I've been asking the vendors where they get their food from and have been generally pleased with the responses - a fresh, grassy green from Wulai, tender bamboo from northern Taiwan, some sort of tasty bamboo shoot-like thing from Puli, sweet potatoes from Zhanghua, and I've been slowly trying every kind of green available with the exception of ku gua (苦瓜）, which I know I hate.
The good thing is that this forces us to eat healthier because, by cooking our own food, we know what's in it (though we still occasionally chow down on night market goodies, but try to eat fewer octopus dough balls and more sweet potato leaves). It also forces us to eat what's in season.
This presents a conundrum, because while something is in season, it's everywhere, really cheap and really tasty - but there are only so many times and so many ways you can cook the same thing and you start praying for the next season to arrive and sweep away all that food you're sick of eating.
My guide as I seek to create new recipes for locally-grown Taiwanese food has therefore been the simple mantra - "If you are a boring cook, your food will make you bored".
This has resulted in a lot of odd fusion meals. The following three recipes are for the three most successful of these (though all of them have been basically good).
Recipe 1 - Sake Bamboo with Buckwheat Noodles
tender bamboo shoots or something of similar taste/consistency
about a cup of dry sake per half jin of bamboo (or to taste - I actually use more)
one large red chili
ginger, to taste, sliced into coins
two cloves of garlic per half jin of bamboo
salt to taste
a dash of chopped fresh coriander
1 drippy, generous tbsp Taiwanese honey per half jin of bamboo (clover honey is best, but whatever)
lemon juice (fresh) to taste
about 2/3 stick of butter per half jin of bamboo
one chopped green onion and a bit of chopped yellow onion (or to taste)
buckwheat noodles (duh)
Boil buckwheat noodles in separate pan. Set aside.
This is nice and easy - finely chop/press the garlic, red chili, coriander and various onions, slice ginger into coins, and saute in the butter until it smells good. Add the bamboo, chopped into slender rectangles or half-coins. Saute and make sure it is well-coated in butter. Add sake, lemon juice, honey and salt and stir-fry 'till done. Serve over buckwheat noodles with lots of the reduced sauce.
Wine - a nice, lightish red (I don't really go for white wines) or a Syrah
Dessert - fresh lychees, of course!
Recipe 2 - Mutant Fried Rice/Risotto Thing
Ingredients to serve 2-3
1 cup brown rice
3 regular-size, very ripe tomatoes
3 snake eggplants
2-3 giant mushrooms (you know, those big firm white ones)
Something a little crisper (I use tender bamboo but you could use whatever)
If you want meat, fresh pork is the way to go
paprika or capsicum paste (available at many organic markets)
red chili paste in the little glass bottle (the kind with vinegar, sesame oil and garlic)
chopped sweet onion to taste
a buttload of garlic
salt to taste
a hint of vinegar - balsamic vinegar or a darkish one is best
a good swig of red wine
any other seasonings you want - basil or coriander would work
a big bay leaf
To cook - boil 2 cups of water plus a little extra with a touch of salt. Use to cook brown rice, which needs to steep a lot longer than white. Set aside for longer than you think you need to.
In a big pan, warm up olive oil. Roast the garlic in it, then add other seasonings, then onions, then finely-chopped tomatoes (do not peel, and don't use the ones from a can. Seasonal ingredients, remember?) after the onions have softened. Saute until it starts to look more like a sauce than a pile of vegetables. Add chopped tender bamboo or whatever your 'crisp' vegetable is. Add mushrooms chopped into nice fat coins, then eggplant a little later. Season to taste. When the eggplant is almost done, add the brown rice and cook risotto-style until it all melds together and the eggplant is thoroughly cooked. Serve hot.
Dessert: red dragonfruit wedges
Wine: a heavier red - a Malbec, Pinot Noir or Shiraz would be good
Recipe 3 - Green-Wrapped Fish
a big ol' degutted fish (the red or grayish-kind from Keelung are good - the darker ones hold up better...anything seasonal)
Some sort of green leafy veggie - I got something grassy, but sweet potato leaves, bamboo leaves, those purple/green leaves or anything that is more leaf than stem will work
a couple of fresh limes
Lao Gan Ma black bean pepper paste in oil (this can be hard to find - try Jason's at Takashimaya)
You guessed it - garlic and ginger
A bit of soy sauce and rice vinegar
A good swig of aboriginal millet wine or sour plum wine (optional)
Chopped green onion and/or coriander
A few sprigs of lemongrass if you can get it
In a low but generously sized cooking pot with a wide bottom and lid, put a bit of water (enough to steam up and cook a fish) and a metal rack which you can buy at any cheapo store in the night market. Throw a little of your seasoning in there, including a bit of the sauces. On the rack, lay out your green leafy veggie, which should be cut so as to have as much leaf and as little stem as possible. It should form almost a sheet with only a few open spaces over the rack. Put fish on rack. Squeeze the juice of as many limes as you like over it and into the gutted area. In a bowl, mix up your other seasonings (except lemongrass or anything you may use that has an obviously odd texture) with all the sauces into one huge pile of gloop. Spread that generously over the fish. Then stick in the lemongrass (if any) or lay it on top. Cover top of fish with more of your green leafy veggie. Set heat on low/medium, put lid on pot, and steam the heck out of it. It's done when a fork run lightly over the top brings up tender chunks of cooked fish meat.
Serve with a side dish - mashed sweet potatoes, a stir-fried green veg or some sort of cooked gourd/melon work well.
Dessert: Custard apple
Wine: I'm gonna say white this time. Pinot grigio.