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Traveling Gourmet Cooks Midst Books

SOMERS, N.Y. -- Norma Chang, the Traveling Gourmet, traveled to the Somers Public LIbrary on Saturday to talk about growing Chinese vegetables at home and cooking them in a wok.

Nearly 50 people crowded in to listen, watch, take notes, enjoy the aromas and ultimately taste the dishes she created.

Working with three electric woks, which never seemed to get hot enough, Chang explained as she stir-fried. "Use my recipes only as a guide," she said. "This is not a bible. You don't have to follow exactly. If there's something you don't want to do, don't do it."

You can substitute readily. For example, if Chinkiang vinegar -- from a region near Shanghai as highly esteemed for its vinegar as Italy's Modena -- is unavailable, use balsamic vinegar instead.

Soy sauce comes in varieties, some stronger, some adding more color. Snow peas are flat, whereas sugar peas are rounder but still eaten before the seeds inside develop. Chinese long beans are red, but they turn green when you cook them.

Choy sum, a Cantonese name, is a vegetable similar to bok choy, and has its name because originally most Chinese immigrants came from the southern province of Canton. The new wave comes from the north and speaks Mandarin. Their name for the same vegetable is yu choy. "Just look for the yellow flower." Like zucchini, the leaves, stems and flowers are all edible.

Any vegetable can be stir-fried, Chang explained, and served in many different ways. Take her recipe for spicy eggplant. "You can serve this hot or cold. One time I put it in a bowl surrounded by blue potato chips. Very lovely. You can serve it in pita pockets, too. Or on celery sticks or Belgian endive."

Peter Persampieri, visiting from Brewster, said, "It was delicious when we ate it. I was surprised by the different vegetables out there that I've never encountered in my life. It opened my eyes to the world of Chinese cooking."

"The only thing that's time-consuming in Chinese cooking is chopping the vegetables," said Ruth Andreades, of Somers. "The actual cooking goes really fast."

"I learned a lot about gardening and cooking vegetables that I never knew before," said Joan Power, of Somers. "I'm going to try the recipes. I have a wok and I've never used it."

Norma Chang's Spicy Eggplant:

¼ pound Chinese eggplant, cut into finger-size logs

2 tbs vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ - 1 tsp Asian chili sauce, or to taste

1 tbs ginger wine

2 tbs regular soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

¼ - ½ cup broth or water

1 tbs Chinkiang vinegar

2 tsp Asian sesame oil (optional)

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 tbs toasted white sesame seeds

Heat wok. Add vegetable oil, garlic and chili sauce. Stir-fry 30 seconds. Add eggplant. Stir-fry until eggplant is soft, adding broth 1 tablespoon at a time if wok seems dry. Add ginger wine, soy sauce and sugar. Stir-fry about 1 minute. Add remaining broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook until liquid is absorbed.  Stir in vinegar and sesame oil. Remove to a serving platter. Garnish with scallion and sesame seeds.

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