The Sweet Mandarin Cookbook
Helen and Lisa Tse are third generation Chinese chefs, their grandmother, Lily Kwok, being the first Chinese woman to settle in Manchester and to open a restaurant – before Chinatown had even been thought of! As Lisa says below:
When our grandfather, Leung, emigrated from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, he had a plan to better his life and that of his wife and six girls. Leung’s ancestors had all toiled the fields growing soya beans and making next to nothing. Leung fermented these soya beans and created soy sauce to sell to Hong Kong. This dish (Chicken with Sweet Peppers and Black Beans - see below) is dedicated to the pioneers in the Hong Kong restaurant business who bought soy sauce from my grandfather and helped our family to taste prosperity for the first time.
Lisa is now executive Chef of their award-winning Sweet Mandarin restaurant. She also works closely with schools and colleges as a guest lecturer as well as teaching food tech master classes.
Helen, who also spends much of her time working in schools where she teaches writing rather than cooking, was the first ever British-born Chinese author when her memoir of the three generations of Chinese women who pioneered Chinese food in this country, Sweet Mandarin, was published in 2007.
The sisters have worked together on their new cookery book to be published in January, including many of the recipes that they use in the restaurant – which won Gordon Ramsay’s Best Local Chinese restaurant on Channel 4’s The F Word, beating 10,000 other restaurants! (They also make the delicious dipping sauces – see below – one of which, the Sweet Chilli, was shortlisted in last year's FreeFrom Food Awards.)
Apart from a wonderful selection of recipes, the book will include indispensable advice about what to stock in your Chinese store cupboard, vital utensils and the secret to the perfect stir fry. So, plan to give your self a new year treat to lift the dark days of February.... The Sweet Mandarin Cookbook will be published by Kyle Books on 24th January, cost £18.99. Why not stick it on that Amazon wish list?....
Meanwhile, you could check in to their site at www.sweetmandarin.com, if you are lucky enough to live in Manchester you could go and eat at their restaurant, you could follow them on Twitter or Like their Facebook page – or you could just test them out by cooking some of Lisa's favourite recipes below!!
My great-grandmother and great-grandfather were betrothed at the age of four and had an arranged marriage ten years later. Great grandmother was dressed in red – for luck and good fortune – before being taken to the groom’s home for the ceremony. She never went back – from that day on she belonged to the Leung family by both civil and religious law.
Great grandmother’s duty was to obey and serve her mother-in-law and the adjustment was stark and solemn. A poem of Wang Jian implied that the new bride had to appease and gain her acceptance into the new family and one of the tests was to make soup for her new family. The fish soup was the typical soup and was supposed to show skill. The translucent opaque colour would show a flair for cooking and drawing out the goodness of the fish into the liquid. The Chinese believed it was unhealthy to drink cold drinks with a meal and the soup would form an important part of the meal, lining the stomach and warming the body.
Great grandmother swore by this soup. She believed the smooth velvety-ness calmed her mother-in-law’s temper which was incredibly short and extinguished the fire in her eyes.
Prep time 15 minutes
Steamed soy sauce scallops
It turns out that Eric couldn’t actually swim but he didn’t want Mabel to know that. As the old fisherman shouted jump, Eric dug deep into himself and pressed his palms into the rail, hefting himself up on trembling arms. Whispering a silent prayer to his ancestors, he found the last of his strength and levered himself up and over the rail and out into the cold icy air.
Eric swallowed the salty water and it stung his eyes. Flapping in shock, the old fisherman had to haul him out laughing at ‘the big catch’ he’d just made. Although Eric didn’t succeed in fishing for any scallops, the old fisherman took pity and gave him a bag and thanked him for the amusing experience. Whenever we make this dish at home, it has my mum in stitches and my dad rolls his eyes and returns to his newspaper.
Prep time 10 minutes
10 large scallops in the shell (if no shell place on a saucer)
Assemble the scallops on a saucer if not in their shells. Season with salt and sugar.
How to Steam
Whenever my mum serves this dish, she jokes that this glutinous rice was the cement that was used to form the Great Wall of China. We found this hilarious but when I returned to China and climbed the Great Wall, the front page of the news was that chemical tests had proved that parts of the wall’s make-up were indeed glutinous sticky rice. I called home to tell my mum the news and she said nonchalantly, ‘I told you that and you didn’t believe me. Mum’s always right!’
This type of rice is called glutinous rice (although it does not contain any gluten) and when cooked will become sticky. This should be distinguished from over-boiled white rice, which goes wet and mushy. Glutinous rice has a distinctive nutty flavour and the rice absorbs the flavours from other ingredients like a sponge.
Prep time 3 hours
Soak glutinous rice in water for at least 3 hours.
Chop the mushrooms and shrimps into dice. Shred the scallop into fine shreds. Save the soaking water of the dried scallop, adding more water to make it up to 225ml.
Add the Chinese mushroom, Chinese sausage, scallops and shrimps to the rice and stir to combine. Transfer to individual serving bowls, garnish with spring onion and serve.
When our grandfather, Leung, emigrated from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, he had a plan to better his life and that of his wife and six girls. Leung’s ancestors had all toiled the fields growing soya beans and making next to nothing. Leung fermented these soya beans and created soy sauce to sell to Hong Kong. Soy sauce is now a must-have storecupboard ingredient for all lovers of Chinese cuisine and is one of the key ingredients. Hong Kong chefs have always been creative and strived for excellence. Their combination of soy sauce, black beans, chicken and green peppers works a treat and is testimony to Hong Kong’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
Having taught this dish to over hundreds of novice cooks at the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School this is one of their all-time favourite. Using fermented black beans brings a depth of flavour that a jar of black bean sauce will never offer and the two step process of velveting and blanching the chicken before adding it to the dish ensures that the peppers retain a crunch and don’t go soggy and the chicken is not overcooked and rubbery. This dish is dedicated to the pioneers in the Hong Kong restaurant business who bought soy sauce from my grandfather and helped our family to taste prosperity for the first time.
It’s worth seeking out and trying fermented black beans rather than the jar of sauce. Fermented black beans are packed with flavour and intensity and you don’t need any soy sauce to provide the saltiness to the dish.
Prep time 15 minutes
250g chicken breast
Slice the chicken into thin strips. The trick to cutting chicken is to follow the grain of the meat so the meat stays tender and does not become rubbery. Marinate the chicken with the salt, sugar, potato starch and water for 10 minutes (or longer if time permits). This simple marinade ‘velvets’ the chicken and helps keep the chicken moist.
This is my father’s favourite dish. We make it on Father’s Day for him but the rest of the year he makes it for himself!
I remember Mum had gone out to buy the groceries and dad decided to be a hairdresser for the day. We all had pudding bowl haircuts......and it was so atrocious you bought he an ice cream to make up for it. I learnt quickly not to let him touch my hair ever again!
I remember he allowed me to go on the woks and taught me how to cook the perfect egg fried rice.
Prep time 10 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a hot wok, add the oil and scramble the egg. Add the cooled boiled rice, reduce the heat to low and pat out the grains that have stuck together. Once the rice is separated then scoop onto a plate and set aside.
Clean the wok and return to heat and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the cooked chicken slices and peas or sweetcorn and cook for 5 minutes. Return the cooked egg fried rice to the wok and toss to mix it all together and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt and a splash of light soy sauce. Serve.
Lisa & Helen with their pudding basin hair cuts!