On the Wok

By Faye Zhang ’17

From the time I first peered over the stove at my mother’s hand deftly flipping eggs, tomatoes, and rice, to a year spent living and cooking solo on meager means, I’ve grown to appreciate—nay, love—the wonders of the wok.

The wok, an English label, is a misnomer. In Mandarin Chinese, the wok is known as a “guō”. In Indonesia it is known as a “penggorengan” or “wajan”. In Malaysia a small wok is called a “kuali”, and a big wok “kawah”. In the Philippines it is known as a “kawali” or a “wadjang”. In Japan, “chūkanabe”. In India, ”cheena chatti” (literally, “Chinese pot”) or “karahi”.

No matter its name, size, or country of origin, the wok varies little: a round-bottomed, cast iron pan attached to a long wooden handle. According to legend, woks originated during Chinese military marches, when soldiers gave their war helmets a double role as cooking vessels over campfires. Perhaps “double” is too limiting. The wok serves nearly any purpose: boiling, braising, deep-frying, roasting, smoking, searing, steaming, stewing, and its most well known use, stir-frying.

With a wok, one never struggles to remove charred bits of food that stick to the bottom of a pan and refuse to budge. The cast iron material and round shape allows a spatula, or traditionally, a set of long wooden chopsticks, to chase down every particle and douse it with seasoning. Food sticking to the pan is no matter at all: the wise cook prizes the caramelized layers of past flavors, each of them lending mysterious savor to each new dish.

With a flick of a chopstick, the sizzling food slides over a steaming bed of rice to finish the dish. In my case, food often never left the wok—the round pan serves as a perfect, albeit hot, bowl. No use complaining, though. The wok was built for heat; perfect for cooking over a traditional pit-style stove filled with smoldering coal or wood. Fire would lick the iron rim, creating 180 degrees of perfect thermal conduction.

Modern stovetops, such as flat electric stovetop surfaces, have led to the creation of frying pans attempting to pass as flat-bottomed woks. Heavy cast iron has been substituted for lightweight stainless steel. Wooden handles have been replaced by smooth rubber. The Presto 5900, a stainless steel electric automatic wok, essentially cooks by itself.

And yet, food made in these modern contraptions somehow tastes off. Broccoli has no bite, meat is tepid, stews lack depth. Perhaps it’s the relentless cleanliness and efficiency; modern woks scrubbed clean after each use never get the chance to accumulate flavor history. There is a Chinese dish called “guō-tie”, potstickers—a clever use for leftover dumplings made in huge and un-finishable quantities during holidays. To make them, day-old dumplings are dumped into a hot wok, doused with oil, and left to sizzle. They’re called potstickers because, while the innards simmer, the thin dumpling skin sticks to the wok and fries to a crispy, salty-sweet crust.

Guō-tie is impossible to get right on stainless steel. One bite proves why: the blackened dumpling rim which envelopes a release of savory juice can only be created by a properly aged wok—the kind passed down from ancestors, full of browned, crusty memories.​

Dorm-Friendly Popcorn Hacks

by Caroline Gentile ’17

Growing up, my dad was obsessed with popcorn. Every time my family got together to watch a movie, he made an obscene amount of it, but only made it plain. As a result, I love popcorn, but I always thought that plain popcorn was well, plain. Even buttered popcorn can get pretty boring, too.

On my most recent visit home, my younger sister had her friends over for a slumber party, and they all wanted popcorn. This was the perfect opportunity to test some more flavorful popcorn recipes!

The girls and I decided we wanted to do two sweet recipes and one salty. After looking at what we had in our pantry, we were inspired to make cinnamon toast crunch, nacho, and Oreo-flavored popcorn. Even though we ultimately made all of these popcorn recipes in my home kitchen, a kitchen isn’t necessary at all. As long as you have a microwave, these popcorn recipes are completely dorm-friendly!

Cinnamon Toast Crunch

1 bag of popped, plain popcorn

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 T granulated sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Pour butter over the popped popcorn, either in a bag or a bowl. Toss.  Add sugar and cinnamon, and toss again.

