When I was young, I went to quite a few Chinese parties in Los Angeles. They began slowly, very slowly. Though I am unfortunately contributing to a stereotype, this one happens to be true: a Chinese party is a little geeky. There’s a lot of awkward drink holding. Only when everyone has sat down to the homemade banquet does the liquor start flowing and things really kick off. As a people, we’re not big partiers – we’re big eaters. But Chinese people are not big fans of finger foods. This is unfortunate because Chinese food lends itself to being reimagined on the end of toothpicks. Naturally bite-sized and sauce based, many Chinese staples can be easily consumed with a cocktail glass in the other hand.
When talking about party foods, I naturally think of Chinese meatballs, those eternal crowd pleasers. Chinese meatballs, however, are tender and soft, almost melting in your mouth and traditionaly poached in soup broth. Their texture needs structuring in order to hold together as a finger food. To make them sturdier, I set them on little shitake mushroom caps, a classic ingredient in Chinese meatballs. You can bake or braise them, depending on your pot and oven size.
For those who are less fussy (two dozen mushroom caps are, unavoidably a morning’s worth of work), I thought about the Chinese love of sweetened mashed beans, but to be honest, Chinese cakes are never worth their corresponding calories. A bean dip was a better party pleaser, with one bowl that’s easy to clean up. Purchase butter beans in the dried beans section of most Chinese supermarkets.
Next time you host a soiree, there’s no reason not to include some local flare in your nibbles.
Butter Bean Parmesan Dip
1 1/2 cups dried butter beans
Juice and zest of 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place dried beans in a pot, cover with cold water and soak overnight. The next day, rinse the beans and discard the water. For a smoother texture, peel the beans. Cover the beans again with cold water and bring to the boil. Once the water has boiled, bring the heat down and simmer until the beans are very, very tender, bordering on mushy (about 2 hours). Drain well and place the beans in a food processor with lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add parmesan cheese in three or four batches, mixing well. After each addition, drizzle in some olive oil. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Stuffed Mushrooms With Cilantro Oil
350g ground pork
1 tsp minced green onion
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
4 tablespoons water
A small chunk of Chinese ham (approx. 2 inches wide, 3 inches long), cut into thin strips
2 stalks finely minced baby bok choy
24 fresh shitake mushrooms caps, cleaned
1 tsp minced ginger
1 large bunch of cilantro (coriander)
2 tsp sesame oil
Using a fork or chopsticks, mix the ground pork, egg, green onion, sesame oil, salt and soy sauce together well. Be sure to stir in only one direction, either clockwise or counter clockwise, but not both. Drizzle in water, still mixing in one direction, until all the water is completely mixed in and absorbed. Fold in Chinese ham and minced bok choy into the ground pork mixture. Fill mushroom caps with the meat mixture, slightly heaping, but not too full and bulging. Bake for 25 minutes at 200°C. Then pour in 1 1/2 cups of water and scatter the filled mushroom caps with a few pieces of green onion and ginger. Bring to a gentle simmer and braise for 10 minutes. Place cilantro in blender with sesame oil and blend. Drizzle this over the mushroom caps and serve.