ants climbing a tree: ground pork with bean vermicelli sichuan style

Ants Climbing a Tree: Ground Pork with Mung Bean Vermicelli, and a bowl of Sautéed Cabbage, lightly salted, with Crispy Skin Pork

This dish gets its whimsical name from the ground pork clinging to the strands of vermicelli. Despite the name, it isn’t banquet food but Chinese homestyle cooking. Salty with the earthy tang of bean paste and  chilies, it is truly comfort food when it is served with hot jasmine white rice and sautéed cabbage on the side. I adjusted the recipe because I thought 200 grams of vermicelli was overwhelming. However, I increased the garlic, ginger, and scallions, also called the Chinese trinity, because you can never have too much. I improvised with the chili bean sauce because I didn’t have any–I did have miso and gojuchang. Delicious, aromatic, and perfect. 

Ants Climbing a Tree: Ground Meat with Mung Bean Vermicelli Sichuan Style (adapted from China Sichuan Food)
Yield: 2-4 servings

80-100g mung bean vermicelli
200g ground meat (pork, beef, or chicken)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cooking oil, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon Chili Bean Sauce (improv: 3/4 tablespoon miso+1/4 tablespoon gojuchang)
1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
1/3 cup scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger root, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups water or stock

Season ground meat with a ¼ teaspoon of salt. Set aside. Soak vermicelli in warm water until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in wok and fry ground meat until it is no longer pink, using the spatula to break up the big pieces. Set aside.

Add chili bean sauce, minced garlic, minced ginger, and half of the scallions to the hot wok. Add additional oil if needed. Heat over medium high heat until the mixture turns red and it becomes aromatic. Return meat to the wok and add soy sauce. Taste. Add more soy sauce or chili bean sauce as needed.

Add the water or stock to the wok and bring to a boil. Add drained vermicelli and sugar. Stir well to heat and combine. The vermicelli will absorb the liquid and turn transparent. Transfer meat and vermicelli to a large serving platter or bowl. Sprinkle remaining scallions on top. Serve hot with rice.

PS to make the cabbage, just shred half a head and sauté in a little oil and salt until slightly wilted. Add 1/4 cup water or stock and continue cooking until the cabbage is a crunchy or as soft as you like. Taste and season with a little fish sauce or soy sauce, if needed.  I “garnished” it with crispy skin pork from the market but you can add Chinese sausage, ham, or tofu.

scallion pancake


This is the savory pancake that is served in Chinese restaurants. It is so simple to make! The ingredients are flour, salt, hot water, oil, and scallions (green onions). The dough is filled with scallions, rolled out, and fried until crisp. It is sliced into wedges and served with a vinegar-soy dipping sauce. Delicious.

Scallion Pancakes (adapted from Food 52 and Allrecipes)
(Makes 2 pancakes)

Active time: about 40 minutes
Resting time: 2 hours

For the Dough:

2 cups (240 g) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt (1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
3/4 cup hot water (150˚F)

For the Oil Mixture
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

For the Pancakes
1 cup scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced (save 1-2 tablespoons for dipping sauce)
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed.

Combine bread flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the hot water. Mix together with a wooden spoon to form a shaggy dough.

Transfer dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough until sticky but relatively smooth and elastic, dusting with a minimal amount of flour, if needed. Shape into a ball and wrap in plastic on the work surface. Let dough rest for 2 hours.

Mix vegetable oil, sesame oil, and flour together in a skillet over medium heat until starting to bubble, about 3 minutes. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Unwrap dough and cut in half with a dough scraper. Cover the second half with plastic for later. Roll out half into a cylinder and flatten with your fingers. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough into a rectangular shape about 1/8 inch thick, 12-15 inches long, and 4 inches wide. The secret is to roll it as thin as possible. Flip dough over and dust lightly with flour halfway through. If the dough springs back, cover it with plastic or a clean kitchen towel and let it rest a few minutes.

Paint the surface of the dough with the oil mixture until just covered, leaving 1/4 inch of space around the edges. Sprinkle evenly about 2-3 tablespoons scallion on top. Roll up dough tightly to seal in the scallions, starting with the long side nearest you. Pull the opposite edge over the top once you have reached it.

Start coiling one end of the dough inward toward the middle; wrap the opposite end around the coil to finish, tucking the tip under the bottom. Dust the coil lightly with flour and roll dough out into a pancake about 1/4 inch thick, rolling from the center outward. Turn the pancake one quarter turn and repeat. Flip pancake over, lightly flouring the surface, and roll and repeat. You should get a pancake that’s about 9” in diameter. Repeat process with remaining dough, oil, and green onions to make the second pancake. Stack with wax paper between the pancakes until ready to fry.

Heat vegetable oil in a 10 inch heavy bottomed skillet over high heat. Add 1 pancake; lower heat to medium. Cook until crispy and browned, about 4 minutes per side. You don’t want it to brown too fast or the inside will not cook. The outside will be crisp and brown. When both sides are browned, slice the pancake into wedges. When cooked, the inside will separate into honeycomb-like layers. Repeat with the second pancake. Cut into wedges. Serve hot with dipping sauce (recipe follows).

