Why I always eat my vegetables…

Growing up in an Asian household, I think one of the things I am most thankful for is the eating habits I’ve acquired. I guess I have to attribute most of this to my family, which is FULL of fantastic cooks, but I realize that there is something innate in Asian culture that has led to such healthy and flavorful cuisine. As a people, we are very resourceful, especially when it comes to food. If you think about it, traditional chinese cuisine is not really rich or extravagant, but rather wholesome and always full of flavor. We find ways to utilize almost every part of an animal or plant and can stretch a couple dishes to feed an entire family. Not to mention it’s all pretty healthy too! When was the last time you saw a chinese dish that used butter, cream or cheese in it? Never, because it simply isn’t done (dim sum desserts don’t count). And you wonder why your Asian friends are all so thin (though international McDonald’s and KFC have been changing that as of late).

Nevertheless, I haven’t always loved Chinese food. In fact, I used to be quite a pick eater when I was younger – go ahead and ask my parents; there was a time when I demanded Happy Meals and pizza rolls day in and day out and had to be force fed my spinach. But gradually (I think traveling back to China so often had a large part to do with it), I began to appreciate zhōngcān, and even started to crave it when I had too many sandwiches back-to-back. There is a certain comfort in a blank canvas of white rice: that foundation of clean, pure and unadulterated nourishment that marries with practically any sauce, meat and vegetable – what’s not to love? Grabbing up a bowl of the finest short-grain and sitting around sharing plates of food “family-style” is something I’ve always loved about Asian cuisine:

HEY! QUIT TAKING PICTURES, WE TRYNA EAT!

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about in this post was how being Chinese has instilled in me a love for fruits and vegetables. I know it sounds strange, but I am very thankful for it. Despite my finicky palette as a kid, I remember always asking my mom to buy us juicy mangoes, seedless watermelon and those delicious, crispy Asian pears. Being introduced to fresh produce at a young age, I really can’t imagine what it would be like without it. It wasn’t until I started having sleepovers with my white friends that I realized how lucky I was. I mean, the only fruits and vegetables my friends ever ate came out a yellow can and were either drenched in blindingly sweet syrup or frozen solid. That’s no way to live!

One particular childhood memory I have regarding food was having dinner down the street at my white friend’s house when I was about 8 years old. We had roasted chicken (yum), fresh dinner rolls (YUM!) and… some odd, yellowish/brown item I later learned was… buttered broccoli (-____-). Why must white people do such horrible things to their vegetables? Strange as it may sound for a third grader, broccoli was actually one of my absolute favorite foods… and it sure as hell it wasn’t supposed to look like that! What I’ve always seen as a bright, crunchy and fragrant green was reduced down to a soggy, fattening, denatured mess. But being the polite guest, I forced it down and pretended to enjoy it. My friend saw this, thinking I actually liked it, and shoveled his broccoli onto my plate while his dad wasn’t looking! Infuriated, but not wanting to cause any trouble, I woefully ate his portion. And that was the last time I ever ate there.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my friend; that he had to be subject to this culinary injustice is such a travesty! If you’ve always hated broccoli, then I blame your parents. I also blame butter. And if you’ve only eaten broccoli that’s been doused in cheese or ranch dressing, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Try some of mama Huang’s 西兰花 and you’ll be wondering why you’ve been so silly all these years.

So for my first bananalife recipe, I am going to share with you one of the simplest and best-tasting ways to prepare broccoli (credit goes to my mom!)

STIR-FRIED BROCCOLI W/GARLIC (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2x broccoli crowns
  • 3-4x cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water or beef/chicken broth
  • kosher salt to taste
Equipment:
  • Stovetop
  • Large skillet or wok
  • Slotted spatula
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
Preparation
  1. Remove any leafy parts from the trunk of the broccoli crowns and wash with cold water.
  2. Take the crowns and tear off florets into bite sized pieces (larger florets can be halved). You will be left with the tough trunk section which can be peeled and sliced into thin pieces (don’t throw it out!)
  3. The garlic should be sliced into very thin rounds. Like in Goodfellas. Well, maybe not THAT thin, but you get the idea.
  4. Heat the oil in your skillet to medium-high heat; add the garlic slivers and toast until fragrant (should only take a minute or so). Don’t let the garlic burn!
  5. Add your broccoli florets to the pan and stir to coat with the garlic infused oil.
  6. Add the 1/2 cup of water or broth to the pan. This will prevent the garlic from burning; the steam will start to cook the broccoli (but you don’t have to cover it).
  7. Sprinkle salt to taste and continue to stir occasionally for about 5 more minutes.
  8. Once the broccoli is bright green, tender yet still crunchy, you can take it off the heat and serve!

