THIs year we are ushering in the Year of The Snake with the biggest festival on the Chinese calendar – Chinese New Year.
China has a very ancient, complex culture that is fascinating to study. At the heart of Chinese philosophy and culture is yin and yang, hot and cold, male and female.
Literally, yin and yang mean the dark side and sunny side of a hill. People commonly think of yin and yang as opposing forces. However it is more accurate to call yin and yang a complementary pair.
An integral part of traditional Chinese medicine is balancing these opposing or complementary forces through specific foods and herbs. A basic adherence to this philosophy can be found in any Chinese dish, from stir-fried beef with broccoli to sweet and sour pork.
There is always a balance in colour, flavours, and textures.
Chinese physicians will frequently advise dietary changes in order to restore a healthy balance in the body to treat everything from digestive disorders to flus.
I feature a Chinese-ish chapter in both my cookbooks, 'Delish' and 'Relish'. The recipes are a nod and a wink to the cuisine and not are not pretending to be traditional Chinese recipes.
Some ingredients are indispensable to give you the vibe and flavour of Chinese cooking so here are a few of my favourite Fresh Friends and Pantry Pals to liven up your dishes:
Used mainly in salads and stir fries, soy bean or mung bean sprouts are crunchy white shoots. Discard any that are limp or brown. These are very delicate and can perish quickly.
This delicious Chinese vegetable has crunchy, juicy stems and dark green leaves. Excellent in stir fries. Baby bok choy are tender.
Chillies make up one branch of the pepper family, the other branch being sweet peppers. Red chillies are just ripened green chillies, so like peppers they have a sweeter taste. Very Lazy Chillies are crushed chillies preserved in vinegar.
Chinese Five Spice
This is one of my favourite spice blends. An aromatic blend of ground star anise, cassia (a bark similar to cinnamon), cloves, Sichuan peppercorns and fennel seeds. I use a sprinkle on green vegetables, stir fries and pork dishes.
Dried Mandarin Peel
This adds a fantastic citrus note to slowly cooked dishes but also to add zing to stir fries. Available in Asian markets, you can also very easily dry your own mandarin peel.
Peel several mandarins and scrape out as much of the white pith on the peel with a teaspoon as possible. Cut into thin strips with a sharp knife and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 180°C until dried out.
Fresh ginger is best. Chinese stem ginger, preserved in sugar syrup is widely available and a fantastic Pantry Pal to liven up desserts.
Hoisin sauce is a thick, sticky reddish brown sauce that is made from soy beans, sugar, spices and red rice. It can be mixed straight from the bottle as a marinade for pork ribs, beef or chicken.
A staple in Cantonese cooking, oyster sauce is made from dried oysters and has a deep, rich salty flavour. Ideal for beef dishes and green vegetable stir fries.
This is the proper name for Chinese rice wine, as essential acidic component in Chinese cooking.
Highly aromatic and one of the main ingredients in Chinese Five Spice powder. Lightly toast and then grind the seeds before using for an authentic Chinese flavour.
A good soy sauce is matured for at least two years before being filtered and bottled.
Toasted Sesame Oil
This oil is made from toasted sesame seeds and has a rich brown colour and nutty flavour. Not suitable for cooking, it is better used as a seasoning oil.
Recipes are taken from 'Delish' by Rozanne Stevens. www.rozannestevens.com
Follow Rozanne on Twitter @RozanneStevens
Chow down: Chicken Chow Mein is fast and filling