Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

We’ve come to the end of our current exploration of Century Eggs – from making them from scratch, to mixing them with other ingredients and preparing dishes with them. This is recipe number ten of ten, and what a nice way to end a series it is. This is a soup – a homestyle recipe – that is enjoyed across China as well as in East and Southeast Asia. It uses Chinese Spinach, also called Yin Choi or Yin Tsai, to flavor a delicate, egg-drop style soup that is savory, delicious and filling.

Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs
Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

The soup is also very quick to make, and takes about 20 minutes from the beginning of preparation to serving. It could be a bit more time if you chose to let the wolfberries stew in the chicken broth a bit, for a sweeter soup.

The Chinese Spinach or Yin Choi (Yin Tsai) is really a form of edible amaranth that comes in a variety or shapes and colors. My favorite is the type with a purple blush up the center of the otherwise green leaf, it makes for a beautiful presentation. Alas, this form is not always available around here, so for this dish, I used one of the all-green varietals. Yin Choi is delicious, and very nutritious. It is extremely high in Vitamin A (2770 IU/100g) and is also a good source of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron. Other greens are sometimes substituted for amaranth, and it is not uncommon to see the thin, spear-like leaves of water spinach used in variations of this dish.

Goji Berries (Wolfberries)
Goji Berries (Wolfberries)

Another interesting thing about the soup is that it makes use of goji berries – also called wolfberries in English – and can thus be considered a medicinal soup as well as just a dish that is comforting and good to eat. The goji berries are high in iron, selenium, riboflavin, Vitamin C and other antioxidants, as well as a wide variety of phytochemicals such as beta-carotene. and amino acids. They also contain small amounts of atropine, an acetylcholine receptor antagonist. In plain English, this means that the atropine in goji berries binds at the receptor sites used by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and dilates the pupils, increases heart rate, and reduces salivation and other secretions. In much larger doses than those provided by goji berries, atropine is used as an antidote to a number of toxins, including organophosphate insecticides and some chemical nerve agents such as tabun, sarin, VX and soman.

So you have a recipe using Century Eggs that make a delicious, medicinal soup that also protects you from chemical weapons. Does it get any better than this?

Chinese Spinach Soup with Century Eggs

Ingredients
1 pound Chinese Spinach (also called yin choi or yin tsai)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup plus 1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons wolfberries
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 century egg, quartered
1 cooked salted egg, quartered
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of sesame oil (or to taste)

Method
Wash spinach and drain well. Separate leaves from stalks, and cut stalks into 2-3 inch sections.

In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock and 1 cup of water to a rolling boil, and add the wolfberries. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes. (If you desire a stronger wolfberry flavor, remove from heat and cover the pot to allow berries to stew a bit.)

Return broth to a boil and add soy sauce and garlic. Then add the spinach stalks. Cover saucepan and boil for about 2-3 minutes. Pour cornstarch and water mixture into pan a bit at a time, stirring constantly until desired thickness is achieved.

Add the leaves of the Chinese Spinach and after the leaves begin to wilt, add the sliced century and salted eggs. Boil for about 1 minute Add salt and pepper.

Turn off heat and slowly pour in the beaten egg and stirring vigorously to thread the egg as you do. Add sesame oil, and mix. Serve immediately with extra sesame oil and other condiments as desired.

Variations: There are many variations of this dish. One of the most popular is a spinach in sauce that can be achieved by reducing the chicken broth and water by half and adjusting the seasonings accordingly (reduce soy, reduce pepper). One can also omit the garlic and add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to emphasize the goji berries in a less savory broth. The dish can also be made suitable for vegetarians (assuming they eat eggs) if a strong vegetable broth is substituted for the chicken broth.

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I really like this recipe. It is as comforting and homey as an egg-flower soup can be with the added flavor of the amaranth, goji berries, and of course, the Century Eggs. In truth, the Century Eggs provide something of a foil to the rest of the soup with mouthful blasts of lightly sour, pungent flavor within the delicate broth. It is indeed good to the last, but the white pepper has a tendency to aggregate at the bottom, so be careful of those last couple of spoon fulls – they might pack a wallop of spice.

