Archive | September, 2010

Making Di San Xian 地三鲜: Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Bell Pepper [Day 16]

25 Sep

Since my favorite vegetarian foods are fairly easy to make, I’ve been cooking a lot more often. One of my favorite foods is di san xian, or 地三鲜, a northeastern Chinese home-style dish (东北家常菜). The first time I had it was one year ago, when my friend Vishal serendipitously pointed at the ‘di san xian’ photo in the restaurant menu.

Transliterated, ‘di san xian’ means ‘earth three fresh,’ no doubt because it incorporates 3 fresh elements: eggplant, potato, and green pepper.

I’m notoriously wacky — er, okay, bad — at giving cooking instructions, so I hope the following recipe will be fairly comprehensible.

Di San Xian: Sautéed Eggplant with Potatoes and Green Pepper

3/4 medium Chinese eggplant
80% Russet potato, or 2 small potatoes “borrowed” from your roommate
1/2 green bell pepper
3/4 green onion
2 cloves diced garlic
1 smidgen of minced ginger
1.5 Tb-ish of soy sauce
Corn starch

  1. Peel the potato, then slice it and the eggplant into thin chunks. (See 1:14 of this video for an example, or see the slices below.)
  2. Place the eggplant pieces in a bowl, sprinkle with salt to get rid of excess water. Wait for 10 minutes or so, then pat dry with a paper towel. (See Photo 1)
  3. Put some oil in a pan. Once it gets hot, carefully put in the potato pieces. I recommend using a slotted spoon (see Photo 3) to avoid crazy oil/water splash catastrophes. Start the heat on low, and once the potato starts looking cooked, turn up the heat.1 Remove the potatoes, place on a plate with a paper towel to absorb oil.
  4. While you’re waiting for the potatoes to fry, you might want to make a slurry of soy sauce, corn starch, and water. I can’t really tell you the proportions. But you’ll get it right. Also, I added a few drops of sesame oil the last time around. I’m not sure if it made a difference or not.
  5. Shallow fry the eggplant on medium heat. Look at how vibrant the purple is! Once the eggplant chunks starts looking translucent, transfer them to the same paper-towel lined plate.
  6. Chop the green onion, dice the garlic, mince the ginger, cut the green bell pepper into whatever shape you’d like. I recommend chunks about the same size as 2/3 of your index finger, assuming you have normal hands. Also, don’t chop off your finger while thinking of my size referent.
  7. Get rid of most of the oil in the pan, and use what remains to sauté the green onion, garlic, and ginger. Once it starts to get fragrant, add eggplant and potato on medium to high heat.
  8. Add the slurry, stir it around. You’re done! (See Photo 5). Serves 1.3 people as a main dish, 2 as a side dish.

1 Low heat will cook the potatoes, high heat will give it a nice browned exterior. This method, as well as the double-fry (one pan on low heat, another already on high heat), is also the key to good french fries. (See Photo 4 for the beginning of the process)

Why Being a Vegetarian Sucked [Day 6]

16 Sep

I have some theories as to why vegetarian foods weren’t so popular in the recent past, but I’ll share those another time.

That quote, from a previous entry was unclear. Better put: I have some theories as to why being a vegetarian sucked, prior to the popularization of the diet/lifestyle. But first, let’s start at the very beginning.1

My problem with the word ‘vegetarian’ has to do with its etymology: veget(ables) + -arian.2 And vegetables, in my mind and in the minds of many others, translates to leafy greens.

Lettuce. Kale. Okra. Spinach. Arugula.

The images of those vegetables alone, firmly planted in the bed of my consciousness, made the vegetarian diet seem decidedly unappetizing. For a long time, my understanding of the archetypal vegetarian was the giraffe — someone who extends his long, almost serpentine neck towards thorny branches just to pluck at some bitter leaves with his black tongue.3

But if you think about it, that kind of green and leafy arched framework does not fit around what most vegetarians practice in their daily diets. A looser and more realistic definition of ‘vegetarian’ is one who eats leafy greens as well as fruits, nuts, grains, mushrooms, and more.