Dipping Sauce for Scallion Pancakes

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
Hot sauce to taste
Ginger, grated, to taste
1-2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced

Mix vinegar and soy sauce in a small bowl. Add hot sauce to taste. Grate some ginger to taste. Combine with about 1-2 tablespoons scallions.


beef broccoli with sichuan pepper and japanese zucchini stir fry

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Sichuan pepper is actually not a pepper at all nor is it related to black pepper. If it smells and tastes familiar that’s because it is a common ingredient in Asian cooking, particularly  in Five-Spice Powder. To me it has a sweet smell, almost like cinnamon, and like cinnamon, it is somewhat bitter. Use it in small quantities because although it does not have the heat of the more familiar peppers, it does have a numbing effect on the tongue. To me, water tastes salty after eating too much Sichuan peppercorns!

Beef Broccoli with Sichuan Pepper

This is a variation on the popular dish in Chinese restaurant menus. The beef is tender and the broccoli is crisp tender, with a hint of sesame. In Chinese cooking, sesame oil is used to flavor food after it is cooked. It is too delicate to stand up to heat in cooking. A little bit, like a teaspoon, is  enough. I serve this beef broccoli with Sichuan pepper with brown-white rice mix because AJ thinks brown rice alone is too dry. The ratio is 2:1 brown rice to white rice.

3/4 pound lean boneless beef steak, sliced across the grain into thin strips
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon red Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely ground
3 tablespoons soy sauce or soy-ginger sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons canola or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and minced
3 cups broccoli florets
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Blanch broccoli florets in a pot of boiling water until bright green, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and place under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, put the beef strips, peppercorns, soy sauce or soy-ginger sauce, add cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.

Put canola oil in a large wok or skillet, and turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beef and stir-fry until it begins to brown, about 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and toss to heat through. The beef should have pink streaks. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning; adding a little soy sauce, if desired. Serve immediately with steamed brown rice and Japanese Zucchini Stir Fry.

Japanese Zucchini Stir Fry

I found this recipe in Real Food Real Easy (2010) by George Stella. The recipes in this book use just a few ingredients (not more than nine) and the method is simple and straightforward. I really needed this cookbook since I started a new job this week, and I haven’t had much time for anything complicated. So this marks a return to my roots–simple stir fries with fresh ingredients.

2 medium zucchini
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

  1. To toast sesame seeds, put them in a skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside. Slice ends off zucchini and discard. Cut each zucchini in half crosswise then split each half vertically in two. Slice each quarter into thick sticks. Cut quartered onion into 1/4 inch thick strips
  2. Heat oil in a large work or skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add zucchini and onions and cook without stirring 2-4 minutes or until browned on the undersides. Stir once and continue cooking 2-3 minutes to continue browning.
  3. Add soy sauce and black pepper, tossing to combine. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil and sesame seeds.

Recipe for Andy: Chinese Style Barbecued Spareribs

Andy requested this recipe because he wants to make it himself on a barbecue.  This popular (and, by the way,  delicious) recipe for Chinese Style Barbecued Spareribs from disappears every time it’s made. Sticky and salty-sweet, there are no leftovers, and if there are, they don’t last long! The spareribs taste best when they have marinated for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, in a plastic bag.

Let’s talk about soy sauce. It’s important that the right kind of soy sauce is used. The base of the marinade, and the key to flavor, is the soy sauce. Now, there are different types of soy sauces: light, dark, white, and low-sodium.  There’s mushroom too, but let’s just stick with the basics. Soy sauce at the table is a dipping sauce. In cooking, light and low-sodium soy sauces both add saltiness and color to the dish whereas dark soy sauce is sweeter and thicker and in cooking, primarily adds color. Light soy sauce does not refer to color but rather to its consistency when poured, as opposed to dark soy sauce which has a syrupy consistency. White soy sauce, a precious amber liquid, merely adds salt without the color. It is perfect for cooking tofu and white vegetables like bok choy that can look off-their-color when a dash of soy sauce browns them. It’s a matter of aesthetics!

But ’nuff said. Let’s get started, shall we?

For the marinade:
1/3 cup light soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 garlic cloves (more if you like, and I like!)
3 pounds pork spareribs, separated

Prepare the marinade. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and hoisin sauce. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife, and add to the bowl. Put the spareribs in a plastic bag and pour the marinade all over. Close the bag and “massage” it to distribute the marinade. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (overnight is better), turning the bag at least once.

For the glaze
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1-2 tablespoons honey (I recommend the full 2 tablespoons, honey!)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Get ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Remove the spareribs from the bag and discard the marinade. Place the spareribs meaty side up on a rimmed baking tray lined with foil. I like to line a rimmed baking sheet with double foil for easy clean up afterwards because it will be a sticky baked-on mess. Cover ribs loosely with foil and bake 50 minutes.

Glaze the spareribs. Remove the foil covering and baste spareribs with half the glaze. The original recipe said to discard the pan juices but I didn’t because the juices prevented the ribs from drying out during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Then, turn ribs over and baste again with the remaining glaze. By this time, the ribs will have turned a rich deep brown color. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve immediately and clean up, which will be so easy because you just throw away the foil.

Notes. Now, can you do these ribs on a barbecue? How much time you got? Ribs need to be slowcooked for hours to get to the tender-meat-falling-off-the-bone stage. I recommend baking them in the oven 50 minutes then finish glazing them on the grill.