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As I’m sure you’re beginning to notice the Asian themed recipes, on a recent trip to go visit family down the hill I was able to stop off at my favorite Asian supermarket in the Sacramento area.  If you like to cook ‘international cuisines,’ ethnic markets are a must for the budget minded.  Today I thought I’d give a sort of primer on non-traditional grocery stores for those who aren’t familiar with shopping there.

If you live somewhere less ethnically diverse, like I do, it’s great to stock up on pantry ethnic ingredients when you’re able to visit a good market; for example, last week I stocked up on my favorite hot sauces, whole spices, noodles, rices and odd ball canned goodies that one can only get at a Chinese market.

When you visit an ethnic market you should also take some time to check out their produce.  Specialty items that you pay a bundle for in a regular market are often cheaper, this trip I got daikon radish and Napa cabbage for $.50 per pound.  Also, items that are common in that cuisine and traditional American cuisine are often at cheap or reasonable prices, such as basic herbs and veggies like carrots and onions.

Lastly, check out the butcher counter when you go to the ethnic market!  I’ve had a few bad incidents, but that just taught me to trust my instincts as far as the smell test goes.  (Especially with poultry and seafood.)  Don’t be afraid of any language barriers either, most things can be communicated easily with pointing and gesturing; I don’t speak a word of Chinese but still manage to get what I need at the Chinese market.  Unless there’s a long line of angry customers behind you, the person behind the counter is usually happy to help you get just what you want.

Asian markets are great for fresh and live seafood.  I usually stay away from the packaged seafood, but the items in the ice case/counter are normally nice and fresh.  When getting live fish, the things you want to look for is that there’s not a lot of fish poo in the tank and that the fish look healthy and active; and don’t be shy, ask them to clean it or filet it or remove the head off your fish. You’re paying the same either way, let them do the messy work.  Another thing that you can get at a Asian or Chinese market is odd cuts of pork, who doesn’t love a big slab of pork belly or pork hocks for soups?  Other sorts of international markets are great places for the adventurous cook to get different types of meats, like fun organs, mutton, or goat, yum!

Sunday has arrived again, so here’s a recipe for a hearty and warming lamb soup with easy hand dumpling/noodles (they’re something in between) and vegetables.  This soup is based on one I made almost weekly as a personal chef.  I have no idea if this is an authentic or traditional Chinese soup, but damn is it good.  It’s so tasty, I learned it’s called ‘Fireworks Soup’ because the flavors explode like fireworks in your mouth.

Fireworks Soup

Serves 4-6 – Cost approx $.95 per serving

Ingredients

  • 1 bone in lamb shoulder chop, about 1 lb. ($3)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • salt
  • 3 cups All Purpose flour ($.31)
  • 1/2 Napa cabbage, thinly sliced ($.70)
  • 1 long daikon radish, peeled, sliced in thin half moons ($.49)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves picked off ($.25)

Begin by cutting the lamb meat off the bone.  Place the lamb bone in a large pot and fill half way with cold water, put over high heat and boil for half an hour to two hours to make a simple lamb stock.  Occasionally skim the foamy scum off the top.  Slice the lamb meat very thinly and season with the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger powder and salt.  You want the marinade on the meat to be very salty, as it flavors the entire pot of soup.

Put the flour in a stand mixer, add a pinch of salt and turn it on a low setting.  Slowly add in warm water until a smooth dough forms.  I used about 1 cup of water.  You want the dough to be not sticky and firm.  Drizzle the dough ball with a tablespoon of sesame oil and cover, leave to set for half an hour to an hour.

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Remove the lamb bones from the stock.  Pull off a section of dough and stretch into a rope about 1-2 inches in diameter and drape over your arm.

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Crank the heat on the lamb stock to high and pull off small pieces of the dough and toss them into the boiling water.

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Keep tearing off sections of dough until all the dough is used up.

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Once all the noodle/dumplings are boiling away, mix in the Napa cabbage and daikon to the pot.  Let the soup simmer for 5 minutes.  Add in the lamb pieces, including its marinade, to the pot and simmer 2-3 minutes more.  Check the seasonings and adjust with soy sauce or salt.  At this point you can put in the cilantro leaves to wilt into the soup; however, some people have a strong dislike of cilantro so I prefer to serve the cilantro at the table to wilt into the individual bowls of soup.  Serve your delicious soup with hot sauce and soy sauce as garnishes.

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