Sunday, February 19, 2012

Your Big Red Book: Four More From The Cultural Revolution Cookbook

Spicy White Radish Salad

The Chinese seldom eat vegetables that have not been cooked thoroughly, but this one is an exception. These large radishes -- which you can often find in American supermarkets -- are especially sweet and lend themselves to being eaten raw. Topping this dish off with a large spoonful of crushed, roasted nuts will add even more flavor and texture.


1 large white, Daikon radish (if unavailable, 2-3 turnips may be substituted)
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 slice ginger (about the size and thickness of a quarter)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) sesame oil
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) soy sauce
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) dark vinegar (but white will do)
1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. (5 to 15 ml.) hot sauce, to taste (Chinese cooks use a paste made with hot peppers, but Tabasco sauce may be substituted)


  1. Wash and peel the radish and slice it into strips about 2-3 inches (5-7 cm.) long and 1/4 inch (6mm.) wide. Crush the garlic and chop the ginger, mixing them together into a smooth paste.
  2. Mix all the ingredients (except the radish) together and add them to the garlic-ginger paste. Blend them well into a sauce.
  3. Arrange the radish pieces on a serving plate, cover with the sauce and serve.


1. The other night, when I couldn’t find a daikon radish at my local market, and didn’t feel like essaying the turnip version, I substituted instead a combination of thinly sliced red radishes and baby bok choy.  It was excellent.  I have not tried adding the crushed roasted nuts yet, but I imagine it would be wonderful.  

2. Chinese dark vinegar is a complex blend from the Chinkiang Province of China made of glutinous rice and malt.  I have seen it in both extremely affordable (at Chinese groceries) and overly expensive versions (at Western specialty markets). It is somewhat similar to a balsamic vinegar, which may be substituted.  Another “close enough”equivalent might be a red rice vinegar with a small amount of superfine sugar added.

Fried Eggs With Chives

The Chinese adore this combination of flavors; they feel eggs and chives are a match made in heaven.  This dish was popular among peasants and sent-down youth because both principal ingredients could be raised at home legally and consumed privately during most of the Cultural Revolution.


1 large bunch chives (about the diameter of a half-dollar or 30 mm). (Chinese chives recommended, if possible.)
4 eggs
Dash of salt
5 tbsp. cooking oil


1. Rinse off the chives and cut them into small pieces, each about an inch (2.5 cm) in length.   

2. Beat the eggs and add the salt.  Heat the oil in a wok.  When it begins to smoke, add the chives and stir-fry them until their color changes into a deep green. This should take about a minute.  

3. Add the eggs and stir-fry them until they solidify.  Remove and stir.

Steamed Savory Egg Custard

This was a particularly popular dish during the Cultural Revolution because it did not require oil, which was strictly rationed, and because portions could be increased by dilution so that adding more water meant feeding more people.


2 eggs
3 ½ cups (900 ml.) cold water
Dash of salt
¼ scallion (spring onion)
1-2 Tbsp. sesame oil (optional)
Sprig of cilantro or parsley (for garnish; optional)


1. Beat the eggs in a dish and add 1 ½ cups (about 400 ml.) of the water and the salt.  Mix well.  Cut the scallion into small pieces.
2. Put the mixture in a heat-safe dish with a cover.  The covered dish should fit inside your wok.  Add the remaining water to the wok and bring to the boil.

3. When the water begins to boil, place the covered dish in the wok and then cover the wok itself.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Remove from the wok.  Just before serving, sprinkle the scallion and drizzle the sesame oil (if desired) on top of the custard.  Garnish and serve.

Vinegar-Glazed Chinese Cabbage

This dish is most common in north China, where cabbage enjoys a longer growing season.  It is best when made with dark vinegar.  Even balsamic vinegar, which is not native to China, gives it a wonderful flavor.


1 small head of Napa cabbage
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp. (15 g.) cornstarch
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) cold water
4 Tbsp. (60 ml.) cooking oil
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) dark vinegar
Dash of salt


1. Rinse the cabbage thoroughly and remove any brown leaves.  Slice the leaves in half lengthwise and then crosswise into shreds that are approximately 3-4 inches (7-10 cm.) long. 

2. Slice the garlic into thin pieces.  Combine the cornstarch and the cold water (it must be cold to avoid lumps) and make a smooth paste.
Heat the oil in a wok until it just begins to smoke.  Then add the garlic and stir-fry for 10-15 seconds.  

3.  Add the cabbage and stir-fry for about two minutes, until it has softened completely.  Add the vinegar and salt and stir-fry for 10 more seconds until it is completely mixed.  

4.   Then add the cornstarch mix and continue to cook. The liquid will thicken quickly.  Transfer to a platter and serve.

Vinegar starts here


1.  My previous entry about The Cultural Revolution Cookbook proved to be extremely popular, so I thought posting a few more of the delicious recipes would be a good idea and, I hope, encourage readers to buy the book, which is both inexpensive and incredibly worth owning.   

It has been great to see Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman’s work receiving very good reviews and what seems to be a lot of attention in the press.

2.  Regular visitors here may have noticed that I tend to post vegetarian recipes (and sometimes fish and seafood), but I’d like to mention that The Cultural Revolution Cookbook also contains excellent meat, poultry, fish and seafood dishes.  The book’s hallmarks are simplicity, community and humanity, all scarce ingredients in these current dark and angry days.

So, for all the people who are unlikely to be daily lunching on Dover sole and dining on Wagyu beef, this may be  

Your Big Red Book.


  1. Almost ready to purchase a copy. Unfortunately, I need to avoid fermented food products, so soy sauce and vinegar are sometimes problematic (very sad). But these look wonderful. Thanks again for sharing. Nell

  2. You'll find recipes in the book you can use. And the text (stories and history) are fascinating. Curtis

  3. On Sunday night Judy and I saw "Wild Swans", a new play about three generations of Chinese women during the Maoist period. It's going to London next, and then (I believe) will tour the States. Very worthwhile if you get a chance.

  4. I would love to. I've never been to any theater in Philadelphia, except during college. I turned down a chance to see a production of Of Mice And Men a couple of weeks ago and believe I would do so again. I received a very nice note from the author of this book, by the way, who saw the post. Made my day (my week, really). Curtis