When I realized this, I had a complete paradigm shift: being a vegetarian means eating anything that doesn’t move on its own, is fair game. The world of food possibilities less fins, wings, and legs is still a very rich one. So now, I have a renewed sense of appreciation for the classical cornucopia:

Look, people! It’s the horn o’ plenty! And it’s vegetarian!

There’s more to say on this topic, but I first need to catch up on my reading. It seems that as a student, I always have promises to keep, and pages to go before I sleep. And pages to go before I sleep.

1 A very good place to start.
2 -arian: indicating a person or thing that advocates, believes, or is associated with something. I am not even going to try and define “vegetable,” which sounds like an easier task than it actually is. (For an introduction to the debate, see vegetable’s Wiki page.) This ontological ambiguity gave rise to the confusion I expand on above, in the main body of the text where the real meat of my argument lies. Whoops, did I say ‘meat’?
3 I almost want to apologize to my real (i.e., not 1-month spree! whee! people like me) vegetarian friends, but why should I? The giraffes would probably be among those most grievously offended, and very few of them read this blog anymore, if I’m to trust what the traffic stats are saying.

My Green Month [Day 5]

15 Sep

Five days have passed, and already I’m exhibiting meat withdrawal. I attribute this in part to Gennia’s posted photo of delicious poutine. Poutine, a Canadian comfort food of fries, beef gravy, and curds, is a distantly related cousin to chili cheese fries — which, as you might already know, probably constituted 18% of my pre-veg diet. (An exaggeration? You be the judge.)

Then, after a lively 3 hour geography seminar, I indulged my brain in a little veg out time by watching YouTube videos. In a lapse of judgment, I decided to watch a video on how to make chili cheese fries.

As a fairly respected chili cheese fry researcher, I have to admit that I strongly disagree with her methodology, though I think her broiling techniques do shed valuable insight …

Anyway, again, I made a poor decision.

But more on my vegetarian month later. A dense economic history book awaits …

Vegging Out [Day 3]

12 Sep

From September 10 through October 10, I plan to be a vegetarian. Just as the dates are almost completely arbitrary, so are my reasons.

I’ve written about my quasi-vegetarianism, or “vaguetarianism,” in the past. I haven’t changed my stance on meat since that entry, but after having a few conversations with vegetarians, I decided it would be interesting to join them for a month.

For one, I think I’ll become more conscious about my food choices when I eat out. Second, it’s an incentive for me to cook more since most vegetarian things I get at restaurants can be made at home, and at a cheaper cost. Third, I’ll take my overall nutrition into account more often, now that I have to be more conscientious of where I’ll get my iron, protein, etc.

But honestly, the biggest factor in the decision was the first one. The interest in vegetarianism became a commitment (albeit only a month-long one) shortly after I ate a big cheesesteak at Vinnie’s. A month-long form of dietary penance for the quarter-cow I ate, I suppose.

My friend Laura suggested I blog about whatever physical/mental changes I have during this month, which I think could be a valuable exercise. I’ll admit that I don’t foresee any big disruptions to my lifestyle. All it means is no more occasional mushroom burger at Bongo Burger, no more bimonthly-ish chicken burritos, no more hunting wildlife on the weekends. This is doable.

This is doable.

But maybe I don’t have to try and convince myself. In the past few days, I have had corn chowder, vegetarian tacos, chocolate chip cookies, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, among other things. If this is penance, then I haven’t quite had feelings of contrition yet.

Today I made ratatouille.

This is not ratatouille. This is the most grotesque cutting board I have ever seen in my life. We inherited it from the previous tenants.
It has become the designated hot plate mat.

Fresh out of the oven!

You can’t really go wrong with nice veggies, tomatoes, romano cheese, and mushrooms. I added some sun dried tomatoes, which in retrospect was a very wise decision.

I have some theories as to why vegetarian foods weren’t so popular in the recent past, but I’ll share those another time.

Antediluvian Cell Phone Pics

5 Sep

Signs of the times:

Cool limestone formation:

North Berkeley: (1) detour with Harmony, (2) a small dog sighting

There’s a journal for everyone:

Well, whaddya know:

Housewarming flowers from Dit: