Chef Vivienne reminded us that, until recent times, when young Chinese married, the new wife left her family of origin and moved in with her in-laws, where generally she was at the lowly bottom of the pecking order. After making dough (for noodles, dumplings, pancakes) her bowl would be inspected by her mother-in-law. If any wayward flour was found, it meant that daughter-in-law wanted to start a second batch and would have to start all over again. Vivienne also instructed us that mushrooms and fungi are considered two "gifts of the mountains" in Chinese kitchens.
The hot and the cold
We learned one reason strong seasonings have such prominence in Chinese cooking is to cover the gamey flavor of wild meat and fish or the bad smell of meat that was less than fresh. That said, because of the expense of raising animals, Chef Sue said that meat was not commonly served other than once every week or two and then more for flavor rather than the main focus. And, to this day, the Chinese consume much less meat than we do in the West. More common protein sources are tofu and mushrooms.
We learned from Vivienne that long noodles are served when visitors first arrive at a home to signify that guests are welcome to stay a long time. Dumplings are served upon departure -- a neat little package of goodness all wrapped up and ready to go.
The chefs also spent a lot of time talking about certain foods having a "hot" quality while others have a "cold" effect on your body and energy. I'm not talking about feeling sweaty or chilled. It's something different. More like a systemic heat or cold. Apparently, this imbalance of heat and cold in a body can cause you to get sick.
Like, if you feel the flu coming on, you'd know that was a cold disease, so you should avoid cold foods such as lemon, melon or cucumber. But if you have a "hot" disease, like eczema, avoid "hot" foods like garlic, onions or chocolate, or your "hot" disease will get worse. Some even think that the "hot" or "cold" properties of foods are so intense that simply eating too many of one can cause you to get sick. For example, if you eat too many "hot" foods (chili peppers, lobster), you might get a rash. Or, eat too many "cold" foods (watermelon, seaweed), and you'll get a stomachache or diarrhea.
Half a year later, I remain grateful to The Hutong for giving me confidence in wielding a wok and cleaver and teaching me how to use key Chinese ingredients. I now know some best practices in stir-frying and have a good base knowledge of how to create some delicious Chinese dishes in my own kitchen.
Eggplant and Green Beans in Soy Bean Paste Stir-Fry
2 long Asian eggplants (or 1 American eggplant), cut into 1-inch cubes
24 long green beans, cut into 3-inch segments
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon gingerroot, chopped
1 red chili, sliced
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 tablespoons fermented soybean paste
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 to 4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
DEEP-FRY eggplant until soft and cooked (not burned); drain and set aside for later use.
DEEP-FRY the green beans in the same oil until soft and cooked; drain and set aside for later use.
MIX all seasoning ingredients for seasoning in a bowl except pepper.
STIR-FRY garlic and ginger until aromatic, then add eggplant and beans.
ADD seasoning mixture and pepper, and stir well to mix. Garnish with sliced red chili.
SERVE with rice.
Weintraub lives in Charleston, where her husband, Marc, serves on City Council. She may be emailed at amyw...@gmail.com.