Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eat Locally, Think Globally

Oh, this can't be local food. It's Chinese.
But the eggplant came from my backyard. The scallion and garlic came from the farmers market. The rice is from the Sacramento Valley. The pork is from Prather Ranch.
Naturally, a couple of ingredients couldn't possibly be local: the peanut oil, the soy sauce, the sesame oil and the chile bean paste.
But the best local thing of all was the inspiration for this recipe: Passionate Eater.
A former San Franciscan from Los Angeles, she recently moved to New Orleans (so she's a former local... sue me). By the way, she's ga-ga about her now-local Louisiana cuisine.
PE first turned me on to her Ma Po Tofu last year. I tried it. It worked! Dang, it was good.
Then I gave her fried rice recipe a try. I loved it.
I'd always been a "fake Chinese" cook, meaning I'd stir fry some vegetables with a bunch of meaningless flavorings and (gasp) thickeners. I always overdid the soy sauce. I'd add a peculiar squirt of hot sauce. I'd leave out the ginger and scallions.
And I hated my concoctions.
But the first time I tried Passionate Eater's tofu recipe, it SANG. I know, it's easy. Basic. But I had never been taught the rules.
So yesterday, I felt brave enough to fiddle with the rules. I cooked some eggplant grown in my backyard, and used it instead of the tofu. I think it worked out OK. It needed a spritz of sweetener (is that all right, PE?) and a drizzle of water to loosen up the mix.
I hope PE doesn't get all gumbo on me and forget to teach me how to make more of these amazing meals.


Anita said...

I love how you used the Marco Polo exception for chinese food :D

Dagny said...

That looks really delicious. Now I want to go out and get more eggplant. Oh, and I just went to check out PE's latest posts. I think I'm going to need to plan a trip to New Orleans.

kudzu said...

This is w-e-i-e-r-d! I just unearthed a folder full of recipes from a great Chinese cooking class I did years ago. I was thinking, "I couldn't have minced and slivered and steamed and stuffed and wokked all those things!" But I did and reading the recipes made me salivate and swear I'll hit Clement for condiments and strange dried things and bottles of stuff needed for authenticity. And the last recipe I looked at was for --- ma pa daofu. No kidding. And yum.

kudzu said...

Sorry, Cookie -- if I'm gonna be authentic I should correct it: ma po daofu.

tammy said...

I'm pretty sure something like that is what I'm making for my first non-local meal of October. God, I miss rice and soy sauce.

dancingmorganmouse said...

Yum, can't wait to give it a go, but since my bebe eggplants have yet to even flower, it may be a bit yet1

Zoomie said...

Oh, boy, does that ever look good! And I loved fried rice - I'll have to give it a try!

cookiecrumb said...

Anita: Exactly!!! Ding, ding, ding. The first challenge, soy sauce was my undoing.

Dagny: I think there are a lot of ageing Italians in my neighborhood. Our local grocery store stocks cardoons, for instance. Because I was just about to boast that I'm probably the only person for 20 miles to grow her own eggplant... and then I realized - no.

Kudzu: Very cool! Yes, it is SO-O-O much prep work, no doubt. I wouldn't even cook this dish until Cranky did all the chopping.

Tammy: Wow, you're hanging in there. I wish you a very soy-saucy October.

Mouse: You're on the other side of the world, dear! I'm surprised to hear you have your bebes in the ground already... but then, it is spring where you live.

Zoomie: PE manages to make delicious recipes so simple. You should give it a try.

Passionate Eater said...

"Have I told you lately, that I love you? Have I told you, that there's no one else above you? You ease my heart with gladness, take away all my sadness, you ease my troubles that's what you do!"

Cookie, I miss the Bay Area terrible bad, and I miss you especially! You know, I actually started PE as a cooking blog, but I don't know what the hell happened! (I think I just got lazy.) When I go back to the Bay Area, I would love to cook for you and Cranky. However, my skill has gone downhill considerably since I first started PE and now since I've taken on this new job (which has a lot to do with Katrina and even more to do with working on both days of the weekend).

If you ever want to try something Chinese, please send me a request, and I'll do my best to put up a "educational" post.

And although I've never said it, you have taught me SO much. Hugs and kisses big time!

Lannae said...

Ah! Fried rice! I love fried rice! Yeah, how green with envy am I that you can get local rice! It is hard to find any grain in TN except for corn meal. I actually don't think grains grow here because of the high mold content in air.

El said...

You all have really hit upon something that has been my particular tripping point in making Chinese food. Simpler IS better, yet somehow I have the neophyte's heavy-handedness in the application of seasonings. (Maybe it's the lack of ginger and shoyu in one's daily fare? I don't know.)

Thank you for the resuscitation of PE's recipe, especially with an eggplant twist...I'm up to my ears w/it right now so it's all really appealing!

alison said...

thank you for this - i've been looking for a good tofu recipe for a while.....then again have to check to make sure the tofu in my fridge isn't the tofu that was recalled!

cookiecrumb said...

Passionate Eater: Hi!!! I'm so glad you stopped by. I'm still very indebted to you for your cooking lessons.
I'm sorry you're homesick... At the same time, I'm really impressed you're doing Katrina work.
Hugs and kisses to you, doll.

Lannae: Ah! Mold! Yes, I understand... Local is hard, until you master it.

El: Eggplant! The mere name of it weirded me out as a kid... But I hope you'll give this recipe (or a version of it) a try. Oh, and visit Lucullian Delights http://lucullian.blogspot.com/2007/09/creamy-eggplant-spaghetti.html for a crazy, yummy eggplant spaghetti.

Alison: Yow! I know!!! Recalled tofu. Phooey. Damn and shit. I'm still feeling well, no bowel oddities, so... probably OK. :D

Sam said...

This is a lovely post. i was very sad I didn't get to meet PE. She invited me to her leaving brunch but I already had something booked that day.

this looks like the kind of chinese food that could maybe even convert Fred. As long as we give it a fancy French name. Cochon Aubergine ave Jus de Soyenne? That might work.

sending some hugging spirits with this comment....

cookiecrumb said...

Thank you, Sam. Fred doesn't want this dish, I'm pretty sure. :D
I'm impressed you were invited to PE's brunch. She and I totally messed up with crossed signals, and I didn't make it either.