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.


  1. damn you for not inviting me over to eat that meal. those potatoes sound dreamy.

  2. Chinese food is one of the best there is, they mixed a lot of flavors and ingredients that makes it delicious.