Saturday, November 12, 2011

Communists Spawn Culinary Revolution!!

Subtitle: Foodies of the World Unite.  You have nothing to lose but your waistlines.

My old buddy and China hand Scott Seligman and his good friend and collaborator Sasha Gong have co-authored a new cookbook. Called The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, it comes out December 1. Lisa and I are ordering a few copies as Christmas gifts for family and friends.

I have had a look at the book which is a feast for the eyes with not only the usual photos of the dishes but also attractive reproductions of socialist artworks typical of the Cultural Revolution era. I have also sampled several of the dishes prepared by Chef Sasha herself and they were very tasty. This home-style cuisine appeals to me much more than elaborate banquet cooking that many people associate with Chinese food.

I hope that you will consider a copy of the book for you own kitchen and for holiday gifting, too.  You can purchase it here.

In Scott's own words:
The cookbook has the unlikely theme of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), of which Sasha was a veteran. On the surface it sounds like an absurd proposition, because food was anything but plentiful during the Cultural Revolution and some people were reduced to eating tree bark and insects to survive. The 17 million young people whom Chairman Mao ordered to the countryside in 1968 by and large felt that leaving their education behind to work side by side with the peasants was a tragic waste of their productive years.

Our thesis, however, is that one of the things that they actually did learn from the peasants was how to make do with what there was. They learned to cook with fresh, wholesome foods that were in season, to conserve scarce fuel and to prepare remarkably tasty and healthful dishes with enough nourishment to get them through long, arduous days in the fields. We think the book will resonate not only with people interested in China, but also those committed to eating locally grown, preservative-free, unprocessed food. In addition to dozens of recipes, the book contains some history, a chronology of the Cultural Revolution, some personal stories and a slew of anecdotes relating to food and ingredients used during that era. It’s also profusely illustrated with socialist realist art from the period –those colorful propaganda posters showing Chinese peasants building socialism. The recipes include few prepared ingredients and pretty much everything needed is available at a well-stocked grocery store.
 This example from the book should whet your appetite for more-

Stir-Fried Corn and Pine Nuts
2 ears of corn on the cob (or 2 cups of canned or frozen corn kernels)
1 scallion
Ω cup pine nuts
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
Pinch of salt

Corn was considered low-class, coarse food during the Cultural Revolution, in large part because Chinese corn was far less sweet than today's American variety. The occasional ear of sweet corn that appeared was highly prized and used in dishes like this.
Place the two ears of corn in their husks in a microwave oven. If the corn has already been husked, wrap it in a wet paper towel first. Microwave for three minutes on high. Remove the husks and silk, or the paper towel, and allow to cool. Then cut the kernels off of the cobs. (If you are using frozen corn, just let it thaw until it is at room temperature; canned corn may be used right out of the can).
Slice the scallion on the bias into small pieces about the same size as the corn kernels.
Place a wok over medium flame and add pine nuts without using any oil. Stir-fry them for a minute until they turn slightly brownish, then remove them from the wok and set them aside.
Add oil to the wok and heat it until it just begins to smoke. Add the scallion pieces and stir-fry very briefly, 10 seconds is enough. Then add the corn and stir-fry for 30 seconds more, Add salt and then return the pine nuts to the wok. Make sure the ingredients are well-mixed and warm. Remove and serve.

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