Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chinese-English Gluten-Free Dining Guide / 中英對照麩質不耐症飲食禁忌表

Pregnancy and the birth of our first child has kept me busy for the past two years, but I plan to start writing again! Meanwhile, here is a gluten-free dining guide I did for my husband when we went to Taiwan in 2012, written in both traditional Chinese and English.

Chinese-English Gluten-Free Dining Guide

Friday, April 1, 2011

Coconut tapioca pudding / 椰奶西米露

Tapioca pudding is a simple traditional dessert that's popular in Southeast Asia. Also known as sago pudding, it is made by boiling mini pearl tapioca/pearl sago that is then combined with a sweetened milk mixture. The most common flavor is coconut, though one can add a variety of fruit to the basic recipe.

Recipe: Coconut tapioca pudding / 椰奶西米露

Servings: 4 servings

1/2 cup mini pearl tapioca / pearl sago / 西米*
1 can (10 oz) of coconut milk / 椰奶**
1 can (9 oz) of sweet condensed milk (can substitute with whole milk and sugar)
Milk (optional)

Notes on ingredients:
* Mini pearl tapioca / pearl sago / 西米 has many different English names. Basically, it's mini balls of starch used often in Southeast Asian desserts or beverages. It is often made with sago palm starch but occasionally made from tapioca starch as well. Either way, it is naturally gluten-free. You can find it in Asian grocery stores, usually under the name "tapioca pearl." It will be white and the each ball is barely larger than a grain of rice. If the "tapioca pearl" you see is black or multi-colored and the size of a pebble, that's for use in bubble teas and not for this recipe.

** Coconut milk / 椰奶 is a sweet thick white substance derived from coconuts. It is different from coconut water. It is also not the same thing as the coconut milk beverage sold by western brands like So Delicious. You can find canned coconut milk at Whole Foods (close to Thai and other Asian food ingredients) or your local Asian grocery store.


Boil water in medium sized pot. Once water is boiling, put in 1/2 cup of mini pearl tapioca and continue cooking at medium-high heat. Stir occasionally. Let boil until mini pearl tapioca is almost completely transparent.

Meanwhile, combine coconut milk and sweet condensed milk in small pot. If you don't have sweet condensed milk, you can also use whole milk and sugar instead. Heat the mixture over low heat. If the mixture is too thick, you can add milk as desired. Stir until well combined. Turn off heat and let cool.

When mini pearl tapioca is almost completely transparent with just a little hint of white in the center, turn off heat. Strain mini pearl tapioca using a strainer. Put mini pearl tapioca into cold water for a minute. Strain mini pearl tapioca again. The mini pearl tapioca should now be completely transparent.

Spoon mini pearl tapioca into dessert bowl. Pour the now-cool milk mixture over mini pearl tapioca. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vegetarian stir-fried rice vermicelli / 素炒米粉

Rice vermicelli is one of those things that is inherently gluten free, yet the risk of contamination makes it difficult for a Celiac patient to enjoy at a restaurant. Sure you can ask the chef to hold the soy sauce, but he has probably already used the same wok for dozens of gluten-rich dishes earlier. So, here is my version for a gluten free stir-fried rice vermicelli that is easy to make at home. Since the flavor in this dish comes from onion, garlic, and cilantro, there is no need to hunt for a gluten-free soy sauce. I use salt very sparingly to make this dish low-sodium as well.

Recipe: Vegetarian stir-fried rice vermicelli / 素炒米粉

Servings: 4 adult servings

1 "bunch" of rice vermicelli*
2-3 carrots
2-3 celery stalks
3-4 wood ear mushrooms* (may substitute with portabella mushrooms)
3-4 medium sized eggs
1 onion
minced garlic / garlic powder
olive oil

Notes on Ingredients:

- Rice vermicelli is also sometimes referred to as rice noodles or rice sticks. The ingredients are rice and water. Don't confuse it with glass noodles/Chinese vermicelli, which is made from mung bean starch and water. Rice vermicelli is widely available in Asian grocery stores.

- Wood ear mushroom is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. It is thinner and chewier than normal portabella mushrooms. Dried wood ear mushroom is available in Asian grocery stores.


If you are using wood ear mushrooms, rinse and soak mushrooms in cold water for 30-45 minutes or until softened. Wood ear mushrooms expand a lot with rehydration, so don't use more than 3-4 even if they look meager at first glance. If you are using portabella mushrooms instead, skip this step.

