Friday, 9 September 2011

Choosing favourites

Do you have a favourite meal?

I have so many it would be singularly impossible to choose.

You know when people talk of the desert Island meal....I just can't ever answer.

It feels like when someone asks me if I have a favourite child?

I answer...."Yep, I have a favourite 13, 11, 8, 5 and 2yo".

I love them all.

They are each unique.

They are all wonderful.

Their differences excite me & interest me.

I don't need to have a favourite.  They're all my favourites.

It is the same when i have to choose a favourite dish.

We are so lucky in Australia.

Picking a favourite cuisine on offer to us here is impossible for me.

Australia is a country made up of a mix of about 90 or so nationalities.

The amazing exposure to cuisine this gives us is truly magnificent.

We are able to buy so many ingredients now that were not available to us before.

We live in a country that has so many different climates and as a result gives us access to so many different fruits and vegetables.

I love the stories behind different dishes.  I love to find out where they came from, how they evolved.

I love the window into culture that food gives us.

I love to collect cookbooks and read about the stories behind food.

I wrote about that a while back. (Click here to take you back to that post).

I read them in bed like other people read novels.

Anyway.......last night I had a real hankering for what I am going to say is ONE of my favourite dishes- Ma Po Dou Fu.  It is literally translated as Pock marked woman's bean curd. Yeah...ok...not so flattering but boy oh boy the dish is a total winner!  This particular lady was a restaurateur in Chengdu and was famous for her amazing bean curd.  

It is from the Sichuan province of China.  The food from this region is famed for it's distinctive 'hot and numbing' spice- Sichuan peppercorn.  It is an amazingly aromatic  spice and like  curry spices it's complexity is brought out by roasting it a little before grinding it and using it.  It is readily available in good Asian grocers.  It leaves an amazing zingy numb sensation on your tongue.  I LOVE IT.  And the Sichuanese are not shy on Chili either- another love of mine.

I changed the recipe slightly (I'm really bad at keeping true to recipes...I just can't help but tinker!) as I had some eggplants that I needed to use and I have added them to this before with great success. So I will share my altered version here.  Feel free to be a purist and omit them!

Thankfully Chinese cuisine has come a long way in this country since the days of Honey Prawns & Sweet and Sour pork. 

For me trying this recipe is a bit like a test of a Chinese restaurant...a bit like the never ending search for the best Laksa in Malaysian places.  

This is a dish that is best cooked in a smoking hot wok.  You could do it in a non-stick fry pan but don't be shy with the heat!  Like all stir fry cooking it pays to be organised before you heat up your wok. 

  • 200g pork mince
  • 1 block firm tofu, cut into cubes
  • 3-4 spring onions, chopped diagonally 
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and chopped finely (use roots too- this is where all the flavour is!)
  • 2 tsblpns Shao Xing wine
  • 1 tblspn dark soy sauce 
  • 1 tspn sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, chopped finely or grated
  • 1 heaped tblspn chili bean sauce (buy this from the asian grocer) (use a little less if not a big chili fan- this sauce is quite hot!)
  • 1 cup of chicken stock 
  • 1 tbslpn corn flour (add to stock)
  • 2 tspns Ground  sichuan pepper.
  • 3 tblspns Canola oil
  • 1 eggplant (optional)
Dry roast the Sichuan pepper until fragrant and grind in a mortar & pestle.

Add pork mince to a large bowl and add soy, shao xing wine, ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Mix through well. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes.

If you are using eggplant you can chargrill them while the pork marinates.

I cut my eggplant lengthways and then into chunks like this.  I like it to be an rather large chunks and this also allows more surface to gain flavour from chargrilling.

 Set aside in a bowl.
Now heat the wok to smoking point. Carefully add oil and then gently add the marinated pork mince to the wok. 

Add the Sichuan pepper & the Chilli bean sauce.

Stir continually until the pork is cooked through.
Now add the stock (the cornflour is added to this to thicken the sauce).
Stir through.
Add tofu, spring onions and coriander and stir through gently for about a minute or until tofu is warmed through. 
 If you are adding eggplants do so now.

Serve with steamed Jasmine Rice.  I have to add some Chow Chiu chilli oil.....and a sprinkle of more coriander & spring onion.

I hope you try it and it becomes one of your favourites too!

We have been loving this lately- it's an old favourite....the melifluous voice of Robert Fisher is so beautiful. My 11yo is going to give it a go on his guitar.  Might be a while before he matches the gorgeous deep vocals though!



  1. Like you, naming a favourite is I.M.P.O.S.S.I.B.L.E.
    Growing up with an Italian food heritage, makes me lucky and having many Chinese cousins makes me very VERY lucky!
    Back in the 60's my Dad was in charge of weekend food, thankfully, and prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe and other non-OZ antipasti were the go. Another fav that he whipped up, was baby veal, lightly dusted with flour, pan fried and served with a squeeze of lemon juice.
    Visiting my cousins in Hong Kong in the early 80's, we were exposed to so many wondrous new flavours and food experiences.
    I adore food...although I must admit I have to say Nuh uh, to any internal organ!

  2. Eh, no. No way could I say what is my favourite meal, there's just too many! Although I probably can't eat most of my favourite meals on my list, they are still on my list!!

    This looks yum. I could easily adapt it, and might just try it, thank you!

    Haven't listened to WGC in a loonnng time, so thank you for that too! <3


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