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Summers in Atlanta are hot. I used to dread those heatwaves in the Bay Area when I was growing up until I moved here. At least that was dry heat. In Atlanta, the humidity plus the heat sometimes really make it unbearable. I end up staying indoors for most of summer with the AC turned on and try to keep cool with “cooling” things to eat.

Chinese people know how to stay cool. Here is a Chinese dessert which one can often find in dim sum restaurants. I like this recipe a lot because it’s easy and fail-proof. I tend to prefer gelatin over agar-agar for the texture. Contrary to the name, there is no tofu in the dessert. It sort of looks like tofu, but it’s not tofu. The traditional way of making this is using canned fruit cocktail. Since the almond gelatin is already sweet, adding some fresh fruit is a nice substitute from canned fruit cocktail.

 

Almond Tofu Dessert

Serves 6

 

Ingredients:

2 cups milk of choice (cow, almond, coconut…etc.)

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons almond extract

2 packets of Knox unflavored gelatin (1/4 ounce powdered gelatin per packet)

 

Directions:

1. In a large pot, add all of the above ingredients except for the gelatin. Bring to a small simmer under medium-low heat. Turn heat off once the mixture begins to simmer.

2. Sprinkle gelatin evenly over the mixture. Stir gently to dissolve while trying to not incorporate bubbles into mixture.

3. Carefully pour into a 9X13 baking dish. Once cool. Cover with plastic wrap and move to refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours or until set.

5. Serve with fresh fruit of choice.

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I am part Taiwanese and part Hakka. I grew up in a predominantly Hakka community in the city of Chungli in Taiwan. Until our move to the U.S., I was surrounded mainly by my Hakka-speaking relatives. It’s a shame that I can barely speak the dialect now. I can still understand some though. It’s definitely a language that makes me feel at home when I hear it. It brings back a lot of the comforts of childhood. Hakka food in Chungli is phenomenal. Even in the big city of Taipei in Taiwan, Hakka food is still subpar to that of Chungli. It’s definitely something you can barely find half-decent in the U.S.

I distinctly remember eating frequently at this stall in the basement of a large public market in Chungli with my family. It was not the fanciest place. In fact, I think by today’s standards, it might not even be sanitary. However, they served this amazing fried Hakka salted pork. It’s basically cured pork belly that’s been deep-fried, then sliced. You then eat it with plain rice porridge. I don’t typically like fatty pork, but I liked this stuff. It’s funny because this was a part of my early childhood and I still have strong memories of this. In fact, I still dream about this ice shop in Chungli that we used to frequent for taro ice pops. I dream about food. I am not ashamed to say I do.

So not being able to get any decent Hakka cuisine in the U.S. nor live anywhere near my Hakka mother, I’d have to make my own. Thankfully, my mother was here to visit last week. It was a fun and a blessed week. As always, she was busy in the kitchen even if it’s not hers. She loaded up my fridge with lots of dishes to savor for later. We made Hakka salted pork together. According to her, this came about in the old days because refrigeration for food was rare, so people had to cure their meats. She recalled her grandmother making this dish with lots of salt. You can fry, steam, or stir-fry this with vegetables or bean curd. This recipe is more of a modern day version of the traditional Hakka salted pork.

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Hakka Salted Pork Belly 

(adapted from Little Bear’s Kitchen)

Ingredients:

2 strips of pork belly (about 1 pound each strip)

2 teaspoons salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

1. In a marinating dish, salt the strips of pork belly so that all sides are covered evenly.

2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the pork belly and salt in a small bowl. Mix well.

3. Place the two strips of pork belly into a marinating dish. Pour the marinade over the pork belly and massage into the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours.

4. When finished marinating, remove from fridge. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Set pork belly strips on a wire rack in a baking dish. Bake for 60 minutes or when no longer pink inside. Flip the strips of pork belly to the other side halfway through baking time.

6. When finished baking, set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

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H can never say “no” to steamed eggs. He can probably eat this stuff everyday. I can make it with 1, 2, 3, or 4 eggs and he will gobble it all up. E thinks this is like a savory kind of “jello,” which it sort of is. She dislikes meats, so this is one way I get some protein into her. S, well, little S is allergic to eggs, so no steamed eggs for him yet. Poor guy. He recently had a flare up of his eczema, so we are backing off on challenging him with baked goods.

Steamed eggs is sort of a dish you can find in most Chinese homes, but difficult to find in Chinese restaurants. It’s like a comfort food. Think of it as a savory egg custard. When made perfectly, it will have a smooth consistency. Some will add meats, fish cake, mushrooms…etc to it. We like it simple in our house. I make it plain with no “toppings.” I think almost all Asian country has a form of this dish. In Japan, it’s called chawamushi. I’ve had it in Korean restaurants, too.

This dish doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients and it’s cheap to make. Obviously, the higher quality eggs you use, the better this is going to taste. Fresh chicken eggs from local farms are going to taste much better than supermarket eggs. Trust me. Yes, fresh farm eggs are more expensive but it’s still cheaper than buying high quality meat, and eggs are nutritious.

Here are some tricks to make perfect steamed eggs that result in a smooth and soft consistency. Over the years, I’ve found that the best ratio of liquid to eggs is 0.5 cup to 1 large egg. This ratio and steaming it over medium or medium-low heat (depending on your stove, but over heat that simmers the water in the steamer) result in a perfect consistency: smooth and soft.

Obviously, the type of broth you use will affect the taste of your dish. In the past, I’ve used homemade pork broth, chicken broth from cartons, and even Hondashi mixed with water. It’s a personal preference. These days, I just use chicken broth from cartons to save me some trouble.

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Perfect Steamed Eggs

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

4 large eggs

2 cups chicken broth (room temperature or cold, but not hot)

salt to taste

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, gently beat eggs with chopsticks or whisk in a back and forth motion. Try not to introduce air bubbles, if possible.

2. If necessary, add salt to chicken broth to desired taste. Stir to dissolve.

3. Pour measured chicken broth into the beaten eggs mixture. Gently mix together with chopsticks or whisk. Again, try not to introduce air bubbles. Gently pour into a bowl in preparation for steaming.

4. Place a steam rack inside a wide pot. Be sure that the pot is wide enough so that the bowl can be easily placed and removed. Add water to pot so that the water line comes just slightly below the top of the steam rack, but not touching the steam rack. Bring to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down to medium low or medium- enough for small simmering boiling bubbles. Carefully place bowl with egg mixture inside the pot on top of the steam rack. Cover. Steam for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or the custard jiggles.

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