Deep Fried and Steamed Pidan
Deep Fried and Steamed Pidan

There are many other ways to prepare pidan or Century Eggs, but the ones presented here are my favorites. They can be coated with fish, shrimp or squid paste and deep fried. My favorite form of this recipe is found most frequently in Thailand where they flavor the fish paste around the eggs with lots of Thai Basil. There are also a whole family of steamed Century Eggs recipes – usually coupling the pidan with salted eggs or occasionally with tea eggs or the intriguing soy-soaked iron eggs in a ground of regular chicken or duck eggs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of Century Eggs, and that you try (and like) some of the recipes presented. If you were familiar with and like Century Eggs, I hope that these recipes give you some great ways to enjoy the eggs. If you were unfamiliar with the eggs to start, I hope also that the recipes and discussion gives you some perspective when viewing all of those “most horrible food ever,” videos out there on the internet of young men proving their bravery by eating a Century Egg. They really aren’t any worse than a bit of strong cheese, and when prepared correctly, their flavor brings a delicious savoriness to a wide variety of dishes. Its been an interesting journey for me, and as always, I am grateful for having the opportunity to share it with you. (All words and photos by Laura Kelley.)

Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

This next to last recipe for 1000-Year Eggs might be my favorite way to prepare them.  It is savory, spicy, and hot, and the Thai basil lends a wonderful lightness to both the pork and the eggs for a winning dish.  This recipe also lightly fries half of the Thai basil for a delicious, crunchy herbal topping that one encounters in lots of dishes from Thai street-food vendors.

Thai Pork with Century Eggs
Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

The dish really is delicious! I urge you, however, to be mindful of the number of chili peppers used, because they can quickly overpower the other flavors. I would say that 1 tablespoon makes it mildly to moderately spicy and two tablespoons make it moderately to very spicy. Three tablespoons would probably make this, “Real Thai,” but although that may satisfy the macho or macha in you, it will be too hot for most. I also made the second tablespoons of soy sauce optional, because salt can also overpower the other flavors in the dish.

I hope you enjoy it! Since the moment I first made it, my husband has been asking for it again and again, and was telling some friends about it on the 4th. It’s that good!

Thai Pork with 1000-Year Eggs

Ingredients
4 century eggs
¼- ½ cup flour for coating eggs
1 large handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, split into two parts
½ cup corn or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon each of dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and palm or cane sugar
1 medium-large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons Thai red chilies, minced
¼ cup pork or beef stock
0.75 – 1 pound of minced pork
1 tablespoon light soy sauce (optional)
1 cucumber, sliced for garnish (optional)

Method
Peel the 1000-Year Eggs and cut into quarters. Roll or dust the quartered eggs in flour and set aside.

If you have a mortar large enough to hold the chilies and garlic, grind briefly before using. Combine the dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and palm or cane sugar in a small bowl and mix well.

Heat oil in a wok and when just starting to smoke, lightly fry half of the basil leaves until crispy – about 1 minute. Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon or a long-handled Asian cooking sieve. Drain basil on paper towels. Place flour-coated eggs into the hot oil and cook, turning them gently to ensure that all sides of the eggs are cooking. When eggs are a light brown, remove them and drain on paper towels.

Discard all but a few tablespoons of oil. If however oil has become scorched, it’s fine to clean the wok and fill it with a couple of tablespoons of new oil. It’s also fine to add a tablespoon of sesame oil for flavor if desired.

When the oil is hot in the wok, add the sliced onion and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the onion begins to color. Then add the garlic and stir fry for another minute before adding the chili peppers and frying for another 1-2 minutes. Add the minced pork and stir until well combined with the other ingredients. Pour the stock and mixed sauce over all and stir well. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add the uncooked portion of the Thai basil and stir into the mix. Cook another 2-3 minutes and add the 1000-Year Eggs and fold them into the dish. Cook another 1-2 minutes to warm the eggs and turn out onto a serving platter.

Top with fried Thai basil leaves. If desired add some sliced cucumbers around the edge of the platter, or serve separately. Enjoy!

Fried Rice with Thousand-year Eggs

We are nearing the end of our exploration of Thousand-Year Eggs (for now). There was just something congruous (perhaps logarithmic?) about offering 10 recipes for 1000-Year Eggs that really floated my boat. This is number eight, and it is a really delicious way to cook pidan. It is so good that we had it for breakfast this morning along with some steamed spicy Chinese sausage. But you can eat it any time. This dish or some variation of it is enjoyed around the Eastern and Southeastern Asian countries that eat Century Eggs. And it is usually eaten at a lunch or dinner, but if you think beyond the edge like we do, breakfast is a fine time to tuck in as well.

