January 2017 Recipe Redux Challenge:
“How low can you go? Can you make a meal for less than $3 per serving? Whatever your budget, show us your healthy entree recipe to help keep food spending in check in 2017.”
The bus engine roared as we pulled up to our little hostel where we would be staying. The dust from the old dirt roads created a misty fog around us. Reluctantly I rubbed my eyes, before unwillingly grabbing my bag to follow my classmates off the bus. The brilliance of blazing sun rays caught me by surprise. I glanced towards the distance – there were grand mountains and steep trails, lined with rows of magnificent green trees. The view was amazing. I turned around to look at my surroundings. In comparison to the grandeur and beauty of the countryside, the old village itself felt empty and worn out. There were homes that needed an extra exterior coat of paint; dirt roads that were unpaved and bumpy, stretches of empty land piled with the remains of demolished buildings. It felt surreal to be here right now. The teachers had warned us but nothing prepared for what I saw. This was definitely not Hong Kong.
The small rural village of Baiwan is located right in the northern part of Guangdong Province. Unbeknownst to most of the world, this once thriving community had now become deserted and forgotten. The closing of factories had resulted in the forced migration of many breadwinners of families to find jobs in larger cities, leaving their young children and elderly parents behind with barely any livelihood or money to survive on.
A loud clank rang out interrupting my train of thought. I turned and caught sight of a little boy right across the pavement – his black hair ruffled and his tiny body hunched over something. Curiously I walked closer to try to make out what he was so focused on. He was holding a large, faded brick just left on the side of the road. He looked up at me and smiled mischievously as he threw the brick with effort against the dirt road, laughing when he heard the huge clank as it hit the ground. A few of his friends joined in, each carrying a large piece of chipped red brick from a nearby field.
I looked in shock. That was really dangerous. What if someone was going to drive by the main road?
“Don’t they have any other toys? Don’t they know that’s dangerous?” I heard my friend whisper.
We continued to stare and watch in disbelief as they repeatedly threw the bricks on the ground over and over again, smiling and laughing. It was then it hit us. These bricks were their toys. I watched them as my heart sank for the very first time since I left home.
That was the first moment when I realized I was in Baiwan…and this was not home. To even begin to describe the poverty that ravished this small town was beyond description. It was most evident in our “luxurious” living quarters where our toilet only consisted of a black hole in the ground with a bucket of water to flush out the waste. Our showers were no better – a small tap that brought unpredictable gushes of cold/hot water in the cold November weather. The excess water would run off and drain down into the black hole we called our toilet.
It was a shock. It was an eye-opening experiencing. Nonetheless, perhaps the most evident sign of their humble circumstances was the very first meal we had.
I looked around the table. There were several platters of stir-fried vegetables, mushrooms, cabbage, soup, with a large porcelain container of white rice.
“Is this all we are having for dinner? There’s no meat?”. I noticed one of my classmates across of me looking at the food wearily, almost in disbelief of how bland it all looked.
“We are given the finest of meals in the village as guests. Be grateful for it and please finish all the food!” One of the teachers spoke up as she gave him a stern look.
All of us nodded quickly, immediately picking up our chopsticks. Carefully, I picked up a small piece of leafy of cabbage mixed with vermicelli noodles and egg.
The cabbage was surprisingly crisp. The egg was silky. The seasoning was perfect – salty, fragrant and fresh. It caught me off guard. I picked up my chopsticks to try a piece of mushroom from the next platter. This time the flavor was rich, deep and earthy, lightly fried with garlic, ginger, onions – you could even taste hints of every flavor that had gone in. Nothing too oily or pungent. I turned to try the next dish and the dish after. In fact every dish was carefully seasoned in perfect harmony and balance. Before long, there was nothing left on the table. I looked around as I watched all the smiling faces – the food had caught us all off guard – it was unbelievably delicious.
But how? They could not afford to buy expensive ingredients nor fancy condiments? Somehow these people were able to embrace their humble living environments, their limited knowledge and their local produce to skillfully prepare such an amazing spread.
I was blown away by the experience.I have eaten at incredible Michelin star restaurants before, but THIS was completely new to me. Every bite was so fresh, yet so flavorful. 3 times a day; everyday that week we enjoyed a traditional Chinese spread of vegetable stir fries and white rice and never once did anyone complain about not eating meat. Really it was simplicity at it’s finest.