IMG_7708
Cinnamon Toast Crunch Popcorn

Nacho

1 bag of plain, popped popcorn

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 cup Fritos

Pour butter over popcorn, in a microwave safe bowl.  Toss.  Add chili powder and Fritos, and toss again.  Sprinkle the cheese over the popcorn.  Put bowl of cheesy popcorn back into the microwave for a minute, or until the cheese is melted to your liking.

Nacho Popcorn
Nacho Popcorn

Oreo

1 bag of popped, plain popcorn

4 oz. sweetened condensed milk

14 Oreos, crushed (you can use any kind of Oreo you’d like!)

Pour sweetened condensed milk over the popcorn, either in a bag or a bowl. Toss. Sprinkle the crushed Oreos over the popcorn and toss again to make sure the popcorn is evenly coated in Oreo deliciousness.

Oreo Popcorn
Oreo Popcorn

Enjoy!

 

Beyond the Salad Bar: Arugula and Sweet Potato Salad

sweet potato d-hall hack

By Dana Ferrante ’17

Many times, the salad bar in the d-hall seems a bit lackluster. After looking at the same vegetable options each day, it often feels like there isn’t a single thing you could put on your greens to make them taste better.

It is for this –and many other reasons– why sweet potato night is one of my favorite days of the week. Each perfectly browned cube holds the potential to make your salad the best one you’ve had all week. Not only are sweet potatoes a super-vegetable, packed with vitamin A and vitamin C, but they are also an oh-so-sweet source of fiber.

 

You’ll need:

-2 bowls (for optimized salad tossed-ness)

 

Ingredients:

-2 cups of arugula

-1 cup of sweet potatoes

-one large serving spoon of feta cheese

-one large serving spoon (or however much you can personally endure) of red onions (either raw or in olive oil)

-olive oil to taste

-grounded black pepper to taste

 

Directions:

1.) Take a large bowl, and fill it with arugula, sweet potatoes, feta and red onions.

2.) Season with olive oil and grounded black pepper.

3.) Grab another large bowl. Cover the salad with the bowl, and holding down the sides, gently toss the salad.

4.) Enjoy!

 

Inspired by a recipe from the kitchen of Chef Diane Kochilas. Check out her website here: http://www.dianekochilas.com/.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

By Dana Ferrante ’17

Nothing tastes more like summer than a bite into the juiciest, pinkest, piece of watermelon and having that sweet pink liquid drizzle all down your face and hands. But watermelon is more than just a sticky finger food: try this simple recipe for watermelon salad, and turn a summer snack into a refined, fork-worthy dish.

But first, what makes or breaks any watermelon salad is, of course, the watermelon. Picking a watermelon is always a gamble. You see a flawless, green speckled watermelon skin and you think “This is going to be the best watermelon I will ever have.” Soon after, you discover the watermelon to be subpar, not nearly as mouthwatering as you had suspected. Here’s how to prevent any further watermelon-induced disappointment:

Step 1. Find a watermelon. Pick it up. Is it heavy? It should feel heavier than you would have suspected for its size. Is it shiny? It shouldn’t be if it’s ripe.

Step 2. Turn the watermelon around until you find the field spot, or the side of the watermelon touching the ground as it was growing. Just like this pictures shows, the field spot should have a yellow, creamy color. The darker the yellow, the better, since more time on the vine means more time to ripen.

watermelon field spot
A cream-yellow field spot.

Step 3. Knock on the watermelon rind with your knuckles. You shouldn’t hear a dull thud, but a lovely hollow sound that means your melon skin is firm and ripe. It’s almost as if your knuckles bounce off the rind when the skin is good and ready.

Now that you know how to pick the perfect watermelon, it’s time to learn how to turn that giant green melon into a succulent salad.

You’ll need…

-a cutting board

-a chef’s knife

-a salad bowl

Serves: 6-8

  • 1 small seedless watermelon (or half of a large seedless watermelon)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 ½ cups of Greek feta cheese (not pre-crumbled)
  • ½ cup of basil (or mint)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime (or ½ lemon) OR 1 tablespoon of lime (or lemon) juice
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Cut watermelon into 1-inch cubes, or use a melon baller to make bite size pieces. Slice red onion into half moons. Slice the block of feta in ½-inch cubes. Chiffonade basil (or mint). Then, put all these ingredients into your salad bowl.

Drizzle EVOO, lime (or lemon) juice and balsamic vinegar, and then toss. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper to your liking.