Archives for category: recipe

Have you ever eaten a fern? The young uncurling leaves, called fiddleheads in the US, can be amazingly tender and delicious. The Amis people love ferns, called ‘lokutl’ in their language, and gather them wild or cultivate them in gardens and forest plots.

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Mr. and Mrs. Wang’s fern garden. Can you see where the leaves have been harvested?

Our Amis friend Mr. Wang showed us a beautiful mountain spot, in his family for many generations, where he and his wife carefully grow the ferns for the local market.

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The stuff in the middle is damp, partly rotten, and smells like the soul of the forest.

The mulch that collects in each fern is collected as clean organic mulch for their gardens in town. Sadly, all of their children are working in modern jobs in remote cities with little interest in this Amis style of cultivating wild vegetables.

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A muntjac, or barking deer, spotted in the central mountains. They adore ferns, as Mr. Wang complains…

You might remember that Mr. Wang sold us fern leaves last month and the local restaurant covered them in a light batter, flash fried them, and provided a dipping mixture of salt and Taiwan white pepper (a more fragrant and complex cousin to the familiar black pepper in your shaker. To die for!! The tiny barking deer agree, and raid his garden regularly…

 

 

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Anthropological fieldwork in the sub-tropics can be hot and sweaty business. I took this shot yesterday while surveying a field where my father, an Amis lady, and I went to gather wild greens for dinner.

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I could use another hand or two.

Zhong Mama, as she is called, is a youthful 72 years old. Her wild veggie gathering kit consists of a beautiful handmade basket of grasses and a small knife. A whole basketload to feed five adults took only about 15 minutes from start to finish.

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Zhong Mama in farmwoman fashion attire: sensible headgear and a touch of makeup!

The veggies are called sama, dadugum, and gachipilay in Amis language. T

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Gear: handmade basket, twine, and a tiny knife.

They were lightly stirfried with garlic and salt, then some water added for a light broth, and finished with Taiwanese white pepper. Delicious peppery flavor, a tang of bitterness like young spinach or dandelion leaves.

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Eat up! It’s organic!!

In Taiwan, tea is often used in cooking. Clint and I rode the Maokong Gondola up into the mountains near Taipei two nights ago and had dinner at the Big Tea Pot.

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I wish you could smell this.

We had tea-infused rice, sweet potato greens, spicy fern leaves, and mushroom chicken soup. For the rice, tea leaves are roasted and then ground in a mortar, then added during the cooking process. For the vegetables and soup, small bags of tea are steeped in the broth. The result is a lovely tea scent and aftertaste I’ve never experienced before.

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Mushrooms, tender chicken, bamboo shoots, all in a tea-infused broth.

The view from this open air restaurant was gorgeous. A more romantic and fun dinner can hardly be imagined!

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The lights of night-time Taipei as viewed from the balcony.

The fusion of tribal wild vegetables and Chinese cooking techniques can have very happy results…during my interviews with Amis Tribal Elders, I purchased two sacks of wild vegetables sold by elders at booths on the main street. The restaurant down the street was happy to prepare them for us…

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Mr. Wang Seng Chang, an Amis tribal elder, holds a wild vegetable that he cultivates in a garden plot. Mr. Wang says that his family eats wild veggies every single day.

There were two main vegetables in season: one called ‘tadugum’ is a leafy green of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes and potatoes. Unlike those plants, it’s the leaves that are eaten exclusively. You can stir fry the deep black-purple leaves like kale or spinach with garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and a hit of soy…

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Tadugum, or wild nightshade, stirfried to perfection.

The second is called ‘lo kutl’ by Amis farmers. This beautiful plant, also known as bird’s nest fern, normally grows high in the forest canopy but enterprising tribal people now cultivate it in pots or gardens. Like a hungry bear, you can collect the tender ‘fiddleheads’ of the ferns as they emerge. These may be lightly stir-fried like the tadugum, or battered and flash-fried then served with fabulous sweet-tangy Taiwanese home-made catsup.

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Battered fern fiddleheads with homemade catsup. Just the thing after a long day of ethnographic fieldwork!

 

 

 

It is Lantern Festival time, and hordes of hungry celebrants wander the parks and streets of Taiwan to enjoy beautiful displays of light and color. It’s a Rooster theme this year…

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Lanterns are made of fabric stretched over wire, then lit from the inside. A park or street full of these is quite magically lovely.

Street food is now in high gear. Dad and I worked the booths in Taichung Park, and although the treats were many and varied we unanimously decided that Oa Bao, oyster dumplings (and a palindrome too!) took the prize.

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Oa bao anatomy, visible before they are sealed.

Giant circles of wonton wrappers are placed in a bowl, seasoned cabbage placed on the bottom, a raw egg in the center, oysters arranged around the egg like flower petals, then covered with more cabbage, wrapped and sealed, and simmered bottom down in hot oil. Once they’re sealed, they’re deep fried golden brown.

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The well-oiled machine: night market stall workers in a choreographed sequence they repeat hundreds if not thousands of times. A hard life and I’m very grateful for their work and culinary expertise!

The end result is salty and crispy on the outside, with hot sweet nutty juicy oyster-y eggy awesomeness inside. A squirt of Taiwan’s unique sweet and sour fishy sauce is optional (see Cathy Erway’s book Food of Taiwan for the recipe). You can make a meal of one oa bao, Dad and I polished off five.

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Dad needs both hands to handle one.

In the small Amis tribal gardens and fields, between the rows of familiar crops is a riot of mysterious edible wild plants and native domesticates lovely to behold. This is a uniquely tribal approach to farming.

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Mr. Gao’s field. Wild greens grow between the crops, and when added to soups or lightly fried with garlic and salt are a delicious part of a typical Amis dinner.

