Asia Society Hakka dinner


Martin Yan at Asia SocietyA few days ago, the Asia Society Northern California sponsored an event on Chinese Soul Food: Hakka Cuisine at M.Y. China in San Francisco featuring Chef Martin Yan, who wrote the forward for my book, and me. Robert Bullock, Assistant Director for Programs Northern California, proposed the idea almost two years ago. When we got a date from the globe-trotting celebrity Martin Yan, we were able to pull together an off-the-menu dinner program. So many people helped–Asia Society, M.Y. China, and A.F. & Co. They organized and publicized the event. Hanson Li of Saison Restaurant donated wine.

M.Y. China vegetable carvingMartin Yan and his chefs Tony Wu and Kin Fong and I collaborated on the menu. I was impressed that the chefs had studied my book and were able to convey an authentic Hakka flavor to the dinner. Even the intricate vegetable carving by Executive Chef Tony Wu reflected the mountain home of a Hakka village. With the exception of the bitter melon palate cleanser and the dessert, the menu reflected recipes from the book. Let me share the evening with you.

M.Y. China Pork BellyAfter Martin and I talked about Hakka history and cuisine, the meal opened with a Hakka classic, Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (kiu ngiuk moi choi). This dish epitomizes traditional Hakka characteristics: robust flavors, hearty satisfaction from the rich pork, and salty savoriness from soy sauce and preserved vegetables. M.Y. China’s rendition melted in my mouth. Individual portions were presented in small clay pots. To make this dish at home, see pages 42 to 44 in The Hakka Cookbook.

Bitter Melon M.Y. ChinaFor a innovative palate refresher, M.Y. China chefs created a new dish made from bitter melon, a popular vegetable in Hakka cuisine. I was a bit surprised when Executive Sous Chef Kin Fong suggested serving the bitter melon raw. Traditionally the bitter vegetable is cooked. It is often stuffed with a meat filling, then braised or poached. Slices may also be stir-fried. The chefs shaved raw bitter melon into paper-thin slices, blanched them briefly, and served them cold in an ice bowl. A scattering of edible flower petals and a dressing of acacia flower honey and wasabi elevated a humble vegetable to royalty status. The bitterness of the vegetable was toned down by blanching and balanced with the sweetness of the honey. Although Chilled Bitter Melon is not a traditional Hakka dish, it fit the meal beautifully, refreshing the palate and cutting the richness of the preceding pork belly.

Salt-baked Chicken M.Y. ChinaOne of the most famous Hakka classics is Salt-baked Chicken. In China, the chicken is rubbed with seasonings, wrapped in paper, and cooked in a hot salt. The chicken emerges juicy and aromatic. Outside of China, most restaurants and home cooks do shortcut versions, either rubbing the chicken with salt and steaming or poaching the chicken in salted water. The results more closely resemble Cantonese white-cut chicken. M.Y. China took no shortcuts and cooked the classic version in salt, a rare treat. They showed the guests the whole chicken, partially wrapped in paper and nestled in the hot salt. Then they returned to the kitchen to cut the chicken and brought it out with a ginger and scallion sauce.  For a recipe for the home cook try my version on page 64.

M.Y. China cumin beefCumin Beef is creation of Hakka chefs from India who created a new fusion cuisine to appeal to their Indian customers. It blends Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients with Indian spices. In this dish, beef is stir-fried with cumin seeds, chile, and soy sauce for a cross-cultural fusion of enticing flavors. M.Y. China used American Kobe beef in their version. This is an easy dish to make at home, see recipe in The Hakka Cookbook on page 183.

M.Y. China gai lonThe simplicity of the Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with Sweet Rice Wine (page 230) balanced some of the stronger flavors of the meal. The same basic recipe could be used with other vegetables.



M.Y. China almond royaleM.Y. China ended the meal with Almond Royale with Ginger Syrup, a sophisticated variation of the Chinese pudding. A fresh zesty ginger syrup floated atop and seeped into an almond-scented panna cotta-like base.

The evening ended with noodle dances by the M.Y. China chefs. Imagine pulling noodles Gangnam-style.

Heartfelt thanks from a very grateful author to all who made this event so special and help me share the taste of Hakka soul food.



Mushrooms for Hakka recipes

king oyster mushroom, noodlesExplore the rich variety of mushrooms in Asia’s cuisine.  In China, these umami rich fungi delighted us with their versatility. In Luodai  a Hakka village near Chengdu in Sichuan province, we ate the local wild mountain mushrooms braised in broth and fried as fritters. In Yunnan province we sampled a dozen varieties in the famed mushroom hotpot.

Assorted mushrooms in Yunnan.

Assorted mushrooms in Yunnan.

In North America, some of these mushrooms are cultivated or imported from China. You will discover a wide variety in Asian supermarkets. I have always loved the dark, meaty, shiitake mushrooms. Dried shiitake reside in my pantry as a flavor-building staple.

A new discovery for me was the king oyster mushroom that goes by many names such as xing bao gu, shing bao goo, king trumpet, royal trumpet, or Trumpet Royale. With these big fleshy mushrooms their large, thick white bulbous stems predominate over their rather small light brown caps. Both stem and cap are edible. These mushrooms have a  firm, meaty texture that keeps their shape when cooked. Their mild flavor deepens and becomes more robust when cooked.

