In Chinese culture, many foods that are believed to cool the body are eaten in the summer. They include lotus root, watercress and all types of gwa, including watermelon, winter melon and bitter gourd. It's also believed that eating certain hot foods cools the body, because they make you sweat out the heat, although many of us just prefer to turn up the air conditioning.
Minced pork patties with salted fish and lotus root
This is an old-fashioned but easy Cantonese dish that uses my favourite everyday meat (pork), salted fish (which I love in all its incarnations, from bacalhau and anchovies, to the type used here, haam yu) and one of my favourite vegetables, lotus root. Choose a thick, moist and fleshy piece of haam yu, rather than a very dry/boney chunk.
I like to choose a fairly fatty chunk of pork and have the butcher mince it, rather than buying the pre-minced stuff, which is often too lean.
575 grams minced pork
15ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
5ml sesame oil
¼ tsp fine sea salt
1 slightly heaped tbsp cornstarch
30-50 grams haam yu fillet
150 grams lotus root
25 grams spring onions
Cooking oil, for pan-frying
Chinese brown vinegar, for serving
Rinse the haam yu with warm water then pat it dry. Very finely mince the fish, pulling out and discarding any bones you find. Peel the lotus root then very finely chop it. Mince the spring onions.
Thoroughly combine the pork with the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and cornstarch, then mix in the haam yu, lotus root and spring onion. If you have time, refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour (this makes it easier to shape and cook).
Heat oil to the depth of about 2mm in a skillet set over a medium flame. Working with damp hands, shape the meat mixture into patties about 4cm in diameter and place them in the hot skillet. Pan-fry for several minutes, or until the meat is cooked, adjusting the flame as needed so the patties don't burn. Blot the patties on paper towels, then pile them on a serving plate. Serve with a small bowl of brown vinegar, along with white rice and stir-fried Chinese greens.
Watercress and chicken soup
Many Chinese soups are cooked for such a long time that the ingredients lose all their flavour; it's primarily the broth that is consumed. This soup, which starts with chicken stock (rather than plain water, as with Chinese tonic soups), is cooked for only about 30 minutes, so the watercress and chicken meat can be enjoyed.
3 ginger slices, cut about 3mm thick and peeled
300 grams watercress
1.5 litres unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
3 chicken thighs, bones and skin removed
20ml soy sauce
20ml rice wine
¼ tsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
A large pinch of ground white pepper
5ml cooking oil
1 slightly heaped tsp cornstarch
Sesame oil and minced spring onions, for serving
Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces then mix with the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper, cooking oil and cornstarch.
Rinse the watercress, then trim off the ends.
Put the chicken stock into a soup pan and add the bones from the chicken thighs (the skin can be used for other dishes). Add the ginger then bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Bring the liquid back to a boil then add the watercress. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then add the chicken and the marinade. Simmer for five minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Taste the broth for seasoning and add salt, if needed. Ladle the ingredients (except the bones) into bowls then drizzle each portion with sesame oil and scatter spring onions on top. Serve immediately.
Stir-fried bitter melon and minced pork
500 grams bitter melon
150 grams minced pork
5ml soy sauce
5ml rice wine
A pinch of fine sea salt, plus more for salting the bitter melon
A pinch of ground white pepper
A pinch of granulated sugar
¼ tsp cornstarch
1 garlic clove, halved
1 red bird's-eye chilli (optional)
About 20ml cooking oil, divided
Cut the bitter melon in half lengthwise then scrape out the seeds and cottony core. Liberally sprinkle salt over the interior and leave for about 15 minutes. Rinse the melon under running water to wash away the excess salt. Dry the melon with paper towels then slice about 4mm thick.
Mix the pork with the soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch and a pinch each of salt, white pepper and sugar. Halve the chilli lengthwise then scrape out and discard the seeds and core. Mince the chilli.
Heat 10ml of oil in a wok set over a high flame. When the oil is hot, add the pork and use a spatula to break up the meat into small pieces. Stir-fry until the pork loses its pink colour then put it in a bowl.
Heat the wok again over a high flame and add 10ml of cooking oil. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, then add the bitter melon and a sprinkling of salt. Stir fry until the vegetable starts to soften, then add the pork back into the pan. Stir in the chilli. Add 25ml of water to the wok, scrape all the ingredients into the centre of the pan then lower the heat. Put the lid on the wok and simmer for a few minutes, or until the bitter melon is crisp-tender. Remove the lid and increase the flame, then stir-fry until the liquid is reduced enough to coat the ingredients. Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve immediately with steamed white rice.
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