Salmon In Banana Leaf
Category: Main Dishes | Blog URL: http://girlichef.blogspot.com/2009/08/salmon-wrapped-in-banana-leafinspired.html
This recipe was entered in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, a compilation of the world’s best food blogs which was published in Fall 2010.
The latest Cook the Books Club selection, chosen by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, was The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. I've been sitting here with my wrists resting on my laptop...fingers poises...and I do not know where to begin! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I enjoyed it with every sense of my being. I felt it to the core. Okay yes, I have a thing for foodie novels anyway, but some are far superior to others...and The Last Chinese Chef was in that upper crust (she says, tongue in cheek) for me. Wow, this pun works amazingly well. I mean, I would totally miss the bottom crust if it wasn't there...but it occasionally gets a bit soggy or seems to dissolve into the filling. But the top crust, all golden and shiny and enticing...sometimes completely hiding the filling, thus surprising me or giving me little glimpses as to what it contains...is what I long to bite into! There was also a book within a book that Mones "quoted" from throughout. Much like Dean Koontz' Book of Counted Sorrows (which actually does exist now, since he had so many inquiries...he made it exist), I wish that this fictional book really existed.
This is the story of Maggie. It is the story of Sam. It is the story of two people coming together...through food. Food is truly the universal language. Although the circumstances that bring Maggie to China may seem less than ideal (a paternity claim against her recently deceased husband), I believe they were a blessing in disguise. Being a food writer dream job!, Maggie was able to turn the trip into an assignment as well...a happy coincidence that introduced her to Sam. Ahhhhhh, Sam. Half American, half Chinese...both influencing his passion for food and cooking. But the Chinese side is what he has emerged himself into for the past few years and what leads him and Maggie into each others hearts.
I think it must be Mones' knack for entwining history, lore, legend, feelings and description that kept me glued to the pages. I know that there are people (probably many) who only eat out of necessity; they fill their bellies and move on to the next task. But I cannot even think about food without marveling in the wonders of it....it nourishes not just our bodies, but our minds and souls as well. Eating is social. Eating is pleasurable. Eating is desirable. Food is sharing. Oh my...I'm getting excited! A Chinese term carried throughout the book, which I believe rings true in this foodie-blogosphere of ours is Guanxi. "Guanxi was connection, relationship, mutual indebtedness." There is a moment of realization in the book when Sam recognizes that not only is guanxi a term used in the business world, guanxi was also food! It was "people eating together, whether at banquets or daily meals"...food is an "engine"! Yes! He realizes this could be the reason that Chefs have always been so highly regarded in China. And I think it's the reason that the same regard is finally started to be recognized about Chefs in America...and everywhere else around the globe.
I'm pretty sure I wanted to try each and every single bit of food that was mentioned throughout this book. But the one that I have not stopped thinking about was Pork Spareribs in Lotus Leaf. I was bound and determined to make this and knock all of your socks off. When Sam loving and painstakingly works on perfecting these...I can feel my cheeks starting to tingle and my mouth begins to water. They were short ribs, marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, scallions, ginger, sugar, peanut and sesame oils and bean paste with ginger and scallions. After marinating, they were rolled in a rice powder that was scented with 5-spice...making sure to get some larger rice crumbles for mouth-feel...and then wrapped lovingly inside a lotus leaf in bite-sized chunks. Amazingly, Mones has a recipe for this on her website, so I went about gathering ingredients. But alas, I could not find a rice powder scented with 5-spice. No biggy, I decided it would be easy enough to make one on my own...well, at least what I guessed it would be. Although I had no szechuan peppercorns, I substituted a mix of black peppercorns and dried red chiles, so hopefully the flavor profile was pretty close. And it was actually a success...whether it was correct or not, I'm not sure, but I'm keeping it in my pantry for future use! My local Asian Market never seemed to be open during the hours that I could make it over there, so I didn't get any bean paste. I bought ribs but ended up letting them go to waste (seriously, one of the things I hate to do the most is waste good food) in middle of the hustle-bustle of life last week. Do I even need to tell you that I could not locate Lotus Leaves. Anywhere. Ugh. Okay, switch gears...but just slightly. I ended up making a salmon dish that was totally inspired by my desire to try the Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaf.
The rice powder scented with 5-spice coats the salmon nicely and gives it this unexpected dimension in flavor and texture. Serve over or next to the noodles and corn with the dipping sauce.
This is a meal I will be making again...and don't worry, I'm not giving up on the Pork wrapped in Lotus Leaf! I have some scented rice powder just waiting for my upcoming trip to the Asian Market. Now, are you writing another foodie novel Nicole? Because I want to be early in line.