No, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about this blog! It’s just taken me a few days to get back in the swing of things from our Fernie trip. That, and I’ve been eating out a ton for another project that I’ll tell you about sometime later in the spring. So, there’s been less chance to get into the kitchen over the past few weeks, and will likely continue that way for the next few.
Today, however, I managed a few hours in the kitchen, playing with my new fantabulous Kylie Kwong cookbook, Simple Chinese Cooking. I was already excited about this book, as I was just mentioning to Cam the other day that of all the cookbooks I have, I have none on Chinese cookery, which is quite funny because I really do like both cooking and eating Chinese. What made the whole thing more exciting however, is that Kylie was in Seattle yesterday, and I got to go hear her talk at Third Place Books up in Lake Shore Park. Despite arriving a tiny bit late (I thought it was the other Third Place Books location…), I did get to catch most of her chat about how she got into cooking in the first place and what inspired this particular book. Kylie had a fantastic laid-back casual elegance. She’s a comfortable speaker that clearly loves what she is doing. She created the book to help people step in to Chinese (and therefore other Asian) cooking even without a trip to Chinatown (or, if you are in Seattle, the more PC International District) and reshape some of the Westernized thinking of Asian food. Her goal was to have every recipe based on ingredients you can get from any supermarket, no specialty stores required. Each recipe was worked out cooking in her own home kitchen as well. Everything to make the cuisine more approachable for the home cook to achieve.
That said, Kylie still recommends going out of your way, if you have to, to find great, fresh, organic produce and meats. As with most modern chefs, she reiterated that the quality of the ingredients will make or break the quality of the dish. She spoke for sometime about a recent trip to China and realizing how challenging this can be to achieve in other parts of the world, with polluted streams and air. This was a striking concept to me anyway, as often I tend to romanticize eating “real” local food. Kylie, who has a new book and TV show (on Discovery) coming out sometime in the next year on travel and food across China, quite hammered in the point that eating in China doesn’t mean you are getting great Chinese food. 90% of meals contain MSG, and tend to make the flavors all blend together in what Kylie referred do as “that Chinese restaurant flavor.” Of course, the flavors and quality of food varies across any nation.. I’m less likely to order sushi in North Dakota where access to fresh fish isn’t as simple as walking 2 miles to the docks and where flavors tend toward the more meat and potatoes (not that I have anything against meat and potatoes. mmm. potatoes)
My copy of Simple Chinese Cooking just arrived yesterday (silly me, I ordered it forgetting she was going to be in town… luckily it arrived just before I had to go to the talk), so I haven’t had much time to spend with it yet. But, right off the bat one recipe caught my eye… Pickled Celery and Chilli. Now, I am just on a celery thing lately. There’s no explanation. I’ve always been super ho-hum on celery in the past. It’s always been such a nothing food to me. Then, all of a sudden, I can’t get enough of the stuff. It started with the celery salad at Serious Pie, and since then I’ve just kind of been craving recipes with celery. Go figure.
Anyway, when I saw the pickled celery recipe, I knew I’d be making it as soon as possible. But, I had also made up some little rolls from a variation of the no-knead bread recipe, using rice flour and whole wheat cake flour instead of all purpose. These were glorious hot little buns yesterday, but today, well, they needed to be used. Then a lightbulb went on above my head, and I decided that the pickled celery would go quite nicely with the bread cut into little rounds and toasted… kind of like bruschetta but with more of the flavors of Banh Mi. I kept mine super simple and veggie, but these would be perfect with some grilled pork or lemongrass chicken as well. So, not quite so Simple Chinese anymore, but definitely delicious.
Pickled Celery Bruschetta
(based on a recipe in Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong, p 284)
The recipe is super straightforward, and she’s right, you can find almost all ingredients in the supermarket. The only thing you may have problems finding are the Sichuan peppercorns. If you can’t find them, use a combination of black pepper corns and red chilli flakes.
Also, I didn’t have any malt vinegar on hand, so I substituted the vinegars a bit. The original recipe called for 1/3 cup white vinegar and 1/3 cup malt vinegar.
1 bunch celery
3 t sugar
3 t sea salt
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T fish sauce
1/4 cup roughly chopped mint (or cilantro)
1 T sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 cup scallion, julienned
1 red or green chilli, cut on the bias
sichuan pepper and salt to garnish
Trim the celery and slice on the bias into long thin, U-shaped strips. Place the celery in a bowl and cover with the 3 t of sugar and salt. Give it a quick stir to coat, then place in a sieve or a colander and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes in the sink or over a bowl. It will start to give off water.
While the celery is draining, combine the vinegars and the remaining sugar in a sauce pan on medium-high heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Then, simmer until the mixture is reduced by almost half and is a bit syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
If you haven’t yet, julienne the scallion and slice up the chilli. Squeeze the remaining water out of the celery mixture, and put the celery into a bowl. Top with the vinegar reduction and mix well. Then, add the fish sauce, mint and sesame seeds and give it a good turn.
If serving as a salad, go ahead and lightly toss in the scallion and chilli, and serve topping with the sichuan pepper and salt at the last moment.
To serve as bruschetta:
Slice your bread thinly, and lightly brush with olive oil. Toast the slices in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown.
On each little round, place a good-sized scoop of the celery mixture, then carefully top with the scallion and one or two chillis. Sprinkle with a bit of the sichuan pepper and salt. Serve immediately.