Friday, April 20, 2012

grown up flavours



A few weeks ago, Mei Chin, food writer, wrote a great piece on conquering her fear of cilantro (coriander) as an adult. We've all been there. That flavour/texture of a certain food that we just couldn't stand as a child, but that we now go crazy for. I have a lot of specific food items I can share, but for me, coriander was one of the biggest steps in my palate's maturation.

I hated coriander. Pungent, with that peculiar, utterly unique green flavour. Being Shanghainese, we'd use it, very much like European cuisine, as a finishing touch in our dishes, for some fragrance. It was never the primary element of a dish - that is, unless we were having hotpot. My mother still makes the most amazing, Shanghai-style dipping sauce with a peanut butter base, adding in soy sauce, shacha sauce, chili oil, and topped off with a very generous handful of chopped coriander. It's funny - it's not that I screamed every time I saw it, but rather, I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it. I never understood how my mother could eat so much of it, like there could never be enough of it in her sauce.

And then I grew up. Kind of.

One of those moments that you just suddenly realize, hey, this stuff is GOOD. Probably because I accidentally dropped a sprig of it into the boiling water, and tried it with a generous dip in hot sauce. And now I can't get enough of it. In hotpot, of course, but also in the Shanghainese curry beef soup we make, in other greens, and of course, in this particular dish. We love eating jellyfish. I can't name this particular variety, but it's a type of jellyfish, I'm certain of it. Crunchy in texture, with the most delicate and exquisite marine flavours. Can't find it here, so anytime anyone goes back to the Motherland, I pretty much beg for a few bags to be brought over.

Cold dish of jellyfish in a soy sauce/vinegar dressing

The most critical, as always, is the quality of the main ingredient. You want to be careful when buying jellyfish - never pick the ones that look pure white. They've been bleached. The best quality jellyfish has a darkish, uneven colour to it, and is firm to the touch.

Wash and tear into shreds. Keep it rustic and in big chunks - this isn't a pansy dish.

Dress with 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar. Add sugar to taste. Slight drizzle of sesame oil.

Smother with a layer of fresh coriander leaves.


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