The first thing Dennis Tang learned to do in the kitchen was light a kerosene stove. He wasn’t yet 10, and his mother taught him how to do it. From there, he learned to stir-fry bok choy, which, he said, is the most common vegetable in Asia.
Tang’s father was a watchmaker in Hong Kong, and when the family immigrated to San Francisco in 1971, it was at the advent of the digital watch craze, so there wasn’t much work to be had for him. He took cooking classes through an immigration training program and eventually became a banquet manager.
“At traditional Chinese banquets, all the tables are round and typically seat 10 people,” Tang said. “There are nine, 10, 11, 12 dishes at the banquet. Everything has to be perfectly timed to come out steaming hot, one dish at a time.”
Tang watched his father cook for the next 35 years or so, and his favorite dish he learned to prepare was stir-fried crab.
“Ginger and scallions and Dungeness crab is the best thing,” Tang said.
On a recent chilly January evening at his home, Tang cooked a vegetarian stir-fry for me with Brussels sprouts and fermented black beans, an ingredient that can be found in Asian grocery stores, such as MT Supermarket on North Lamar Boulevard in Austin or O-Mart in Killeen.
Until a year or so ago, Tang had not been a fan of Brussels sprouts.
“I never cooked them because they’re so American,” he said, laughing. “I had eaten them a couple of times, and the taste just didn’t appeal to me.”
That changed during the fourth week of a Chinese cooking class Tang taught through McLennan Community College’s continuing education program. An “older gentleman, a very innovative student” brought them to the final class when Tang instructs his students to bring in some of their favorite ingredients.
“He brought Brussels sprouts and steamed them, then stir-fried them,” Tang said. “They were really good.”
The secret is to add a bit of sugar to the sprouts before steaming them. And then the secret to any good stir-fry is to get the wok really hot before adding ingredients to it.
Tang, an engineer at Caterpillar, provided the recipe for his Brussels sprouts stir-fry as well as a recipe for a tomato and egg stir-fry, a staple in many Chinese homes. The tomato and egg stir-fry recipe can be viewed online at wacoan.com.
The lettuce wraps recipe is one of our favorites if we need to take an appetizer to a party; it’s always one of the first things eaten. And the pot stickers remind us of one of our favorite restaurants in Little Rock, Lilly’s Dim Sum, which closed in 2016 after a successful 15-year run.
We paired everything with a Tsingtao beer.
Spicy Pork Lettuce Wraps
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- 2 scallions or green onions, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cayenne or chili oil, or more to taste
- 4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 small red chilies, diced, for garnish if desired
- 1 or 2 heads Boston or bibb lettuce, leaves separated
- Hoisin sauce
In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil. Add garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pork and stir, breaking up meat into small pieces, until cooked through or no longer pink, 3-5 minutes. Add scallions or green onions and cook for 1 more minute.
In a small bowl, whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce and cayenne or chili oil, then add to the pork mixture. Stir to mix and cook for 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and stir in cilantro, mint and lime juice.
Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with red chilies, if desired. Serve with lettuce leaves and hoisin sauce. Let guests assemble their own bundles by spooning pork onto a lettuce leaf and topping with a teaspoon or so of hoisin sauce. Makes about 4-6 appetizer-size servings.
- 1/4 small head (about 2 cups) napa cabbage, finely chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon for seasoning
- 1/3 pound ground pork (not too lean)
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
- 1 small carrot, coarsely shredded
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 30 wonton wrappers
- 1/4 cup canola oil
In a large bowl, toss together cabbage and 3/4 teaspoon salt, and set aside for 30 minutes. Then transfer to a clean dish towel or cheesecloth, gather ends together, and twist to squeeze out as much water as possible. Wipe bowl clean, then return cabbage to the bowl. Add pork, ginger, carrots, scallions and garlic. Stir to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil and egg, then stir into the cabbage-pork mixture. Stir in pepper and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt.
On a dry surface, lay out 1 wonton wrapper, keeping the remaining wrappers covered with a moist towel. Spoon 1 1/2 teaspoons filling into center, then moisten the edges of the wrapper with water using a pastry brush or your finger. Pull the four corners of the wrapper to the center to make a pouch. Pinch the seams closed on all four sides. Stand the pot sticker on a baking sheet or plate and gently press to flatten bottom. Cover loosely with a damp cloth. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.
