IIf you had asked me what my cultural background was a few years ago, you would probably have gotten a different answer every time, depending on the year and my mood. The usual response was something like, “Asian, I guess?” Lots of different types of Asians.
My father is from Kashmir, a disputed region between India and Pakistan. My mother was born in Singapore to Chinese-Filipino parents, but was adopted at a very young age by a Eurasian mother and an Indonesian father. According to my calculations, that already makes six ethnic groups.
As I grew more confident and prouder of the cultures that make me who I am, I now make it a point to disclose all of my major ethnicities. That being said, if you don’t know me or are a rideshare driver, I’ll probably still say “I’m Chinese”.
These recipes are a snapshot of my journey as a young Asian-Australian, hooked on culture through food while navigating the western world. This is my Chinese cuisine – vibrant, crispy, flavorful, colorful and incredibly delicious.
Sichuan Hot Pot
It is a well-established fact that many people of East Asian descent suffer from lactose sensitivity. I’m a bit lactose intolerant myself, but I think this recipe is worth it.
In this recipe, we use beer instead of the traditional high-acid white wine. The beer is exactly what I would drink with this dish, as the flavor pairs so well with the cheese.
As with all popular Sichuan dishes, this hotpot is served under a blaze of bright red chili oil. If you don’t have a fancy fondue set-up, use a cast iron skillet or something similar that retains heat and put it back on the stove whenever you need to reheat it.
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
300g Gruyere cheese, grated
300g of county, grated
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300ml light beer
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
100ml chilli oil (your own variety or use Lao Gan Ma chili oil)
Fresh dill, parsley and chives, coarsely chopped
Cracked black pepper
Bread, cut into cubes
Hot smoked sausages
Place cornstarch and cheeses in a bowl and stir to combine. Put aside.
Heat the garlic and the blond beer in a saucepan over low heat and bring to the boil. Add a handful of the cheese mixture at a time to the simmering beer and whisk vigorously, making sure each addition is completely melted and emulsified before adding more.
Once all the cheese has been added and the mixture is thick and smooth, add the lemon juice, salt and white pepper and stir. If the mixture has turned into a blob of melted cheese with separated liquid, don’t worry. Just turn up the heat and whisk hard to bring it back together.
Transfer cheese mixture to a fondue pot or cast iron skillet. Season generously with chili oil, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. If the fondue starts to set, simply put it back on the stove and reheat it over low heat.
Serve the fondue with pickled peppers, bread, smoked sausages, cold cuts and boiled potatoes for dipping.
Sichuan sausage sangas
I love a sausage sizzle, as they are called in Australia. This recipe keeps the sizzle, sausage, and white bread, but the similarities end there. Instead, a savory, juicy, and spicy Szechuan peppercorn pork sausage is sprinkled with guanciale, slathered in Japanese mayonnaise, and refreshed with lime juice. Definitely not your average sausage sanga.
450g minced pork
50g guanciale or pancetta, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1 teaspoon ice water
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
For the spice mix
3 teaspoons Szechuan or Korean chili flakes
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
4 slices of white bread
Place the pork mince in the freezer for 30 minutes before using.
To make the spice mix, place all the ingredients in a small skillet and grill over low heat until very fragrant, taking care not to burn the chili flakes. If they get too dark, start over. Leave to cool, then reduce to a fine powder using a food processor.
Add the chilled minced pork, guanciale, ginger, fish sauce, light soy sauce, Dijon mustard, sugar, cornstarch and ice water to the spice mixture and pulse until well blended. The mixture should spring back when squeezed. Refrigerate sausage mixture for two hours.
With wet hands, roll the sausage mixture into four 2cm x 4cm logs and refrigerate for at least an hour to set.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add enough vegetable oil to evenly coat the bottom of the skillet. Cook sausages until nicely browned, rolling continuously for about 10 minutes.
To assemble, wrap the sausages in white bread with a generous handful of fresh herbs, a good layer of mayonnaise and a generous drizzle of lime juice.
Cheat’s Egg Custard Pie
The humble custard pie makes appearances in many different cultures, including as a Portuguese pastel de nata. Egg custard tart made its way to Hong Kong from the neighboring Portuguese colony of Macau, and the Cantonese transformed it by adding more egg yolks and decreasing sugar and dairy.
Traditional Chinese puff pastry is incredibly difficult to make. Using ready-made shortcrust pastry is foolproof and puts a still warm, freshly baked egg custard tart within everyone’s reach.
Vegetable oil, for brushing
2 sheets of shortcrust pastry
For the pastry cream
80g caster sugar
150ml hot water
60 ml sweetened condensed milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pastry cream, dissolve the sugar in hot water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to make a syrup. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, condensed milk and vanilla to combine. While continuing to whisk, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture. Strain into a bowl and let stand until air bubbles dissipate. Put aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Lightly brush a 12 muffin pan or 12 fluted individual pie pans with oil. Cut the puff pastry sheets into 12 equal squares and press into the greased pans, tapping off the excess. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.
Line dough bases with parchment paper and fill with dough weights or uncooked rice. Blind bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and weights and bake for another three to four minutes until golden brown. Let cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 140°C and distribute the pastry cream evenly between the shells.
Bake the tarts on the lowest level of your oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and let rest for about 15 minutes. Enjoy the cream pies while they are warm.
This is an edited excerpt from Chinese by Rosheen Kaul, illustrated by Joanna Hu published by Murdoch Books (RRP $39.99). Photography by Armelle Habib