Postpartum Chinese Food

Back in culinary school, I took a course on Chinese food. Now that I am a year away from it, I can finally say that there were a few pluses to the class. I will not go into the horrors here. Suffice it to say, if you ever go to culinary school and your teacher/chef wants to give the hour and a half lecture in the kitchen, in August, before class each night, run the other way.

Despite the heat, the big bonus was the food. Because each student made one or more dishes and each dish was different, there was a whole mess of food to eat—which was a good thing because I was a ravenous nine month pregnant house-sized woman who could eat my body weight in rice every night.

Yeah, you read that correctly. I pretty much gave birth in Cuisine of China class. (I went into labor the night before class so I was able to make it to the hospital in enough time to avoid delivering a baby on a kitchen floor, but it was a bit dicey as we approached the due date.)

When I came back to class a few weeks later, we were cooking up delicacies from the Shanghai region. So, the beef with walnuts dish has a special place in my heart as my first post-baby Chinese course. The hot and sour soup is from an earlier class (when we were learning about cuisine from Beijing), but I’d hazard to say that it would be pretty good postpartum as well.

I’ve reordered the recipe instructions from the original versions I received in class. (Trust me, my versions are much, much easier to follow. Did I mention the class was a touch horrific at times?)

Hot and Sour Soup

Serves: A whole lot. Like 8-12 or more very hungry people.

  • 8 oz lean pork, cut into strips of ⅛” x ⅛” x 1½” (omit the pork if you want to make this veg-friendly)
  • ½ oz dried black mushrooms, soak to soften and cut into strips (I used shitake mushrooms.)
  • 4 oz bamboo shoots, cut into thin strips
  • 1 oz dried lily flowers, soak 20 minutes to soften and drain (Also called golden needles, you’ll probably have to find these at a specialty Asian market. I didn’t have any nor did I have a reasonable substitute, so I threw in some bean sprouts. Totally NOT the same—I know.)
  • ¼ oz dried cloud ears, soak 25 minutes to soften, rinse well, and drain (Cloud ears are a type of mushroom that look like little, brown ears. If you can’t find them, you can use wood ear mushrooms OR more shitake… although it won’t have the exact same flavor.)
  • 16 oz fresh firm tofu, cut into strips of ¼” x ¼” x 1½”

Hot and Sour Solution

  • ¾ C rice vinegar
  • 1 T white pepper powder
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 t chili oil

Thickener

  • 2 T corn starch
  • 4 T water or broth
  • 1 T light (thin) soy sauce
  • ½ t sugar
  • 1 t salt

Chicken Broth

  • 10 C boiling water
  • 3 T chicken (or veggie) base (I used two chicken bullion cubes dissolved in the water.)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 green onions, cut into ⅛”

Cut up the pork, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tofu. Set aside.

Mix the hot and sour solution in a large serving bowl. Set aside. Mix thickener in a measuring cup and set aside.

Bring broth and base to boil, add pork strips, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, lily flowers, and cloud ears. Cover to cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the tofu and bring back to a boil. Add the thickener, and mix well.

Add the beaten egg slowly with the guide of a pair of chopsticks starting from the edge to the center of the pot and let the egg firm before stirring. (You want those fun egg swirly bits. Just go slow so you don’t get scrambled eggs in broth. That would be a bit disgusting.)

Pour the soup into the hot and sour solution bowl. Mix and serve. (Conversely, I added the hot and sour solution to the soup.) Garnish with the green onions.

Results

Both hot and sour. There isn’t a lot of pork when compared to the amount of liquid in the soup. So, it’s pretty easy to omit the meat and make this vegetarian-friendly. Like most Chinese recipes, once you get the cutting done, the cooking goes pretty quickly. I recommend it for an easy weekday meal (with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day).

Hot and sour soup in a white bowl

Of course, the recipe makes a whole crap load of soup. So, if you hate it, you’re kind of stuck. But, if you love it, you can eat it for a week!

Beef with Walnuts

Serves: 6 or so

  • 1½ lb lean beef (tenderloin or sirloin steak)

Beef Marinade

  • 1 T dark (black) soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 T rice cooking wine
  • 1 T corn starch

Seasoning Sauce

  • 1 T light (thin) soy sauce
  • 1 T rice cooking wine
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • 2 t cornstarch
  • 2 C cooking oil (peanut works best if you’re not allergic)
  • 3-4 oz raw walnuts, deep fried (see below for getting to the deep fried part)
  • 3 C water (for blanching the pea pods)
  • 1 t cooking oil
  • 6 oz pea pods, remove fiber from both ends, cut each pod into three strips (I’ll admit it. I removed the ends and the fiber bit, but I got lazy and left the pea pods whole.)
  • 2 T cooking oil
  • 4-6 ox pickled mustard greens, rinsed and cut into smaller chunks (You can find these guys at most Asian grocery stores. They come in plastic pouches or glass jars.)
  • ¼ section red bell pepper, cut into ⅝” triangles for garnish

Cut the beef into triangular pieces, ¾” x ¾” tip to tip. Marinate the beef in the marinade for 25-30 minutes.

Combine the seasoning sauce ingredients (light soy sauce through cornstarch), mix well, and set aside.

Heat 2 cups of cooking oil in wok to 275°. (If you don’t have a wok, a shallow sauce pan will work just as well.) Add walnuts and deep fry until light brown, about 25-30 seconds. Strain and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. Set aside.

Bring 3 C water to boil and add 1 t cooking oil and pea pods. Blanch the pea pods or 10-15 seconds. Remove and shock with ice water. Drain and line the serving platter with the pea pods. Set aside. (The cooking oil added to the water will give the pea pods a sheen that is eerily plastic looking. So, I’d say feel free to omit the oil if you’d like.)

Heat 2 T cooking oil in a clean and dry wok to smoky hot (again, if there is no wok to be had, you can use a large sauté pan). Add beef and stir fry for 90 seconds. Add pickled mustard greens, mix well and cook for 30 more seconds. Then, stir in the seasoning sauce. Mix well to combine all ingredients. Remove and place on top of the pea pod lined platter. Then, top with fried walnuts and red pepper garnish.

Results

Beef with walnuts on a bed of pea pods

Notice the slick sheen to those pea pods? Yeah for oil. And, the glassy look on the sauce is due to the cornstarch.

OK, so I added the walnuts and red pepper garnish to the beef in the wok. Basically, everything got coated in the sauce—which is fine by me because the entire thing is totally tasty.

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