Fried Rice with Thousand-Year Eggs
Fried Rice with Thousand-Year Eggs

This dish is savory and delicious. Because the pidan are used as a topping for the rice, they are quite flavorful. The rice is a little bit sour, a little sweet, a little spicy, and a bit hot – and really good. The garlic and tomato add a depth of flavor that works well with the Century Eggs and complements them without overpowering them or toning them down much.

This is also a really flexible dish with nearly endless potential variations. If you love veggies – throw in some matchsticked carrots and chopped bell peppers or celery. A ginger aficionado -add some fresh or pickled ginger to brighten up the composition. Whatever you do – enjoy the eggs. This is a great way to make them.

Fried Rice with Thousand-year Eggs

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I use demerara or jaggery)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons Shaoxing or other Chinese rice wine
¼ – ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 thousand-year eggs, peeled, rinsed, and cut in quarters or eighths

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced (2-3 cloves)
2 dried, red chili peppers
4 spring onions, minced
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon pickled mustard, minced
½ tomato cut into a small dice (or 1-2 teaspoons tomato paste)
2-3 cups cooked short-grain rice, broken up with a fork into individual grains
1-2 regular eggs beaten until they lighten in color
1 tablespoon pork floss

Method
Mix the salt, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine, and ground pepper in a small bowl until well blended. Place the roughly diced Century Eggs into this and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

When eggs are done or nearly done marinating, heat the vegetable oil in a wok. When the oil just starts to smoke, add the garlic and stir fry for about half a minute until the garlic starts to swell and color. Add the spring onions and stir fry another minute. Add the remaining Shaoxing and the soy sauce and stir once or twice. Add the pickled mustard and the tomato or tomato sauce and stir well.

Add the rice and stir well, lifting rather than stirring so as to not squash the cooked rice. Stir fry for about 1 minute. Add the liquid from the century-egg marinade (reserve the eggs) and stir lightly to distribute around the rice. Add the beaten eggs and stir once or twice. Turn into a serving dish, garnish with pork floss and Thousand-Year Eggs and serve with extra pickled mustard and sesame oil or condiments of your choice.

Variations: Works with noodles as well. Cook or soak noodles according to package directions and drain. (Add a touch of sesame oil if desired to keep the noodles from sticking). You can top the noodles with the spring onions, floss and Century Eggs with marinade along with the pickled mustard without cooking (and omit the garlic and tomatoes), or lightly stir fry the garlic and tomatoes and stir into noodles or add to the toppings and serve.

Additionally, you can toss in a few shrimp or a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce in lieu of the pork floss for a more Southern Chinese or SE Asian approach to the dish. (Words and photo of Fried Rice with Thousand-Year Eggs by Laura Kelley.)

Woo with Extra Hoo for my 200th Post!

Making a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear

The phrase, “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” was coined by Johnathan Swift’s punster Mr. Neverout in A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation In Several Dialogues published in 1738. When quill touched cotton, the phrase was used to refer to the strange character of Sir John. Mr. Neverout uses it to proclaim that Sir John, being of low birth, is not a proper Duke and deftly goes on to disparage his character. Although this turn of the phrase is still in play, it has over the years also been used to discourage ingenuity and inventiveness or to encourage people to accept things as they are – in other words, to not rock the boat.

This month’s 5-Star Foodie Makeover Challenge was Junk Food. Specifically, we were asked to use junk food or a favorite snack in a real dish of our choosing. I really hated this idea at first and didn’t want to do it, I thought of telling the group organizers that I was unable to participate due to illness, overwork or travel – something – some excuse NOT to participate.

Having selected my junk food and prepared my dish, I think it was a great challenge and although I am new to the group, I hope that future challenges will be so . . . well I’m not sure whether thought provoking or emotion inspiring is the right phrase, but there it is. I used bar snacks: Beer Nuts, 5-Alarm Chili Peanuts and Planter’s Creamy Peanut Butter to make delicious Malaysian Chicken Satay that we all loved – even the kids. What’s not to like about that.

I suppose the there was a bit of artful dodgerness in the selection of junk food – its not really junky. I mean, come on, its not a Twinkie right! That said, I never use processed or flavored peanuts in my satay sauce, and despite the millions of recipes on the web for peanut sauce from peanut butter, I have never used it before the challenge for that purpose. So the challenge forced me to abandon my habits and preconceived notions and to try something outside of my food box – which, covering the continent of Asia, is generally pretty big.

