I’ve never understood how people do a weekly – or monthly shop for food. I mean, I can plan my meals a day or so in advance but never any more, I like going round the markets and seeing what’s fresh and then get inspired to cook. More often than not though, I cook dishes based on what I particularly fancy (which in turn is based on what my body is craving) then head to the market to buy the ingredients. However, there are times when I completely lack any inspiration or I work a shift which means that I won’t have time to do any shopping. In times like these, I think it’s useful to have dishes in your repertoire to fall back on – Dishes which are quick and very easy to rustle up whilst being very cheap and not compromising on taste.
A recent example of this was how I was left with some pork mince that was originally intended to be stir fried with green beans and chilli (which in itself is a dish which I return to again and again). However, in my advancing years, I completely forgot to buy some green beans (How I could forget to buy them for a dish called “Stir fried green beans with pork mince and chilli” is beyond me). I could have used the pork mince to make some Ma Po Tofu as I found some tofu which was bought at a (main) Supermarket (I.E. not fresh from a Chinese supermarket), but I am rather suspicious of such products for some irrational reason – I think it stems from only ever really eating fresh tofu since I was a child. Then I remembered how my Dad used to cook some finely chopped pork with some finely diced onions and encase them in beaten egg so that you got something which was like a thin tortilla – Completely delicious on its own or with some plain rice Then I got really nostalgic and remembered how my Mum used to use these take the tortilla and use it to make a base stock for a soup and add some rice vermicelli to it, as I always have rice vermicelli in the house I thought I would make that for dinner. I was particularly excited to make it because it’s a dish I’ve always loved since childhood and would always look forward to it knowing that Mum was cooking it. I loved the slippery vermicelli and the light broth it was served in, I would often wolf down the rice in my bowl until it was just under half full, then spoon in the broth, catching as much vermicelli and other goodies in it too. It was one of those dishes that was very simple, but extremely satisfying to eat.
So the pork mince was fried with some finely diced onion until cooked through and a few beaten eggs were added to barely cover the mixture, all the base to brown slightly before flipping over and cooking the other side. At this point, you can serve it with some plain rice – Think of it like a deconstructed (pork mince) fried rice. I let the tortilla cool slightly whilst I got on with the rest of the dish; I soaked some rice vermicelli in some warm water for about 20 mins until softened and they all separated before draining and keeping aside until it was needed. Next, I put some water into a wok (how much depends on how much soup you want, but remember that the noodles will absorb a lot of liquid later) and broke the tortilla into pieces before adding to the water along with some Tientsin cabbage and bringing the whole thing to the boil. Let it simmer for a while to allow the flavours to develop (about 5-10 mins).
After the mixture has simmered, check the seasoning and adjust if at all necessary. You’re nearly done as the next stage moves very quickly; I shredded some romaine lettuce into reasonably small chunks – Chinese leaves would have been even better but I only had romaine lettuce in the house – before adding to the stock and cooking out slightly before finally adding the rice vermicelli. Mix everything together and allow it to come to the boil again before finishing off with some sesame oil (if you want).
Serve in a deep bowl and make sure you get a bit of everything – The tortilla for savoury meatiness, the rice vermicelli all slippery and taken on the flavour of the broth, the textural crunch of the vegetables (in this case romaine lettuce) along with the umami hit from the tientsin cabbage, all in that tasty, light broth. It’s a very basic, economical dish which has everything you need and is a perfect accompaniment to the plain rice. This may be a dish to fall back on using ingredients that weren’t originally intended to be cooked this way, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be any less flavoursome or tasty to eat.