🇨🇳 China | Longevity Noodles

Recipe: Hand-pulled longevity noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods

In the early 2010’s, if you were lucky enough to know my friend, Ping, and were then lucky enough to ever be invited to her Lunar New Year dinner, you lived a very blessed life.

Ping is a trained chef with the heart of an artist, and the spread she would make would take her days to prepare. I’m talking handmade dumplings, broths which bubbled away on her stove until they reached peak flavour, dipping sauces made from scratch, and plate after plate of delicious morsels which could cooked either by submerging them in the bubbling hot pot or sizzled on the surrounding grill plate.

I remember lying on the floor of her and Kevin’s living room after one such meal, in agonising pain due to the sheer volume of food I’d eaten, idly wondering if I could make room for some more. Her food is that good.

For this meal I didn’t set my sights even close to that high – I’m nowhere near as skilled as her, and we only have two bellies to feed in our house – but I did want to make something to mark the Lunar New Year.

Longevity noodles represent a long life and are meant to be served as one single strand. The kind of noodle (wheat, egg, etc) appears to be determined regionally, but is less important than the symbolism of a very long noodle bestowing a long life on the person eating them.

Being a voracious noodle eater, it’s wild that I’ve never attempted to make my own. I have watched in awe as chefs in the front window of Din Tai Fung make noodles and dumplings, and never made the leap to try it in my own home.

The process of making these noodles was a revelation. They need to rest a number of times (something we could all potentially learn from), and the way the dough transforms between each rest was a real surprise.

The dough is just water, flour, and salt. You do all the usual (knead, rest, knead again, rest again) and after this second rest you divide it in two, then roll each piece into long snakes. At this stage the dough was so silky – I kept exclaiming to Derek how nice it was to touch! It was soft and springy and fun to roll out.

After winding the snakes into a big spiral, coating them with oil, and placing in the fridge for another little rest, you take them out for a final rest at room temperature. And this is where the fun comes in.

I was not sure whether I’d be able to stretch the noodles in the same way I saw in the video. You loop the noodle between your fingers and then stretch your arms outwards, while swinging the strands up and down, helping them to stretch thinner while also being very careful that they don’t break (or get tangled, as you can see in the video in my Instagram post). Obviously it takes many years to perfect this method, so my biggest goal was to end up with something edible. And by all accounts, it was.

I managed to keep two very long strands, and two slightly shorter ones. I made a fairly simple veggie stir-fry to go with it, loosely based on this recipe. The noodles had a good bite and the sauce really clung to them. They were fun to eat – a little bit messy, a little bit slippery, but very, very tasty.

Wishing everyone a quiet, contemplative, peaceful, and relaxed year of the rabbit.

🇳🇬 Nigeria | Jollof Rice

Recipes and Resources :

Immaculate Ruemu’s Smoky Party-Style Jollof 

Pretty good rundown about jollof rice from the BBC

Jollof Rice and other Revolutions: A novel of interlocking stories. By Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. (Not really a book about jollof rice but it kept popping up in my research and it has excellent reviews so I’ve started reading it).

TL;DR. This recipe was DELICIOUS and gets a solid A+, while I get an F for research and accuracy. Will do better in future. Scroll down to the second last paragraph (just after the photos) if you’d like a review of the actual recipe and not paragraphs of introspection about my own ineptitude!

This dish  taught me just how much I have to learn.

The cooking technique isn’t difficult, and the instructions were easy to follow. The final product was totally bomb, so it’s not like this was a failed recipe either. However, I completely misattributed this particular recipe to the wrong country which has opened a whole can of worms and made me realise that I’m not ‘simply’ making one recipe from each country.

The origins of some dishes are complicated due to shifting political borders, colonialism, wars, and in many cases lost or murky history. Also, many countries lay claim to dishes which have the same name, but different preparations.

Enter jollof rice. 

My ‘research’ style thus far has been following where my curiosity takes me. While looking up national dishes for one country, recipes from neighboring countries will often pop up. Or in the case of jollof rice, some websites use the very broad brush of ‘West Africa’, a term which covers 15 countries and almost half a billion people. 

The history of jollof dates back to the 14th century in the Wolof Empire, a kingdom which covered what is now Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritiana. The wikipedia page is much better at outlining the complicated history of this dish, and this interview from NPR gives a delightful overview into the competitive rivalry between West African nations for the title of ‘best’ jollof rice.

While there are many differing opinions, it does seem to be generally accepted that an area in northern Senegal was the birthplace of jollof rice. In my unstructured, flitting about research I put the name of the dish next to Senegal in my nerdy little Google Sheets tracker. Later in my internet travels I came across this recipe and put the link into my little spreadsheet and kept going on with my day. 

