My armchair travels this winter include a trip to Hong Kong and a study of Cantonese cuisine. In her book, “Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey”, Anne Mendelson examines the curious racial dynamics underlying the invention of hybridized Chinese American food, historically prepared for white Americans incapable of grasping authentic Chinese culinary principles.
Mendelson translates the “culinary language” of traditional Chinese cooking into four main culinary touchstones: identifiable ingredients retaining original sizes and shapes, recognizable textures in components of dishes, recognizable original flavors, and cooking techniques, stir-frying or steaming, designed with these criteria in mind.
Early Gold Rush American eaters, used to large plates of meat or fowl, roasted or stewed, rejected this cuisine, interpreting it as smelly, with nameless bits of this and that cut into too-small shapes in a jumble, with a complicated intertwining of unfamiliar flavors. Mendelson’s fascinating book describes how it would take several generations of immigrants from Taiwan and Southeast Asia to enrich the current Chinese and Asian cuisine in America.
The recipe for Root Vegetable Green Curry is an adaptation of this traditional culinary language for an everyday Thai-inspired meal. Root vegetables, seasonal Maine ingredients, are carefully cut, chopped, and cooked so that each “ingredient is cooked for the shortest possible time needed to reach optimal flavor and texture over briefly applied high heat.” The recipe and components are merely a guide. The creative home cook that employs this technique and respects their ingredients will always produce a delicious meal.