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What dishes should be included in a Chinese meal for the family?

Traditionally, most Chinese family meals feature four dishes and a soup, which is drunk throughout the meal and between mouthfuls of the other dishes.

Flavors should be based on the yin and yang concept of contrasts. For example, a typical meal might include deep-fried chicken (which is succulent), steamed fish (light), sweet and sour pork (rich and soft) and some water chestnuts (crisp). Dishes are shared, and the ideal menu would feature one dish per person, normally of chicken, fish, pork and a vegetable, generally accompanied by rice or noodles.

Starters are not usually a part of the traditional Chinese meal. If you do want a starter, select something light such as the Hot and Sour Soup. It lends itself to considerable variations, although the basic seasoning remains much the same. It can be left as a light, spicy vegetable-based soup, or you can add some pieces of chicken, pork or seafood to make it heartier.

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13:51:37 on 10/11/06 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Hot and Sour Soup Recipe

Serves: 4 as a starter
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

250g chicken, pork or green shrimps, diced (if using shrimps, reserve four to use whole as a garnish)
1 liter chicken stock or water
75g canned Szechwan preserved vegetables
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
1-2 red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons sesame oil
To garnish: chopped spring onions or crisply fried shallots

In a large saucepan, bring the first three ingredients to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes if using chicken or pork, 5 minutes if using shrimps. Add the remaining ingredients and stir gently over a low heat. After 5 minutes or so, when the soup has thickened slightly, remove it from the heat, sprinkle with the garnishes and serve in warm bowls.

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11:21:50 on 10/11/06 by Webmaster - Recipes -

Why do so many Chinese dishes contain monosodium glutamate?

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is glutamic acid, or concentrated salt, used by Chinese cooks to boost the flavor of a dish rather as we use ordinary salt. It is not expensive and keeps indefinitely.

If used well, MSG can do much to improve the flavor of a dish, but it is true that some chefs add too much. In quantity, MSG can cause extreme thirst and other reactions like swollen neck glands, flushes and throbbing headaches. Using salt instead, along with sugar or vinegar is enough to bring out most flavors in food.

Alternatively, use a tablespoon or two of sesame oil or oyster sauce. These are complete seasonings in that they combine salt and flavoring with the richness of the base product. If you add one or both of these, there is no need to use salt, stock cubes or indeed, MSG.

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09:52:04 on 10/11/06 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -