The Cultural Revolution Cookbook

Friday, November 11, 2011

I am proud to announce that my Godfather or 干爸爸 Scott Seligman recently finished writing a cookbook jointly with sociologist and fellow foodie Sasha Gong.  The Cultural Revolution Cookbook comes out December 1 and hopefully all of you readers will purchase a copy for your own kitchen.   Being one who is always up for a bit of culinary adventure, I was super excited when I heard about the cookbook.  Not only does it have great recipes, but the book is also chock full of information about China's cultural revolution and fascinating political art from that period in Chinese history.  In Uncle Scott's own words:

The cookbook has the unlikely theme of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), of which Sasha was a veteran. On the surface of it, it sounds like an absurd proposition, because food was anything but plentiful during the Cultural Revolution and some people were reduced to eating tree bark and insects to survive. The 17 million young people whom Chairman Mao ordered to the countryside in 1968 by and large felt that leaving their education behind to work side by side with the peasants was a tragic waste of their productive years.

Our thesis, however, is that one of the things that they actually did learn from the peasants was how to make do with what there was. They learned to cook with fresh, wholesome foods that were in season, to conserve scarce fuel and to prepare remarkably tasty and healthful dishes with enough nourishment to get them through long, arduous days in the fields. We think the book will resonate not only with people interested in China, but also those committed to eating locally grown, preservative-free, unprocessed food. In addition to dozens of recipes, the book contains some history, a chronology of the Cultural Revolution, some personal stories and a slew of anecdotes relating to food and ingredients used during that era. It’s also profusely illustrated with socialist realist art from the period –those colorful propaganda posters showing Chinese peasants building socialism. The recipes include few prepared ingredients and pretty much everything needed is available at a well-stocked grocery store.

Here is a sneak peek at one of the recipes that looks especially delicious to me.  Can't wait to try it out! 

Crab with Ginger and Scallions  姜葱焗蟹

4 small or medium-sized blue crabs
3-4 scallions (spring onions)
1 large piece ginger (1 inch, or 2.5 cm., on a side)                 
3-4 Tbsp. (45-60 ml.) cooking oil
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) rice wine (but any other wine will do)
2 eggs

The most unpleasant aspect of this recipe is cleaning the crabs. If you’re not up to the task, have the fishmonger do it for you. Just don’t plan on cooking first and cleaning after – it will ruin the taste.
Clean the crabs, removing inedible parts such as the gills, which are the spongy white tissue under the shell, and the eyes. Rinse thoroughly. If the crabs are medium-sized, use a cleaver to crack the shells and hack them into smaller pieces. If you are using small crabs, you can work with them whole.
Cut the scallions into one-inch (5 cm.) lengths and smash the ginger with the side of the cleaver. Heat a wok and add the oil to it. When the oil begins to smoke, add the ginger, and a few second later – after you can smell the aroma of the ginger – add the scallions. When you can smell them, add the crab and the wine. Cover the wok tightly and cook for seven minutes.
Beat the eggs, add them to the wok and stir. In about 10-15 seconds, after the eggs have cooked and the sauce has thickened, remove everything from the wok and serve.

Three He-Crabs, One She-Crab
“The Gang of Four Shows Their True Colors,” 1977.
When the leftist “Gang of Four,” which had persecuted thousands and which included Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, was purged in 1976, no one dared celebrate openly until the rumors were confirmed. Beijing’s crab sellers jumped the gun, however, hitting the streets with a special, symbolic deal on three males and one female crab. Because “walking sideways” is a Chinese term for disregarding the rights and feelings of others, crabs were a particularly appropriate symbol for the hated quartet.