The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Barley and fennel in China

Is it just me or it seems like more or more people want to have an opinion at no costs? No matter what they know about the subject, they will still impart you their lecture making sure that their point comes across loud and clear.

When I was younger (without giving my age away....) I always thought things could be easily divided into black or white but over the years I've realised that's just not true. It really depends on many variables and jumping to conclusions is not productive. Those who know me will probably think I am talking about somebody else as I seem to be the first to give a judgement about something or somebody. But actually that is not true. What I try to do is to find a reason behind people's acting and thinking. My parents think I just do it on purpose to question anything they say. But are you sure? But perhaps...but..but...mhmmm.....

I've been told for example that Chinese people (ok this is a bit generic, the country is quite large) tend to smile and nod even when they don't mean to condescend in the slightest. A friend told me it's called the Monna Lisa smile. You never know what they really think. I find differences in cultures fascinating.

For example if you go to a restaurant with friends, or anyone really, if your back is towards the kitchen you will be the one the waiter/waitress brings the bill (and who pays -unless you plan a big run after the meal...). Or if you are invited out and you then order rice at the end of the meal you will mortally offend your host because that means you hadn't have enough and still need to stuff your stomach. I could probably go on and on....

Last night I wasn't really in a Chinese mood but just wanted to find ways of using two ingredients: barley and fennel. And for funny reason I came across these recipes in this book, Chinatown, by Ross Dobson. I have made a few changes to the original recipes but you can keep the recipes in their original version.

Barley and vegetable soup

6 small dried porcini (or shitake) mushrooms
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 garlic clove roughly chopped
1 celery stalk
1 carrot cut unto half and in slices
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1.5 lt chicken stock
110g pearl barley
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 chilly
1 tsp sesame oil
half leek

1. Soak the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with hot water and cover with a lid (or plate) to ensure that the steam is retained inside the bowl. Leave it for about 20 minutes and then squeeze the mushrooms and cut them into medium pieces if they are quite large. Keep the water they have produced.

2. Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion and garlic for 2 minutes, or until the onion is just softened. Add the ginger, celery, chilly, leek and carrot and cook for another 1 minute.

3. Add the stock, the barley, the soy sauce, mushroom water and season with black pepper. Don't season with salt as soy sauce is quite salty already! I made this mistake was inedible!

4. Cook for at least 40 minutes until the barley is soft and plump. Serve it with the chopped mushrooms and a few strings of spring onion if you have.

I also made some biscuits. Once again I changed the recipe slightly so instead of using orange I used a lemon. I will try it again as the recipe says but I think in this was it was pretty good. And that was not just my opinion....

Lemon, almond and fennel biscuits

80g butter
110g white sugar
60g brown sugar (you can have just 170g of white sugar if you prefer)
210 plain flour
40g ground almonds
2 eggs
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
zest of half a lemon
1 tsp baking powder
80g ground almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (this is the best part of the recipe now as it warms up my kitchen!)

2. Mix the butter, seeds and zest together and combine well (by hand or in a food processor - if you have a mixer that'll do too...I am still dreaming of one of those massive boys to sit on my shelves...Christmas is near...)

3. Add the eggs to the butter and mix well.

4. Mix the baking powder and the ground almond to the flour and sift it into the wet mix.

5. Make a sausage out of this mix (of you think it is still too wet add more flour until you can handle it) of about 20cm lenght and 3-4 cm thick.

6. Cook it in the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven and cut 2cm slices. Turn on one side the biscuits and cook them for 10 minutes. Then turn them on the other side and cook it for a further 10 minutes until the biscuits will have become crunchy.

This is essentially the recipe to make cantucci (which Sturbuck calls biscotti which is the generic Italian word for biscuits). This means that if you hate fennel seeds, you can use anything you like - pistachios and almonds, chocolate chips, poppy seeds etc. etc...

They are quite addictive. But if you resist they can also be a really nice Christmas (or birthday) gift if arranged in a nice box with some tissue paper. Perhaps a Chinese looking tin. Personally I don't think I've ever had this type of biscuits when I was in China and I suspect that fennel seeds are used in many kitchens (French, Italian). So I guess you can claim they are from wherever you want...

I should definitely go back to China. Last time I only visited a small portion...and it was before the Olympics - I am sure they caused a lot of changes...

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely collection of photos and recipes! I think I will have to ask Eleni to cook some of these.... hehehe. Which are the best ones? So who is R and what kind of cable did he bring? ;-P Soon you could make this all into a friendly book as well as a friendly blog! :-) Keep up the good work, Thomas....... and I'll show E when she comes back from work tomo, today...