The wild plants offer shade, keep soil moist, and some fix nitrogen. The pinkish red Taiwanese quinoa, above, was domesticated by tribes thousands of years ago and exists only on the island.

Common wild veggie dishes this time of year are dadugum and bird’s nest fern. The leaves of the former, and the baby fiddleheads of the latter, are coated in a light egg batter and deep fried, then dipped in a powdered mixture of salt and hot pepper (do NOT breathe this)!

Dadugum leaves taste like young dandelions: tangy with a light peppery after-taste. The fern fiddleheads are wonderfully succulent, like baby zucchini but a little sweeter. Our ancestors enjoyed lots of wild veggies too.  Let’s re-discover wild vegetables in our own gardens and farms! 

My room-mate Yin Ying-Mei is a PhD candidate in tourism studies, and is studying how food tourism affects emotional states and mental health. So it’s quite fitting that last night she treated me and a friend to her delicious handmade noodles, Shandong-style.

Ying-Mei is self-deprecating about her cooking overall, but proud of her skill with noodles.  First, she made a simple dough with wheat flour, cold water, and an egg, then patted it into a ball.

Then she laid some cellophane on the counter, sprinkled more flour, and began to roll out the dough.

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Watching Ying-Mei roll out the dough is hypnotic! 

When it was paper thin, Ying-Mei dusted the dough with more flour and folded it over, then used a cleaver to slice delicately thin noodles:

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She made it look so easy…

The noodles were carefully placed in boiling salted water and cooked till tender. Ying-Mei topped them with ground pork in a rich black bean, garlic, and red chili sauce. Delicious! A nice way to prepare for the new year.  I wish you all a happy, prosperous, and fun 2017 from Taipei!

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Ying-Mei and her friend Ms. Ting, ready to dig into a fantastic Shandong style meal.

 

 

 

We and our primate ancestors adore eggs. In our earlier tree-dwelling phase, eggs snatched from nests were a high-protein food that could be enjoyed by infants and adults alike. Eggs were part of paleodiets that pre-date our species, even our genus. They are important to hunter-gatherers, gardeners, farmers, and city folk. No diet, paleolithic, neolithic, or industrial, is complete without eggs (my apologies to those of you who are allergic).

The Taiwanese love a good thousand-year egg on their breakfast plate, a tradition that floated across the Taiwan Strait more than 400 years ago on bamboo junks. The below example comes from the kitchens of Academia Sinica (picture the Smithsonian Institution or M.I.T., smaller with nice dorms and a restaurant). The eggs (duck, chicken, or quail) are prepared by wrapping in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls and then leaving for weeks or even months. In the old days eggs were buried and there are tales of ancient eggs being exhumed–then consumed.

Chinese people probably didn’t invent thousand-year eggs until the advent of domestication (so you could grab a few eggs on short notice from chickens, who were converted from jungle fowl at least 6,000 years ago) and settled living (so you could bury your eggs and be reasonably sure to remember where you left them).

When removed from their coating, the egg shells are a delicate grey-brown sometimes with branchlike markings. The above left image is of a painstakingly wrapped thousand year egg; on the right, of my Taiwanese breakfast egg. The yolk turns granular, with a deep thunderhead-grey color and a faint flavor of salt, smoke, and sulfur. The white becomes an exquisite translucent deep brown or caramel color, and rubbery-smooth. I’m not making this sound very tasty; nonetheless,  you’ll have to try one and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Our diarist is going through some transitions: from lady of leisure to part-time Mom.  Time to get out of bed and get back to it:

“Fri. Mar. 24

My last day in bed.  Mama was busy with a washing all morning after she got baby & I fixed up.

(Sat.) Opal went down to Ruby’s & phoned for our grocerys so mama didn’t have to go down town.

Aunt Lue was up in the evening & stayed until nearly eleven.

Snowed & sleeted most of the day but melted nearly as fast as it fell.

Mama went down town after the groceries

Sat. Mar. 25

Mama was busy all day long.  Made a cake in a.m. besides her other numerous duties & I was lazy but up for the first time.

Virginia Muckler came over & brought a nice chocolate nut cake, glass of jelly, some nut bread which was very much appreciated.

Mama did a little Ironing.

Mrs Nelson came over & brot a book & some papers for us to read.”

I tried to find a nut cake recipe.  Unless you are a fan of old-fashioned recipes you won’t find one easily, it has gone extinct in modern cookbooks kind of like vinegar pie.  But eventually I found the below.  Like most recipes of the period this one is sketchy on times and temperatures and depends on the awesomeness of LOTS of butter to bring it to its full glory.  You might try it out for Christmas visitors:

* 1/2 cup butter, softened

* 1 cup sugar

* 3 eggs

* 1 teaspoon vanilla

* 2 squares melted unsweetened baking chocolate

* 3/4 cup milk

* 2 cups all-purpose flour

* 2 teaspoons baking powder

* 1 cup chopped nuts (any—black walnuts were probably available back then in Montana, they can handle dry cold weather).

Sift together flour and baking powder.  In large separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar; stir in eggs and vanilla.  Add in the melted unsweetened baking chocolate along with the eggs/vanilla. Then, using a sturdy spoon (or an electric mixer), alternately mix in the milk with the flour and baking powder. Stir in the nuts. Transfer to a greased pan (or pans) and bake in a “moderate” oven (350-degrees) till a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.  Times were not given, but probably should check it after 25 minutes to start with.

Found on a delightful blog: http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/an-old-fashioned-nut-cake/

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“Oh, this, Darling?  It goes so well with chocolate nut cake!”  –Happy Holidays, everyone!