Place a 10-inch, nonstick skillet with a lid over medium-high heat, and heat the canola oil until hot but not smoking. Remove the skillet from the heat while arranging pot stickers in tight circular pattern standing up in oil. (They should touch one another.) Cook, uncovered, until bottoms are pale golden, 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 cup water, tilting skillet to distribute, then cover tightly with lid and cook until liquid has evaporated and bottoms of dumplings are crisp and golden, 7-10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons more water if skillet looks dry before bottoms are browned.
Remove lid and cook, shaking skillet to loosen pot stickers, until steam dissipates, 1-2 minutes. Use a thin spatula to gently remove the pot stickers from the pan and place on a serving plate. Serve warm with dipping sauce. Makes about 30 pot stickers.
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
- 3 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 cups cake flour
In a 5-quart bowl or lidded container, mix the yeast and salt with the water. Without kneading, mix in the flour
using a spoon or stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
Cover, but not airtight, and allow to rest until the dough rises and collapses, about 2 hours. Then refrigerate the dough for 24 hours.
Makes enough dough for eight batches of Scallion Pancakes.
For the pancakes:
- 1/2 pound dough from recipe above
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 3 medium scallions or green onions, sliced into thin rings
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons peanut, canola or corn oil
Dust the dough with flour and shape into a ball. Divide the dough into four equal pieces.
Using a rolling pin, flatten one piece of the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Spread a little sesame oil over the dough and add some of the scallions or green onions and a pinch of salt. Roll the dough up into a rope and coil the rope tightly around itself. Place on a work surface and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.
Flatten the dough segments into 1/8-inch thick rounds and set aside. Place a skillet over high heat and let it get hot. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and allow to get hot but not smoking.
Brush off any excess flour from the rolled-out dough and place it in the hot skillet. Lower the heat to medium and cover the skillet to trap the steam. Cook for 2-5 minutes, until you smell the pancake cooking or until the underside is browned. Adjust heat if necessary. Flip and cook the other side for 2-5 minutes or until both sides are nicely browned.
Repeat with the remaining dough rounds. Slice each pancake into 2 or 4 pieces and serve with the dipping sauce. Makes 4-8 servings.
- 2 tablespoons sambal
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.
Brussels Sprouts with Black Beans
- 1 pound of Brussels sprouts
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon fermented and salted black beans
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
- 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic
for the sauce (optional):
- 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon cooking wine
- 2 tablespoon oyster sauce
Rinse Brussels sprouts and cut larger ones in half. In a microwave-safe bowl, mix Brussels sprouts with the sugar and 1/4 cup chicken broth. Cover and heat in microwave on high for 5-6 minutes, or until sprouts are tender. Remove and strain.
Rinse the black beans for 30 seconds under running water, then pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
Set a wok over medium-high heat. Let it get hot and add 1 tablespoon cooking oil. Add onions and peppers to the hot wok. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, then sprinkle on the salt. Remove to serving plate.
Let the wok heat up again and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and black beans, then add the Brussels sprouts. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, then sprinkle with salt. Add the onions and peppers back to the wok and stir for 1 minute. Add more chicken broth if the wok gets too dry.
To make the sauce, if desired, whisk together corn starch, sugar, cooking wine and oyster sauce. Add the optional sauce or just oyster sauce and stir for 15-20 seconds. Serve with steamed rice. Makes about 4 servings.
Tomatoes with Eggs and Scallions
- 4 medium vine-ripe tomatoes
- 5 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided (optional)
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil (optional)
- Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
Peel tomatoes and cut into 3/4-inch chunks. Beat the eggs thoroughly. Add the milk, if desired. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt or 1 tablespoon fish sauce.
Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons cooking oil and let it get hot. Add the garlic and stir until it’s brown and fragrant.
Add tomatoes to the wok and stir for 1 minute. Add the sugar, either 1/2 teaspoon salt or 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, and 2-3 squirts of ketchup. Stir thoroughly and cook until tomatoes are soft. Tomatoes should be somewhat chunky. Pour the chunky tomato slurry into strainer and discard the liquid.
Wash the wok and dry well.
Heat the wok and add 2 tablespoons of oil and let it get hot. Add the green onions and basil, if desired. Quickly stir for 10 seconds. Stir in the eggs. Do not let the scrambled eggs overcook.
When the eggs are about 80 percent done, add the strained tomato slurry. Use a spoon to break up eggs to mix well with tomato slurry.
Add 1 squirt of Sriracha chili sauce, if desired, and stir for 15 seconds. Stir in the sesame oil and serve over steamed rice. Makes 4-6 servings.