These large mushrooms are wonderfully versatile. In the Hakka Cookbook, I deep-fried them and served them with Sichuan Pepper Salt (page 68) and braised them in broth (page 70).

noodles with pork mushroom sauce 2In one of my favorite recipes, Noodles with Pork Mushroom Sauce (page 104), I diced and stir-fried the mushrooms with pork, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic chives to make a robust sauce for noodles. Recently I made a vegetarian version of this recipe by replacing the pork with more king oyster and shiitake mushrooms and vegetable broth for the chicken broth. I used Pearl River Bridge Mushroom-Flavored Dark Soy Sauce to intensify the flavor. To see the recipe, visit the Asia Society San Francisco Newsletter. The recipe was featured to promote an upcoming Off-the-menu dinner featuring Chef Martin Yan and me, discussing Hakka Soul Food at M.Y. China in San Francisco on March 3, 2014.  Hope to see you there.

Discover the delicious world of mushrooms. You’ll find great variety at the farmers’ market and Asian supermarkets. They are often interchangeable, although each variety contributes their own distinct personality.

A party for The Hakka Cookbook

Susan Yan, Linda L. Anusasananan, and Martin Yan

A few days ago, my good friend Jerry DiVecchio hosted a book party for me. I worked with Jerry for more than three decades at Sunset Magazine. She taught me how to write and develop recipes, a skill that came in handy when writing a cookbook.

We invited a lot of old friends, many in the media, some from Sunset Magazine, and some fellow Les Dames members. Joyce Jue who wrote some generous words for the book jacket came. Martin Yan, who wrote the foreward for the book, and his wife Susan arrived during the latter half of the party. With his busy travel schedule and the opening of his new restaurant, M.Y. China, I’m lucky he could attend.

Jerry suggested I cook several recipes from the cookbook for the party. What do you serve to celebrity chef Martin Yan?  I struggled with the menu, because it had to meet so many criteria. The menu needed to be no maintenance, meaning I didn’t have the time to fuss with the food during the party. I had to make the food completely ahead and transport it. The food had to hold up for a few hours. Preferably there would be little last minute cooking. We scheduled the party during dinner hours, so it needed some substance. We expected about forty people. This is what I came up with. Follow along with your cookbooks.

Hakka Walk-Around Party for 30 to 40

Pickled Mustard Greens and Pickled Cucumbers (p. 147, double recipes)

Pickled Carrots and Radishes (p. 60, double recipe)

Garlic-Chile Eggplant Sticks (p. 56, double recipe)

Chef Soon’s Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (p. 45, optional)

Steeped Chicken Breast (p. 22, cooked 3 lb. chicken) with Fresh Ginger-Onion Sauce (p. 66, triple recipe) in Lettuce Leaves or on a bed of shredded Chinese Cabbage

Hakka Pork Sliders (adapted from Steamed Black Bean Pork p. 165, slider recipe follows)

Sesame Cookies (purchased) and Orange Wedges

The Game Plan:

Pickled cucumbers, radishes and carrots, and mustard greens

The pickles could be made several days ahead. The eggplant could be also made a day ahead; allow to warm to room temperature for serving. Shortly before serving, sprinkle with cilantro. I had some pickled red chiles and sprinkled them over the top for a pop of color; you could also use chopped red bell pepper.

The pork belly is not essential, but I had food professionals as guests, so I aimed to impress. It takes time to make so I spread the work over several days. I steamed it completely the day before the party, then reheated it in the steamer until hot in center, 30 to 45 minutes, at the party site. If you were doing the party at home, you can also just assemble the dish ahead, then steam a couple of hours before serving. This dish needs to be served hot so set it on a warming tray. Serve with sliced small buns or rolls for sandwiches, if desired.

I cooked and shredded the chicken and made the ginger-onion sauce a day ahead. The morning of the party, wash and crisp the lettuce leaves as directed on p. 201. Mix the chicken with the zesty ginger sauce. However, for the next party, I skipped the lettuce cups and placed the chicken on a bed of shredded Chinese cabbage or lettuce.

The sliders were adapted from Steamed Pork with Black Beans (p. 165). Since I needed to keep it hot for a few hours, I thought a crock pot would be the perfect solution. I doubled the recipe and cooked it in the slow cooker for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. It worked beautifully. You can cook it up to 3 days ahead, cool, remove fat, transfer to smaller containers, cover and chill. Reheat the meat in the slow cooker, covered over high heat until hot and bubbly, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Then reduce heat to warm setting. Serve with split baked rolls and people can assemble their sliders throughout the party.

Hakka Pork Sliders

Follow recipe for Steamed Black Bean Pork (p. 165) except double the ingredients, Cut the pork into about 3-inch chunks and brown meat, in batches, if needed. Transfer the meat to a 6-quart slow-cooker. Add the black bean mixture to pan and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Pour black bean mixture over pork. Cover the slow-cooker and cook at high heat until very tender when pierced, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Skim off and discard fat. With forks, break pork into coarse shreds or chunks. Serve in small baked rolls. Makes 5 to 6 dozen small sandwiches.