Boil water in medium sized pot.

Meanwhile, crack eggs into small bowl, mix well. Oil or spray a flat-bottomed skillet, then cook eggs as a thin omelet at low heat. Once omelet is done, set aside and let cool.

Take one "bunch" of rice vermicelli from package. Different brands pack vermicelli in different ways but generally they come in something like a compressed W shape. Break vermicelli at the junction such that you have two V shapes. One V shape is one "bunch" here. Do not try to break dry rice vermicelli anywhere other than at a junction or you will end up with bits and pieces of vermicelli flying all over the place (believe me, I've done it). Remove pot of boiled water from heat. Soak rice vermicelli in boiled water for 15-30 minutes or until softened.

Meanwhile, using knife or vegetable slicer, julienne cut carrots, celery, wood ear mushroom (or portabella mushroom), onion, and the egg omelet into thin slices. Mince cilantro. Using kitchen scissors, cut softened rice vermicelli so that the strands are about equal length as the vegetable slices.

In wok or large saute pan, heat small amount of olive oil on medium high heat. Saute onions. Once onion is softened, add carrot and celery slices. Stir fry until vegetables are half cooked.

Add in mushroom slices. Stir fry until the vegetables are almost completely cooked.

Add in egg omelet slices. Stir fry until well mixed.

Add in rice vermicelli. Stir fry until well mixed.

Add in minced cilantro, minced garlic/garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Stir fry until well mixed.

Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So Spicy You'd Die / 辣死你

This is originally one of my Mom's inventions. Growing up, there were actually two versions of the dish in my family: 辣死你 (literally translates to "So Spicy You'd Die") for the adults versus 一點點辣 (translates to "Just a Little Bit Spicy") for the kids. Here is my version:

Recipe: So Spicy You'd Die / 辣死你


1 bunch of mustard greens
4 red chili peppers
olive oil
dried red chili pepper flakes (optional)


Wash and dry mustard greens. In large sized bowl, layer mustard greens and lightly sprinkle salt on every layer. Use your hands to rub in the salt to all corners. If necessary, break mustard greens in half to fit the bowl. Cover and refrigerate over night.

Take out the mustard greens. The salt should have extracted a lot of liquid from the mustard greens, which now appear a little shriveled. Drain the salty liquid from bowl.

Boil water in medium sized pot. Blanche mustard greens in boiling water. Take out the mustard greens and squeeze gently to get rid of any excess liquid. Caution, the vegetable may be hot from the water. You can wrap a paper towel around the leaves so you don't touch them directly. The mustard greens are now only half the size of their fresh counterparts.

Chop mustard greens into bite sizes. Wash and pat dry red chili peppers. Chop peppers. Keep all the seeds with the pepper pieces.

Heat up olive oil in wok or fry pan. Once oil is hot, add peppers. Stir fry till you can smell the aroma of peppers. Add mustard greens. If desired, add dried chili pepper flakes. Stir fry on medium high heat until everything is done.

Serve and enjoy! It works best as a side dish to rice and other entrees. My family enjoys it both hot and cold. Due to the salt and the chili peppers, the dish can usually be preserved for 5-7 days in the fridge.

Note: If you don't have the time or the fridge space for the salt process, you can use my mother's original method instead. She poured boiling water directly over raw mustard greens in the sink to shrivel them up and added salt separately in the stir-fry process. Just make sure your sink is deep enough that you won't end up splashing hot water all over yourself! When I was living alone in a studio, I had a tiny sink that could barely hold a colander, so I speak from experience (which was what drove me to develop the salt method!).

Taiwanese style fried chicken / 鹽酥雞

Fried food is usually is one of the first things to disappear from a Celiac patient's diet. Normally, this is a good thing. We all know that we should eat more salad over fish and chips anyway. Let's be honest though, sometimes, you just crave that smell of fresh fried food. Fortunately, traditional Taiwanese style fried chicken is already made gluten free! Instead of bread crumbs or wheat flour, I use sweet potato starch to coat the chicken. Since I still don't want too much fat in my family's diet, I've adapted the usual recipe for a pan-frying method with less oil. This makes for a special treat whenever you want to indulge yourself in just a little bit of junk food.