Junk Food used in Challenge

This recipe is a wonderful example of how meat is eaten all across the Indo-Malay archipelago. It is marinated for hours in a sweet and spicy paste, then barbequed on a grill and drizzeled with a rich and flavorful peanut-based sauce. Feel free to substitute beef or shrimp for the chicken and adjust the cooking times, or make a mix of all three meats and allow diners to mix and match flavors.

Grilled Chicken with Peanut Sauce (Satay)

1 lb, chicken, chilled and cut into thin slices

Marinade
8 shallots
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced
2 stalks lemon grass, sliced
2 tablespoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup water (more as needed)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt

In a food processor, or blender, make a smooth paste out of the shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric and water (using water ½ cup at a time). Set aside.

In a wok, dry roast coriander seeds over medium heat until they become fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and empty into food processor or grinder and blend into a fine powder. Mix dark soy sauce and salt with the ground coriander and then add to the lemongrass paste.

Rub paste mixture into both sides of the chicken. Sprinkle the cumin powder over the chicken and marinate for at least 2 hours at room temperature. If you wish to marinate overnight – cover and refrigerate.

When almost ready to cook, prepare the peanut sauce (see below) below and set aside. Thread seasoned meat on to fine metal or soaked bamboo skewers. Grill over charcoal or gas fire or under hot grill 3 minutes per side.

Chicken and Beef Satay

Spicy Peanut Sauce (Satay)
5 shallots
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and diced
2 stalks lemon grass, thinly sliced
¼ cup lime juice
Water (as needed to make a thick sauce)
2/3 cup beer nuts
1/3 cup Planter’s five-alarm chili peanuts
2 tablespoons Planter’s creamy peanut butter
6 dried red chili peppers, diced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar

In a blender, grind shallots, garlic, lemongrass and lime juice into a fine paste – adding water as necessary. Add ground peanuts and peanut butter and grind until blended. The key to this recipe is not to add too much water too soon, so use a gentle hand.

Heat oil in wok or saucepan and stir fry peanut paste for 3-5 minutes. Lower heat and cook covered for another 5-10 minutes until lemongrass softens.

Add chili peppers, ginger, salt, and sugar and cook over a low heat for 5-10 minutes till sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. The sauce will darken considerably as it cooks.  Cool peanut sauce and serve with barbecued meat.

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Even made with junk food, this recipe is a winner.  Unlike a lot of satay sauces it balances the peanut flavor with the flavors offered by the other ingredients.  What I like most about this recipe is the strong gingery flavor that the marinade and sauce combined offer to diners.  The recipe for the sauce makes a lot, so either cook a lot of meat or do as I do – save the sauce for later use.  It can be reheated and used on meats and vegetables or used cold as a dip for veggies.

Sows Ear Purse

In closing I’d like to attest that it is possible to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear – both figuratively AND literally. In the first sense, it is possible to use salty snacks that one would pop back while watching TV or enjoying a drink to create a great chicken satay. In the latter sense, well . . . I think you all understand what literally means.

It seems that in 1921, Massachusetts industrialist Arthur D. Little was tired of hearing Mr. Neverout’s discouraging phrase, and set out to prove him wrong. He instructed the scientists and engineers working for him to make a silk purse out of “pork by-products”. From a meat-packer they obtained a form of glue made from the skin and gristle of sows’ ears. Taking an amount roughly equivalent to one sow’s ear, he had it filtered and forced through a spinneret into a mixture of formaldehyde and acetone. This glue emerged as 16 fine, colorless streams that hardened and then combined to form a single composite fiber. Little soaked the fiber in dyed glycerin. Then he wove the resulting thread into cloth on a handloom-and fashioned the cloth into the elegant purse shown here, the kind of item carried by Medieval ladies.

Silk Purse Made from a Sow’s Ear

If you would like to know more about this interesting tidbit from the History of Science, click on Suki’s snout on the picture above for a full period description of the effort. I think its ingenious and charming and I absolutely adore the subtitle: A Contribution to Philosophy. To all who encounter a Mr. Neverout from time to time. Take a look at this every time you start to feel discouraged. It won’t last long.

(Words by Laura Kelley, Photo of Chicken and Beef Satay by Btktan @ Dreamstime.com; Photo of purse and pamphlet on creation of a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear from MIT Archives and Special Collections; 5-Star Foodie Challenge Hosted by 5 Star Foodie & Lazaro Cooks!)