The Food of Taiwan

Last night for the first Hel’s Kitchen event (an event for which Sign Design produced the lovely banner pictured above) we tried out the food of Taiwan.

As noted in an earlier post, I became interested in cooking this menu through the new cookbook “The Food of Taiwan” by Cathy Erway. Erway blends a full suite of excellent recipes with essays, photographs, and context-setting information about the cuisine at hand. It’s a style of cookbook that’s satisfying as both a recipe collection and a book to read in its own right. Probably the best current example of this approach to cookbooks is “My Paris Kitchen” by David Lebovitz, which won a bunch of awards this year and was written about at length in the Food52 tournament of cookbooks. I’m in favor.  

Here’s an example of what “The Food of Taiwan” tells us

In the National Palace Museum outside of downtown Taipei, you can find two of the nation’s treasures One is a seven-inch tall piece of jade that’s been carved into the shape of bok choy cabbage. The color of the stone perfectly mimics the white and green of real bok choy. Nearby, you’ll find a brown rock set behind security glass. Why do the Taiwanese love this small, ugly stone? Because it looks like an incredibly lifelike piece of pork fat that’s been cooked in soy sauce.

— Food of Taiwan, Introduction by Joy Y. Wang

It’s hard not to be inspired by a country with those types of national treasures. Not so inspired that I cooked bok choy, mind you, but inspired enough to produce the menu that follows . . which we can describe as a liberal interpretation of Erway’s recipes, plus a smattering of others from different sources. I’ve included links to a few tasty recipes that could make a good weekend cooking project.

The Not-Cocktail Bar 

If we had a liquor license, I would have perfected and served this alcoholic ginger beer.

Iced Ginger Mint Green Tea with Honey
Watermelon Caramel Lassi – A beverage of my own invention, so not Taiwanese, but inspired by the teas made with sweetened condensed milk that appear in several Asian cuisines.

 

Appetizer:

Daikon Radish and Dandelion Green Pastry – I love bitter flavors. Love. I could happily munch a bowlful of dandelion greens. The combo here is pretty potent, but cooking down the radish and greens for a good long while in salted butter, then wrapping them up in a pastry dough softens the edge.

Entrees:

Taiwan is a country known for its street food and night markets. The featured dishes reflect that with a trio of buns / large dumplings. 

 

Peppery Pork Buns – I have a new love affair with Szechuan pepper (not to be confused with the old love affair with bitter mentioned previously). They have a floral, fruity side to the heat. Earlier this month I even had a tasty Szechuan Pepper Strawberry Ice Cream. Nothing so extreme here, just buns filled with a combo of chopped up pork with a healthy dose of the pepper and braised scallions (a recipe from Molly Stevens’ “Braised” which is reprinted here should you wish to try).

Tangy-Spicy Meatballs in Steamed Bun Wrappers – I have no idea if this is Taiwanese, but I made it up and I liked the result. 

Pan-Fried Leek Buns – If you try one new cooking project this summer, try this one. The straightforward technique of pan frying buns then steaming them in the same pan produces a perfect texture. This does involve making and rolling your own dumpling dough, so unless you’re a dough rolling speed demon you probably want to make this a weekend afternoon project. Here is Cathy Erway’s recipe. 

Accompaniments: 

Fragrant / Spicy Dipping Sauce – I got this trick from Fuchsia Dunlop, a Brit who is the doyenne of homecooked Chinese food. You simmer soy sauce with spices and use that as a base for awesome dumpling dipping sauces, noodle salad dressings, stir fry flavor, etc. In this link, someone has reprinted Dunlop’s Aromatic Sweet Soy Sauce, which is a good base recipe for making amped up sauces. The original is in “Every Grain of Rice” (and it looks like Dunlop shared it with newspapers as a publicity piece, so presumably it’s okay to reprint – everyone should still buy the book)

Oysters in Black Bean Sauce – Taiwan is an island. They have great seafood dishes. Central Vermont is . . . an island in the great sea of New England, which isn’t quite the same. I chose to focus on the dumplings for this menu, but felt like the water needed some representation and this little side dish was it. 

Tomato Salad in Ginger-Soy Sauce 

Garlicky Pickled Cucumbers

Carrot Sticks – Because it seemed like something uncomplicated was called for.

Dessert: 

Vanilla Ice Cream with Lemon-Apricot-Champagne Sauce and Shaved Milk Ice – Shaved milk ice is simply whole milk frozen in an ice cube tray then whirled the the food processor into flakes. I used it like you’d use any sprinkle-ons for a sundae (crushed nuts, granola, coconut, whatever). It’s interesting because it adds a different texture when you first bite in, but very quickly melts and blends completely with the ice cream in your mouth. Ephemeral.

Next Week: Malaysian Food

 Midnight Snack: Peppery pork filled steamed bun with chili sauce. 

Midnight Snack: Peppery pork filled steamed bun with chili sauce. 

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One comment

  1. Amy

    I don’t know a lick about Taiwanese food, but I did see "The Search for General Tso," a documentary billed as a "mystery/comedy." It was mostly a look at the history of Chinese food in the US, but (and I’m NOT giving anything away) there is a Taiwanese story in there. Not surprisingly (given the island’s history), a lot of the food in Taiwan is a combination of local items and cuisines imported from the mainland. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

    So thankfully, Taiwan was the theme at Hel’s Kitchen inaugural event. I was not disappointed. Everything was amazing, from start to finish. The radish and dandelion green pastry was so buttery and light; the peppery pork buns were so perfectly proportioned and flavored. Everything was a hit.

    Montpelier is one hella lucky town to have a restaurant with such an adventurous and well-executed menu.

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