Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Lesson in Trust

For the past couple of years, my Chinese friend Qi and I would get together once per term to bake. Since I bake regularly but Qi didn't bake much, I usually taught her and walked her through the recipe. After each baking session, I told her that I wanted her to teach me sometime. I wanted to learn to cook some food that reminded her of home.

Given that we're both in town for winter break and cooking for ourselves, I decided that it was the best time to follow through and invited her to come over and cook. I said that I was up for making whatever she wanted.

I imagined stir-fries and egg drop soup, dumplings and spring rolls. I knew that traditional Chinese food was not the same as take-out Chinese, but I figured that she would choose something with a familiar flavor combination.

Qi returned my email saying that she was eager to share one of her favorite recipes that her grandmother used to make her: cucumber pancakes. Immediately, I realized that this must be a translation problem. Cucumber pancakes? Cucumbers are so watery and don't make sense in pancakes. Maybe she meant zucchini? Zucchini bread is delicious, so there could be zucchini pancakes.

That evening, Qi showed up with soy sauce, seaweed, a special ground pepper from China, and sure enough, a cucumber. Given that those and my flour and eggs were our ingredients, I realized that I was going to have to trust. All humans have taste buds, so surely it would taste fine?

Qi proceeded to set me up grating cucumber and beating eggs, and soon enough, we had cucumber pancakes. (I'm uncertain if pancakes is quite the correct word. They were more similar to crepes, except more eggy. So omelet-crepes?) And they were delicious! It seems that I should have more trust in my friends' tastes.

Cucumber Pancakes

4 eggs
1/2 a cucumber, grated
a couple of Tablespoons of water
~3/4 cup flour
Pinch of salt

1. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Gradually, beat in the flour and water. The 3/4 cups flour really is an estimate. There should be enough flour that its noticeable, but the mixture should still be mostly egg. Beat in the salt.
2. Stir in the grated cucumber.
3. Cook like a crepe. (Pour a bit of batter into a frying pan and then quickly rotate around so that you have a nice thin, even layer of the mixture on the bottom of the pan. Then, cook on one side until it can be flipped. Cook the other side until done.)

Cabbage Tofu Soup

Qi suggested that we make this to go along with the cucumber pancakes. It was much more along the lines of my expectations.

1/2 package of tofu
canola oil
green cabbage
soy sauce

1. Chop the cabbage, separating the stem part from the leafy part.
2. In a large saucepan, briefly fry the tofu in the oil, until it just begins to turn brown.
3. Keeping the tofu in the pan, fill the saucepan with water. Cover and bring to a boil.
4. Once at a boil, uncover and add the stem part of the cabbage. Then, season with soy sauce, salt and pepper. Keep at a boil.
5. After the stem has begun to cook, add the leafy sections of the cabbage.
6. Boil until fully cooked.