Western-Style Olive Fried Rice and Other Experiments

I experimented a bit with fried rice by using no obviously Chinese ingredients (aside from the rice itself). There were some pitted olives hanging around in my fridge, some fatty pork slices and a tomato, together with leftover rice. It worked quite well my dried mixed herbs and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, but didn’t taste very western at all. I guess you can’t run away from the Chinese-ness of garlic, pork and rice. But it’s so yummy from the interplay of soft tomato, pungent olive and tasty fatty pork that I might do it again even if I don’t have olives to finish up!

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Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves
20 pitted black olives from a can, drained
1 tbsp olive oil
100g fatty pork, chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used herbs de provence, but it doesn’t really matter)
1-2 cups cooked rice
1 tomato, diced

Method:

  1. In an electric chopper, pulse the garlic and olives together till chopped fine.
  2. In a work, heat the olive oil and gently fry the garlic-olive mixture till fragrant.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the pork and fry till no longer pink, then stir in the dried herbs.
  4. Now add the rice and stir till well incorporated, heat through. Add salt to taste.
  5. Off the heat, stir in the tomatoes and serve.

Serves 2 or 3 (i.e. with 2 people you get leftovers, yay!).

To accompany the fried rice, I made some mushrooms braised in red wine. It’s a really simple dish that so luscious and sinful. I normally think of them with German sausages and thickly sliced bread, but they didn’t do too badly with the fried rice!

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Ingredients:

50 g butter
1 onion, sliced
300 g button mushrooms (1 punnet – brown ones are generally nicer)
1 wine glass of red wine (I normally freeze leftover wine for occasions such as these)

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and sweat the onions gently. Let them colour a bit, but not brown.
  2. When the onions are soft, add the button mushrooms and stir.
  3. Turn up the heat and pour in the red wine.
  4. When the mixture starts to boil, turn down the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes or till the gravy has thickened.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Serves 2.


Another day, the word “chermoula” kept floating in my head. I’d not really thought much about trying one out till now, and I couldn’t shake it off. Knowing that I had to get it out of my system, I went to the supermarket and picked up whatever seemed right to go into a chermoula. According to Wikipedia, a chermoula is of North African origin. Commonly found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, it’s a thick marinade or sauce made out of herbs, lemon, garlic, cumin and oil. It’s supposed to accompany seafood and fish, but I used it to top poached chicken breasts instead. It really livened up the plain chicken and added such zing to a simple dinner. For this meal, the poached chicken was accompanied by boiled beans, carrots and fennel, with a side of wheat berries done in the rice cooker. Top the chicken breast with chermoula and crispy chicken skin (20 mins in 160 °C) and it’s a fairly healthy dinner.

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Ingredients:

4 garlic cloves
1 pack coriander (50g?)
1 pack parsley (50g?)
3 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
4 tsp paprika powder
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil

Method:

  1. In an electric chopper, pulse the garlic, herbs, powders and zest with half the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Keep pulsing till smooth, adding more oil to help the process along.
  3. Add salt and more lemon juice to taste.

Makes enough for 4.

November in China: Tangshan Hotsprings

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No pictures this post. You’ll figure out why in a bit.

After Nanjing, we headed to the hotsprings at nearby Tangshan (literally: soup mountain; I think tang could also be an old-fashioned term for hot water). When Nanjing was a capital, Tangshan was highly regarded for a place to take the waters. Apparently one of the Soong sisters, most likely Ching-ling, liked going there so much she commissioned a special road to lead there from Nanjing.

The town itself was the usual dusty nondescript so typical of minor Chinese townships. The only difference was the numerous spa resorts dotting the area. Ours was the Yishang Spring Resort, consisting of a hotel complex complete with restaurant and spa park.

At the reception, we were issued with a bead bracelet that also had an electronic locker tag. Then we were ushered to the spa park entrance that had turnstiles quite like those at amusement parks! Here was where Mum and I said bye to Dad and we separated into male and female locker rooms. We were issued with ugly mass-produced rubber slippers and tacky Hawaiian-motif happy coats. A friendly attendant grabbed us firmly by the elbow in case we slipped on the wet floor and walked us into the massive (this is China, remember?) locker room to locate our lockers.  She instructed us to change into our bathing suits and then proceed to the shower rooms for a rinse before entering the park proper.

Before entering the showers, we had to run the gauntlet of more attendants who checked if patrons were going in or out and made sure that each person was sufficient hosed down before getting a towel to proceed inside! Coming out of the park was worse, they wouldn’t give out towels till after the shower! Mum was aghast when she saw naked locals coming out from the shower dripping so that one of the attendants would wrap them in a fresh towel. She made sure to ask for a towel before going in to shower and spoke in English when they threatened to be uncooperative.

There were lots of different pools in the spa park. Most of them were hot pools. On the periphery were pools of spa water of varying temperatures, as stated on little wooden boards above. You could start from 32ºC all the way up to 45ºC. Another area had some roman-style dry baths where people could sit on the heated marble floor between a series of partitions along a marble wall. With such cold weather, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to sit on heated marble out in the semi-open.

There was also a heated swimming pool, though no one swam in it and also an area for getting buried in hot sand. Extra was charged for the privilege of being buried alive. Mum and I went past all these and quickly jumped into one of the 32ºC pools before we froze to death from exposure. I wanted to go straight into a 45ºC one but Mum stopped me. You have to start cooler lest you overheat!

Preliminary soak over, we proceeded inside to explore further. There was so much more! One of the highlights was a heated pool filled with lots of little nibbling fish. The trick is to find a spot to sit comfortably and where you’re covered to the chin and stay absolutely still. The fish would then come over and nibble on toes, knees and elbows . The first nip was startling and we could immediately spot the newbies from their tickled yelps and screeches. Soon I got used to it and was trying to figure out how to get more fish to turn up and also how to get them to nibble  on my fingers. None did no matter how hard I tried.

This place was pretty upmarket, with lots of little services. Waiters would serve soft drinks in plastic cups directly to people soaking in the pools. It got pretty gross when the kids would then proceed on to use the cups to catch fish. Whenever someone hacked and showed the slightest hint of spitting, we’d immediately exit and move on.

Other pools in the area had lots of exotic brews. There were pools of red wine, chrysanthemum, rose,lemon, lemongrass and pomelo-flavoured soaks. Of course there were also lots more flavours I hadn’t even seen before. It was great to pick one, lie in there for a while, feel too cool, pick a warmer one and then get too hot. After soaking for about half an hour, Mum and I would then go to an indoor area for complimentary flower tea. We’d towel off and sit for a while, watching incredulously as groups of men would sit around playing cards and smoking cigarettes (again provided free). Cigarette in mouth, they’d grab another one from the box and stick it behind their ears for later. Odd, but part of the spa experience.

If we were tired from the repeated raisin treatment, we could go inside to the clubhouse. Here there was an area full of rows and rows of soft sofas, all (surprise, surprise!) facing a TV playing the latest Chinese soaps. If not for the TV, it would be a quiet rest room. Once coming in, you could have a nap, get a foot massage or pedicure  (extra charges) or just read a book and have some refreshments. This is how people spend days there!

The best part of the spa was going there after dark. I remember lazing in one of the faux-rock pools looking up at the dark sky. I felt warm from the water, yet my face was cool from the early winter air. I was on holiday. It was the best feeling in the world.