashed), 6 star anise, 1 tsp cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, a piece of ginger (approx 15g) and 1 tsp pepper corn (slightly crashed). I then added some water to fully cover the meat, brought it to boil. Once boiling, I placed the pot into the insulated outer pot for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, I brought the inner stainless pot to boil again on the cook top – it took about 5 minutes as the pot was still hot from being inside the thermal pot. Then I placed it inside the insulated outer pot again for another 8 hours. I repeated this one more time. And it was ready to enjoy.
To serve, I hand pulled the pork to strips. I made a sauce with some marinate, added some maple syrup and some corn flour mixture (corn flour mixed with a little water). I brought the sauce to boil and it was ready.
If you don’t have a thermal cooker, you can slow cook the pork in a heavy pot, or slow cook in an oven with an oven bag – juicy and yummy.
^use fresh pineapple for a FODMAP diet (as it is tested by Monash University) *use a gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.
On WeChat my ex high school mates were chatting about not having time to cook dinners. Really? I thought, surely a few equipment could help.
In addition to a standard kitchen, I have a double garage filled with cooking equipment – a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a waffle maker, a table top multi-use grill, a mixer, a blender, a Tiger magic thermal pot, a 16 liter thermal pot, a five deck steamer pot, a 3-deck electric mini steamer, 3 electric frying pans, a portable induction cook top, 2 electric bain-maries and countless pots, cake tins and serving plates. Cooking a quick dinner is a breeze.
Before I continue on, I’d like to declare that I am not a hoarder. I run the Asian food stall each year for the school fete and I always contribute a bundle towards special event bakes. Hence I have accumulated so much useful equipment over the years.
Tonight I cooked a quick dinner with my pressure cooker. In the morning, I put some rice in the rice cooker and switch on the timer. I then spent 10 minutes browning the pork spare rib pieces, added carrot, potato chili, ginger and white wine. I turned the pressure cooker on high pressure 30 minutes. When I got home, dinner was ready and warm.
Recipe is as follow: