Crunchy broccoli in chili and garlic oil à la Chinabrenner

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There is a small handful of restaurants in Leipzig that I really like and respect, and Chinabrenner is on that list. It is situated in Plagwitz, a former industrial area of Leipzig, and the restaurant is in an old warehouse building.  My ex flatmate told me about this place many years ago. She used to work around the corner from Chinabrenner, and I remember her telling me about a chinese place where you can get a bowl of stir-fry and rice with a cup of tea for 4 euros that doesn’t taste like boring old oily take away chinese food (!). They didn’t used to have dinner back then, I don’t think. Nowadays, lunch costs 6.50, which isn’t bad actually, and they have great dinner. Soooo good, in fact. It comes with a price tag in the evening, but it is worth going all the way to Plagwitz area for authentic chinese, mostly Szechuan cuisine. (I actually don’t like to use the word “authentic” but it is really that good).

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I went to China on an orchestra tour almost 4 years ago. Despite people telling me about their negative experiences in China, I ate incredibly well there. I ate mostly vegetarian, and Vegetarian Lifestyle in Shanghai was definitely a highlight. I also ate at an upscale Szechuan specialty restaurant in Beijing (not that Szechuan is anywhere near there..) which was also fantastic, and a tongue numbing experience. Since then, I have been interested in cooking chinese. Watching this documentary from BBC with the great Ken Hom and ChingHe Huang made me even more eager to learn.

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One of Chinabrenner’s dishes that all my friends and I order every time, is cold broccoli. The broccoli florets are barely cooked, and they are dressed in a pretty large quantity of spicy chili and garlic oil, sprinkled with a healthy dosage of Szechuan pepper. Man, do those tiny peppers numb your tongue! My attempt at this dish might not taste exactly like at the restaurant, but I think it’s pretty close. I reduced the amount of oil, and added slightly more acidity, making the dish more salad like. The key to this dish is to barely cook the broccoli. I add the florets in boiling water for 30 seconds only, just enough to take out their raw edge. The chili bean paste among other ingredients can be found at Asian stores.  Bon Appetit!

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Crunchy Broccoli in Chili and Garlic Oil

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets and the stalk peeled and chopped into matchsticks
60ml vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 hot chili flakes OR 1-2 dried hot chili, crumbled.
1 Tbsp Shao Shing Wine
2 1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp Rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar or dark chinese vinegar
1 tsp chinese chili bean paste
1 tsp Szechuan pepper, toasted and roughly ground
1 tsp sugar

1. Bring a pot of water and a teaspoon of salt to boil. Add the broccoli and boil for 30 seconds only. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop them cooking. Let the broccoli drain well.
2. In a small frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the minced garlic and chili flakes. As soon as they start to sizzle, turn the heat down to low and let them soften for 10 minutes.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Add the garlic and chili oil and whisk to combine.
4. Put the well drained broccoli in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing. Chill for an hour in the fridge and serve.

Soba Noodles in Spicy Ginger and Garlic Broth

Angela Kim Cheap Recipe

Happy new year everyone! It’s been a month since I posted a recipe here. Whoa. I was busy towards the end of the year, as I imagine most of you were as well.  Planning Christmas and new year’s eve meals was of course on the list of things-to-do. I cooked three fantastic meals around Christmas, two of them involving roasting a chicken and two geese, and one of them was a vegan (phew!) lunch. I have to say, it was pretty stressful at times, not the actual cooking part but having to cook in kitchens not my own. The biggest meal was roasting two geese. Unfortunately this year, my friend Paige wasn’t there to roast the bird with me like we have done for the past five Christmases. This year I had two boys and my cousin to be my sous-chefs. They were very helpful (thanks guys), but Paige, who is not only an amazing cook but also knows how we sync together in a kitchen, was dearly missed. Nevertheless, after 4.5 hours of careful cooking, weird dance moves to Tannhäuser and wine-sipping in between, the geese turned out to be really good and the port wine gravy was a winner. And last but not least, it was so nice to be able to share the meal with my amazing friends. I can’t wait for the next goose in twelve months!

So…. after a week of total over-indulgence in food like every other year around Christmas, I made a bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles in spicy broth. I actually came up with this two years ago when I had odd ends of veggies in the fridge that needed to be used up. I think I might have had the cold too, which explains the amount of garlic, chili and ginger I put in the soup at the time. I have modified the recipe a little, so those who don’t have congested sinus can eat it without sweating through the entire meal. The broth is light yet nourishing and easy to make. You can use any vegetables lying around in the fridge. I like to top the noodle soup with an egg, but you can omit it if you don’t have any.

But just to be super showy and wanna-be-chef, here’s a photo of my perfectly poached egg. 🙂 I’m telling you guys, the egg has to be super fresh. If you are not sure about the freshness of the egg, then crack the egg through a small but fine sieve, and let the watery egg white drip for a bit before poaching. The older the egg, more the watery the egg white gets, and therefore messier the end product. And, always gently simmer the egg, otherwise the egg white will end up being way too tough.

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(It took me a couple of tries to be able to poach perfectly every time. Practice makes perfect…)

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I hope you have a fantastic year, filled with lots of amazing food you can share. There’s nothing better than sitting down with your loved ones at a dinner table. Cheers!

Ps. My Christmas salad recipe was featured  in the Guardian. 🙂

Soba Noodles and Vegetables in Spicy Ginger and Garlic broth

Serves 2

For the broth,
3cm ginger, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
15cm piece of konbu*,
1 small onion, peeled and left whole, studded with 4 cloves
1 mild red chili (optional), split lenghtwise
4 dried shiitake mushrooms*, rinsed briefly under cold water
A pinch of salt
1.2 liter water
1/2-1tsp red curry paste (start with less and gradually add more to your taste)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (preferably light)

To finish,
150-200g buckwheat soba noodles OR rice noodles, cooked to package direction
2-4 kinds of vegetables (I used carrots, savoy cabbage, cauliflower and spring onion)
Tofu (optional)
Poached egg or hard boiled egg (optional)
Coriander leaves
Lime wedges

*Konbu and dried shiitake mushrooms can be easily found at asian markets.

1. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the broth, except for the red curry paste and soy sauce. Bring to boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

2. In meanwhile, chop your vegetables to bite sized pieces.

3. Cook the noodles according to package direction. Rinse under cold water and drain well.

4. Poach or boil your egg(s) to your own method, if using.

5. After 30 minutes, drain the broth through a fine sieve. Save the shiitake mushrooms and discard the rest. Slice the shiitake mushrooms and put them back in the broth.

6. Bring the broth to boil again. Add the curry paste and soy sauce. Add your chopped vegetables and tofu, if using, and cook until just tender.

7. Add the soba noodles in a serving bowl and ladle the broth and vegetables.

8. Top with an egg and garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with a lime wedge on the side.