Cold and Spicy Chinese Cucumber

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Ok, I’m tired of this wintry weather (it’s snowing again here in New York), so I’m going to chase away cold with cold and a little 辣 (spicy)!  I am making 小黄瓜 or “small yellow cucumbers.”   If you like pickles or kim chi, you’ll love this dish/appetizer, but it’s not quite as sour or as spicy, with just a tickle of sweet.  It’s insanely easy to make, served cold and very refreshing, especially on warm, hot days or before a main dish.  (I personally like it on any day, at any time, but today, I’m using my witchy-witchy and wishful thinking in the fantasy that it’ll help bring about warmer, spring weather).  You can use Chinese yellow cucumber which is better, very crisp, but because I’m not trekking out in the blustery winds today to get yellow cucumber, I’m just using regular good old cucumber.  

This makes 2 servings:

  • 1 cucumber
  • Garlic (2 cloves) – very finely minced or 1 tbsn garlic paste
  • Soy sauce (2 tbsns)
  • Rice wine vinegar (also called rice vinegar) (3 tbsns)
  • Sugar (1 tbsn)
  • Salt (1/4 tspn)
  • Red pepper flakes or crushed red pepper  (1/2 tspn)
  • Sesame oil (only a few drops)

Cut off the cucumber ends.  Then keep cutting the cucumbers in half length-wise so you have long, thin pieces, about 1/4″ thick.   Put all the pieces together and slice vertically into smaller pieces, about 1″ in length. 

Put all the ingredients into a medium lidded container and shake vigorously to mix.   Be careful not to add too much sesame oil – you only need a few drops.  Taste and adjust for spiciness, saltiness or sweetness.  If you adjust, mix and shake, shake, shake again.  (I love this part.  It’s very invigorating.)

You can serve this right away.  Better yet, refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavor to sink in.  This also makes the cucumber a bit more tender.  To serve, strain out the additional liquid.  Serve in a small bowl or dish.  I personally just ate half of what I made without waiting.

P.S.  (I plan to post my next recipe on how to make Chinese “barbeque” chicken.)

Chinese New Year Cake (or Sticky Rice Cake with Red Bean Paste) II

If you like your rice cake a bit heavier, stickier and more chewy than the way I make it (see previous post), I will share with you my sister’s recipe for nián gāo.  It is a simple and beautiful recipe.  The cake is also very evenly layered.  The basic ingredients are almost exactly the same but in different quantities.

  • 1 packet or 1 box (16 oz.) glutinous rice flour
  • 3/4-1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1/2 can of red or black bean paste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9″x13″ baking pan.  

Mix all the ingredients together (except for bean paste) until uniform and creamy.  

Remove 1 cup of the flour mixture and mix in half a can of red or black bean paste.  Set aside.

Next, pour half of the (remaining) original flour mixture into the pan. Bake for 15 minutes.  Pour on the bean paste mixture.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Pour on the rest of original flour mixture. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Let cool.  Cut into squares.  Hen hao chi!  Delicious!  (Trust me.  I’ve had it before.)

Chinese New Year Cake (or Sticky Rice Cake with Red Bean Paste)

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Please excuse me.  I did not make much preparation for Chinese New Year*, but I would like to share with you how to make nián gāo (年糕).  Nián gāo literally means “year cake,” but a different character for nián () means “sticky,” so you can also call it “sticky cake.”  It is traditional for Chinese to make this during the New Year.  

The cake is very inexpensive and easy to make (preparation time takes only 5-10 minutes).  It is chewy, sweet and delicious, especially when warm.  There are many variations of nián gāo, and I like to add red bean paste to mine.  (Some people like to add walnuts, dates and other instead).  You can pick up the rice flour and bean paste at most Asian grocery stores. The basic cake is made of chewy, sweet rice and is wonderful by itself.

The tradition of making this cake also has a story.  According to Chinese myth, a week before the end of the year, the Kitchen God returns to heaven to make a report about a family’s behavior to the Yu Huang Da Di (or the Jade Emperor and ruler of heaven).  If the report is unfavorable, the family will suffer bad luck the following year.  A family makes sticky rice cake as an offering or as bribe to the Kitchen God so that his mouth will be full and satisfied or stuck with the sticky cake so that he will not say bad things about the family. Therefore, eating nián gāo is thought to help ensure a good year.  

  • P1040513Glutinous flour (2 cups), or one 16 oz. box Mochiko sweet, rice flour
  • Vegetable or canola oil (1 cup)
  • Milk (2 1/2 cups)
  • White sugar (3/4 -1 cup if you like the cake sweeter)
  • Baking Soda (1 tspn)
  • 2 Eggs (beaten)
  • Red Bean Paste (1 can)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.  Pour the flour, oil, milk, sugar and baking soda into a large bowl.  Stir flour mixture until even.  Add in the beaten eggs and stir again.  Now you have your sticky rice cake batter!  Pour half of the batter into the baking pan.  

Next, put the red bean paste into a Ziploc bag or sandwich bag.  Cut one corner of the bag (about 1/4-1/2″).  Squeeze the bean paste out of the hole into long, horizontal strips, spread evenly apart by about 1″.  Pour the rest of the batter into the pan.  Place the pan into the oven and bake for about 50 minutes.   Once out of the oven, let the cake sit and cool for 10 minutes. 

After you make this once, you can adjust the amount of sugar and bean paste to your taste, or you can add other ingredients instead.  (For nuts, fruits or other, pour the whole batter into the pan.  Drop the ingredients evenly 0nto the batter and allow them to sink into the batter.)  Some people also prefer to use brown sugar instead of white sugar.  

Xin nian kuai le (新年快乐)! Happy New Year!

*Chinese New Year officially begins on February 10 this year.  

P.S.  If you like your sticky cake a bit heavier, chewier and more evenly layered, please see my post with my sister’s recipe here.