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Outbreak spurs more creativity, ingenuity in the kitchen

By Jocelyn Eikenburg | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-18 07:05
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As the novel coronavirus epidemic has swept across China, deeply affecting the lives of all of us who live here, it has also spurred many of us to rediscover the pleasures of cooking as a delicious way to pass the time and become a little more self-sufficient.

Just before the epidemic exploded, with news of human-to-human transmission, I had just received my latest kitchen gadget-an electric pressure cooker. This purchase was intended to satisfy my yearning for a faster and more convenient way to cook soybeans, which normally requires several hours of care on the stovetop after soaking overnight. I had visions of turning the two large bags of organic soybeans I had bought from the supermarket into the variety of soups and stews I crave during the winter.

The pressure cooker indeed helped me make a bean stew spiced with an aromatic Indian masala for Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. But during the extended holiday, when authorities warned people to stay in as much as possible and we had run out of tofu, we used that pressure cooker almost daily to make a batch of soybeans that could serve as a high-protein substitute, with delectable results. For example, we used to always use tofu when we made our spicy Korean-style fried rice. But the soybeans actually tasted just as good, if not better, in the dish, and filled us up even more.

A couple of times, we also used the pressure cooked soybeans to create a version of one of my favorite dishes from childhood-baked beans, made with onions, ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, a little vinegar and a dash of garlic powder.Even my husband thought the dish rivaled some of the best canned versions we had enjoyed on our many camping trips in the US.

I had always used my bread machine at least once a week, but relied on it even more in the first few weeks of the epidemic. My two favorite breads-a multigrain made with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, and a whole wheat with raisins and walnuts-paired perfectly with a makeshift pesto made from some leftover cilantro, walnuts, garlic and olive oil I had thrown into the food processor. Once, we opted for a new take on that American classic of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slathering warm bread still hot from the machine with pure sesame butter and blueberry preserves.

Things that had long sat on the back of our shelves suddenly turned into precious finds that could yield wonderful dinner options. Sheets of nori seaweed I had purchased months ago were torn into bite-sized pieces to add extra nutrition to a dinner of fried rice. The fusilli Italian noodles in the cupboard were boiled and then tossed in an aglio e olio sauce, that classic pairing of garlic and olive oil.

Because of our creative efforts in the kitchen, making full use of the resources we had at hand, we were able to go through 12 days without doing any grocery shopping-a record in our home.

The kitchen has always felt like a place of refuge for me, where I can engage in the therapeutic and nourishing joys of preparing food, and it has taken on even more importance during this outbreak. Eating well can have a hugely positive impact on our health and psychological well-being, both critical amid this epidemic. And using what we already have on hand as much as possible helps reduce the pressure on supplies.

We will win this war eventually, powered by one good, creative meal after another.

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