Recipe: Taiwanese style fried chicken / 鹽酥雞

Serving: 2 adult servings

4 chicken breasts
garlic powder (can substitute for fresh garlic)
ginger powder (can substitute for fresh ginger)
dried basil
Chinese rice wine, also known as mijiu / 米酒 (not Japanese mirin!)
sweet potato starch / 番薯粉 or 地瓜粉
olive oil
fresh basil (optional)


Cut chicken breasts into long slices. Place chicken in a medium sized bowl, sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, ginger powder, dried basil, and a tablespoon of Chinese rice wine/mijiu. If you know you won't use fresh basil for the later part of this recipe, use more dried basil in the marinade now. The amount of spices you use should be inversely proportional to the length of marination time. My preference is to use only a little seasoning and marinate for 24 hours. If you are pressed for time, increase the seasoning amount and marinate for at least 30 minutes. To marinate overnight, cover bowl and refrigerate.

Once marination is done, set meat next to stove. If you have fresh basil, wash and dry basil, set aside.

In separate bowl, pour out 2-3 cups of sweet potato starch. You won't use all of it, but I find it easier to have some extra in case of spills. Traditionally thick/coarse ground starch is used for a more crispy texture, but it's harder to find in U.S., so I use thin ground starch myself. You should be able to find sweet potato starch in your local Asian grocery store. Look for 番薯粉 or 地瓜粉 on the label.

Coat chicken pieces with sweet potato starch. *Let the coated chicken pieces stand for few minutes. The starch should be soaked through and sticking to the chicken before you fry them.* If you put the chicken into the pan immediately after coating, the starch won't have time to absorb the moisture from the chicken and it will flake off in the cooking process.

Meanwhile, take a flat bottom pan with deep sides. Pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn stove on medium high heat (I have a gas stove, you may need to adjust the heat according to your stove setting). Once oil is heated, put chicken pieces into the pan. Depending on your pan size, you may need to divide the chicken into several batches.

Once one side of chicken is cooked, flip the chicken to cook other side. Take a shallow bowl or deep dish and cover it with paper towels (see photo below). Place cooked chicken in dish.

If cooking the chicken in batches, repeat above steps until all chicken pieces are cooked and set aside. At this point, there may be some blackened flakes floating in the oil, which you can scrape off into separate bowl. If needed, add just a little bit of olive oil to the pan.

If you have fresh basil, add it to the pan for 15-20 seconds or until you smell the aroma of frying basil.

Add all the chicken pieces back to pan and pan fry them for 30-45 seconds. This second frying process gives the chicken a more crispy texture.

Serve and enjoy while it's hot!

Note: Fresh basil is a key element of this dish as it gives the chicken so much more aroma and flavor. Cooking in snowy Chicago though, I know how difficult/expensive it is to get fresh basil sometimes. My way of getting around the problem is to use additional herbs in the initial marinade if I know I am going to leave out basil in the second frying process. I don't recommend adding dried basil during the frying process because it will blacken and burn way too quickly in the high heat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let's begin!

My wonderful husband was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in fall 2010. Fortunately the disease has become much better known in the recent years, and we are able to find a wealth of information out there as we adapt to a gluten free diet. However, I've noticed that most gluten free cookbooks and blogs I've came across focused generally on American and European cuisine. In our household, meals are generally split 50/50 between "western" style meals and "Asian" type food. As a first generation Chinese American and the main cook in the family, I do tend to make things I know and love from childhood, and fortunately my Caucasian husband likes Asian food as well. As I experiment and adapt traditional recipes to gluten free versions, I want to share the experience in this blog so others may try their hand at making gluten free Asian food at home too.

A small disclaimer before I begin. I was born and raised in northern Taiwan until the age of seven. Since then I've lived in San Francisco, Seoul, northern Virginia, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, and now Chicago. In this blog, you are not likely to find the usual fake dishes prevalent in American Chinese restaurants. On the other hand, my taste buds have adapted a little in my travels, and I do have to consider my husband's preferences as well. In addition, there are many food stuff in Asian cooking that are very difficult to obtain in United States. Therefore, you will find some non-traditional dishes of my own invention, as well as recipes that may not be 100% "authentic" but approximate the real thing with the ingredients I have available to me. I am not an expert cook by any means, and I welcome comments and suggestions!