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Dragon and Phoenix Balls

Dragon and Phoenix. The two most auspicious and conspicuous mythical creatures of Chinese culture. Auspicious because they represent all things good — prosperity, peace, love, harmony… And conspicuous because you see them at every Chinese wedding, in art and on dinnerware, not to mention in various forms of tacky tattoos.

(This photo was taken during our trip to China in 2009. It’s carved from bone! Breathtakingly impressive!)

So of course these two symbols have to make their way into our food! The chinese word for lobster translates literally as “dragon shrimp” (cuz something about the lobsters look like dragons…yah, I don’t know either, just go with it), and chicken feet is “phoenix talons” (cuz it’s a bird?). From there, we get “dragon and phoenix” dishes that include anything relating to shrimp/lobster and chicken.

When I was young, my mom made a dish called “Dragon and Phoenix Balls” on special occasions. These balls were minced shrimp and chicken, with a coating of mini bread cubes, that were then deep fried to a golden, crispy goodness. Oh.Em.Gee. They were a hit wherever they went, and I looked forward to special celebrations all the more because of their appearance.

It’s been years and years since I’ve had one though, because as you can imagine, these babies were not exactly health food. And so my mom stopped making them.

They randomly popped back into my consiousness recently, followed by the thought, “why don’t I try my hand at them and healthify them while I’m at it?”

And so I did…

Dragon and Phoenix Balls

(makes 25 – 30 balls)

1 lb lean ground chicken

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 C green onion, thinly sliced (about 2 stalks)

1 TB cilantro, finely chopped (edited to note: I find that increasing this to 1/4 C gives a better flavour)

2 cloves garlic, very finely minced

1/2 tsp ginger, very finely minced

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp canola oil

2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce

2 tsp Chinese cooking wine (rice wine, NOT the vinegar)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp sugar

3/4 C ground shredded wheat cereal (or other crunchy cereal, or panko)*

(*Notes: 1) make sure you use cereal that does not have any (or much) sugar added (ie. NOT Mini-Wheats) and 2) bread crumbs would work too, but the end result will not be as crunchy, as these balls will be baked, not deep-fried.

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

First, throw in some shredded wheat cereal into a food processor and give it a whirl until it has a coarsely ground texture. You’ll want 3/4 C of the ground stuff, so I think I used a little over a cup of the cereal itself. Transfer to a dish and set aside.

Next, mince shrimp meat into a paste. Start by roughly chopping all the meat, then continue to mince it to a finer and finer texture, just like you would to garlic.

This takes a few minutes and a bit of effort, but hang in there, it’s so worth it! Eventually you end up with a shrimp paste that has an almost gelatinous texture.

And the hard work is now done!

Next, you just throw all the ingredients, except the ground cereal, into a large bowl, and start mixing it all together with chopsticks or a wooden spoon. When all the ingredients are well combined, slightly wet your hands (to prevent mixture from sticking too much to your hands) and roll into balls. You want them to be just slightly smaller than the size of a golf ball; imagine something that would be either 2-elegant-bites-big or 1-giant-I’m-starving-bite-big.

Then roll them in the cereal to lightly coat. Place onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil.

Pop them into the oven for 17 – 20 mins, depending on how big your balls are. (Heh! 😛 ) The tops will have barely started to brown, and the bottoms golden brown. You could also flip them halfway through the cooking time, which will result in a top and bottom that is lightly browned, but they won’t retain a round shape (they’ll have a slightly flattened top and bottom, like little hockey pucks). Whatever floats your boat balls!

These were definitely a hit with my family! The crunchy exterior and dense, juicy interior makes for an explosion of scrumptious savory flavour.

They may not quite measure up to my mom’s real Dragon and Phoenix Balls, but they sure come close! And with this healthified version, we can have them far more often, without having to wait for special occasions. But don’t worry, they don’t taste “healthy”; they will surely satisfy any craving you have for deep-fried food!

 

Posted by on August 16, 2011 in Kitchen Adventures

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Saucy’s Favourite Marinara Sauce

A number of years ago when I first started to develop a passion for cooking, I watched Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals practically everyday. I found her enthusiasm and perkiness infectious. :-) Although I rarely followed her recipes exactly (yes, I had that habit even before I really knew what I was doing; hence the many failed experiments), I found most her her ideas to be tasty and non-intimidating. As I got more confident in the kitchen, I started to branch out and try more complicated recipes, but I still use Rachel Ray’s recipes, often as a starting point before adding my own touches. Afterall, as the self-proclaimed “Queen of Burgers”, she really did teach me how to make a variety of homemade burgers!

One of my favourite recipes from her cookbooks is the “Spaghetti alla Ceci”. It’s a tomato-based pasta sauce that is easy and healthy and super tasty! It is thickened with finely chopped chickpeas and has the texture of a bolognese sauce, but is much healthier. Love it.

So the other day I set about to make this sauce, but unfortunately, we were out of chickpeas. So I used white kidney beans instead. And then I decided to change up the recipe a bit just for fun, and tweaked it to suit my taste buds for that day. My mom likes tomato-based pasta sauces, but often finds them too acidic for her sensitive stomach. I often add a bit of sugar to the sauce to balance out the acidity a bit. But on this day, I had a different idea. I wondered how it would taste if I added some grated yam for sweetness. Turns out, it was a delicious idea! :-) I think it’s now my favourite marinara sauce!

Saucy’s Favourite Marinara Sauce (inspired by Rachel Ray’s Spaghetti alla Ceci)

  • 1/2 can of white kidney beans (1 C), rinsed and drained well (can also use chickpeas)
  • 1 TB extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (this gives just a hint of spiciness; use more if you like more of a kick)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 C grated yam
  • 2 bell peppers, diced (I used 1 red and 1 orange pepper)
  • 1 can crushed tomato (14 oz)
  • 1 C low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 C water
  • optional: 2 TB nutritional yeast flakes

 

Place beans in food processor and give it a whir or two until the beans are finely chopped.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes and let them infuse the oil for about a minute. Then add diced onion and garlic. Stir around and let them sweat for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir around for another 30 sec.

Now dump in the chopped beans, grated yam, and diced peppers. Stir it around to combine with the other ingredients. Next, add in tomato, broth, and water. Give it a good stir, cover, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. After 20 minutes or so, turn off heat and stir in nutritional yeast, if using.

 

This sauce was thick and hearty in texture from the beans. The grated yams and bell peppers provided a touch of sweetness to balance the rich tomato flavour. And there was a just a hint of a kick from the red pepper flakes. It was saucy goodness! And it was super easy to make.

We served it over whole wheat spaghetti, with steamed broccoli and mild turkey Italian sausage:

Thanks for the inspiration, Rachel Ray! :-)

 

Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Kitchen Adventures

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