When this month’s recipe redux challenge was released, Zoe and I couldn’t help but reminisce our little adventure in Southern China where the true art of cheap, honest, simple cooking is practiced. A principle that is easily forgotten. Inspired by the flavours of Baiwan, we chose to focus on the most basic staple of all Chinese Home Cooking- Fried Rice. Best of all, Soy Sauce Fried Rice – with a twist. Instead of using regular Soy Sauce, Zoe and I decided to opted for our leftover Soy Braising Broth that we used previously to make our Poached Chicken for Kikkoman Soy Sauce. What makes this fried rice special is the deep intensity of flavors of the soy broth. It carries tones of cinnamon, star anise, infused with the juices of the chicken and the scent of ginger, garlic and onion; giving this rice more body and excitement. You definitely could use regular soy sauce, but the alternative gives you a wonderful plethora of unique scents and flavours that you would not otherwise be able to obtain. (And also another way to use up leftovers!) There is no meat, no fancy ingredients in this fried rice just a sunny side up egg, with the infused ginger, garlic scallion rice and the flavorful soy broth. That is all. And it is pretty dang delicious.
Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest. For me, this fried rice is comfort food to its finest. So Easy, so Simple, so delicious but perfect for this cold winter season.
Fried Rice is probably one of the easiest home-cooked meals in any Chinese Home. There are many varieties of fried rice that can be found, but at home it is often simply a mixture of remaining bits and pieces of meat and vegetables. The essentials of making any fried rice include: day-old rice, ginger, garlic and egg. The science behind using day old rice is that the rice has to be hardened and dried out to prevent steaming when stir-fried. Whether at home or in restaurants you will definitely find some form of this on their menu. This particular recipe uses a leftover Soy Braising Broth form our previous Chinese Soy Poached Chicken recipe. Since fried rice is generally loaded with oil and fat, using this soy broth actually allows us to skip out the oil and use this to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan, while adding intense flavor to the dish. The inspiration of this came from a random evening after school when we wanted to make a fast, flavorful meal using leftover ingredients. It turned out to be a success and we have made it frequently since then. Cheap? Easy? Delicious? Doesn’t get any better than this!
Ingredients – serves 2
- 3 cups of cooked Jasmine Rice (1 cup uncooked)
- 3 slices ginger, minced
- 1.5 tsp minced garlic
- 4 scallions
- 2 eggs
- Garnish: Sesame seeds, chili flakes
- Option 1: 2/3 – 3/4 cup Soy Braising Liquid
- Option 2: 1/4 cup Soy Braising Liquid + 2 tbsp Oyster sauce
*Seasonings are all to taste!
How to Make:
Chinese Secret to preparing the Rice:
- In your rice cooker or over the stove, cook 1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice. Set aside to cool.
- Transfer to a container and refridgerate overnight.
- (Alternatively, if you are running out of time cook your rice with a little less water. Spread the rice out on a baking tray to cool completely before using.)
- Finely chop your scallions. Set aside the green parts for garnish.
- Heat up a nonstick skillet over medium high. Add in ginger and the white parts of your scallion. Fry till fragrant.
- Add your garlic. (Keep a bowl of water beside you. If it begins to stick add a tbsp at a time to deglaze the pan).
- Add in your cold rice. Use a fork break up the grains of rice.
- Pour in your soy braising liquid. Keep stirring constantly. When the rice has absorbed all the liquid, taste and add salt to taste.
- In another non-stick skillet, heat up 1 tsp of oil. Crack in your eggs and lower the heat to medium low. Sprinkle a little salt on the egg. Place a lid over to set the whites.
- Once the eggs have set (the yolk still running) it should be extremely easy to remove from the pan.
- Plate your fried rice. Top with the fried egg. Sprinkle the green parts of the onion, sesame seeds and chili flakes. Serve warm!
Soy Sauce Braising Liquid: If you don’t have this add in some regular soy sauce and oyster sauce. You will only need a to use a couple tsp of soy sauce to replace the soy braising liquid. DO remember that each type of soy sauce is differs in flavor and saltiness. Below are all adequate substitutes (they won’t taste the same):
(Note: Not all of these have Gluten Free Options. Check the label carefully before purchasing!)
- Light Soy Sauce: (Chinese) It is very salty compared to the Chinese dark soy sauce. This is thinner and used very frequently as a light seasoning or marinade.
- Dark Soy Sauce: (Chinese) Sweeter and gives a nice dark color. It is also much richer in flavor.
- Kecap Manis: (Indonesian) thick syrup-like soy sauce that has hints of a sweet molasses flavor.
- Japanese Soy Sauce: (Kikkoman) less saltier and sweeter than Chinese Soy Sauce. This tends to thinner and clearer than its Chinese counterpart.
- Fish Sauce: (Thai) liquid extracted from fermenting fish. It smells very nasty but it is delicious in stir fries, noodles and rice. This is very salty.
- Ganjang: (Korean) Darker, sweeter alternative to regular soy sauce (influenced and introduced by the Japanese)
- Guk-Ganjang: (Korean) This is also called “Soup Soy Sauce” and is much saltier and more pungent than ganjang. It is any-product of doenjang (fermented soybean paste) and adds a rather flavorful, “umami” quality to your dishes.
Zoe & Mia
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