You may have heard of Szechuan/Sichuan, but may not know much about Hunan. The Hunanese shares with their neighbors in Sichuan and Guizhou a love of chiles (aha! that explained everything!). The Hunanese though claimed that they are different from them and have their own distinctive ways of using chilies. They actually said the their neighbors in Sichuan and Guizhou use chiles to painful excess, while themselves apply the spice with grace and subtlety. The hotness of chili is often combined with saltiness (from fermented soy beans) and sourness (from black vinegar and preserved vegetables) by the Hunanese.
I had this stereotype myself that the Chinese didn’t know how to eat hot spicy food, of course until I came to know about Sichuan cuisine and now, the Hunanese cuisine. To the Chinese in China, winters are cold and damp, summers insufferably sultry, and Chinese medicine advises that these unhealthy humors should be treated with drying, heating foods like chili that drive out sweat and dampness, and restore the harmony of the body. Chiles are also thought to whet the appetite (I second this one!), and have a vital and almost spiritual importance for many local people. It’s like an opium addiction and strangely enough, I find that so true! It’s painful hot and I want it more!!!
But contrary to popular stereotype both in China and abroad, Hunanese cooking is not always fiendishly hot. Hunan is a region of bold spicy tastes, but also of soothing slow-cooked stews, delicate vegetables, delicious smoked meats, and refreshing stir-fries. Thank you Fuschia, for a great story behind the great dishes. I love this cookbook by the way!!
The first recipe I tried from the Hunan province was this spring rolls with three silken threads. Spring rolls are common street foods in China, which is, of course, also very popular in the Western countries now. This spring rolls with three silken threads or known as “san si chun juan” (三 絲 春卷) are of Hunan specialty. They are served as part of “small eats” (xiao chi) or what we called a snack.
They are called three silken threads because the filling consists of three ingredients cut into long threads. Stuffed with bamboo shoots, smoked bacon and Chinese chives, these spring rolls are highly delicious. Tried the vegetarian version too, which substitute the smoked bacon with shiitake mushrooms and it is also highly delicious. I got my husband addicted to this spring rolls. I’ve tried stuffing it with asparagus and green beans too on different occasion and they are so yummy!
The Chinese street vendors also sell the spring roll wrappers, which I will not attempt to make because it’s really can be a hair-pulling experience if you are not patient enough. The wrappers you made at the beginning are sure not usable. They are just for practice lol! If you are lucky, you might have few you can use at the end of the session. The street vendors, though, make this delicate spring roll wrappers like it’s second nature. Fortunately, spring roll wrappers are widely available and you don’t have to make your own unless you really want to.
This spring rolls with three silken threads are fried twice and you know what that means! Super CRISPY spring rolls! Tried them and I know you will love them like we do!
This recipe and part of the story are adopted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop, published by Norton (US)/Ebury Press (UK). www.fuchsiadunlop.com.
- 12 spring rolls wrappers
- Peanut oil for deep-frying
- 5 oz bamboo shoots (brined or canned)
- Dash of salt
- 4 oz dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in water until plumped up)
- 2½ oz Chinese chives
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Dash of soy sauce
- Cut the bamboo shoots into thin slices and then into very fine slivers. If you get the canned one, you can get the one in fine strips to save you some work. Blanch them in boiling water with 1 tsp of sugar, and then shake dry, set aside
- Cut the soaked shiitake mushrooms into thin slices and set aside
- Dry-fry the bamboo shoots in the wok over a medium heat so they lose some of their water content; set aside
- Preheat your wok in high heat and add about 3 Tbsp of oil. Tip in the bamboo shoots and continue to stir-fry until they are sizzly and fragrant. Add in the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry until fragrant. Off the heat and stir in the sesame oil and chives
- Lay a spring roll wrapper on a clean plate with one corner facing you. Place about 2-3 tablespoons filling in a line on the wrapper. Fold the near edge (or corner) away from you and start to roll up the wrapper, turning in the sides as you go. Moisten the far edge of the wrapper with a dab of water to seal it. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers
- Preheat the peanut oil for deep-frying in the wok over a high flame until it reaches 350 F. Add the spring rolls in batches and deep-fry for just few minutes, until pale golden, remove and set aside on paper towels to drain
- Return the oil to 350 F again and fry the rolls again until crisp and deeply golden. Serve immediately with your favorite chili sauce or soy sauce