Chill out with raw food

Updated: 2011-07-24 11:01

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

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Chill out with raw food

The relentless heat chips away any desire for a hot meal, and the palate longs for a refreshing repast that will assuage both hunger and thirst. Pauline D. Loh has some suggestions.

Jaded appetites, tired palates and a great reluctance to labor in the heat of the kitchen mean that we have been having lots of salads in our family lately. Even when we do eat out, the preference for the lighter dishes on the menu has made us almost vegetarians.

It's just too darn hot, as Stacey Kent warbles.

There are ways to cool down and the secret is to take a closer look at raw food. Combine that with some of the traditional wisdom from the Chinese kitchen and you may be cooling down your body inside and out.

It's not too hard. With the summer comes a prolific crop of pumpkins, squashes, melons and crisp, juicy lotus roots. The fruit counters are overloaded with early peaches, late apricots, plums and apples.

With the improved research in agriculture, fruits and vegetables in China are plentiful all year round, thanks to the logistic networks that ferry tropical fruits such as mango, lychee and pineapples from Hainan island to Beijing, and the apples and peaches from the north to the Pearl River delta.

On a recent visit to Qufu in Shandong province, I had the good fortune to sample its ancient cuisine based on the kitchen traditions of the family of China's Great Sage.

Confucian Family cooking is divided into banquet styles and home-cooking style, and it is from the more down-to-earth home-cooking repertoire that I am borrowing two recipes for today.

These are appetizers served at the beginning of the meal, but I see no reason why we cannot elevate these to main course salad status. They are crisp, crunchy and refreshing.

One is a simple pickled lotus-root salad, made from crunchy crisp young root. My regular vegetable vendor kindly taught me how to tell the difference between the more floury or mealy lotus roots that you want for slow-braised soups and the sweet young tips that you can eat raw thinly sliced.

When buying lotus roots for salads, ask for the section nearest the shoot end. They will be smaller, slightly more slender and they will be snap-happy crunchy.

These can be scrubbed clean and peeled or scraped, rinsed clean and then sliced across the grain to expose the lace-like pattern of the root. Or, they can be split into little batons.

The other dish I extracted from the Shandong menu is a bitter gourd appetizer that is so simple I wondered why no one thought of it before.

Young bitter gourds or bitter melons are washed and drained. Then the melons are shaved into paper-thin strips and soaked in ice-cold water to crisp up. They are then served within a ring of tiny peaches or apricots and dressed with a honey-citrus dressing.

The third vegetable-fruit combination is an orange or lemon infused winter melon appetizer that tastes amazing when it is chilled well. This is very popular in the high-end Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore and it's worth the trouble making a batch for a party.

They'll be guessing what the mysterious vegetable is. Few would realize that the slightly chewy batons are from the humble winter melon.

Try these individually or serve them all with the meal. You may just find them all disappearing before the main courses.

Chill out with raw food

Recipe | Bitter melon with apricots

Ingredients (serves 4):

8 ripe apricots

1 young bitter melon

1 tablespoon honey

A pinch of salt

Method:

1. Wash and rinse the bitter melon. Pat dry.

2. Place the melon on a chopping board and using a vegetable peeler, shave off thin strips of the melon and drop them into ice-cold water.

3. Leave the melon strips to soak in the iced water.

4. While the melon strips chill, prepare the sauce.

5. Bring a pot of water to the boil and drop in the apricots. Boil for a few minutes until you see the skin crinkling. Turn off heat, cool and remove skins. Halve the apricots and remove the pit.

6. Line a round platter with apricot halves. Reserve about 4.

7. Add the honey to the reserved apricots and blend to make a dressing.

8. Pile the well-drained bitter melon strips into the center of the apricot-ringed platter and drizzle dressing over. Serve well-chilled.

Chill out with raw food

Recipe | Pickled lotus roots

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 tender section of a lotus root

3 tablespoons lemon juice (or white vinegar)

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 small, red chili

Method:

1. Scrub the lotus root well to get rid of any mud. Peel the lotus root and remove both ends.

2. Cut the root into half and cut lengthwise into chips.

3. Place the lotus root chips into a wide-bottomed dish and pour over the lemon juice and sugar. Mix well. Break the chili into two and add to the mixture.

4. Marinate at least a couple of hours, tossing the chips occasionally to mix the dressing.

5. Serve well-chilled.

Chill out with raw food

Recipe | Wintermelon infused in orange-Lemon juice

Ingredients (serves 4):

200 g winter melon

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon honey

Method:

1. Cut off the thick green skin of the winter melon and trim off all the white pith. Cut the firm flesh of the winter melon into batons.

2. Bring the orange and lemon juice to a simmer with the honey. Add the winter melon batons and allow to simmer (not boil) for five minutes.

3. Turn off the fire and let the winter melon infuse for as long as you can, but not more than two hours.

4. Drain the winter melon and scatter lemon zest over the top. Serve well-chilled.