Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Smacked Cukes, Slivered Potatoes & Steamed Spareribs

Those, my friend, are deep-fried peanuts (you su hua ren). And they are as wickedly good as they look, salty, with a deep, reverberant crunch you never dreamed possible from a goober.

Last night was the first family meal from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. I haven't had time to read every line, but I will say right off the bat that I am predisposed to revere this woman who, like me, is a pale Westerner obsessed with Chinese cooking. I'm extremely envious that she actually learned Chinese and went to China and wrote amazing books, but I will try not to hold it against her.

A rundown of our meal:

-Succulent steamed spare ribs with black beans and chiles. Too ugly to photograph, but these had the earthy, lipsmacking savor you only get from fermented black beans

-Smacked cucumbers. You really do smack the cucumbers (with flat edge of a knife, a rolling pin, a hammer) until they shatter and collapse, then you chop them into bite-size chunks and toss with a vinegar-chili dressing. Sadly, the best thing about this bland salad is its name. If you want something awesome and very similar, here's a link to the late Barbara Tropp's fabulous recipe for ma la cucumber fans.

-Finally: Potato slivers with vinegar. You sliver potatoes, blanch, then stir fry with peanut oil, chilies and clear rice vinegar. Unlike anything you'd ever get in a Chinese-American restaurant, and worth the price of the book. Imagine delicate shards of potato, a little tart, a little spicy, a little mysterious, utterly delicious. Discovering that the stodgy spud can be cut into skinny slivers and sauteed with vinegar is like learning that your dowdy best friend has a glamorous secret life.

This is why I have so many cookbooks.