When my kids were young, and in school for half days only, my ayi used to prepare lunch for them every day. She would serve up jiaozi, fried rice, vegetable pancakes, noodles, and sweet and sour pork. The kids loved everything she cooked. She was always conscientious in not adding salt or MSG, using only low sodium children’s soy sauce, olive oil but not too much of it, plenty of vegetables and eggs, with small amounts of fresh meat and fish. My kids are now both at school full days, and get their fill of steamed rice, noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and yuxiang chicken, from their school lunch. Ayi loves cooking, so she now prepares dinner for us a few times a week, which used to be my domain. Whilst I’m a huge fan of her sweet and sour pork, so far as to say it’s the best I’ve tasted in Beijing, I wanted all of us to enjoy a wider range of cuisines at dinner time. In the past she has observed whilst I’ve cooked something like moussaka, or fajitas, and she’s done a good job of replicating the dishes herself. Wanting to broaden her range of dishes even further, I was delighted to be given a copy of Yanhong Wheeler’s recipe book Kitchen Delight.
Wheeler is a Beijing-born US citizen who’s married to a New Zealander, mother of two children, a La Leche League leader, a Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) instructor, lecturer, and author of ten bestselling books on breastfeeding, parenting, and education, all published under the pen name Xiao Wu (Wee Witch). Kitchen Delight is written in Chinese, with dishes that are primarily Western. Chapters include breakfasts, soups, sandwiches, pasta and sauces, main courses, salads, side dishes and snacks, desserts and baking, and herbs and spices. Accompany photographs, showing the ingredients used for each of the dishes and the finished product, provides a good guide for anyone preparing the dish for the first time. Wheeler explains that the recipes are simple to follow, healthy and nutritious, and use ingredients that can easily be found in Beijing.
Breakfast dishes include waffles, French toast, and tortilla. There are 16 different soups, including pumpkin, French onion, cream of mushroom, and lentil. Pasta dish recipes cover carbonara, primavera, and smoked salmon with cream. Main courses range from beef stew, shepherd’s pie, chili con carne, tandoori chicken, and quiche. There’s even a recipe for proper gravy and meat sauces. I decided to put the book to the test, and asked my ayi to prepare three dishes using Wheeler’s recipes. I didn’t expect them to look exactly as they do in the pictures, but as long as they tasted great.
First up was a quiche and what a revelation. I had no idea my ayi had such wonderful pastry skills, as she created the most delicious vegetable quiche, incorporating onions, peppers, tomatoes, and asparagus. She tweaked the recipe according to which vegetables she knew the kids would love and boy were they happy with the end result. We served it up with a side salad and some roasted baby potatoes. Next up was beef lasagna, and once again ayi produced a wonderful dish, that we all enjoyed tremendously. She was a little uncertain about the quantity of herbs to be used, unfamiliar with some of them and worried they would be too strong for the kids. I encouraged her to use what the recipe said and she was surprised with the end result tasting perfectly seasoned. A recipe for vegetarian lasagna is also included. The final dish of the week was a risotto. It was the first time ayi had cooked a risotto dish for us, and it was clear she was unfamiliar with using Arborio rice. So we did this one together and the result was a flavorful risotto.
I have seen my ayi’s confidence in the kitchen grow, and it’s also giving her more skills for when we eventually leave Beijing, and she goes to work for another family. Wheeler’s recipe book will become a firm fixture in our kitchen, and I look forward to trying many more of the dishes. My Chinese teacher has purchased a copy, and keeps posting photos on her WeChat of which recipes she’s tried. To order a copy of Kitchen Delight click here for the book’s Dang Dang page. If you want to find out more about Wheeler and her other books go to www.blog.sina.com.cn/weewitch and www.weibo.com/weewitch
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: courtesy of Yanhong Wheeler and Sally Wilson