Many people around the world enjoy eating chinese food, but preparing easy chinese recipes at home is still uncommon. Actually, there is nothing mysterious about basic chinese cooking, it is nutritious, tasty and economical.
Rice is the basic food of the Chinese people. Most families eat rice two or three times a day, and chinese cooks always have a large store of rice on hand. Rice noodles, rice flour, rice vinegar, and rice wine are all used in Chinese cooking. In fact, rice is so central to the cuisine that the cantonese word for "rice", fan, is also used to mean "food". Before beginning a family meal, every diner traditionally invites each of his or her elders to sik fan, or "eat rice". This custom can take quite a while at a large gathering!.
In addition to rice, tea has been an integral part of Chinese life for centuries. There are many kinds of Chinese tea, but the three main varieties are oolong, black, and green. Oolong, which is especially popular in China, is a pale brown tea with a distinctive flavor often compared to that of fresh peaches. Black teas have a stronger taste, while green teas have a fresh, light flavor. Jasmine-scented green tea has a delicate, flowerlike taste and aroma. Most tea is grown in southern and eastern China, and much of the harvest is still picked by hand. Selecting the best leaves and carefully preparing them is part of the Chinese appreciation for this much-loved beverage. Tea is drunk everywhere in China at all times of the day and evening, and no social gathering is complete without a pot of hot tea.
The chinese name for appetizers is dim sum, which means "touch the heart". In China, these tidbits of food are usually served with tea as mid-morning, afternoon, or late-night snacks rather than before a meal. In Chinese teahouses, which are similar to cafés in other parts of the world, people enjoy gathering to share a pot of tea, a variety of delicious little treats, and long, relaxed conversations. Just a few typical samplings for dim sum are fried wonton, egg rolls, shrimp balls, filled dumplings, and sweet pastries.
While dim sum is a special treat, soup is an important part of almost all Chinese meals. Generally, a light, clear soup is served as a drink between courses or throughout a meal. In fact, soup is often the only beverage served with food. Many people choose to enjoy tea before or after, but not during, a meal.
At a formal dinner or banquet, several kinds of thicker, richer soups may be served as courses in themselves. In parts of China where the winters are cold, hearty soups and stews are a good way to warm up. Soup is usually served in a large bowl or tureen in the middle of the table rather than in individual bowls, so that diners can help themselves.
A chinese meal usually consists of several dishes, each of equal importance to the menu. Many of these dishes are combinations of meat or fish and vegetables and thus can be well-balanced meals by themselves. But usually several dishes are eaten together, along with plenty of rice. Each of the recipes in this section feeds four people if served together with one or two other complementary dishes.
When you select a combination of entrées for your menu, consider the flavors and textures of each one. It is important for the different dishes to harmonize yet provide variety. For example, if you decide to include a sweet and sour dish with lots of crunchy vegetables, you might also want to serve a heartier dish such as a thick stew or fried rice.
The more you practice, the easier it will get to choose tasty combinations of dishes. In addition to your entrées, you'll find that it is also fun to select the perfect appetizers, soups, and desserts for a well-balanced menu.
Fresh vegetables are a very important part of chinese cooking, and most meals include a variety of seasonal produce. Many supermarkets carry a selection of chinese vegetables, including sugar (snow) peas, bean sprouts, and Chinese (celery) cabbage. Bok choy, a variety of cabbage that has crisp white stalks and dark green leaves, is a particular favorite in China. Delicious in stir-fries or alone, bok choy is rapidly growing in popularity outside of China as well.
Vegetables can be cooked by themselves or combined with other ingredients. In most cases, the cooking time for vegetables is short so that the original color is retained and the texture remains crisp. This cooking method also preserves important vitamins and nutrients in the vegetables.The simple vegetable dishes in this section can be served as light complements to heartier main dishes, providing a satisfying variety in your menu.
The chinese eat very few desserts. Usually they end a meal with fresh, seasonal fruit, such as oranges, melons, or pears. Pastries and sweet dishes are made in China, but most of them are either enjoyed as dim sum or are special festival foods that are rarely served with the daily meal.
In the West, people often end a chinese meal with fortune cookies. Like chop suey, however, these cookies are unknown in China. A recipe for fortune cookies has been included in this book because they are so much fun to make and eat. Just remember that the first two recipes in this section provide a more authentic choice of chinese sweets.
Celebrations in China involve all kinds of special foods, some of which have been traditional favorites for hundreds of years. The festivities just wouldn't be complete without them.
In modern times, many of these delicacies, especially pastries, are sold in stores and markets. However, many Chinese families still find room in their busy schedules to make festival foods at home. Although this is time consuming, it gives cooks more freedom to make sure that these important meals are prepared just the way they like them. It's also a fun way to celebrate and to carry on the customs that their ancestors observed.
The recipes in this section give you a chance to try some of these traditional foods yourself. Prepare them for special occasions, or anytime, to enjoy a wonderful taste of China's holidays and festivals.