Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
Stuffed vegetables can be found in almost every cuisine, whether it's Mexican chiles en nogada (stuffed chillies with walnut sauce), minced lamb-stuffed eggplant in the Middle East, or Cantonese fried bell peppers filled with minced meat or fish paste.
Chinese stuffed vegetables (pictured)
This is one of my favourite snacks at Chinese fast-food shops - the kind that also sell gai dan jai ("little chicken eggs"), waffles and deep-fried intestines, but it's hard to find really good ones. Often, the vegetables are greasy and taste of over-used oil. This version is much better.
500 grams slightly fatty minced pork
6-8 fresh shrimp, with bodies about 5cm long, heads and shells removed
6 water chestnuts, peeled
2-3 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 spring onions, finely minced
A small handful of fresh coriander, chopped
30-40ml soy sauce
20-30ml rice wine
10ml pure sesame oil
½ tsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
A heaped tsp of cornstarch, plus extra for dredging
Cooking oil, for frying
Vegetables of your choice, such as red and yellow bell peppers (or even better, baby red and yellow peppers), red or green banana peppers, bitter melon, fresh shiitake mushrooms and Chinese eggplant; as well as fried beancurd
For the dipping sauce:
Chinese brown vinegar
Finely shredded ginger
Cut a slit down the back of the shrimp, then remove and discard the black vein. Finely chop the shrimp.
Thoroughly rinse the water chestnuts then finely dice them. Mix the pork with the shrimp, water chestnuts, ginger, spring onion and coriander. Season with the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, salt, pepper and cornstarch.
If using bell peppers, cut them in half and remove the core, stem and seeds. Use paper towels to dry the cavity (this makes the meat adhere better). Pack the meat into the cavity. If using regular-size bell peppers, cut each half into four pieces.
For banana chillies, cut them in half lengthwise and remove the core and seeds, but leave the stem intact. Dry the cavity then pack the filling into it, mounding it slightly. If using eggplant, cut it in the diagonal into 1cm-thick slices. Lay the pieces on a work surface and slice each almost in half parallel to the work surface, leaving them intact at one end. Open each piece slightly and pack in the stuffing. Shiitake mushrooms are easy to prepare: you only need to remove the stem (which can be chopped and added to the filling, if you don't want to waste it) and fill the cap with the meat. If using bitter melon, cut off the stem end and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pith, then stuff the filling into the cavity before cutting the melon into 1cm-wide rings. For fried bean curd, cut it in half on the diagonal and pack the meat over each piece.
Pour oil in a skillet to a depth of about 3cm and heat to 180 degrees Celsius. Dredge each piece of meat-stuffed vegetable (or beancurd) in cornstarch, shake off the excess, then fry in the hot oil for several minutes, turning once, until the filling is cooked through (three to five minutes). Drain on paper towels.
Mix the ginger with some brown vinegar and serve with the fried stuffed vegetables.
Stuffed bell peppers
30 grams raw long-grain rice
350 grams minced pork
350 grams minced beef
2 eggs, whisked
¼ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
The finely grated zest of one lemon
100 grams finely minced white onion
20 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 small red bell peppers or two large ones
Cooking oil, as needed
For the sauce:
½ a small onion, minced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
500 grams canned chopped tomatoes
A little sugar, if needed
Put the rice in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 30 minutes then drain it in a fine-meshed strainer. Rinse briefly with cold water then drain again. Mix the beef and pork with the rice, eggs, cumin, oregano, lemon zest, onion and parmesan. Season with black pepper and a little salt (bear in mind the parmesan is salty). Heat a small, lightly oiled skillet and pan-fry a little of the meat mixture to check the seasonings; correct, if necessary.
If using small bell peppers, cut off the stem end and remove the core and seeds. If using larger peppers, cut them in half from stem to end and remove the core and seeds. Stuff the cavities with the meat mixture.
Make the sauce. Heat about 20ml of cooking oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and season to taste with salt. Cook over a low flame until the onion is soft. Turn the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Taste the sauce and if it's too acidic, add a little sugar.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Spoon half of the sauce into an oven-proof pan that will fit the peppers fairly snugly. Put the peppers in the pan, meat-side up. Spoon a little of the sauce over each pepper. Cover the pan with aluminium foil then bake at 200 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the foil then continue to bake for 10-20 minutes, or until the meat filling is cooked through and the sauce has concentrated slightly but is not dry.
Serve the peppers with the remaining tomato sauce on the side, and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.