I kick off my shoes and pull on my slippers before entering the house. The aroma from the kitchen overwhelms the dining room. I lift the curtain and see my aproned mother handling the wok, covered in a cloud of steam. Her spatula clangs against the metal, the ingredients sizzling as they stir-fry.
Of all the foods I’ve eaten, I cannot give up my mother’s Cantonese home cooking, a southern Chinese style of cuisine. Cantonese food is healthy; vegetables are not over-seasoned, but clean and light, and the food isn’t spicy because it is meant to cool you down from the dense, southern heat. Everything is either punch-in-the-face flavorful, or easy on the tongue. There is no in-between.
These easy and authentic Cantonese recipes can be made anytime. Most of the vegetables in these recipes can be found in any farmers’ market, but the dried ingredients and seasoning may be found in your local Asian grocery store, like Super 88 or H-Mart.
Stir-fry Glass Noodles
My family is Buddhist, and this dish has elements that reflect Buddhist philosophy, which is why we often eat it during traditional holidays.
- 1 pack of thin glass noodles
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery
- 4-5 garlic cloves
- 2 chinese sausages
- Seasoning: 1 pinch salt, 2 tablespoon soy sauce, maybe some MSG.
- My mum likes to soak the noodles in cold water before cooking them. I always skip this step, but we should listen to mum this one time.
- While the noodles are soaking, chop and mince the ingredients. My mum specifically slices everything diagonally for this dish. The vegetables and sausage should be long and thin to mimic the noodles.
- Pour your preferred oil into a hot wok together with garlic.
- Garlic burns easily when cooking with high heat, so quickly throw in the sausage, carrots, and celery after the garlic releases its scent.
- Drain the glass noodles, toss them in, and stir quickly so the noodles don’t stick to the wok.
- Add one or two cups of the water that was used for soaking. Stir until a majority of water evaporates.
- Now it’s time to season. Mum only uses soy sauce, but it is going to end up being bland, so I add salt first, then soy sauce for some color.
- Toss all the ingredients in the wok one final time. The dish should look golden brown when served.
Baby Napa Cabbage
My uncle made the best stir fry napa cabbage! My mum tries to replicate it all the time.
- 1 pack of baby napa cabbage
- 3-4 cloves of garlic (sliced)
- Tiny knob of ginger (minced)
- Handful of dried shrimp
- Handful of dried scallop
- Salt and pepper
- Wash your cabbage and peel the leaves apart.
- Give the dried shrimp and scallop a quick wash. Dry with paper towel.
- Put oil in a hot wok and quickly toss the shrimp and scallop in.
- After crisping up the shrimp and scallop, toss in garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper. Mum never gave measurements, so you’ll have to eye everything.
- Sprinkle in some water. Mum says the wok should now look like “a milky broth.”
- Toss in the cabbage, put the lid on for one or two minutes, then remove the lid.
- Stir until the cabbage leaves soften and the excess water evaporates.
- This dish is formally served with the leaves all facing the same direction and the shrimp and scallop as topping. I usually eat this with rice to balance out the saltiness.
Wonton soup is oh-so-Cantonese. It can be eaten any time of the day.
- A pack of square wonton skins (preferably yellow)
- 1/2 lb. ground shrimp
- 1/2 lb. ground pork
- Seasoning: 1 tbsp white pepper, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp salt, and 1 tbsp soy sauce.
- Mince the scallions finely. Add the ground pork, shrimp, and seasoning. Mix until a paste-like consistency.
- With a spoon, ladle 3/4 spoon worth of filling.
- Place filling in the middle of the wonton skin, fold in half, and pinch the ends to seal.
- Repeat until all filling and skin have been used up.
- Boil your wontons in water or stock until they float.
- Serve soup and wontons in a bowl, topped with scallions and extra soy sauce (of course).
“I’m home!” I yell in her ear, but she gives no reaction and continues working the wok. I peek over her shoulder and see black mushrooms, lotus roots, snow peas, and pork belly all dancing around in the wok. She hands me a sample and asks in Taishanese: “Is it salty enough?” I’m her designated taste tester.
My mum shows her love and appreciation through her cooking. I will continue her legacy and learn to show love through my cooking as well.