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A Chinese feast for all the senses

By Beth Collins
October 3, 2012
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One of the things I've noticed as the editor of our Trip Coach column is that regardless of who's traveling or where they're going, the couples and families we send on trips eventually ask the same question: Where should we eat?

I get it. Food matters—the way it brings people together, gives us insight into other cultures, reminds us to slow down, or, when it's really good, completely stops us in our tracks.

This is never more true than when we travel. If you're like me, your answer to the "how was your trip?" question inevitably comes around to the food: the perfect crêpe with Nutella in France; the käsekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage) and hot spiced wine that kept you warm during a sub-zero Christmas fair in Vienna; the delicious, stick-to-your-ribs marathon dinners your Hungarian hostess prepared to fatten you up. What we eat, and whom we eat it with, shapes our trip and, ultimately, our impression of the place.

I'm thinking about all of this because a of cookbook that hits bookstore shelves on Wednesday, Nov. 8: My China: A Feast for All the Senses, by Kylie Kwong (Viking Studio; recently $37 from Amazon.com). It's gorgeous and full of really amazing-looking recipes, but that is true for a lot of cookbooks. What I love about this one is that it recognizes that food and place are inextricably linked. The author—whom my editor tells me has a great restaurant in Sydney—traveled to ten cities in China and Tibet for her research, and she devotes a good chunk of the book to recounting her journey. Among the recipes for dumplings, rice congee, and soy-braised pork belly, we get her observations about the people, the history, and the culture of China and Tibet. (If Kwong weren't a good writer, this wouldn't work, but she is, so it does.)

There are also pages and pages of stunning photographs—of the dishes, of course, but also of people, landscapes, markets, and street scenes. My China is food the way it should be: a really important part of a much bigger picture.

Here's one of the recipes I'm dying to try:

Rare Beef and King Prawn Salad with Soft-Boiled Eggs

[From My China: A Feast for All the Senses, by Kylie Kwong. Slightly re-formatted from the book version.]

Marinade

»2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

»1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped

»2 tablespoons brown sugar

»1/4 cup shao hsing cooking wine

»1 tablespoon light soy sauce

»1 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl. Then add:

»10 oz. best-quality beef fillet

Mix well. Cover, place in refrigerator, and leave to marinate for 1 hour.

Remove beef from marinade and sear on a hot grill pan or in a heavy-based frying pan for 4 minutes, then turn over and cook for 2 minutes on the other side. Transfer to a plate, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all salad and herb leaves in a bowl.

»1 handful watercress

»1 handful baby spinach

»1 handful mint leaves

»1 handful cilantro

»1 handful Vietnamese mint leaves

»2 tablespoons peanut oil

»8 uncooked jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined but with tails left intact

»2 free-range eggs, soft-boiled and peeled

Next, combine all dressing ingredients in another bowl and mix well.

Dressing

»1 tablespoon brown sugar

»2 tablespoons light soy sauce

»1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

»1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

»1/3 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil

Heat oil in a hot frying pan or wok and sear prawns for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Toss salad with a third of the dressing and transfer to a serving platter. Cut beef into 1/4-inch slices and arrange over salad, along with prawns. Carefully cut eggs in half and place on top of salad, then drizzle with remaining dressing and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter.

* Vietnamese mint, also know as laksa leaf, can be found at Asian supermarkets; if it is unavailable, just add a little more cilantro and mint to the salad.

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