Chickpea Vegetable Curry

Chickpeas don't appear often enough in my dishes. Call it laziness, or impatience. Whenever I want to whip up something simple and meatless, I usually head straight for lentils, quinoa, barley, any dry grain that doesn't take over an hour to prepare.

Yesterday, for once, I planned my dinner early. I set my dried chickpeas on the stove and went back to work for an hour. For once I had no hunger pangs to distract me or tell me to screw the long cooking times and just get dumplings next door instead.

The sauce part takes little time. Just soften the onions and carrots, stir in the curry paste and coconut milk, and add spinach towards the end. Finishing with Thai basil and a squeeze of lime juice, I had a basic, hearty, and portable bowl of curry to eat laptop-side.

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Weeknight Chickpea Vegetable Curry

Serves 2

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (if using canned, skip first step)
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 3 tablespoons yellow curry paste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 handful spinach, rinsed
  • 1 small handful Thai basil
  • Salt to taste
  • Lime wedgest
  1. Rinse the dried chickpeas and place in a pot of water to cover by at least 2 inches. Boil for 45 to 50 minutes to cook.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, then stir in the curry paste and coconut milk. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by half. Add the spinach and Thai basil and cook for another 2 minutes. Salt to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

Chicken Congee with Goji Berries

Every time I am at a congee shop, I wonder if the congee business might be the most lucrative and relaxing in the restaurant industry. Your main ingredients are rice and water (and stock, but that's also mostly water), which are dirt cheap. You make one big vat of porridge beforehand. Your menu can be vast, but each of those variations (pork, egg, seafood, whatever) requires just a tiny bit of cooking or heating up at the end. And congee is such amazing and versatile comfort food that people will flock to it for breakfast, lunch, or hangover relief.

My latest congee "effort" makes use of stir-fried chicken and goji berries. The latter is because I had leftover meat from my Orange Sesame Chicken, and the former because I just bought an expensive bag of organic gojis that I should cook with instead of snacking on like raisins. I don't know how many of the antioxidant claims attributed to gojis are true, but I'll keep eating them if they are reputed to help your eyesight. (Food blogging and other frequent computer usage doesn't exactly do wonders for myopia.)

To make this congee, just heat up rice until soft enough to fall apart, then add sautéed chicken and goji berries. Depending on how much seasoning you like in your congee, you may get enough flavor from the chicken to not need more salt. And the gojis add a nice touch of sweetness and color. Heck, you can even pour these into shot glasses and do congee shooters at your next cocktail party.

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Chicken Congee with Goji Berries

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 cup long-grain, short-grain, or jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 6 to 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • A dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger
  • 1 cup goji berries, rinsed and drained
  1. In a medium to large pot, heat up the rice, stock, and water until liquid comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and replenishing water as necessary.
  2. Half an hour before the congee is done, in a medium bowl mix together the soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, salt, pepper, and sesame oil. Add the chicken, turn to coat, and marinate in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  3. Ten minutes before the congee is done, cook the chicken: Heat the oil in a wok, add ginger and quickly stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry until cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Stir the chicken to the simmering congee. Simmer for another two minutes. Adjust the seasoning as necessary with salt and pepper. Toss in the goji berries, and give everything another quick stir. Turn off the heat, and serve the congee piping hot in individual bowls.

Dragon Well Shrimp - Longjing Xiaren

Since my trip to Hangzhou's Dragon Well tea fields, I have made use of the famous leaves less often than I should have. See, I went on a tea-buying binge after coming back to Beijing. In my cabinet right now there is an ample supply of not only Dragon Well (longjing), but also sheng and shou Pu'er, rose buds, chrysanthemum, barley, hibiscus, a fruit tea mix, and regular green and black tea. I'm sure some native Chinese would scoff at my puny tea collection (just like I would scoff at their wine collections of Great Wall and Dynasty bottles from Carrefour), but for me that is quite a lot of tea for the months ahead.

My right-brain demeanor also leaves me unfulfilled when I just drink the tea. (Purists, you may not want to read ahead.) I also must do something with it. Things like making rice pudding with rose tea and alcoholic granita with hibiscus. But before getting too experimental with my longjing, I thought I should whip up the classic Hangzhou shrimp dish that uses the tea.

I first tried a recipe from a popular food blog that I have long admired. The recipe called for marinating the shrimp in a mixture of egg white and cornstarch. I must have missed a step on avoiding egg mixture in your stir-fry, because once the shrimp hit the wok it looked the the beginnings of a seafood egg white omelet. The food blog's photos show no sign of egg, so I am still perplexed at my mishap.

I then turned to Kylie Kwong's My China and Ken Hom's A Taste of China for help. Kylie calls for marinating in Shaoxing and cornstarch, whereas Ken doesn't mention marinating at all. Ken also goes for the minimalist approach of no other aromatics, while Kylie adds garlic and ginger (though the amount seems like it would overwhelm the subtlety of longjing. What to do, what to do, I pondered as my stomach grumblings grew louder. What I finally made follows bits of the cookbook authors' advice and my recollections of restaurant versions.

And if you don't happen to have Dragon Well tea, making this dish with regular Chinese green tea would also work if you're craving tea-infused shrimp.

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Dragon Well Shrimp - Longjing Xiaren

Serves 2 to 4

1 pound fresh shrimp (peeled, deveined, and rinsed) or frozen shrimp (rinsed) 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine for marinating, + extra splash for cooking

1 tablespoon cornstarch for marinating, + 1 teaspoon cornstartch dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water 2 cup Longjing tea, leaves strained out 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 clove garlic, minced 2 teaspoons minced ginger Salt to taste (optional) Longjing leaves for garnish (optional)

In a medium sized bowl, combine the shrimp, Shaoxing, and cornstarch. Marinate in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.

(Now is a good time to steep the tea, if you haven't already done so. You can always brew extra tea to drink with dinner.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet. Quickly stir-fry the shrimp until half-done, about 1 to 2 minutes, then remove and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Stir-fry the garlic and ginger until just fragrant. Return shrimp to the wok, give a quick toss, and then a light splash of Shaoxing. Pour in tea and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cornflour mixture to thicken the sauce. (I personally don't think this dish needs any salt, but you can add a pinch if you deem necessary.) Transfer to a plate, garnish with optional dry leaves, and serve immediately.