When Mom and Dad come to town, what do you do? If you’re in the Mah family, you cook a huge Chinese dinner. Twelve people. Fourteen dishes. One day of shopping and cooking. It was a marathon, let me tell you. My father is a Chinese food guru, so I was delighted to pick up a few secrets from him while shopping at the Asian supermarché, Tang Frères (48 Avenue d’Ivry, 13e), and acting as his sous chef. What did we make?
First there was a series of cold dishes: Quail tea eggs in a nest of slivered vegetables (carrots, daikon), drizzled with an Asian vinaigrette. Tofu salad — a chilled block of tofu cut into cubes, drizzled with sesame oil and soy sauce, and strewn with pickled scallions, red ginger, cilantro and scallions.
A dish of sweet and spicy cucumbers, cool and crunchy, lightly pickled with sugar and dunked in a sweet Thai chili sauce. Sichuan chicken salad — shredded chicken and slivered cucumber tossed in a spicy summer peanut sauce.
Here is the pièce de résistance — Peking duck, imported by Dad from London, the meat made tender, thanks to a slow roast in my oven. The skin was crisp and salty, like duck bacon.
Spread your pancake with plum sauce, add a slice of duck and slivers of cucumber, cilantro and scallion, roll it up, and voilà! A Beijing burrito.
Lettuce cups are usually made of iceberg, but this was a fusion dinner, so we used dainty endive leaves, and filled them with delicate minced chicken and pine nuts.
There was a veritable garden of green vegetables. From the upper left corner, clockwise, we’ve got loofah (yes, the shower scrub is edible and it’s yummy), gylon (aka Chinese broccoli), bok choy (ubiquitous Chinese veg — you know it, right?), and snow peas and mushrooms.
My dad has been making these salt & pepper shrimp since I was a kid. They are part of my earliest food memories — I even wrote about them in Kitchen Chinese — and it simply wouldn’t be a Chinese dinner party without them. They are addictive, at once salty, peppery, and garlicky, spilled hot from the wok. (The recipe appears at the end of this post.)
Ah, but there’s more! Sweet and sour pork ribs (left) which appeal even to laowai — that’s an offhand Chinese term for “foreigner,” which I’ve redefined as someone who doesn’t like Chinese food. Thankfully, there were no laowai at our table. (But we gobbled up the tender spare ribs anyway.) And mapo doufu (right), Chinese comfort food: spicy, salty, saucy tofu, tingling with Sichuan peppercorn, best paired with white rice.
In a Chinese dinner, noodles signal the end. These were served in a searingly spicy and richly beefy broth (drizzled with my dad’s homemade chili oil) , with fork-tender chunks of oxtail on the side.
We finished our meal with a delightful clafoutis of apples and honey brought by Croque Camille (who risked life and limb to make it). It was a honeyed ending to a great feast, one that will surely sweeten our new year.
P.S. Special thanks to my friend, Anna, the evening’s official photographer!
Salt and pepper shrimp salad
We left off the “salad” part of this recipe for our dinner, but adding the leaves creates a fresh and elegant first course. This recipe first appeared in Kitchen Chinese.
1 lb shrimp (about 12), peeled, cleaned, and patted dry
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup minced green onions
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2-3 tablespoons dry, pale cocktail sherry or white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons salt-sugar-pepper mixture (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Olive oil for stir-frying
For the salad:
4 cups arugula or mixed salad greens, washed and spun dry
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons salt
6 tablespoons ground black pepper
This is a master batch for your spice cabinet. You can increase the quantities to make more and store it in a bottle.
Toss arugula or salad greens with the vinegar and oils and distribute evenly to four salad plates.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or sauté pan until smoking. Toss the shrimp thoroughly with the salt-sugar-pepper mixture and add at once to the hot pan.
As the shrimp cook, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Add more oil if needed. Turn the shrimp and repeat with another 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. The cooking process only takes a few minutes.
When the shrimp have just turned pink, add the garlic, green onions and toss. Add just enough sherry or wine to create a sauce that barely coats the prawns. Remove from heat.
Distribute 3 shrimp per salad plate. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve immediately.