This is how it should be done. Butter, GTFO.

I think the reason why this is so delicious is that it accentuates the great texture and color of the vegetable without compromising its taste. Since broccoli on its own is rather bland, the garlic adds the right amount of flavor without overpowering its natural floral fragrance. YEAH, I KNOW WASSUP!!!

Hope you guys enjoy! If you have young kids, this is the way to introduce them to broccoli 🙂

John

PICTURE OF THE WEEK: cousin packin’ heat

After coming home from China this winter break, I raided my family’s old photo albums to discover some gems. This is by far my favorite:

Peng Song packin' HEAT

My yi ma (mom’s older sister) and cousin Peng Song when she was about 3 (she is 2.5 years older than me so this was probably ’88 or ’89). FWAHAHAHA.

More where this came from.

Tiger Mom Swag

Yo!

So I recently started reading the infamous “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a memoir-style book by Yale Law professor Amy Chua that talks about the her experiences raising her two daughters in the traditional -and in her case, extreme- “Chinese way”. I know I am kind of late to the party (I believe this book was all the rage about a year ago) but I recall reading the original WSJ article a while back and thinking how insanely strict this lady was -and how lucky I was to have a not-so-intense tiger mom. She seemed so over-the-top and almost borderline abusive that I didn’t want to read her book b/c I figured I’d end up just feeling sorry for her kids. But then I read later that the WSJ article actually placed the excepts out of context and misconstrued her true motivations and behavior. I think it was unfortunate that much of the criticism over Chua was delivered from people who had just read the initial article and not the actual book. Nevertheless, I have heard a lot of mixed reviews and I am excited to give it a read and develop my own opinion on it. From what it looks like in interviews and articles, her daughters seemed to have turned out to be very intelligent, polite, sociable and accomplished individuals. Regardless of the crazy, Chua must have been doing something right.

tiger mom don't play

After reading a few chapters, I find that her writing style is rather blunt, which may be is why it is so amusing. Many of her stories remind me of some of my own childhood experiences and I realized that that this book is the a perfect resource to help spur ideas for this blog. Not only that, I learned that Chua is coming to St. Louis this semester to give a talk. I wonder if she’d to sign my MCAT prep book.

Speaking of “tiger moms,” I wanna share a link to the comical blog of a fellow banana and good friend of mine, Stacey. Her tumblr, aptly titled, “My Tiger Mom: Gems of Misunderstood Wisdom,” is a collection of quotes and conversations she’s had with her sharp-tongued and unknowingly hilarious matriarch. Do yourself a favor and follow her!

Lastly, because it is awesome, here is a pic of my grandma in her favorite jacket:

TIGER GRANDMA SWAG!

Until next time,
John

My new cousin-in-law…

As you may already know, the main reason for my return to the motherland this past December was to attend my cousin Li Xi’s (Sissy’s) wedding. She emailed me out of the blue about a year ago with the news of the engagement and I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to travel back to China.

The last time I saw my cousin Li Xi was during the summer of 2002. Even though we’ve grown up on opposite sides of the planet, I’ve always felt very close to her. But having not spoken to her in almost a decade, I was pretty nervous to finally see her again after all these years. Nevertheless, once reunited, we were joking around and reminiscing as if no time had passed (even with our semi-broken language barrier). Meeting her fiance-now-husband, however, was another story. For one, my mandarin is pretty rusty and two, since he is a native Cantonese speaker, even his mandarin was not that great o_O.

Trying to connect with him was awkward at first, but we quickly made it work. After fumbling over conversation topics, I finally struck common ground on the subject of music. I could see he was trying extremely hard to make me feel comfortable as he attempted some painfully-broken English. Here was my first exchange with my new cousin-in-law, Wu Hai Feng (a.k.a. Hamilton):

Him: “Do you like blog ice peed?”

Me: “uhh, 什么 (what)?”

Him: “Umm, the… uh… hei- (runs off to his room)”

Me: (to myself) “blog… ice… peed…?”

(He returns and hands me THIS)

Me: “Ohhh… lol”

Apparently they are his favorite music group right now. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that BEP is the armpit stain of all modern music, so I just responded with: “他们还可以” (translation: they aiite). Also, no joke, the song he chose to have played while walking across the stage to deliver his wedding vows and ask my uncle for his blessing was “I Gotta Feeling.”

At least it wasn’t Nickelback.