I want to introduce you to my friend, Louise from Ancestral Chef. Louise is an adventurous woman. She used to live in England, now she resides in the US and each time I chat with her she tells me a story of when she travelled to ____ or lived in another city. Louise is also a lawyer, an ex-physicist, a cook, and a blogger! I hope you enjoy her tutorial on how to make any dish “Chinese”. Sometimes I’m confused why I’m not more Chinese. Well, let me clarify just a little… I was born in China, I look Chinese, my parents are Chinese, but I was confused for pretty much my entire life about how to cook Chinese food. And really, how can I be Chinese if I don’t know how to cook Chinese food? It’s like a tree falling in the woods… So when I started cooking a lot more several years ago, I asked my mom one day for a recipe. Her reply was “Why do you need a recipe? You just add a bit of this and a bit of that – why would you write that down?” And as with all great wisdom imparted by my parents, I only recently came to appreciate this reply. It finally dawned on me that I was using certain ingredients over and over again to flavor my “Chinese” dishes. And, if you’re wondering, soy sauce is NOT one of these ingredients. Soy sauce (or at least gluten-free tamari sauce) can often be included, but just adding soy sauce will give you a mediocre Chinese dish at best. Nope. The beauty of my system is that you can basically pick any vegetable or any meat, throw in these ingredients, and end up with a great Chinese dish! So, as my mother would say, “Why do you need a recipe?”
Why Make Mediocre Food When You Can Make it Great?
Chinese-inspired food can be both delicious and healthy (often naturally Paleo and gluten-free). So, without further ado, here are 3 simple ingredients that will instantly make any meal more Chinese and more delicious. Oh, and I’ve included a quick recipe for Paleo pork spare ribs below to illustrate.
You can find ginger at pretty much any grocery store. But don’t get the powder! Always get fresh ginger root as its flavor is just so much more vibrant. Also, if you’re worried that you won’t use up the entire root before it goes bad, have no fear. You can freeze ginger and just take it out and grate a little whenever you need it.
2. Scallions (also known as Green Onions
We always have scallions in our house. Sometimes we even grow them. But they’re also available in pretty much every grocery store. If you’re going to stir-fry any meats and/or veggies (and you should, since stir-frying is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get a meal ready), then you might consider throwing a few chopped scallions in the pan first. Pretty much every single Chinese dish that my mother cooks starts off this way, and the added flavor is always worth it.
3. Star Anise and Szechuan Peppercorns
I cheated. This is actually 2 ingredients, but I saved the best for last. These 2 ingredients are almost always used together in Chinese cuisine, and you can purchase each of these ingredients on Amazon. One bag of each will last for a very long time! Star anise is a cute 8-pointed star about an inch across in diameter. Szechuan peppercorns look like other peppercorns, but they’re generally a reddish-yellow color. These 2 ingredients are amazing for cooking pretty much any meat. Typically, I boil the star anise and Szechuan peppercorns together with the meat in water, so that they impart their flavor to the meat.
You Can Be Chinese, Too
Cooking basic Chinese dishes is super-easy, particularly if you stick to stir-fried meats and vegetables. It’s also super-healthy, since there is no need to add any grains, processed sugars, or other junk that Chinese restaurants often add in. With just these 3 (or 4) ingredients, you can create a lot of incredible dishes that your friends and family will love. If you don’t believe me, then just give this one a try, as it’s one of my all-time favorites:
- 4 lb pork spare ribs (or back ribs), chopped into individual ribs
- 1/2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, sliced into 2 slices
- 1/2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, finely diced
- 1/2 cup scallions
- 3 star anise
- 1 Tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons gluten-free tamari sauce
- 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil, melted
- 2 Tablespoons of salt (optional)
- Place the ribs in a large stock pot filled with water so that the ribs are covered and heat up the pot.
- After the water starts boiling, skim off any foam that forms on the top of the broth (for prettiness).
- Add 2 slices of ginger, 1/4 cup of scallions, 3 star anise, 1 Tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns, and 2 Tablespoons of salt to the pot and simmer until the meat is cooked and soft (approx. 45 minutes).
- Remove the ribs from the pot but keep the broth (pour it through a sieve to remove all solids)- it's fantastic by itself to drink with just a bit of salt or else as the base for delicious soups.
- In a small bowl, mix together the 2 Tablespoons of coconut oil, rest of the scallions, diced ginger, tamari sauce, and minced garlic.
- Heat up a skillet (or wok if you have one) on high heat and add the ribs to it. Quickly pour the mixture over the ribs, coating them. (If your skillet is small, then you might want to do this step in batches.)
- Stir-fry the ribs on high heat until they brown and no more liquid remains in the skillet.