Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chinese Epiphany or Blunder?

A Sunday comic has Garfield waking from a nap suddenly overcome by the thought of "Canary Pizza". Many a culinary epiphany can be combing two of your favorite ingredients that make a new or surprising dish.

I was at Apple China a new ma and pa Chinese restaurant. I love these people but they both struggle with English. The husband, who is the chef, is very accommodating. He will cook anyway I ask. This week I ask him to repeat the preparation for Beef Chow Fun he made for me on my first visit, calling out spicy, fermented black beans, garlic, green pepper and plenty of ginger. When the dish arrived, immediately I noticed there were no green peppers. Upon tasting, I notice a pronounced taste of cumin but no ginger. I asked him "What is this?" After some discussion, we connected. He thought I had ordered "curry". I laughed and marveled at the distinctive flavor. Actually, I think as curries go, this was one on the most novel recipes for curry I ever tasted. The super wide rice noodle went really well with this spicy cumin laden curry.

Was cumin a part of historic Chinese? Researching, it was revealed that cumin appears in Chinese cuisine maybe a far back as 2000 years. Cumin (of the parsley family) was a silk-route traded spice indigenous to many areas including Iran, China, India, Northern Egypt, Turkestan, several other places in the Middle East. Some of the more popular Chinese dishes with cumin include Spicy Sichuan-Style Lamb and Hunan Beef. Cumin is one of those spices with a lot of bang for the buck. It is highly aromatic and a little goes a long way. Cumin combines well with red peppers; in fact, cumin is a major flavor in chili powder that "tex-Mex flavor."

Grace Young, a stir fry guru, in her cookbook "Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge" writes ancestral stories of how Chinese cooking in her family evolved. Regional influences and the availabilty of ingredients played major roles in the recipes of regional dishes. Cumin is part of several of her recipes.

dry-style beef chow fun- Photo by Mai Pham

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