When Josh and I were driving from Georgia to Wisconsin, we made a strange caravan. I led in Josh’s old Toyota Echo, our chinchilla Jimmy Stewart in a cage on the passenger seat next to me. Josh followed behind in a 16-foot moving truck. I was responsible for navigation and ensuring that I didn’t drive too fast for the moving truck’s capacity, although when we were going through the mountains in Tennessee the truck was able to move much more quickly than the Echo. Throughout the two-day winter drive, in which we traveled identical but solo routes, we did share one thing: listening to non-stop NPR. This included (my mom will be happy to hear) two repeated hours of Garrison Keillor, the first when we were still in Eastern time, and the second identical hour once we had passed into Central time.
We also both listened to an interview with the authors of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. Maybe it was the increasingly cold air swirling at our ankles or the bird-like hooting of the chinchilla, or the shaking of the moving truck in the winds of Southern Illinois, but we both latched onto the descriptions of slowly braised pork and simple recipes with basic ingredients made flavorful and wholesome. As we hunched over sandwiches at a Subway attached to a gas station, we sipped caffeinated beverages and said, “Yeah, that book sounds good,” and “Yeah, pork.”
We were tired. And the chinchilla was waiting.
The cookbook has yielded some delicious wok-based dinners that we’ve greatly enjoyed, but until tonight, we hadn’t attempted any desserts. I like the desserts I’ve had in Chinese restaurants (red bean paste, I’m looking at you) and I was intrigued by the recipe for Yellow Split Pea Cake at the back of the book. With only four ingredients (peas, sugar, water, and gelatin) it seemed easy enough to make.
First, I cooked the peas in sugared water, then dissolved the gelatin and mixed it in. Simple as that. A quick puree in the food processor, and the “cake” (really more of a gelatin or paste) was ready to firm up in the fridge. After a dinner of braised beef in soy sauce (from the same cookbook), the cake was ready to slice.
The cake was delicious. The texture is exactly like the filling of a red bean bun in a dim sum restaurant. The flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, and sumptuous with the peas adding a depth and a heartiness that usually I don’t associated with desserts. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there’s a layer of not very chopped up peas at the bottom of the cake. I should have processed the mixture in the food processor longer (or tried a blender, maybe, or some other way of puree-ing the whole deal until it was silky smooth). This is the only hiccup in the cake, as chewing through peas at the bottom of a cake is, shall we say, not so appetizing.
I would definitely make this again, though, and I’d recommend The Cultural Revolution Cookbook to anyone with a wok and some curiosity about traditional Chinese food.