Chinese whispers

PHOTOS: Dawie Verwey | RECIPES & PRODUCTION: Abigail Donnelly | FOOD ASSISTANT: Hannah Lewry

The true story of Chinese cuisine lies in its simple presentation, diverse colour, seductive aroma and excellent flavour – four distinguishing features that should be combined to create an authentic experience.

Hake chips with strips of smooth tofu and spring onion curls

COOKING TIME: 10 minutes

300 g fresh hake (or sea bass) fillets
½ cup cornflour
canola oil
150 g tofu, sliced into thin strips
fresh spring onions cut into long, thin strips and placed in ice water to curl
plum sauce to serve

Remove the skin on the fillets and, using a sharp knife, cut the fish into thin slices at an angle, taking care to remove all the bones. Place a sheet of cling film on a work surface and sprinkle it with some of the cornflour. Arrange the slices of fish on the cling film, with spaces in between each slice, and sprinkle with a little more cornflour.

Place a second sheet of cling film over the fish slices and, taking care not to tear them, pound the slices with a wooden mallet or rolling pin. The fish slices should be almost translucent once you have finished. Heat the canola oil in a deep saucepan. Coat both sides of the fish slices in the remaining cornflour and fry them in batches until crisp and golden. Place the fish on kitchen towel to drain and serve immediately with thin strips of tofu and cool tendrils of spring onion. Serve with plum sauce.

Succulent soft-shelled crab with a ginger, soy and tamarind jelly 

COOKING TIME: 15 minutes

295 g can beef consommé
a 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
15 ml (1 T) soy sauce
5 ml (1 t) tamarind
4 gelatine leaves, soaked and drained
4 meduim soft-shelled crabs, defrosted (available at branches of Willoughby & Co. in Cape Town and Johannesburg)
60 ml (4 T) oyster sauce
45 ml (3 T) olive oil
glass noodles or jasmine rice

Reduce the beef consommé with the ginger, soy sauce and tamarind over a low heat until it becomes a rich, dark colour and the flavours have infused. Then add the drained gelatine leaves to the warm mixture and stir until dissolved. Pour into a mould and place in the fridge to set. Place a large pan on a high heat and add the olive oil.

Once hot, add the crabs, flesh side down, and cook them for 8-10 minutes. Turn the crabs over to cook the outer shell. Just before removing the crabs from the pan, coat them in oyster sauce. Cut the ginger, soy and tamarind jelly into cubes or use a small round cookie cutter. Serve the crabs with the jelly cubes or rounds and glass noodles or steamed jasmine rice.

Translucent fresh fruit salad with a Chinese beer and plum liqueur dressing


140 g can whole water chestnuts, drained and thinly sliced
10 fresh radishes, washed and thinly sliced
¼ fresh watermelon, halved lengthways and sliced into thin wedges
¼ fresh winter melon, halved lengthways and sliced into thin wedges
150 g fresh asparagus, shaved
4 green apples cut into small wedges
3 ripe sharon fruit, sliced into thin rounds
4 guavas, cut into small wedges
2 turnips, washed and thinly sliced
200 g crisp tatsoi, refreshed
125 ml (½ cup) Chinese beer
30 ml-45 ml (2 T-3 T) plum liqueur
4 limes, cut into wedges

Toss all the fresh ingredients together in a large salad bowl except for the asparagus. Place the asparagus in ice-cold water to create translucent curls. Combine the Chinese beer and plum liqueur to create a dressing and drizzle it over the salad. Serve the salad with juicy lime wedges and topped with delicate asparagus curls. Season to taste.

Crunchy almond cookies 

COOKING TIME: 15-20 minutes

115 g butter, softened
220 g castor sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 ml (½ t) almond essence
315 g flour
7 ml (1½ t) baking powder
100 g ground almonds
1 egg yolk, beaten
200 g readymade plastic icing flavoured with almond essence

Preheat the oven to 180ËšC. In a large bowl, cream the butter and castor sugar together until the mixture is smooth and pale. Stir in the egg and the almond essence and beat the mixture until everything is well blended and almost homogenised. Place the flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a sifter and gradually sift and stir into the mixture until it has the consistency of soft dough.

Separate the dough into 20 pieces and lightly roll each one into a soft ball. Flatten each ball to form a cookie and arrange all the cookies on a baking sheet. Press a small, flat circular object into the centre of each cookie to make an indent, then brush the tops with beaten egg yolk.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are a light golden brown. Roll small almond icing balls. Using a waxseal stamp with a Chinese engraved symbol, apply pressure to each almond ball to achieve a central symbol decoration. Place one in the hollow of each cookie.