After going to Vancouver International Market to gather ingredients for this and many other recipes (it’s unlikely anyone reading this lives in SW Washington, but if you do, this market is great!), including egusi seeds for the egusi stew I plan to make for the Nigerian installment of this project.

You can probably see where this is going.

Most west African nations have their own version of jollof rice and they all feature rice, tomatoes, capsicum, scotch bonnets (I had to use habeneros as scotch bonnets aren’t readily available where I live), garlic, onions, and spices. While this provides a common thread, the kind of rice used, the preparation steps, the included meat etc all differ from country to country.

The recipe I landed on was not, as intended, Senegalese. Also known as ceebu jen/thieboudienne, Senegalese jollof traditionally contains fish and large chunks of vegetables like eggplant and sweet potato (I will be making a vegan version at a later date). Importantly it is also made with jasmine rice. 

Nigerian jollof on the other hand is made with parboiled basmati rice known as golden sella. While some other countries would cook meat with the rice, Nigerian jollof seems to pair the rice with a meat dish instead (although I am obviously the furthest from an expert on this, so I’m sure there are Nigerian recipes which include meat as part of the cooking). And there aren’t any big chunks of veggies. 

This is a very long-winded way of saying that I had intended to make Senegalese jollof rice, ended up making Nigerian jollof rice, and now will be making a sub-series in this blog of all the different jollof recipes, because this recipe was freaking delicious and now I’m very curious about how they all differ. Also, Nigeria will end up with two recipes this year because try as I may I cannot find any other recipes which use egusi seeds, and I’m personally really excited to try egusi stew.

In terms of the recipe itself, it was time, but not labour, intensive and took close to three hours from start to finish (although much of that time is fairly hands off – not ‘leave the house and go for a walk’ kind of hands off, but you can go do other things while different elements are roasting or reducing or steaming). It was devine! Incredibly flavourful, with just the right amount of spice for me, although if you are sensitive to heat it would probably be quite hot. I found a ripe plantain at our local supermarket, so I fried that up to serve alongside, and made a simple coleslaw which is a common side dish for jollof in Nigeria. We loved it so much we ate it the next day for breakfast, with a runny fried egg on top (Note: while I’m making these recipes vegan, I am not vegan and do eat eggs). 

If you made it this far, I’m sorry? It felt important to call out my own ignorance and highlight the importance of doing thorough research for each recipe. I’m also sure some of the information above is not quite accurate or could use clarification, so I expect to make edits as I learn more from researching other countries’ versions. I plan on these blogs being a bit less lengthy in future – no one wants to read this much – but while I’m finding my feet (and discovering what I don’t yet know) there might be a bit more of the sausage making in these missives. 

2023 Cooking Project: Around the world in 195 vegan meals

I love cooking, but like many people I can fall into the trap of being repetitive and falling back on old faithfuls. I also tend to forget what I’ve made and what recipes I’ve used if I don’t document things – a combination of poor memory and a tendency to mash together a bunch of recipes to make what sounds best at the time.

In order to expand my horizons and attempt to keep track of everything I’ve made, I plan to make one dish from every country in the world in 2023. I’ve done the maths and that’s 16.25 new recipes per month. To make it a bit easier, these don’t all have to be main meals – it could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack, canapé, dessert, condiment, or drink. I anticipate there being some weeks where things run away from me so I’ll probably opt for the easier options, but I also want to cover a broad range of meals for any time of the day – who knows, I could find my new favourite sandwich or late night snack?

To make things a bit harder, all the meals will be vegan. I will use dairy alternatives, but I won’t be using plant-based meats. The reasoning behind this is that I’d like to discover vegan-first dishes rather than creating veganised versions of traditional meals (there are many, many, many places to go for these and they all do a better job than I will!). I will also aim to use recipes from creators from the country I’m featuring, and will be linking to their websites and tagging them, as well as linking out to any other information I used to land on the dish/meal.

Unlike previous recipes I’ve written about, I will not be giving a star rating for these dishes. I am wholly unfamiliar with so many cuisines, and my own cooking ability and knowledge should not be the lens through which we view a country’s cuisine. Also this is a side project, so my ability to spend enough time and do enough research to find a recipe which accurately reflects a country’s culinary tradition will be limited. And on top of that, not many countries have vegan food as their number one dish. The way I’m approaching these recipes is respect and a desire to learn a lot more.

Additionally I want to learn to be a better food photographer – I was not blessed with an artistic eye, but I’m sure that with enough trial and error and watching enough YouTube videos I can improve a bit? Hopefully I’ll look back at the first posts at the end of this year and laugh, so if anyone has any tips, please send them my way.

On that note, if you have any recommendations or ideas for a dish from your family traditions, cultural background, or simply places you’ve travelled, I’m all ears!