guest post: eat food. not too much. mostly chinese.

I'm on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don't worry. While I'm away, I've enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Lynn Chen talking about Chinese food.

Whenever asked what type of cuisine I would want if trapped on a deserted island (this question surprisingly comes up a lot) I answer without hesitation: "CHINESE." After all, I spent the first half of my life consuming the stuff and never got sick of it. Yet in the last year that I've been food blogging, I noticed that I rarely eat it. Probably because I've been unimpressed with most restaurants in Los Angeles, other than driving 45 minutes out to San Gabriel or Monterey Park.

And the sad truth is, I don't make it at home. My favorite dishes have meat in them, and since my husband is a vegetarian, I don't cook carnivorously. I'm afraid to stock my pantry with Sichuan Peppercorns, Cooking Wine, and Star Anise since I eat out a lot and don't want it to go bad, and waste limited cupboard space. I don't own a wok. I fear that if I can't do it "authentically," I can't do it at all -- why subject the world to another "stir fry" made from leftover duck sauce packets mixed with soy sauce?

The times when my blog readers get to see a lot of Chinese food is when I visit my parents in NJ, which, sadly, isn't very often (the last time was a video I made for Christmas in 2009). So when I recently spent time a week with them, I requested some recipes -- hopefully this will inspire me to get cooking back in LA!

Both of the dishes below incorporate a few of the Five Elements in Chinese cooking -- bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. My mother used Extra Light Olive Oil (which I've dubbed ELOO) but you can use any other flavorless cooking oil with a high smoking point, like canola or corn. If you don't own a wok like me, a large, nonstick skillet works fine. My mom used chopsticks to do everything -- mix, stir fry, etc.

Bitter Melon with Flank Steak

1 piece of flank steak (about 6 inches long), cut into small pieces

5 cloves garlic, chopped -- reserve one clove

1 heaping teaspoon corn starch

3 TB low sodium soy sauce (to taste)

1 TB ground black pepper

2 stalks scallions (both whites and greens), chopped

2 TB chopped ginger

1 bitter melon (about 10 inches long) seeds removed, cut into same size as the steak

1.5 tsp jarred Black Bean Garlic Sauce

1 tsp. sugar (or honey, or brown sugar)

Around 8 TB ELOO

Put the flank steak in a bowl and mix with 4 cloves of garlic, cornstarch, soy sauce, pepper, scallions, and ginger. Let marinate for a few minutes while you prep the bitter melon.

Heat the 4 Tablespoons Extra Light Olive Oil and Black Bean Sauce over a high flame. Mix together until the sauce dissolves, then add the melon and sugar. When it's soft (about 2-3 minutes), remove from heat, and put to the side on a plate. Add 4 more TB ELOO and the reserved garlic clove to the same skillet, wait a minute until it gets hot, then add the steak and quick stir fry until the beef is done (when it turns color, about a minute or two). Use more oil if needed. Reintroduce the melon back to the skillet with the beef and taste the melon for texture and seasoning -- adjust with more soy sauce if it isn't salty enough and cook longer if you like a softer consistency to the melon.

"Chicken" with Mustard Greens (Vegan)

8 oz. Mock Vegetarian Chicken or Dried Bean curd (Found in the Asian Grocery Store), julienned

Head of mustard greens, finely diced

1 tsp salt

2 small red chilis, diced


1/2 tsp. sugar

To the washed and prepped mustard greens, add 1 tsp salt and put in the fridge for 3 hours or up to overnight (it will be more flavorful the longer it sits). It will become very wet -- squeeze out the excess water. Heat ELOO over high heat and add mustard greens. Cook for a minute, then add the Mock Chicken, stirring with chopsticks. Add sugar and chilis and cook for about 2-3 minutes until heated through. Adjust seasonings (more salt) if necessary.

Lynn Chen is an actress (Saving Face, White on Rice). When not in front of the camera she's eating away at The Actor's Diet, a daily food blog.

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