Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bean Sauce and Bitter Melons

My pantry is, almost always, stocked with wonderful and random ingredients from the usual trips to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Japan. In the last couple of years, Mum has fallen in love with one particular brand from Taiwan, that specialises in making a small but wonderful range of sauces.

Apparently, it's like Pepe Saya butter to a lot of chefs in Taiwan. The brand was established in 1972, and I've only seen their products available at a very select few stores in Taipei. All products are handmade, with no additives or preservatives. Their soy-based products are packed with umami, but don't have that harsh salty tartness that can sometimes be found in other commercial products.

While we haven't gone so far as to bring back bottles of soy sauce, this soy bean sauce has become a staple sauce at home. Last night I used it to whip up a gorgeous dish with bitter melon and five spice dried tofu. Super easy, super good with a massive bowl of rice. The ingredients? Bitter melon, five spice dried tofu, the soy bean sauce, some oil and water. How much simpler can you get?

1. Wash and seed the bitter melon. Cut lengthways into quarters, then slice diagonally to maximise the cut surface area. To take off some of the bitterness, salt the slices lightly, set aside, then squeeze thoroughly to get rid of some of the water.
2. Cut the dried tofu into bite sized pieces. I like to slice it diagonally to let the flavours penetrate.
3. Heat the oil in a wok or pan. Add the tofu, give it a quick saute until the edges are golden, then add the bitter melon.
4. When the bitter melon has browned slightly around the edge, add about 2 teaspoons of the soy bean sauce, toss, then add about half a cup of water and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Once the water has reduced to half of the original volume or the sauce has thickened slightly and the bitter melon cooked through, it's ready to be served.

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