February already! In less than a month I will be hugging and kissing on my grandson who’s turning one in March. This Friday marks the beginning of Carnival here in Spain leading up to Ash Wednesday and the start of la Cuaresma (Lent). In the middle of the frenzy, Monday is the Chinese New Year: the Year of the Red Fire Monkey. We celebrated early and made an awesome Garlic and Ginger Bok Choy courtesy of our friend Juan, who owns the local Asian market.
Juan’s parents migrated to Spain from Taiwan in the 1980s and own what’s commonly considered the best Chinese restaurant in the area, Restaurante Formosa. His mother, Rosa, took a shine to Rick and whenever we visit the restaurant we’re treated like VIPs. I can only compare to my experience with American style Chinese food, but what we are served is both familiar and different. They don’t serve rice on the side, for example, and the sauces are not as sweet. The names of the dishes are similar. Can you guess what rollitos de Primavera and wan tun frito are?
Thanks to the store, it’s easy to purchase the Asian ingredients we need. They carry a variety of fresh Chinese vegetables and other Asian products like sauces, teas, canned goods and spices. We’re in there several times a month for bean sprouts which we use instead of rice when making a stir fry. The last time we visited Juan had just received a shipment of bok choy and described to us how his wife cooked it at home, with slices of garlic and ginger.
Maria, Juan’s wife, is also second generation and her family owns one of the many “Chino” stores that sell a little bit of everything, much like a Family Dollar or Dollar General. They also have a young son. The Chinese community in Spain is about 200 thousand strong (although it’s not clear to me if they are counting people like Juan who are considered Spanish because they were born here or adopted into Spanish families). They form a major segment of the economy running restaurants and shops as mentioned, but also distributorships, day spas and gaming salons. Some, like Juan grow up to take over or expand the family business but nowadays more are choosing to attend university and become professionals. (Read more on Wikipedia and this article from El País).
Here’s how I made our Garlic and Ginger Bok Choy, which we served with rice for a weeknight meal.
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used tamari)
- 4 baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise, root and leaves trimmed
- ¼ cup water (plus more as needed)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or tapioca starch
- sesame seeds for garnish
- Heat the sesame oil in a wok or large skillet or dutch oven
- Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a couple minutes, taking care the garlic doesn't burn
- Add the tamari, then the bok choy, turning to coat in the oil and seasoning.
- Add ¼ cup of water and cover the pan with a lid. Steam the bok choy until the stem end is tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
- Make a slurry of the cornstarch with some water. Push the bok choy to the sides and pour the slurry into the center, stirring to make a sauce. It should thicken and become glossy.
- Remove the bok choy to a platter, pour the sauce over top and garnish with the sesame seeds.
Do you have plans for Chinese New Year?